When it comes to the best PlayStation 1 RPGs, we’ve all heard Final Fantasy this, Chrono Chross that.
Two problems that emerge when a steady stream of blockbusters are released on a system is that some of the very good RPGs are crowded out and some games are less great in the eyes of players who experienced the best games on the system.
That happened a lot on the PlayStation 1, as the JRPG came into its own and created standards that were impossible for games to live up to. People often opted for the biggest names while the less-popular games fell to the wayside.
Well, it’s time for the underrated PlayStation RPGs to get their time in the limelight. Just so you know, this isn’t a ranked list, I’m just screaming into the digital ether.
1. Jade Cocoon: Legend of the Tamamayu
First on the list, we have Jade Cocoon: Legend of the Tamamayu. Think of this game as that adult Pokémon game you always wanted. You take on the role of Levant, a young man trying to become a cocoon master.
Cocoon masters capture and purify spirits of “minions”, the vast hordes of monsters that occupy much of the area. This game didn’t get a lot of love because of the somewhat basic monster-based combat system that boiled down to using a superior element against enemies.
The game was released amidst the Pokémon craze, so monster-catching games were spoken for at the time. However, the game’s graphics, dark story, great music, and gameplay were all better than the low scores assigned to this game.
2. Legend of Legaia
Legend of Legaia subverted the familiar turn-based combat that was typical of 90s RPGs and introduced a mystical story only to get a tepid reception by critics.
Sure, the story was a little out of left field where humans are driven to the brink of extinction by possessed beings born from the mist. Sure, it gets close to Final Fantasy IX’s story, but it was good enough to make you want to work with the Seru to save the world.
Many of the most successful PlayStation RPGs used some variation of the turn-based combat system where you chose the attack and your character carried it out. The combat system in this game was turn-based and made you input certain combinations on your controller to launch attacks.
This “Tactical Arts System” was reminiscent of martial arts, and your character could perform all sorts of deadly combos. You had to make certain you hit at the right area and used the proper attacks against certain enemies.
Although the combat might have been the most interesting part of the game, Legend of Legaia still provided decent graphics, nice tunes, and a unique take on the genre.
3. Chocobo’s Dungeon 2
The late 90s were all about Pokémon and Final Fantasy, so it should come as no surprise that spin-offs were everywhere. In the case of Final Fantasy, we got this lovely little dungeon-crawler RPG starring a Chocobo, one of the giant, rideable birds from the series.
As Chocobo, you venture into the randomly generated dungeons outside of the main town, finding new treasures, advancing the story, and battling new enemies.
Sure, we didn’t have a story about crazy sorceresses or a giant meteor about to blow through the planet. It was a relaxing, somewhat sweet game that focused on fun and exploration rather than dire situations.
The game deserves recognition for its less serious take on the genre while also providing a place for people new to RPGs to step into the genre in a way reminiscent of Final Fantasy Mystic Quest.
4. Final Fantasy VIII
I’ve written at length about the reasons that Final Fantasy VIII failed to get as much positive attention as other games in the series. Mostly, the game was poorly received by critics because it was such a departure from the past entries.
The weird leveling system, the junctions, Guardian Forces, and the emotional sappiness caused some people to write off Final Fantasy VIII before getting into the deepest parts of the game.
While weird, the story was just a smidge below great. It had moments of levity (every scene with Zell) mixed in with trippy time-traveling fun and horrific events like Edea turning Squall into a Shish kebab.
Was this the game that we were expecting after the previous installment? Hell no. That doesn’t mean we can’t see its virtues and say that it deserved more praise from its fans.
5. Azure Dreams
Azure Dreams got no love despite being a very fun dungeon crawler game. The story was that you were a young man named Koh tasked with going into your town’s large, monster-filled tower in search of treasure and your father who went missing many years before the game started.
Nothing new there, right?
Once inside the tower, you could tame “familiars” to fight by your side, do treasure runs, and then leave the tower to start all over again. The floors were timed and the combat integrated Koh’s weapons and his familiars that he could hatch from eggs, train, and combine in the town.
