Welcome back to the Dragon’s Beard!
Guess what? Our friend the Time Mage has many tales left to tell us and has decided to take a long stay here in town. He promises stories of games that have thrilled hundreds of thousands of people. One game, he has touted as one of his all-time favorites too. Ho! I am so excited my beard is tingling, are you excited?
Let’s not waste another moment. Marius! Marius! Please entertain us!
Marius: Thank you, Balbo. I am back! And for those who are unfamiliar with me, my name is Marius Breaux, and I am a Time Mage.
I have traveled from a distant realm and time where video games are one of the favorite pastimes enjoyed by the masses. As they say, you cannot swing an axe without hitting a gamer.
Oh, no, Balbo, put the axe down, I am not suggesting we swing axes at gamers.
During my stay, I will tell you all about the great Fifth Generation of home entertainment video game systems. This generation included the Sega Saturn, the N64, and the Sony PlayStation.
Yes, boy in the back waving his hand. I know what you are going to ask. You have asked it before. Yes, the N64 was another successful Nintendo system. One loved by many.
But today, we will talk about a system that changed everything…the Sony PlayStation.
What made it so different? Well, my friends, while not the first system to use CDs, it was the one that changed the media of games from the longstanding plastic cartridges. For some people, this was a welcome change, while others enjoyed cartridges and did not want to move forward.
Take it from this old Time Mage, change is tough.
But the success of this new system led to the overall demise of cartridges. If you ask me, I suspect one day cartridges will return. Perhaps in a miniature format, hmm…
The Sony PlayStation was Sony Computer Entertainment’s introduction into video game systems in the USA in September 1995.
That was a good year. Did you know in 1995, the FDA approved the first chicken pox vaccine? No, of course not. You don’t have chicken pox in this time and realm. You have Goblin Measles. It is hard to keep track of it all.
The PlayStation or PS was released in version one against the already established Sega Saturn and the looming N64 system that came a year later. It built up some stream and in a short time was getting the best ratings of all three.
It should be noted that in 1997 four out of five Electronic Gaming Monthly editors gave the PlayStation system scores of 9.0 or higher. The PlayStation was a hit!
As you know, from attending my lectures about video games, one of the key factors to a system’s success is its library of games. Oh, hold tight to your seats, because the PlayStation had great games. In fact, too many to list. The tally of total games released for the system during its lifetime is 7,918 worldwide.
Let’s talk about a few of the best RPG ones, starting with one of the biggest games to be released on PS.
Final Fantasy 7
Yes, Final Fantasy is back in our top game lists. No matter where I go, to the past, to the future, whatever realm of the multiverse…when I seek the answer to which Final Fantasy game was the most popular, I am awarded the same answer: Final Fantasy 7 from 1997.
For many, this was the first Final Fantasy game they played, and they were instantly engrossed by the plot and gameplay. For others, such as old school gamers, this was an interesting and unexpected evolution for the series. They look at FF7 as a fun return to one of their old favorites, but Final Fantasy 7 is different and a drastic change from FF6 which embodied all that the series was up to that point.
What made the game so different?
First up, it transforms from the typical fantasy theme to a more futuristic Sci-Fi one. Second, it was one of the first JRPGs with 3D graphics to hit America. (JRPGs are Japanese Role-playing games that are largely in a manga/anime style.)
So, what makes this game so great that it tops lists, wins awards, and is seated upon the heart of so many gamers?
Was it the graphics? Yes. The graphics were amazing for the age it was released it. Everyone felt they were way beyond their time. The game just seemed to glow and pulsate with lights and colors while the other games being released at the time felt flat. And are you ready for this, it was the first console game to come with multiple discs! (Due to the CGI cinematic scenes.)
Was it the musical score? Yes. The orchestrated soundtrack provided the perfect background to the game’s storyline and battles. It was composed by Hitoshi Sakimoto, who has a list of credits 80+ games long. The music, along with the action, kept your heart pumping steadily while you played.
Was it the characters? Yes. The trials and tribulations of these likeable characters gripped us tightly and never let go. Have you heard of Cloud Strife? Of course you have! He’s the hero and a character you will see all over in art, cosplay, movies, and more. He even shows up later in Kingdom Hearts. Have you ever seen a cosplayer in a white half shirt, black mini skirt, and suspenders? Was she wearing kick boxing gloves? Then you know who Tifa Lockheart is too. She was Cloud’s childhood friend and member of the same merc group, AVALANCHE.
Was it the plot? Yes. Books could be written about the plot of FF7, and already have been. The Active Time Battle system alone can fill up a chapter or two. The Active Time Battle system was a welcome change and kept you on your toes during the combat. No more falling sleep while waiting for your turn during late-late night gaming sessions.
The brilliant world-building in FF7 will keep you coming back to the end, and it may break your heart once or twice too. They say a game is immersive when you feel what the characters are feeling and want the same things they do, and FF7 takes you on one hell of a ride.
