The RPGFan team put our collective heads together to vote on the staggering range of retro RPGs that Sony made available on the PlayStation Store between 2006 and 2016, and they came up with a list of the 30 best games of the PlayStation Store that are worth your time.
Now that the current generation of home consoles is well and truly in swing, it’s safe to say that the sun has finally started to set on the PlayStation 3. But that doesn’t mean it’s all over yet; in fact, it’s the perfect time to look back at the PS3’s excellent Classics library of digital PS1 and PS2 titles. And, of course, a good deal of these titles are also playable on PSP and/or PS Vita!
Of all the RPG classics to come out on the PSOne around the turn of the millennium, Suikoden II stands above its contemporaries in one special category: charm. It’s a textbook hero’s journey set in a romantic feudal Asian fantasy world with a massive and colorful cast of characters. The world feels organic, with each new character or location coming together like a piece of a puzzle to complete a greater picture. And in the process of marshaling an army of oddballs and misfits to resist an invading empire, the protagonist turns an abandoned vampire’s lair into a place that feels like home. Of course, inspiring fond nostalgia is not Suikoden II‘s only strength; combat comes in three different flavors: turn-based, strategy, and rock-paper-scissors, and its numerous other systems offer plenty of diversion. Distracted heroes can stake their army’s finances on a game of dice, hire a PI to run background checks on their allies, or compete for the title of Iron Chef™. Moreover, scouring the world for the recruitable characters known as the 108 Stars of Destiny weaves a Pokémon-esque joy of discovery into a fantasy RPG epic. Suikoden II really does have it all (except a good localization). It is a masterpiece of cohesive world building. It is a mini-game lover’s paradise. It is charm incarnate.
What “best of” list is complete without the inclusion of Final Fantasy VI? While it wasn’t originally released on PSOne, the ability to easily access this version is what warrants its inclusion on the list. No other RPG does epic, emotional and beautiful as well as FFVI does. Beloved by everyone and revered by many, FFVI — along with Chrono Trigger— set the standards for JRPGs back in the ’90s, and even today many games cannot touch the dizzying heights of this classic. The game has one of the most diverse cast of characters in an RPG, and every single one feels like an integral part of the rebellion. Each character has a purpose in the story and a mission to fulfill, and that’s an experience many games find difficult to replicate nowadays. Once you hit the halfway point in the game, it throws out all the traditional conventions you’ve been so used to and drowns you in a world of destruction and chaos. Linearity goes out the window, and even now it still feels like a breath of fresh air. If you want to try the cream of the Final Fantasy crop, this is the game to play.
The bustling city of Sumaru has come down with a bad case of Kotodama: Any rumor, no matter how unlikely or ridiculous, will come true if it spreads far enough. Just when things couldn’t get any worse — in true Shin Megami Tensei fashion — a whole mess of demons are set loose! The only ones who can stop this nightmare scenario are a journalist, a lingerie saleswoman, a cop, and a blackmailer, along with the help of a fashion model, a corporate heir and…an angsty high school drop-out? Hoo golly.
Several years before Atlus hit gold with the international sensation that was Persona 4, they put out the wonderfully subversive Persona 2: Eternal Punishment — the second half of a duology that began with Persona 2: Innocent Sin, and notably the only Persona title focused on a group of adults. Eternal Punishment may not be as flashy as the series’ later entries, but it’s an incredibly deep RPG with a lovable cast of misfits and many surprising twists.
Xenogears might just be one of the most complicated and ambitious games ever made, let alone from the PSOne era. Combining religious allegories with Freudian psychology, Nietzsche’s philosophy and Gnosticism, Xenogears takes the bull by the horns and produces one of the best stories ever seen in an RPG. The game spans thousands of years and tackles everything from the human condition, free will, to the meaning of life and fate itself. The game is famous for being incomplete, with a cutscene-heavy second disc which many attribute to budget cuts. But for every tiny little misstep Xenogears makes, it takes about five steps in the right direction: Yasunori Mitsuda’s soundtrack is sublime; the 65-hour journey never wastes a minute of your time; the narrative is excellent, producing some genuine shocks which will move you to tears and keep you hooked until the very end. It’s a thoughtful, intricate, and epic journey. One thing you can be certain of is that there will never be another game like Xenogears, and that should be more than enough of a reason to go back and play this masterpiece.
An avant-garde “Kissing RPG” from the twisted mind of Yoshirou Kimura, Chulip‘s schoolboy protagonist has just moved to a ’70s Japan-throwback suburb, and wants nothing more than to kiss the girl next door. Tragically, he’s immediately rebuffed with a swift punch to the mouth. Declarations of love take charisma, finesse, and practice after all, so it’s up to you to help our hero build up his repertoire by kissing every single person in town. From the vampiric town doctor to the ghosts, animate stone lions, and homicidal robo-policemen, your smooching targets are certainly an odd bunch. That’s to say nothing of the town’s hidden community of “Underground Residents,” which counts turtles, Godzilla wannabes and S&M-themed umpires among their ranks. It’s a long, rocky road to the heart of your soulmate, and trying to kiss the wrong person at the wrong time might end in certain death!
