Growing up in the 1990s, Playstation 1 was where it was at. It was a perfect blend of creative and pushing technology. In today’s environment, there’s a lot more segmentation. Huge studios push the boundaries of technology, and most creativity is found in the mid-level studios pushing their games on Kickstarter. Of course, there are gems nowadays, but for those growing up now who are interested in games, here are several I would recommend you dust off and download for an emulator like ePSXe.
5. Resident Evil 2
Resident Evil was the originator of the horror game craze and Resident Evil 2 was the perfect installment. The game is self-contained within a single night and you choose whether to go through the night from the perspective of Leon or Claire — each going through similar major plot beats, but with a dramatically different experience, different gadgets, and different paths. The whole Resident Evil series revolves around uncovering the Umbrella Corporation’s attempts at making an army of unstoppable mutants and zombies. The control scheme is incredibly bizarre and takes some getting used to, but the story is engaging, the villains are memorable, the monsters are cool, and the storytelling is on point.
Xenogears is a shining gem of an RPG which, although partially unfinished toward the end, has one of the weirdest, deepest and most compelling stories in games to date. It features anime cutscenes, a mix of fantasy and sci-fi, and all the allegory and biblical allusions a developer could possibly want to fit into one sixty hour game. The story centers on Fei Fong Wong, an orphan with a mysterious past who we eventually discover is the current incarnation of the repeatedly reincarnating Abel, the first human. I can’t possibly explain the plot of this game in a paragraph, but I’ll attempt the broad strokes: thousands of years in the past, space-faring humans who were carrying an intergalactic biological weapon crash landed on an Earthlike planet. The AI injected into the alien created humans and became ‘God’. Cut to the modern day, there are bipedal robots, Game of Thrones style political rivalries, romance, psychological drama, espionage and religion. It’s a whopper. It’s like Tolstoy for teenagers.
3. Final Fantasy 7
Final Fantasy 7 is the most famous entry to the Final Fantasy series and for good reason. Although its received its share of criticism, it’s partly because it was Kanye-big. You play as a cadre of eco-terrorists who uncover that the Earth is under attack not only by modern society but by a crazed war hero who, it turns out, is descended from an alien hellbent on destroying the planet. It covers themes of friendship, saving the planet and conquering your past, all wrapped up thick layers of cool. At the time, it was a hugely refreshing take on what works in a game — it eschewed the typical Fantasy knight-and-wizards setting for its own creative world, based loosely on modern technology and current issues, but augmented with swords, magic and dragons.
2. Metal Gear Solid
There were Metal Gear games before Metal Gear Solid, but there was no frenzy. This is the AAA game experience that spawned 4 sequels and catapulted Hideo Kojima into game design celebrity status. It takes on the stealth/infiltration gameplay style of Tom Clancy-based war games like Syphon Filter (p.s. you should also play Syphon Filter) and combined a heavily researched world of realism with plausible technological advancement that approached magic. The content of the world and its characters are the best way to describe this. The weapon, Metal Gear, is a bipedal tank capable of turning the tide of war. Its bosses include a gunslinger whose skill exceeds human boundaries, a psychic, a cyborg zombie ninja, and many more, all explained — weirdly plausibly — with the story’s internal pseudoscience. The whole thing is tied together with a personal and deeply human plot about the horrors of war, the meaning of family, and nature vs nurture/the power of free will.
1. Suikoden 2
Suikoden 2 is the most unknown / best game on Playstation 1. For a while, until it was re-released on PSN, copies of this game were ebaying for upwards of $250. It tells the story of Riou, a young soldier, who is the victim of a false-flag attack — his own country attacks his unit, pretending to be the enemy to get out of a recently signed peace treaty. From there, he travels with his best friend, Jowy, and sister, Nanami until fate irreversibly forces them apart. Jowy, an aristocrat of his country, uses political savvy and cunning to get into the royal circle; meanwhile, Riou becomes a war hero fighting for independence. There’s a beautiful emotional push-pull of the dichotomy where Jowy and Riou have the same goal of peace between the countries, but are forced to fight each other. If video games had oscars instead of farces hosted by Mountain Dew marketers, Suikoden 2 could win one every year.
Of course there are many more must-play games on PS1. Look forward to another 5 games soon!