- Nintendo’s partnership with Square Enix helped them dominate the RPG market with games like Super Mario RPG and Chrono Trigger.
- Sony’s launch of the PS1 in 1994 changed the RPG market, making it the dominant console and leaving Nintendo’s N64 with few RPGs.
- The PS1 had many great JRPGs, including titles like The Legend of Dragoon and Final Fantasy 7, which had a significant impact on the gaming industry.
On the RPG front, Nintendo ruled the roost thanks to consoles like the SNES. They dominated the market with games like Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars, Chrono Trigger, and Secret of Mana. This was all thanks to their partnership with Square Enix, known as Squaresoft at the time.
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Then, in 1994, Sony launched their first console in Japan and changed everything. The PS1 was now the dominant console in the RPG market, and Nintendo’s successor, the N64, barely featured any RPGs. A lot of the RPGs from Japan were even published by Sony in the West once the PS1 was released there in 1995. There are many great JRPGs available for the original PlayStation, and some of the best were published by Sony.
6 The Legend Of Dragoon
Metacritic Score: 74
The Legend of Dragoon
- June 14, 2000
The Legend of Dragoon is an interesting case in Sony’s long RPG history as there was never a sequel. It starred a young fighter, Dart, whose village gets attacked by an evil army, prompting him to go after them to find his friend. There were cliches like that abound in the story, but the emphasis on dragons helped it stick out a little along with the gameplay, which could be divisive.
When characters attacked, players had a small window to time their button presses. If successful, they would land a normal attack, but if they failed, which probably happened a lot, battles would take longer to finish. Enemies weren’t spring chickens either, so the game could easily become monotonous fast. Beyond the difficult battle system, this was a unique RPG that Sony should consider trying again.
5 PoPoLoCrois Monogatari
Metacritic Score: N/A
- July 12, 1996
PoPoLoCrois Monogatari had a similar combat system to the Arc the Lad games. Battles would commence on the world map or in dungeons after finding an enemy, and characters could move around freely before attacking in a turn-based style.
The game looked like a storybook as the sprite-work was, and still is, some of the best on the PS1. That aesthetic fits since the story plays out like a lighthearted fairy tale with the prince of the kingdom setting out to avenge his family and find a cure for them. It, and its sequel, were never released on the PS1 over here, so the PSP collection in 2005 was the first official time Westerners could jump into this charming RPG.
4 Wild Arms 2
Metacritic Score: N/A
Wild Arms 2
- April 30, 2000
The Wild Arms series took the traditional fantasy-based RPG formula and added it to a Western. The further the series went on, the more the Old West-influenced setting rubbed off, with the peak being Wild Arms 3 on the PS2.
Wild Arms 2 was the best of the two on the PS1, which was a step up in many ways over the original. The graphics were better, as characters looked more dignified instead of like little chibi sprites. The puzzle-based dungeons had a lot more to them with fun tools. The world was bigger, battles were more nuanced, and the list goes on.
3 Star Ocean: The Second Story
Metacritic Score: 80
Star Ocean: The Second Story
- May 31, 1999
- Action RPG
Star Ocean: The Second Story is often regarded as the high point in the series so much so that it got an HD-2D remake in 2023. That version, and all other versions, were not published by Sony in the West. During the PS1 era, Sony handled a lot of publishing for bigger companies like Squaresoft and Enix, though. Publishing aside, Star Ocean: The Second Story followed a space explorer, Claude, who crash-landed on a less-developed planet.
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Together with the help of locals, Claude traversed the planet looking for a way to get off. Battles were randomized, but players got to control characters like in an action game, which was still a novel concept at the time.
2 Final Fantasy Tactics
Metacritic Score: 83
Final Fantasy Tactics
- June 20, 1997
On the Squaresoft side of things, Final Fantasy Tactics was handled by Sony in the West. It was, at the time, a wild departure for the series, as characters now moved on a grid-like system. The West was not flush with true tactical RPGs in the 90s because Fire Emblem was a franchise that would not blossom outside of Japan until 2003. So, this title was a bit hard to get used to on PS1, and the game itself was quite challenging.
It still might be one of the most difficult games in the franchise, but it is also heralded as one of the best. The mature storyline is riddled with religious iconography, and players could invest months in the detailed class system. These aspects helped the game achieve the reputation it has today.
1 Final Fantasy 7
Metacritic Score: 92
Final Fantasy 7
- January 31, 1997
As good as Final Fantasy Tactics was, there is no denying the power that Final Fantasy 7 had in 1997. It still has immense power over fans, as it has received movies, anime, books, spinoffs, and now a series of remakes. It did for RPGs what Halo would eventually do for first-person shooters on consoles. It brought newcomers into the genre and also helped sell consoles.
Who knows where the PS1 and the overall PlayStation brand would have ended up without Final Fantasy 7’s impressive CG cutscenes, cinematic battles, bombastic music, engaging characters, and wild story? It is one for the ages, and there may never be one quite like it.
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