Resembling an underground manga come to life, Chulip is just great. That said, it’s also inhibitively opaque. Don’t be ashamed to play this one with a guide in hand, which Natsume helpfully included in this release’s digital manual. This is one to play for all of its weirdness, not its challenge.
Most people know the history behind Chrono Trigger: the “dream team” of developers (including Final Fantasy‘s Hironobu Sakaguchi, Dragon Quest‘s Yuji Horii, plus Masato Kato and Yoshinori Kitase), the sublime soundtrack from Yasunori Mitsuda and Nobuo Uematsu, and the charming and completely familiar character designs by Akira Toriyama. In almost every way, Chrono Trigger is the perfect 16-bit JRPG, and decades later it continues to live up to the hype with accessible gameplay, no-nonsense storytelling, and an impossibly high number of beautiful set pieces and detailed tile sets. Almost every cutscene and line of dialogue is trope-inventing and memorable, and the narrative confidently jumps between lighthearted cheese, deadly seriousness, blood-pumping bravery and swashbuckling, and video game charm of the purest kind. Chrono Trigger cleverly uses time travel as both a narrative and gameplay device, and every detail, treasure chest, and NPC feels deliberate and well-calculated. Its world is full, and should serve as a standard for JRPG quality. Chrono Trigger is also a short game (though one with multiple endings and high replay value that popularized the concept of New Game+), which only makes the package tastier and more impressive.
Chrono Trigger is a classic for a reason, one that can be returned to infinitely for entertainment and inspiration. There’s no adventure quite as satisfying.
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night represents the start of a new era for the beloved series of Dracula-slayer action games, and also half of that awkward “Metroidvania” portmanteau. For the first time in Castlevania history, Symphony of the Night gives players an entire castle to explore, a spacious nonlinear 2D building instead of a straight path littered with floating Medusa heads. The half-vampire all-awesome Alucard is a blast to control, with smooth movement and a host of RPG elements like customizable equipment and spells. The game wears its Gothic aesthetic beautifully, and Michiru Yamane’s soundtrack is alternately catchy and foreboding.
Many of the subsequent Castlevania games follow in Symphony‘s footsteps, at the direction of former Castlevania architect Koji Igarashi. Despite being IGA’s first Castlevania project as writer-director, Symphony of the Night is an all-time great that is a must-play for any fan of character action games, stylish RPGs, or flying disembodied heads.
Final Fantasy VIII doesn’t want to be other games. Whereas Final Fantasy VII is the next logical step from Final Fantasy VI, and Final Fantasy IX strives to return to the glory days of the series, Final Fantasy VIII is something else — something distant and sci-fi, something overly cinematic and unprecedentedly art nouveau, something with gunblades. At times overwritten, Final Fantasy VIII is a story of icy military academies, a foreign, futuristic war, and ordinary teens becoming military leaders. It strikes an interesting balance between being everyday, soap-operatic, and sublime.
Protagonist Squall struggles with his feelings of isolation, and his relationships with love interest Rinoa and rival-turned-bad-dude/antagonist Seifer are surprisingly poignant and heavy. Tetsuya Nomura’s designs flourish here, and in some ways, this is the first modern Final Fantasy game. Final Fantasy VIII has resistance factions, an FMV ballroom dance sequence, and moon monsters, but is most memorable in its downtime, where you may find yourself riding impossibly clean elevators for minutes just to play cards with some no-name kid. The divisive but ultimately innovative Junction system gives players a high level of flexibility and, in the right hands, can be game-breaking. Drawing spells from enemies over and over again is a pain, but allotting the spells strategically is immensely satisfying.
Final Fantasy VIII is probably the least popular PSOne entry in the series, most likely due to its combat system, but it remains a classic and formidable effort from Square’s golden age.
The Junkyard is an endless battlefield where the rain and fighting never stop. Several tribes compete for supremacy, until a mysterious girl falls from the sky. Her arrival proves to be a catalyst for consciousness: Suddenly, the tribes begin to question how long they’ve been in the Junkyard, how they got there, and why they’re fighting. As Serph (leader of the Embryon tribe) searches for answers, the denizens of the Junkyard transform into savage demons and begin to devour each other.
Set in a unique cyberpunk world based on Aryan mythology, it’s eat-or-be-eaten in this extra-dark offshoot of Atlus’ Shin Megami Tensei series. Digital Devil Saga provides a slightly tighter experience than the series is known for, both narratively and mechanically, but the game doesn’t suffer any from it. Digital Devil Saga presents stylish art, angsty music by Shoji Meguro, and an existential conundrum worth pondering. On top of all that, there’s even a cute kitty!
Out of the Junkyard and into the fire, Serph finds himself alone in Nirvana: a world promised as a paradise, but instead one where the sun’s rays turn human flesh to stone. Wandering through a ruined city populated by agonized statues, Serph must find his missing comrades and learn the cause of this world’s dreadful state, and if it’s even possible to put it to rights.
Digital Devil Saga 2 provides a fitting and satisfying conclusion to the mysteries put forth by its prequel, while creating an even more bizarre and beautifully grotesque world to explore. Serph’s journey across Nirvana is as lengthy as it is arduous, and the game is also stuffed full of side quests and hidden, superpowered deities to challenge. Anyone who loved the first Digital Devil Saga owes it to themselves to complete the duology with this excellent follow-up.
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