You know, Marius likes to mention how long it takes to complete a game. While you can rush the main story along at maybe 36-40 hours, if you want to truly enjoy FF7, plan to do lots of side quests and spend closer to 82-85 hours. Enjoy it.
Here is another great role-playing game for PlayStation. Released in 1999, Valkyrie Profile is often reviewed as being a unique and engrossing game experience. Filled with characters from Norse mythology, expect to meet Odin, Freya, and more as you prepare for the coming of Ragnarök (the end of days).
You play as a mythological Valkyrie with the job of collecting dead mortals to go to battle for Asgard. Sounds simple, right? But there is more. There is a ton of character development in this game, from the details the Norse Gods share to the back stories the dead tell you. This level of character development was an amazing addition to the game and one you did not see much of back in the day.
The 2D graphics may not impress you at first, but once you get going, and start to visit the stunningly designed locations, you will change your mind. Over 70 tracks fill this game’s soundtrack and they all sound amazing.
You may find mixed reviews, but most people seem to enjoy Valkyrie Profile. If not for anything else, it gets a 10 for originality.
See, as mentioned above, you are a Valkyrie, and your job is to find dead human soldiers, recruit them, and get them back on their feet and train them to fight for Asgard. Turn-based combat is featured, and each character has a different attack pattern. Therefore, depending on what characters you are using and how, you can develop all sorts of different exciting combo attacks.
This action-packed game ranges from 30-60+ hours and should be tried if you have never played it before.
From 1999 comes another fantastic RPG game for the PS. This game is set in the same world as Chrono Trigger, a popular SNES game (and one we reviewed before).
The plot of Chrono Cross features parallel worlds. Something this Time Mage knows all about! The main character in this game is named Serge. He is a teenager who is aware of an alternate reality in which he died at a young age. Interesting, right?
This game features an overworld map and enemies who are visible on the screen, meaning no random encounters and let’s be honest, lots of gamers do not like them. Comparable to most other role-playing games, the battle system is turn-based but is visually stimulating with all the magical powers that result in explosions of brilliant color.
What sets this game apart are the parallel dimensions and how events in one world can affect the other. So be careful with your choices while searching for items or places in each world.
Chrono Cross also has a nice big cast of 45 party-member characters! Most of the characters you meet in this game’s vast population will have counterparts in both worlds. This is especially exciting when your party members meet their other versions.
Chrono Cross reviews are often 9.0 or higher, normally 9.5 and above and the game rewards players with a solid 40-60 hours of addictive gameplay.
Star Ocean: The Second Story
1996 brought us one of the earliest known action Sci-Fi RPG games, Star Ocean! Woot!
This game is akin to a choose-your-own-adventure, which means your actions and dialogue choices guide the narrative. This game also featured a relationship system.
Yes, long before Mass Effect, you could find love in cold depths of space.
Star Ocean is the beginning of a long series of games that is still going strong today with releases and rereleases. Which brings us to Star Ocean: The Second Story, the first of the series that was released on PlayStation in 1999.
Star Ocean: The Second Story takes place twenty-five years after the first game and also features an action RPG style. The main character is Claude C. Kenny, a cadet from Earth’s space force.
He is stranded on another planet at the start of the game. A place that is similar to Medieval Earth. Like many role-playing games, our hero gets caught up in some political upheaval and fights against an evil organization.
Most of the games basic mechanics are the same as every other RPG game played to date. Explore towns and dungeons, fight, earn experience points…etc. Battles exist in real time and are often a result of random encounters.
So, keep your wits about you, since you must control the character you have picked from the start to the end. Yes, you can run around the battlefield, sneak up on your enemies, flank them, or take them on face-to-face; whatever your blood-soaked heart desires.
The relationship system carries over from the first game in the series to this one, making it stand out. With the use of your relationship points, you can build bonds that will benefit you in combat.
If you have played one of the modern Star Ocean games, it might be worth your time to travel back to the past and play some of the ones that built the foundation of the series. Set aside at least 40 hours. But realistically more like 60+. For the completionists out there, this one is easily a 100-hour game.
Breath of Fire III
Capcom brings us a game from a long-standing and fun series.
Breath of Fire III was released in 1998 on PlayStation and is considered one of the best RPGs for the system. It sold over 230,000 copies in North America, which was not bad, but not stellar. Its reviews were the same, ranging from 6’s or 60% to 8.5’s or 85%.
While this game might not have had the scores the ones above it did, the Breath of Fire series is truly a beloved one.
Breath of Fire III is a fantasy RPG game when many fantasy-themed games were taking a back seat due to so many Sci Fi and futuristic ones being released. But it was the fact that the game stuck to a familiar tradition that made people want to play it.
Breath of Fire is a big game with some undeniably fun aspects, like the fact it is filled with anamorphic playable characters! The main character, Ryu can shapeshift himself into a dragon. There are horsemen, fishmen, cat girls, fairy, and much more!
Each player has a unique ability which they can use to overcome the obstacles the gamer faces. Sometimes, that means solving a puzzle, other times revealing hidden areas. The game features turn-based combat that is dependent upon each character’s agility score.
