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Best PS1 jRPGs Ultimate Top 10 List

The Playstation 1 generation, or the PS1 era, is considered by many to be the golden age of jRPGs. It featured amazing jRPG releases one after another throughout its entire lifespan, partly because Final Fantasy 7 became a worldwide phenomenon after its release, giving coattails to an entire industry and opening up interest in the American market that had never been seen before and hasn’t been seen since. These are the top 10 best jRPGs for the PS1.

10. SaGa Frontier 2

saga frontier 2

The first thing that stands out about SaGa Frontier is its gorgeous watercolor backgrounds that blend seamlessly with its stylized and well-drawn 2d sprites. The second thing that stands out about SaGa Frontier is its inventive narrative structure, which has you playing chapters, like a history book, for two characters (Gustav and Wil) that follows their family line across generations, ultimately interweaving 3 generations later. SaGa Frontier 2 is a game most people are likely unfamiliar with and that they would have trouble just jumping into (especially given the SaGa series’s famous unapproachability), but the combination of the colorful, unique art style and the compelling story structure make this game a real treat to play. Easily one of the best jRPGs of the PS1 era.

9. Legend of Dragoon

legend of dragoon

There were so many great jRPGs during the PS1 era that I have a pile of games that almost made the cut for this list. Valkyrie Profile, Wild Arms, the list goes on and on. The reason Legend of Dragoon deserves this spot, despite being somewhat formulaic and generic in terms of its plot, was that the quick time event addition to its battle system was such a profoundly good idea for improving the traditional turn-based jRPG battle system that I’m shocked later jRPGs didn’t deign to adopt it. Sure, similar QTE systems made appearances in Lost Odyssey on XBox, in Shadow Hearts, and in other places, but nothing quite like what Legend of Dragoon was able to accomplish. Each attack had its own special QTE pattern and enemies had the ability to disrupt and counter during the actions. It added a welcome subsystem to a format that, following the PS1 era, developers experimented with constantly (and unsuccessfully) to try to evolve.

8. Vagrant Story

top 10 best ps1 jrpgs vagrant story

Vagrant Story will always be remembered for two things: it’s outstanding plot and its extraordinarily esoteric crafting system. Vagrant Story is about a sort of medieval 007 named Ashley Riot who’s sent to uncover the machinations of a mysterious magician named Sidney. It has a lot of references to Shakespeare, including the name of its main antagonist (Guildenstern), and it should: its plot is somewhat Shakesperian. It’s like if you mixed Shakespeare with Metal Gear Solid and a Final Fantasy game. In addition to the plot, the game features a crafting system so time-consuming and esoteric that you can lose days trying to craft the perfect weapons, which sounds like a criticism, but I’m actually listing as a positive. If you like jRPGs, it’s one of the best on PS1 and its story is exceptional.

7. Star Ocean 2

top 10 best ps1 jrpgs star ocean

Star Ocean 2 was the pinnacle of the Star Ocean series. It combined Star Trek sci-fi with traditional jRPG fantasy (the Japanese take on European medieval fantasy) and added in real-time battles and a deep crafting mechanic to boot. While the original Star Ocean was also excellent, Star Ocean 2 improved on it in every way. Because each playthrough limited the size of your party to 8 characters and provided exclusive party members to each of the two main characters, players wanted to replay this game multiple times to experience all the different characters. It also featured a post-game dungeon that provided a ton of extra gameplay after the game was already over — something that was not very common at the time.

6. Breath of Fire 3

top 10 best ps1 jrpgs bof3

Breath of Fire 3 was one of the greats for sure. There is something just so crisp and clean about the construction of the game, like when you walk into a nice, elegant hotel room and just can’t help but marvel at the craftsmanship. Tonally, it set itself apart from a lot of the other games at the time with its sprite-based, colorful 2d characters atop isometric 3d maps. The game just brings up good feelings and a carefree attitude, like an episode of a great Saturday morning cartoon. On top of that, the masters system that the game introduced, as well as the Dragon Gene system, were unique, highly successful systems that other games have missed a real opportunity to replicate.

