Blocky graphics, pre-rendered backgrounds, and controls that could not make sense of a 3D world were all hallmarks of games on the original PlayStation console.
However, it seems that for every ten duds that were released, we would get at least one timeless classic. So why does this list only have 15 PS1 games that hold up today? Well, I like the number, alright?
Also, I could probably write an entire list of PlayStation RPGs that held up well on their own, and that would crowd out a lot of other great games.
For a game to appear on this list, it needs the following qualities:
- Passable graphics
- Great controls and UI
- Reasonable difficulty
- Good art style and direction
Not every game on this list is going to rank high for all these elements, but the right combination of these features allowed these games to age well. Alright, without further ado, let’s look at 15 PS1 games that hold up today!
1. Final Fantasy VII
The graphics suck! The ATB system was boring! The backgrounds were pre-rendered and blah blah blah blah blah!
As Cid would say, “F$%# all that!
I think all the proof you need that this game aged well is the stream of incessant sequels, prequels, and remakes of the game that are out and coming out in the future.
The UI in the game was nice, even in the plethora of minigames that you could play throughout your long stay on Gaia. The industrial art theme and storyline were so well-connected that the game’s atmosphere and mood were palpable despite the graphical limitations of the system.
The story was somewhat typical for a Final Fantasy game in that it starts with a relatively simple task: stop Shinra from sucking up all the delicious Mako. By the end of the game that task hasn’t changed, but it gets a lot more intense. It’s fantastic, and there’s so much to learn about the world by going off to do a little exploring.
The game has immense replayability; you can easily sink a few hundred hours into the game, playing through and then going back to really plumb the depths and do everything. If you’re never played the game by now, then you would still have an incredible experience going back to it today.
2. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
I am old enough to remember the disappointment that resulted from Castlevania: Symphony of the Night being in 2D. In fact, the game seemed like such a departure from the main series that it didn’t get its legs under it right away.
Given some time and a few steps through the grieving process for what could have been a 3D Castlevania game, people came around to the game.
After all, it has a great art style and mood, the music is on point, and the introduction of RPG elements of the game worked perfectly. Not everyone was a fan because some people prefer their Metroidvania games to be more linear and less RPG-like.
This game took the series in a different direction, and it did so successfully!
Fans of the series could certainly pick up this game and enjoy it right now. At least, they could if it wasn’t so frickin’ expensive.
3. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2
From the moment you saw that eyeball get impaled as part of the “Neversoft” logo, you knew you were in for a ride.
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 had everything you could want in a PS1 game. The career mode and character customization were better than the prior entry, the music was amazing, and the vast number of tricks you could attempt was fantastic.
This game was immensely entertaining as a single-player game or as a battle against friends. The controls were wonderful for the time, with only the occasional moment where you missed a last-second trick because of an input error and wanted to throw that controller out the window.
The game rocked then and it is a great PS1 game that holds up today.
4. Monster Rancher 2
Although JRPGs were some of the most popular games on the system, the PS1 launched right in the middle of the monster RPG craze. Remember kids, it wasn’t all Pokemon back then.
Monster Rancher 2 put you back in the shoes of a monster rancher, and it was your job to obtain a monster by going into town and putting in some of your other PS1 discs to see which monsters they held.
That was a pretty cool system, but it came with some limitations for us poorer gamers.
Anyway, you get the monster, learn about its personality, and start bulking it up for entry into tournaments. That’s the name of the game, to become the very best like no one ever was.
Ok, so it might be a little derivative, but back then, taking your monster’s personality into account while carefully breeding them to get a certain type was still a fresh idea.
The battle system and controls are lots of fun, forcing you to get in range to attack your enemies and making hits and misses a more serious part of combat than Pokemon.
If you’re like me, you’ll love the anime-style graphics and the comforting music when you’re home on the monster ranch.
The only reason the PS1 version might not hold up today is probably the fact that you would need a ton of PlayStation discs to get monsters from, so unless you have a good collection, you’d be kinda stuck.
The gameplay itself still rocks, though. Except that your monsters can die. That was an unpleasant surprise.
5. Harvest Moon: Back to Nature
Harvest Moon: Back to Nature is similar to other games in the series in that you inherit grandpa’s farm and you have to get it back in shape within three years if you want to keep it.
The graphics aren’t exactly fantastic, but Harvest Moon was never a series concerned with realism. You start out on the farm with you and your dog, constantly waging war against the clock and your energy bar as you rip out weeds and move rocks so you can actually start your farm.
The first few weeks are rough, but you’ll get the hang of it. Soon enough, you’ll have an operating farm that just begs for upgrades, relationships with people in town, and invites to attend festivals.
The music is downright soothing (except that depressing winter song), the replay value is immense because you’ll always want to do something else on your farm, and the controls are simple enough for anyone to learn.
6. Final Fantasy: Tactics
Final Fantasy Tactics came out the year after the first entry into A Song of Ice and Fire: A Game of Thrones. What do these two have to do with each other?
Not much, but I do think it’s kind of cool that two forms of media emerged around the same time that had unique medieval worlds, tons of death, and political intrigue driven by supernatural forces.
This tactical RPG was amazing for its time, bringing some elements of Final Fantasy into the series to the table but also giving a much more mature story. The gameplay is downright amazing, with the class and recruiting system to help you build your team to fight against enemies.
This game also holds up because it didn’t do much to hold your hand. There was no Vanish/Doom combo to take down enemies, and sometimes your team wouldn’t match well against the enemy’s and you’d get wiped out.