So, you will find yourself attacking, defending, and casting spells like you do I most RPG games, but you will also be transforming Ryu into different kinds of dragons. This really sets the game apart for the rest.
Expect to put 50-100 hours into this enjoyable adventure filled with one-of-a-kind characters.
Final Fantasy Tactics (FFT)
Where does this old Time Mage begin… You see, this is one of my top five favorite games of all time. And when a Time Mage says “of all time” that means something.
Square brings another Final Fantasy game to the table, but this time it is not a standard role-playing game like its forefathers. FFT is a tactical role-playing game. This genre combines RPG and Strategy. And FFT may be the best game created in this genre ever. Not one game since, has been able to truly copy its success.
It is important to note, before we go any further, that Final Fantasy Tactics is set in its own world apart from the others. This world, Ivalice, is a typical epic fantasy one styled upon the Middle Ages.
Final Fantasy Tactics has it all. It jumps right into the action and story, with a plot so deeply developed and engaging you will want to play for hours and hours. You will care for these characters, especially the main ones: Ramza and Delita. But that’s not saying you won’t care for the others you take on or hire. You will spend so much time leveling them up and customizing their classes that you will remember their names months after you finish the game.
Yes, I said classes. There is a massive Job Class System in FFT, and it is one of the reasons why the game is so absorbing. Everyone starts off as a Squire or Chemist. That is the lowest level of the Job system. From there you can level up and branch out into a dozen or more fine-tuned and valuable job classes. For example, the Squire becomes a Knight after a few levels. The Knight becomes a Monk. For the Monk to become a Samurai, it must first have the Squire become an Archer and then a Thief and later a Lancer too.
Once this character has obtained the necessary levels for each of those classes below, it can then finally rise to the Samurai job class. And Samurai is not even the highest a Squire can go. So, careful planning and leveling will get you to your goal job class after many, many battles.
Countless gamers will admit to pressing buttons to fast forward or skip dialogue and cutscenes. In FFT, you will want to read and watch it all. At least during your first playthrough. I played this game twice. I would play it again, but it’s a huge game. They say it takes 50-100 hours to play this game depending on how many side quests you do. I say it takes more like 120-150 hours, and I will tell you why.
There are times you are just grinding out battles for experience points just to level a job class. And other times, I will not lie, that you lose a battle after fighting it for 15-20 mins and must go back and do it again. Yes, this game can be a challenge at times. The enemy can be ruthless or stupid, especially in the beginning when you are often outclassed. That is why you must live by the old adage, “save early, save often.”
The graphics in FFT are beautiful and fit the game perfectly. Personally, I really enjoyed the character designs, some of which harken back to the original Final Fantasy games, for example the mages and thieves look the same.
The part of the game that really looks the best, in my opinion, are the battlegrounds and townscapes. These maps are in 3D and can be tilted and rotated all the way around. And you will need to change your view because sometimes the enemy is hiding.
Get to that high ground first! On many occasions, you will have enemies on tops of buildings (or other structures) throwing things down at you or shooting you with arrows, and if you do not have a weapon or magic that can shoot back, you gotta find you way up to them to engage them in melee.
The plot of the game was masterfully written and massive. Here is a quick summary to whet your appetite. The story takes place after the Fifty Years War. The lands are suffering from a poor economy and burgeoning political upheaval. The King has died, and the kingdom is split down the middle between two royals, Prince Goltana and Prince Larg. All of this leads to a major unavoidable conflict.
This new war is called the Lion War, and the main character, Ramza, (you get to pick his class) is caught in the middle of it all. Ramza is forced to make choices between honor, responsibility, and friends and family. And that is just the tip of the iceberg. This story can make Game of Thrones seem boring with its depth and never-ending plot twists.
One last point to make. The music of FFT is one of my favorite video game scores on the PlayStation, and one of the better ones. It effortlessly ties right into the game perfectly. Is it Streets of Rage 2 soundtrack good? It’s on par since it is a different genre of game.
And guess who is largely responsible for this magical music? Hitoshi Sakimoto, the same person who composed the Final Fantasy 7 score!
Final Fantasy Tactics gets top marks. Some call it a masterpiece. I am one of those people.
Notice a trend? Many of the best RPG games on the PlayStation are sequels to games from years past.
As the home video game system consoles grow older, and the games become more multifaceted, making it hard to summarize them. Long past are the days you could speak of games in a single breath. Games like Atari 2600’s adventure gave you a thrill for ten minutes between your favorite Saturday morning cartoons. Now, games have complex storylines and characters, and require an investment of time to play.
While some games will take longer to complete, the ones of this generation mark some of the last challenges of years to come. Save features took away the long days spent trying to finish a game only to fail. That being said, there are some difficult and fun games out there. If what you seek is a game that is well-rounded with art, story, music, and will put your gamer skills to the test, then try one of the ones listed above. They will leave you fond memories at the very least.
Please note, this list could easily be thirty games long. What was your favorite RPG game not listed above? Tell us, we would love to hear what PlayStation games you considered the best.