5. Chrono Cross

chrono cross

While Chrono Cross was not the sequel many fans of Chrono Trigger would have wanted, it was a fantastic game in its own right and included arguably the best soundtrack to have ever been produced for a video game. It didn’t have time traveling, or the bright colors or inspirational whimsy of Chrono Trigger, or the return of the beloved cast, but it tied into the previous game and had an interesting mechanic based on the concept of alternate realities. Its main issue was including far too many playable characters instead of focusing on a core cast of 8-9 really special characters. That issue aside, Chrono Cross was an excellent, well-crafted jRPG that deserves credit for what it was able to deliver, and it was one of the best on the PS1.

4. Final Fantasy Tactics – Best PS1 jRPGs

final fantasy tactics

Final Fantasy Tactics was Game of Thrones before Game of Thrones existed. A fantasy world full of knights, wizards, machinists and priests full of political intrigue and aristocratic scheming. Despite the poor translation that was ultimately corrected FFT’s rerelease on PSP, its story of two adoptive brothers remains among the best stories ever told in a video game. The commoner Delita who rises to aristocracy and the aristocratic hero Ramza who gives up his title to do what’s right are contrasted in their respective quests. Story aside, the game has a job system that is so fun that it’s still being explored by fans to this day, and moment-to-moment strategy RPG gameplay that remains unrivaled even after over twenty years.

3. Final Fantasy 7 – Best PS1 jRPGs

top 10 best ps1 jrpgs ff7

Final Fantasy 7 is the game that started it all. The only jRPG to really ever break through to the mainstream and make general audiences understand what the appeal of these games was. It featured an expansive, allegorical plot that was quite sophisticated for games. These days, despite claims to the contrary, video game plots applaud themselves if they can get in shouting distance of a forgettable summer action movie; Final Fantasy 7 created a plot unique, deep and special that resonated with audiences. Back in this time period, it looked as if games could create plots that rivaled the most highly acclaimed masterpieces of other mediums, and Final Fantasy 7 was a firm shot across the bow in that direction. Unfortunately, that future didn’t come to pass, with video games instead opting to eschew storytelling in favor of graphical fidelity and technological sophistication for two decades, but at least we’ll always have Final Fantasy 7 and its remake.

2. Suikoden 2 – Best PS1 jRPGs

top 10 best ps1 jrpgs suikoden 2

Suikoden 2 is as near to perfect as a jRPG can get. Its pacing is perfect, its length is perfect, its story is exceptional. Every aspect of what makes an RPG great, like a complex dish made by a master chef, is in perfect balance in Suikoden 2. Everything is exactly as simple and exactly as complex as it needs to be. The length of the game is just right to play through it in a weekend. Unfortunately, while Suikoden’s successor, Suikoden 3, was quite good, other games in the series never lived up to the bar Suikoden 2 was able to set, but Suikoden 2 will always go down in history as one of the best jRPGs not only on the PS1, but of all time. Arguably the best, edged out only by a single dark horse contender.

1. Xenogears – Best PS1 jRPGs

top 10 best ps1 jrpgs xenogears

It’s unfortunate that Xenogears didn’t acquire the same level of fame and notoriety that Final Fantasy 7 did, because the story that Xenogears was able to produce was so incredibly good that I would hazard to say that it deserves to be discussed alongside major works of famous literature, like Crime and Punishment or Paradise Lost. The gameplay is very strong, the soundtrack is amazing and the graphics were exceptional for the time, but the story is really what makes the difference here. The amount of depth in the story of Xenogears is difficult to articulate; it’s epic, expansive, thought-provoking, and contains so many allegories and allusions to mythology, religion and Jungian psychology that I can’t even begin to unpack them here. Xenogears is truly a masterpiece on a level I haven’t encountered in the 20 years since its delivery regardless of how sophisticated graphics became during that same time period.

Author

  • Ryan Night

    Ryan Night is an ex-game industry producer with over a decade of experience writing guides for RPGs. Previously an early contributor at gamefaqs.com, Ryan has been serving the RPG community with video game guides since 2001. As the owner of Bright Rock Media, Ryan has written over 600 guides for RPGs of all kinds, from Final Fantasy Tactics to Tales of Arise.

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