I grew up playing NES and SNES JRPGs; then in junior high, Sega CD came out, and I fell horribly in love with the characters in Lunar: Silver Star and Lunar: Eternal Blue, especially Lucia.
Shortly thereafter, PlayStation hit the market, and like many other nerdy high schoolers, I explored the polygonal world of Final Fantasy VII. I was hooked. I also talked my friends mad with my autistic adoration for Suikoden II.
I wanted to look back on some of the earlier PlayStation titles—games I played into the ground, video-gaming like it’s 1999—so I can hopefully uncork more inspiration for my upcoming fanfiction, Super Virtual World, a helluva Wattpad idea I’m cracking open right after I finish writing Rydia’s Last Cure…
…which ranked #17 in Final Fantasy stories this week!—😱—best ranking yet! 😎
If you have suggestions of other loved PlayStation games, feel free to leave titles (and YouTube links, if you have ’em) in the comments… but don’t cheat and list ones from 2000 and later. We’re trying to keep this a cool, 20th-century-only PlayStation conversation.
#1 Suikoden II
Since I mentioned Suikoden II, I’ll start there.
In Suikoden II, the player seeks out 108 stars—that is, 108 playable characters—in a quiet build-up towards a fantastically climatic end-plot, as they follow the stories of Jowy Atreides and the unnamed protagonist, two bearers of the 27 True Runes.
The 108 stars, as well as rune magic, has inspired not just my fanfiction, but the deeper gearworks of my fantasy and punk novels, like Emergence No. 7,…so it’d be wrong for me to not include this game as my first-and-foremost 20th-century PlayStation pick.
#2 Final Fantasy VII
Though Final Fantasy IV is my favorite game in the Final Fantasy franchise, I also have a special place in my heart for Final Fantasy VI and Final Fantasy VII. The remake will be fantastic, of course—but I’m wanting to talk about the original.
Here’s a spoiler of the plot, in case you need to stir childhood memories loose:
Vincent Valentine was my favorite character, but I loved Aerith, too. Back then, I wanted to enroll in an R.O.P. for learning how to make expert-quality flower arrangements—so I could apply for jobs as a part-time florist—but once I started making money converting people’s wallet photos into charcoal portraits, I no longer thought about pursuing a “traditional” part-time high school job.
That meant I had to live my florist dream superfluously through Aerith, until Sephiroth got to her. Then I was mad.
But I kept plugging into this awesome game anyway, collecting all the Materia, defeating all but one of the Weapons, and mastering the plethora of mini-games, effectively eliminating a summer of my life.
Cait Sith, the robot cat, and Cid, with a cigarette forever hanging from his lips, also tickled me; the whole cast is great really, which is why Final Fantasy VII is so good.
#3 Chrono Cross
When I brought Chrono Cross home, I was still hooked on Chrono Trigger. I loved playing with my max-level party of shell-armored heroes, picking and choosing whether I wanted the game to end after 10 minutes, several hours, or several days; the idea of multiple endings—available in multiple points in the game—truly stuck with me.
While Chrono Cross didn’t feel quite like Chrono Trigger, it had unique charms, like an unforgettable soundtrack, an intriguing version of end-time, and beautiful graphics… at least, for its time. It also had the second-best opening sequence of any PlayStation game.
But which had the best opening sequence, you ask?
#4 Wild Arms
My mom and uncle pooled together to buy my PlayStation and Wild Arms for my birthday; and this felt very special to me, given I didn’t think we’d be able to afford the new tech. So popping Wild Arms into my system, I was already filled with wonder.
And Wild Arms delivered wonder in spades. Three storylines that converge into one plot; a wizard who cuts off her hair in a dramatic rebirth scene; a robot who isn’t revealed until the climatic end of the story; and your cliche a-hole, spiced up with a pet rat.
The puzzles were so frustrating in some parts of Wild Arms, I succumbed to a strategy guide. I still have that colorful, pre-Google-search strategy guide; it’s in a magazine holder on our fireplace mantle.
