The best PS1 games of all time: From Symphony of the Night to Final Fantasy 7

Sony tentatively entered the video game market by partnering with Nintendo to develop a new, disc-based console in the mid-90s. After that partnership fell apart, Sony went on to release a console of its own.

The first PlayStation launched in Japan in late 1994, and in the following year, to the rest of the world. Although the PS1 wasn’t the first console to use CD-ROMs or provide true 3D graphics, it created the breakout moment for both of those technologies in gaming.

Ranging from novel-length, narrative-driven RPGs to fast and furious races to mind-bending puzzles, games for the original PlayStation offered a wildly diverse lineup over its 11-year production run.

Take a stroll down memory lane with us as we count down the 50 best PlayStation 1 games ever made. Do they hold a candle to the best PS4 games? You decide.

Action

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night

best ps1 games sotn

The Castlevania series was over a decade old by the time Symphony of the Night arrived, but it was absolutely the franchise’s defining moment. It radically expanded the series’ platforming with RPG loot and progression and non-linear exploration, lending its suffix to the subsequent “Metroidvania” genre as a result.

Unlike previous Castlevanias, where you controlled members of the vampire-hunting Belmont family, SotN revolves around Alucard, the lazily-named son of Dracula, who fights the horrible monsters of the castle to protect humanity from his father. Symphony of the Night stood out immediately for bold choices like hiding more than half of the game behind a false ending, or using the CD format to make a massive game filled with rich, 2D sprites instead of the crude, early 3D the rest of the industry was pursuing at the time.

One of the most influential action-RPGs of all time, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is still just as satisfying to play now as it was 20 years ago.

Metal Gear Solid

best ps1 games mgs

Between Thief: The Dark Project on PC and Metal Gear Solid on PlayStation, 1998 was the year that modern stealth video games were born. A sequel to two lesser-known games from creator Hideo Kojima, you play as special ops soldier Solid Snake, infiltrating the hideout of a rogue unit threatening the United States with a nuclear strike.

Snake has a variety of tools for evading and taking out guards, making it one of the most taut and tactical gaming experiences available at the time. The series has since spawned four more critically-acclaimed main entries and various spinoffs, radically expanding upon both its deep gameplay and Kojima’s baroque, nuclear mythology. But the first Metal Gear Solid remains an unassailable classic.

Twisted Metal 2

best ps1 games twisted metal 2

Prior to leading the team behind God of War, designer David Jaffe rose to prominence for his work on the PS1 vehicular combat series, Twisted Metal. In the demolition derby taken to a post-apocalyptic extreme, players take the wheel of various over-the-top armed and armored vehicles. Projectile weapons and power-ups are scattered throughout the arenas, set in the ruins of major cities around the world. The cars and drivers — like the series’ iconic ice cream truck, Sweet Tooth, and Axel, a muscle-bound man straddling two truck tires — ooze personality even in the early polygonal days of 3D.

The first game included only a single-player campaign and co-op mode, but the sequel expanded everything about it, including more vehicles, more arenas, and more custom and multiplayer modes for just dropping in and enjoying the mayhem à la carte. A contractual dispute between Sony and developer SingleTrac led to subsequent sequels being developed by other, less capable studios, making TM2 the peak of Twisted Metal for most fans.

Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver

best ps1 games legacy of kain

An action-focused spinoff of the top-down RPG series Legacy of Kain, Soul Reaver was a third-person action game from Crystal Dynamics, which would go on to earn acclaim with its reboot of Tomb Raider. You play as the ghostly vampire Raziel in the grimdark fantasy world of Nosgoth.

Players loved its dark, compelling narrative, voice acting, and varied mechanics. One of its main conceits was the ability to swap between the physical and spectral realm at any time. Crystal Dynamics was unable to simply layer two different versions of the world on top of one another because of the console’s limitations; achieving the effect was no small technical feat.

Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver is also notable as one of the first major games written by Uncharted series scribe Amy Hennig, now considered among the best game narrative creators in the business.

