“…many video game companies [feel] that in the near future, the video game platforms to contend with will be from Nintendo, Sega… and Sony.”
Happy Monday, NPCs!
Chase away the start-of-the-week doldrums with a steaming cup of PS1 and a shot of mage! The Hyperactive Coffee Mage (aka Games with Coffee) is here to usher us into the 3D era with the PlayStation, one of the most successful, most iconic, and most impactful consoles in gaming history! Get excited! You can’t tell me your Monday didn’t just get a gazillion times better!
The Coffee Mage is super active in our magely community (dare I say super hyperactive?) and it’s a pleasure to be able to hang out with someone so positive and enjoy a digital cup together now and then. I’m pleased to bring you his third contributed article here at TWRM. I thought I had it hard with the SNES but I don’t envy Coffee Mage his task today.
Don’t forget to check out his PS1 sister article!
-The Well-Red Mage
“It’s like this train. It can’t run anywhere except where its rails take it.” –Cloud Strife, Final Fantasy VII
As part of The Well-Red Mage’s 30-Day Console Challenge, I was tasked to select the Seven Best Games for the original PlayStation for this, the eleventh day of June. I owned this system during my adolescence and it has been with me in my greatest and darkest of times, so I relished the opportunity to present (in my opinion) the best of the best this system has to offer.
For those not in the know, or who are interested in a brief history lesson, the PlayStation is part of the fifth console generation, spanning the years between 1993 to 2001, and was one of the first home consoles that introduced 3-D gaming to the industry. The console’s major competition at the time were the Sega Saturn and the Nintendo 64, neither of which would match or even approach the sales figures or popularity of the PlayStation. Three major things made the system so successful against its competitors: the use of CD-ROM’s instead of cartridges to store games, ease of development for third party developers, and advertising.
CD’s were capable of holding more space than cartridges at the time and more space meant bigger and grander games. Using CD’s allowed the PlayStation an additional advantage over Nintendo, who was steadfast in their use of cartridges, in that production costs were low. Also during that time, Sega and Nintendo focused heavily on their first party games and left third-party developers to their own devices. Sony, however, chose to embrace the third party and helped them streamline production by supplying constantly updated programming libraries, organizing technical support teams and even went as far as being directly involved in development. These efforts allowed the PlayStation to have approximately twice as many games developed than the Saturn and nearly seven times that of the Nintendo 64, as recorded in 1996.
Last but not least Sony’s advertising and marketing strategies presenting it as an accessible, easy to use console designed for everybody, were the final nails on the coffin of its competitors. Sega and Nintendo at that time didn’t have the financial war chests that Sony (one of the largest producers of consumer electronics) had, which ultimately had an effect on sales and profitability.
At the end of its production, the Sony PlayStation sold over 102 million units and boasted a library of a whopping 7,918 titles across Japan, North America and Europe. Out of that massive number, I’ve picked seven of those that best represent the system. So, without further fanfare, let’s count ’em down!
*Mild spoilers abound, so be careful what you read!*
#7. Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back
You can’t talk about the PlayStation without talking about its mascot, Crash Bandicoot. Crash was the face of the PlayStation when it was first released, competing directly against Mario and Sonic and his games are some of the best platformers available on the console. I, however, consider the second iteration to be the superior title of the three games.
Cortex Strikes Back was an improvement from the first game in many ways, including new moves and characters, improved visuals and lots of secrets to root out. Some levels had secret warps that were accessible by taking unorthodox pathways, like stepping on a set of fake Nitro crates or bouncing on crates in the water to reach a platform that you couldn’t access normally. The game also had interesting challenges for gem collection, such as going through a level without breaking open a box, or speeding through the motorized surfboard levels before a timer expired. While Crash Bandicoot: Warped was a pretty great game, I felt that it didn’t capture the same charm that Cortex Strikes Back presented. This charm is the reason why Crash 2 in the seventh spot of my list.
#6. Final Fantasy VIII
Hot on the heels of Final Fantasy VII, Final Fantasy VIII takes a different turn story-wise in that it focuses on the emerging romance between brooding loner and SeeD, Squall Leonheart, and eternal optimist, Rinoa Heartily. Add in a devious sorceress hellbent on compressing time, an unlikely reunion of childhood friends, three soldiers from the past with ties to the main characters and a woman who can send people’s consciousness back to any period of time and you have yourself a classic Final Fantasy worthy of the number six spot on this list.
The headlining feature of the game is the ability to enhance characters using magic and Guardian Forces (GF’s) by way of the “Junctioning System”. You can Junction magic to either influence stats or inflict elemental damage or status effects on enemies and create completely custom characters (say that five times fast) for the situation at hand. It was a fun, albeit mildly confusing, system to use.
Final Fantasy VIII also boasted a great mini-game in the form of Triple Triad; a card game played on a 3×3 grid. To top it off, the item refinement system is quite engrossing in that you can refine just about anything into anything. Want high level magic before starting the first mission? You can refine Fish Fins for Water magic! Looking to upgrade your current stock of magic? Use Mid Magic or High Magic refinement! Are you looking to get almost every character’s ultimate weapons BEFORE the end of the first disc??? Use Card Mod and Ammo Refinement and BOOM! Instant Lionheart! Seriously, the modification options are ridiculous and can make this game really easy if exploited enough!
#5. Tekken 3
Tekken 3 is one of the best (if not the best) fighting games for the system, full stop. I’ve honestly spent way too much time playing this game as a kid. The game offered a massive roster of fighters versed in various styles of combat, each suitable for beginners and experts alike. The game also introduced many new characters that would become staples in the series, like Jin Kazama, Hwoarang (my personal favourite!), Eddy Gordo and Ling Xiaoyu.