#5 Star Ocean: Second Story
The sci-fi elements of the Star Ocean franchise never fails to captivate me; and that deeply rooted love started with Star Ocean: Second Story, given the United States’ limited access to the first Star Ocean—at least, until the years of handheld remakes…
I adored Leo. No—I loved Leo.
I could not get enough of the prodigal fox-kid, the young and temperamental science nerd. I also dug Rena, although I never really connected with either of her standard love interests…
Fortunately, Star Ocean: Second Story had a relationship system that let me hook Rena up with Leo! It took purchasing my second PlayStation strategy guide, but it was a fun play-through, and it primed me for relationship mechanics in my later Fire Emblem years.
#6 Final Fantasy Tactics
But my favorite genre remains high fantasy, and when Final Fantasy Tactics was released, sword-and-sorcery took a whole new turn. For my first time, (given I hadn’t played Final Fantasy V at this point,) I experienced the job system.
Given I was also engrossed in childhood Dungeons & Dragons campaigns, the idea of changing classes throughout the game was a hit. I wanted all my favorite characters to have all the class skills maxed, including Orlandeau, Agrias, and Meliadoul.
#7 Tales of Destiny
Speaking of the sword-and-sorcery genre, and Dungeons & Dragons mechanics, the 1997 JRPG Tales of Destiny was the first time I encountered intelligent (or talking) swords in a video game; yet I’d had an intelligent sword in D&D before, so I had neurons ready to fire in a knee-jerk decision: “This is the best story element ever!”
Honestly, the intelligent swords tickled me so much,—especially Leon’s and Phacia’s—it’d feel wrong to not include them in a work of fanfiction.
Now that I mention Phacia, I remember working on a 12 x 16 portrait of her in my junior high art class… So the PlayStation must have happened in seventh or eighth grade.
Fun fact: The Japanese version of Tales of Destiny has a different opening track, although the animation is the same. Another fun fact: The second installment in the series, Tales of Destiny 2, also has an entertaining anime series. (So does Star Ocean: Second Story.)
I’m such a sucker for stories based on dream worlds. I never understood why readers don’t appreciate fiction where “the character wakes up at the end,” as long as its clear the story’s been a dream state the whole time.
Such is the case in Alundra, a hack-and-slasher where your elf hero can slip into other people’s dream states and fight hairy monsters. Part of why I loved this game was because it came from the same localization house as the Lunar series; but mostly, I just liked that I could play-pretend as a dream-walking superhero via an expertly designed video game controller.
And the dungeons were challenging! I had to work to feel victorious; I died a lot.
#8 Legend of Mana
I could write a fanfiction trilogy on the Jumi alone. I bought the strategy guide for this game just so I could practice drawing the Jumi characters between classes. I am still a Jumi fan of the purest caliber.
Beyond that specific branch within the many intertwined plots of Legend of Mana, I also appreciated the signature Seiken Densetsu tree of life; the playful soundtrack; and the poignant moments of philosophy (and comedy) sprinkled throughout the quirky dialogue. The world-building system also felt novel at the time.
#9 Saga Frontier 2
I absolutely did not like Saga Frontier, yet I managed to finish it, hoping it’d grow on me. It felt like reading a bad book until the last fifty pages, then lamenting, “How did I get so far into this!?”
So I was skeptical about playing Saga Frontier 2… Until I immersed myself in the camera-swerving, hero-bouncing battle system! The music was also much better than the first.
#10 Star Sweep
More than any other puzzle game, Star Sweep owns part of my heart. The game play is simple enough—reminiscent of the Puzzle League series—but something about dropping giant smiling clouds on your friends… there’s no other comparison in all the puzzle video games, in all the video game puzzling world.
I feel like, at this point, some Xenogears fan must be crawling in their skin, but I never finished Xenogears… So despite thinking it’s an excellent game, I didn’t feel like it was right to include it in my list.
If you were a gamer during the days of the original PlayStation, what’s your turn-of-the-century 10 best list?