Tenchu: The Stealth Assassins

best ps1 games tenchu

With their long-held mystique both within and beyond Japan, ninjas have featured prominently in video games since very early on. In franchises like Ninja Gaiden, however, they had largely been translated into nimble, hack-and-slash fighters. Tenchu: The Stealth Assassins is one of the first games to truly embrace the ninja as a stealthy infiltrator who must rely on his tools and wits to survive, rather than just weapons and reflexes. Developed by Japanese studio Acquire, Tenchu was the feudal Japanese parallel to Metal Gear Solid’s nuclear melodrama. Failing a mission would cause you to lose whatever tools they were carrying at the time, forcing you to be careful and deliberate when planning your approach to each mission. Fantastical elements from Japanese mythology provided fun flavor, but Tenchu was most fun because of how human and vulnerable you felt, making success all the sweeter.

Syphon Filter

best ps1 games syphon filter

Although somewhat overshadowed by Metal Gear Solid, Syphon Filter was another exceptional 3D, third-person action-stealth game for the platform that was praised at the time even if its legacy has not endured as strongly. Newbie developer Eidetic took equal inspiration from Goldeneye 007 on the Nintendo 64, hoping to create a “super-spy” hybrid genre with stealth, action, and puzzles.

It tells a gritty, contemporary story about special operatives facing off against biological terrorists in a world-spanning story that encompasses governments, multinational pharmaceutical companies, and conspiracies that run all the way up to the top. It was a pulpy and immersive plot, enhanced greatly by gameplay that was a compelling balance of stealth and straight-up action. Critics cued into its stellar AI, a key requirement for good stealth games, which was among the most impressive in any game to date.

Einhänder

best ps1 games einhander
Although best known at the time for its roleplaying games, Japanese developer Square was no one-trick pony. Case in point: It also gave us Einhänder, an absolutely fantastic side-scrolling shoot-’em-up in the tradition of Gradius (though not quite as extreme as the “bullet hell” subgenre that came after it).

Set in the future during a war between Earth and the Moon, you pilot a spacecraft through horizontal, 2.5D levels, destroying enemies and collecting power-ups. The name, a German word for a one-handed sword, alludes to the core mechanic of your ship’s sole grappling arm, used to pick up weapons scavenged from destroyed enemies. Weapons mostly have finite ammo, forcing the player to keep finding new ones and adapting their play style to what’s available.

Apart from the generally slick presentation, players loved the tactical variety enabled by the system of picking up new weapons, as well as the way that bosses had discrete parts that could be targeted and disabled. Although well outside of Square’s wheelhouse, many consider Einhänder to be one of the genre’s best, and Square’s finest non-RPG work to date.

Ace Combat 2

best ps1 games ace combat 2

The original Ace Combat (released as Air Combat) was one of the first games released on the original PlayStation, and it showed. This sequel was an improvement by developer Namco in basically every way. Gameplay is divided into relatively linear, objective-based missions, with resources becoming available to upgrade your jets depending on how successful you were at destroying all targets.

It’s an arcade-style combat flight simulator, “arcade style” here referring to its gameplay-over-simulation design, with only semi-realistic physics and the ability to carry far more missiles than an actual jet could — though difficulty settings allowed more hardcore players to fly with greater realism if they so desired.

Mega Man Legends 2

best ps1 games mega man legends 2

Although the PlayStation hosted some of the best conventional 2D Mega Man games as well, it was also the exclusive home to some weird entries like Mega Man Legends, as well. With only the main character in common (and a cheeky reference to how he’s named after a character’s favorite video game), Legends is set in an archipelago where he travels around with the Caskett family of treasure hunters, scouring ruins for ancient machinery in search of the legendary Mother Lode.

In addition to refining the run and gun mechanics (replete with a fairly deep crafting and customization system), the second game also presented a much richer and more character-driven narrative than the structure typical to the core series of “hunt the bosses to get their powers.” The voice-acted cutscenes were particularly entertaining, feeling very much like watching an anime. It featured memorable characters like your nemesis, the pirate Tron Bonne, who had her own spin-off game between two Legends entries. A third game was canceled in development.

Tomb Raider 2

best ps1 games tomb raider 2

The original Tomb Raider essentially founded the genre of the 3D action/adventure game, but it’s the sequel that really made it sing. A radical departure from the cutesey, cartoon mascots of the previous console generation, international treasure hunter Lara Croft was immediately embraced as one of gaming’s most iconic characters, heralding the medium’s maturation.

The first game’s mix of exploration, platforming, combat, and puzzle-solving was expanded substantially for the sequel, with refined controls, bigger environments, and more exciting set-pieces. The third game felt a bit more like a rushed cash-in, leaving Tomb Raider 2 as the series’ peak for a lot of players until the universally-praised 2013 reboot.

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