The thing that makes Tekken 3 stand out is the plethora of game modes available. On top of the standard Vs. Modes, you have Tekken Force Mode, which emulates the feel of an old-school beat-em-up and Tekken Ball Mode, which is a cross between volleyball and dodgeball. It’s more interesting and entertaining than it sounds! The true strength of this game (and the series in general) is its fighting mechanics, which requires more strategy and less button mashing than other fighting games in its class. It was a favourite of mine to play with large groups!
#4. Final Fantasy IX
The ninth installment of the enduring Final Fantasy series and the last one appearing on the original PlayStation, Final Fantasy IX returned the series to its roots. Set on a land covered in dense, fog-like Mist, the plot centers around a multitude of characters who start out by trying to prevent war and end by trying to put an end to the mad schemes of Kuja, the self-proclaimed Angel of Death. What I loved about the game was the quirky characters, the art style and the story. Gone was the ultra-modern aesthetic from the previous games; instead favouring a medieval, fantasy setting with steampunk elements. And the characters? They’re hilarious! The banter between the womanizing free spirit Zidane and the rigidly dedicated Steiner is great and Kuja’s eloquent wordplay is only matched by his maniacal obsession to validate his own existence by ending existence as we know it. And here I thought Kefka was bad…
Combat was also a big factor of why I liked this entry of the series. IX’s battle mechanics required more strategy than previous games, since each character has class-specific abilities that can either help or hurt you in battle. Planning ahead and on the fly strategizing are key to beating this game, as opposed to mowing down everything in sight like in the previous two installments. The Chocobo Garden mini-game was also fun to play and you get some really neat rewards out of the Chocograph Treasure Hunts! Best of all, there are plenty of nods and references to previous Final Fantasy games! These reasons and more are why it claims the number four spot.
Oh Castlevania, how I adore you so. Symphony of the Night (hereby abbreviated as SotN) started the genre we now know as Metroidvania – a cross between the explorative aspects of Metroid with Castlevanian and RPG elements – and firmly holds the number three spot. The game stars everyone’s favorite half-vampire, Alucard, who travels to Dracula’s Castle after being forced awake from his eternal slumber. There, he learns that the Lord of the castle is none other than Richter of the Belmont Clan, who are the sworn enemies of Dracula. But all is not what it seems in this castle, for there are secrets at every corner and strange happenings afoot… And that’s what makes it so exciting to play! Alucard is a beast; able to wield many weapons and is an expert with dark magic and transformations. To fully complete the game, the player must use every ability available to Alucard to explore the castle (both normal AND mirrored versions), solve it’s mysteries and identify the true evil that he must defeat (Spoilers: it’s Dracula. It’s always Dracula).
This game is famous not only for the terrible voice acting, but for the memorable question: What is a man? (Answer: A miserable little pile of secrets, that’s what!).
#2. Metal Gear Solid
The game that made Solid Snake a household icon, Metal Gear Solid is the first of the Solid series that explores the character and reveals some startling truths. Two of the biggest bombshells include the return of a former friend-turned-enemy-turned-nutcase in the Cyborg Ninja/Gray Fox and the shocking revelation that Liquid Snake, the instigator of the whole Shadow Moses Incident, is Snake’s twin brother! Metal Gear Solid also introduced several recurring characters including Meryl Silverberg and Hal “Otacon” Emmerich, the former falling for Snake during the conflict and the latter forging a strong friendship with the ex-soldier that would continue for the next several games.
Metal Gear Solid plays differently in that you need to be sneaky to get around. Through using subtle arts of distraction and misdirection, coupled with plenty of armed and unarmed combat options available and the cardboard box, the game made me feel like I was playing through a spy thriller! And, of course, the game isn’t Metal Gear without the titular nuclear-equipped walking battle tank and Metal Gear REX was both majestic and frightening to behold. Metal Gear Solid’s riveting story, tight gameplay and over-the-top boss fights truly cements its place at the number two spot. But there’s only one game that surpasses it…
(Yeah, you guys knew this one was coming. How could it not?)
Final Fantasy VII is less of a game and more of a defining moment in gaming history. This was the game that brought JRPG’s into relevance, rocketed Squaresoft (now Square-Enix) to the top and helped the PlayStation become the iconic system that it is today. So many lives were touched by this game due to its story about life, identity and environmental exploitation which are still topics of discussion to this day. It introduced Cloud Strife, the calm and collected Ex-SOLDIER-turned-mercenary whose mysterious past is tied to one individual: Sephiroth, the silver-haired, immensely powerful general who descended into madness once he learned of his origins during a routine mission, of which Cloud was a part. I honestly could gush on and on, but I’ll summarize as briefly as possible why this takes the number one spot.
There has rarely been a game in which I’ve been so invested with its characters, but this game is one of them. For example, Cloud is a character that I related heavily to growing up – he was a source of solace to me when I was bullied or picked on. Aerith’s death shocked me (and many other players) to the core, since I worked so hard to build her up, only to see her permanently removed from the game. I stopped playing for a few days because of that event. The Materia system was easy to learn with plenty of interesting and fun combinations available to use. The visuals were also a wonder to watch; seeing the city of Midgar for the first time at the opening was breathtaking and battle cinematics were amazing to watch. The mini-games were a blast to play, especially the Battle Arena and Chocobo Racing/Breeding games. Last but not least, Sephiroth is (arguably) the best and most interesting villain in the Final Fantasy series. Not only is he super insane, he’s also incredibly mysterious and extremely cool. Plus, he’s got the best final boss theme EVER.
So, those are my picks. Do you think I made the right choices? Top up a brew and let’s chat in the comments!
Engineer by day, adult-responsibility juggler and caffeinated gamer dad by night, the Hyperactive Coffee Mage is a coffee-fueled writing machine and expert gaming historian. Check out his cool beans at gameswithcoffee.com.
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