Speaking of the town, the game lets you pursue romantic interests, upgrade the town with the gold you earned from the tower, and improve the lives of all the citizens. You became a true hero as you fought your way to the top of the tower.
The tower was huge and respawned differently upon every visit. While you were trying to unravel the mysteries of the tower, the game provided an enthralling soundtrack and unique graphics.
6. The Legend of Dragoon
I think most PlayStation RPG aficionados would agree that this game didn’t get a whole lot of love in its time. The game faced an uphill battle as it came too late in the console’s lifecycle and wasn’t exactly a famous name.
The graphics were downright great for the system and the addition of the more active timing-based combat in the game was icing on the cake. The dragoon transformations were sweet, but maybe not as impactful as some people would have liked.
Also, you can’t say this game didn’t have a very good story. The stakes were high and you felt for every one of your characters.
7. Star Ocean: The Second Story
I am convinced that the primary reason Star Ocean: The Second Story wasn’t so popular is that the original Star Ocean was not officially released in the U.S. until a few generations after the PlayStation. Unless you played on an emulator.
The story was awesome and let you start the game as either the son of a character from the first game, or a young woman on the planet that the guy crashes into. You get both sides of the story if you play through the game, and that alone should make this game win serious awards.
The action-based combat was amazing, letting you run around the battle screen and clobber enemies or set your characters’ AI to have them autonomously cast spells based on your needs.
Thinking back on it, how the heck did this game only sell 300,000 copies at first? Why did it get middling reviews? Probably because people only thought of the graphics, which were pleasant and detailed but not in 3D. GASP! You can pick this game up on the Switch now, and you really should.
8. Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together
Yes, this entry of Tactics Ogre was released on the SNES and Sega Saturn in Japan, but it didn’t reach the shores of the U.S. until the PlayStation released it. When you think of tactical RPGs on the PlayStation, we all think of Final Fantasy Tactics.
I’m not saying it’s not the better game of the two, but Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together had so many amazing elements to it.
The combat and music will keep you engaged and playing the game for hours on end. You have to account for the weather, terrain, and your desire to potentially recruit enemies when you go into battle.
The game’s best element was definitely the story, a rich and complex narrative that is bound to make you stop and say “Oh, damn!” more than a few times. The game received average reviews by most publications, but trust me— it’s better than average.
9. Brave Fencer Musashi
The game is very silly as opposed to being serious and dark, so right out the gate this game had some marks against it. The game bordered on absurdity with names like Thirstquencher Kingdom, Flatski, and Gingerelle being tossed around.
Nevertheless, you starred as a young legend-in-the-making (actually, a reincarnation) named Musashi. You are tasked with defeating the Thirstquencher empire by empowering Musashi’s swords with five powerful scrolls.
The action combat of the game worked well, the voice acting had me in stitches, and the graphics were nice. Some points of the game dragged, but the aesthetics of the game along with the fun take on the RPG genre made this game unforgettable and worthy of playing.
You see, I didn’t have a PC back in the day. I did have a PlayStation, though. Although the game was not as well-received or known about on the PlayStation, Diablo was an absolute gem for the PS1.
The chief benefit of having this game on the PlayStation was the two-player compatibility. You could just plop down with a friend and chop your way beneath Tristram into the burning hells.
The game’s music, atmosphere, combat, and unforgettable cast of characters (all voice-acted) made this title simply incredible.
The game then went on to start a franchise that gave us the incomparable Diablo II and has made us wait for Diablo IV for the next million years.
What is the Most Underrated PlayStation RPG?
The most underrated PlayStation 1 RPG is Star Ocean: The Second Story. Seriously, please go get this game and its predecessor any way you can. If you’re a fan of PS1 RPGs, and you probably are since you’re reading this, then you need to have this game in your brain.
What did I miss, though? What underrated games did I miss out on? Tell me in the comments so I can facepalm in utter shame!