The music and art style were beautiful, and even though the graphics were far from perfect, they still won’t hinder your enjoyment of the game.
7. The Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver
This entry into the Legacy of Kain series was not what people were expecting at all. Instead of playing as the titular badass, you become one of his former lieutenants, Raziel. He’s not doing so well these days since his monstrous betrayal, but that’s okay. You’re here to get revenge.
This puzzle/platform/action game isn’t that long, but its story, graphics, and gameplay are pretty damn good. It might take some time to get used to the controls, but you probably won’t fumble over them beyond the first few minutes.
The game’s gothic atmosphere and unwillingness to make the story entirely cut and dry is somewhat reminiscent of the Dark Souls games. So, if you like running around in doomed worlds fighting enemies, then this is the game for you.
8. Crash Team Racing
Crash Team Racing was the PS1’s answer to Mario Kart games. You can race as many of your favorite characters from the series, drive through crazy levels, and use items to gain an advantage over your foes.
Again, this is definitely a little derivative, but it was cool to see Crash and co. get into kars and race. The graphics in this game were actually rather nice for the time and the controls are simply perfect.
You could pick up this racer after playing a modern kart game and feel comfortable behind the wheel.
9. Spyro 3: Year of the Dragon
After having two whole games to get over the fact that I’ll never get to play as a badass dragon, I had come to terms with playing as Spyro. The game didn’t break any records for originality, but it held up well over the years.
The graphics are still nice to look at and the controls are very nice, especially if you’re using a DualShock controller.
The game isn’t too difficult even for younger people, but it might be a little too PG for some. After all, you’re a dragon, so you’d think you could at least melt one city and its citizens, right?
10. Mega Man X4
If you’re a fan of the Mega Man series, then this is a great game that you can still try today. It’s a 2D platformer that puts you in the shoes of Mega Man X or Zero, giving the game instant replayability.
Mega Man X4’s developer, Capcom, wisely skirted the limitations of the PlayStation’s graphics by using anime cutscenes to expand on the story rather than trying to use the in-game graphics alone.
Don’t let the cutesy graphics fool you, though. This game’s story is downright dark, seeing Zero start to unravel as he wonders about what he’s done and what he could become in the future.
It’s hard to find many faults with this game. The controls, graphics, and gameplay all work great for the game.
11. Medal of Honor
Making a shooter that holds up in this generation of games was a heck of a task. Somehow, Medal of Honor managed to do the seemingly impossible by providing decent graphics, great gameplay, and loads of fun.
The game is high in replayability and the controls let you confidently storm the battlefield when you feel the call of duty.
This was the first game I remember noticing that there was good enemy AI. The enemy would not always charge headlong into your bullets; they’d use cover to ambush those who ran too quickly into an area.
You also have to appreciate how the music and sounds held up over the years, too. All in all, this is a solid entry that PS1 lovers could still enjoy today.
12. Vagrant Story
With the Final Fantasy series absolutely dominating the lifespan of the PlayStation, it could feel somewhat hard for other RPGs to stand out. One of the games that probably didn’t get all the attention it deserved was Vagrant Story.
Yes, it is tangentially related to the Final Fantasy series, but it’s a distinct title for certain.
Vagrant Story features a unique combat system, a mature story, and very nice graphics to make them coalesce. The controls are good, but they take time to learn because this game has more action to it than most JRPGs.
Vagrant Story has a lot to love and it held up well over time. I just wish it would get a sequel.
13. Tekken 3
Making a good fighting game that holds up over time is quite hard since both graphics and tastes change so rapidly.
Tekken 3 had it all for a fighting game. The graphics were beautiful for the time, the controls were simply heavenly, and the game was well-balanced.
Of course, the replay value of fighting games is intrinsically high, but you won’t want to put this game down, either. The solo playing mode can be challenging, so you’ll want to spend time refining your technique so you can beat the game with everyone, even Panda.
14. Metal Gear Solid
For its time, Metal Gear Solid was absolutely great. The stealth mechanics, the story, the gameplay, and the incredible atmosphere created by the art put this game head and shoulders above others.
The graphics are the toughest part of this game to swallow because the rest still stands up today. Sure, the AI is not nearly as good as new games, but you’ll still find the game rich, challenging, and rewarding when you finally get through the story.
The fights are not as fun with the surprises ruined (like Psycho Mantis) but the game still holds up well after all these years.
15. Twisted Metal 2
The Twisted Metal series took the Road Rash idea just a step farther by removing racing as a primary component of the game and allowing the player to focus on more important things: like ruining the enemy’s day.
Twisted Metal 2 improved a lot upon the original game, offering better weapons, better controls, and bigger levels. Unfortunately, it didn’t do anything for the graphics, and that made the game’s reception less than perfect.
Nevertheless, this is certainly one of the PS1 games that hold up today if you are looking for a reason to indulge in some mindless destruction!
Not All PS1 Games Hold Up Today
I left off so many games from this list that were lauded in their day for a few reasons. For one, I just can’t look at games like Dino Crisis 2 or Parasite Eve and say that they’re still good today. The controls and graphics are brutal even though the stories are fun.
I also feel like it wouldn’t be fair to just load a list of all the best PS1 RPGs because many of them still hold up today (looking at you, Final Fantasy series, and all the PS1 remakes of Final Fantasy titles that were mind-numbingly slow.)
Still, I know I missed some very good games that I would still boot up and play from a completely legal disc and certainly not by using an emulator.
What did I miss? What games were so good that you’ll still play and enjoy them today? Let me know in the comments and I’ll facepalm while reading them tomorrow.