For those of you getting sick and tired of my unending love letter to everything Nintendo, let’s celebrate the PlayStation today. The PlayStation is now old enough to vote, buy cigarettes, though it still can’t buy itself that well-deserved drink. So I’ll raise a glass of Jolt Cola to celebrate twenty great years of PlayStation gaming. The amount of time I spent playing Sony’s PlayStation is unfair. Previously only my SNES was able to win my heart, but when this new CD-ROM-based system came out, it changed the game. Cartridges were some frivolous relic of the past and it was time to leave Nintendo in the dust. To be honest, this was the generation when I learned that there was a console to love more than whatever Nintendo was doing. Just listen to this sound and tell me that you don’t miss your youth…
The PSX era was the time when Square found its footing, Capcom INVENTED genres, and we learned that games could be a little more mature and still retain their ability to be fun. I’m here to celebrate THE BESTS of The Playstation.
Best Platforming – Spyro The Dragon
What!? No Crash Bandicoot? I love me some early Crash, but Spyro was something a bit different. Where Crash was a bit linear, Spyro had some depth. Sadly, these characters were still very indicative of their generation. All wise-cracking animals that were clinging onto the last bits of Sonic before his series totally jumped Sea World. Spyro was more of a 3D platformer than anything else Sony had released at the time. In classic Insomniac fashion, Spyro was fun and filled with tongue-in-cheek references and great little bits of humor. The story was a bit light, as Spyro put himself on the mission to save his dragon buddies from Gnasty Gnorc’s evil spell, it kicked off a series of successful sequels and the purple dragon was eventually sold of to Universal where Spyro lived in limbo for a while, until making a brilliant comeback with Skylanders. What may be Spyro’s greatest achievement is that it helped Insomniac to gain some industry clout, so that one day we’d get Ratchet and Clank. It’s strange to see how Spyro never really earned his popularity on the PSX but found a new home with Skylanders and it’s miniature-based gaming. Glad to see you’re doing OK Spyro!
Honorable Mention: Crash Bandicoot 3: WARPED!
Best Fighting – Tekken 3
Back in the late 1990s fighting games were all about getting out of the 2D and into three dimensions of PAIN! Tekken was simply better than Virtua Fighter. I know Sega fan boys will run my head up a flagpole for that, but Namco does fighting games very well, almost TOO WELL! Tekken found its home on the PSX and gave Sony a better reason to fight! Yeah, Battle Arena Toshinden was garbage. Then in the Fall of 1998 we Americans got Tekken 3 for the PSX. Christmas was a merry one that year. Tekken was the technical push that fighting games needed. What always felt better about Tekken than other fighting games was that it was more fluid in 3D. Namco has continued to show its greatness with various future installments of the franchise, but Tekken 3 is where I believe the series really took off. There was a wide array of characters to choose from, interesting mini games (volleyball anyone?), and just great, solid fighting. I long for the days of Tekken 3, the long button-mash fests of yesteryear. Also, you can thank this game for Eddie Gordo, NOOBS rejoice!
Honorable Mention: Street Fighter Alpha 3
Best Racing- Gran Turismo
Yeah, Gran Turismo changed the game. SNES gave us some great racing games with Mario Kart and F-Zero, but Gran Turismo gave us something a little more sophisticated. The idea of taking real, licensed cars and putting them into a video game was so unique that it created its own type of fan. Arcade racers like Need for Speed and Daytona USA were great, but the gearheads of the world gravitated more towards GT. Turismo was more about modifications and realistic racing than anything else. While normally I throw realism out the window while playing video games, there is still some fantasy involved with driving an Aston Martin in a video game. I was never a huge racing fan, but GT has earned my respect for the nuances it brought to the genre.
Honorable Mention: Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit
Best RPG – Final Fantasy VII
Ok, I get it, you can easily name 15 RPGs that are better than Final Fantasy VII. I also understand that some of the main characters are underdeveloped, caricatures of human beings, or that it’s way too anime influenced to have that classic feel. You’re not wrong, but FF7 is too good to not give the spotlight too. Final Fantasy VII gave us a gift-wrapped version of what the modern RPG could be. With Three discs filled with over 100+ hours of content, this game re-revolutionized why RPG gamers flocked to the RPG. Final Fantasy VII was bright when it needed to be, dark when it wanted to be, and was able to convey to a new generation that the RPG wasn’t a niche genre, but a powerhouse. The success of FF7 led to dozens of new RPGs on the market. This is one of the few games that really “had it all”. It had great characters, a story that has only grown in relevance, and the greatest soundtrack ever. Square knew that it had to knock it’s first PSX title out of the park, and it was a grand slam! FF7 was an exclamation point on the success of the Sony PlayStation, and to this day still retains it’s massive fan base. Final Fantasy VII is the quintessential PSX RPG.
Honorable Mention: Final Fantasy IX
Best Action- Metal Gear Solid
Long hours of dialogue trapped in a military facility in Alaska. Solid Snake breaks into the Shadow Moses facility to destroy it’s ultimate weapon, Metal Gear. What!? Metal Gear Solid was and still is easily one of the greatest action games of all time. Hideo Kojima and his team at Konami were able to find a way to blend great characters, with a wacky-yet-great story, and excellent gameplay to the PlayStation. I remember my first experience with MGS and was confused about how the gameplay worked. Over the next 8-10 hours of gameplay I became hooked. I wanted to know all about Metal Gear, Solid Snake, and his relation to everyone else. MGS is a game somewhat shrouded in mystery and unless you read all the in-game historical documents you may be left in the dark. Metal Gear has always been good at playing with the player’s mind. It could read your memory cards and mess with you, make you look at the physical game case for answers, or just flat out scare the pants off you. Kojima’s brilliant story-telling has made MGS one of the classic games that all serious gamers need to play. MGS will change your gaming life, and will make you long for the next installment until you feel hollow.
Honorable Mention: Resident Evil Director’s Cut & Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
These games are my favorite of the PSX era titles. I could spend days talking about any of these categories (save racing), but these are the best. I greatly miss the days of the Sony PlayStation, but it’s good to look back with a positive nostalgia at the games that got many of us here. Congrats Sony! Happy 20th!