It’s one of the most popular consoles ever made, with one of the largest game libraries ever seen. But what were the games that defined the Sony PlayStation? You’re about to find out.
Debuting in Japan on December 3rd, 1993, and hitting Western territories almost a year later in 1994, the Sony PlayStation was an incredible demonstration of technical prowess, superb games and successful marketing. Not bad for a system coming from a manufacturer of consumer electronics who’s only other significant contributions to the gaming industry was the Super Nintendo’s sound chip, and its brief time as Sony Imagesoft, a publisher of games for other consoles.
It is the fourth best-selling gaming system of all time behind its successor the PlayStation 2, and Nintendo’s DS and Game Boy systems with over 100 million units sold. Being that its nearest rivals, the Nintendo 64 and SEGA Saturn could only muster just under 33 million units and just over 9 million units respectively, it was undoubtedly a beloved console for many. The PlayStation brand quickly replaced Nintendo’s as the name synonymous with game consoles.
And it was the games that made it all happen. Sure, the PlayStation was a powerful system that truly brought 3D gaming to the masses, but it had masses of games of all genres that played as good as they looked, bringing back old favourites and introducing the world to all new ones.
But which of these games helped define the PlayStation and make it the massive mainstream success and cultural icon that it was? These are my picks, but why not tell me yours in the comments down below?
The PlayStation came at a time when affordable technology could finally bring dedicated 3D games to the home, whereas before this technology exclusively resided in the arcade, in cabinets such as Namco’s excellent Ridge Racer.
In this arcade racer, players could feel the sense of speed through drift-focused mechanics in exciting mountain roads, as it’s success made it a perfect candidate to be ported to Sony’s debut system. A launch game in all regions, Ridge Racer was every bit as impressive as the arcade original, and it’s beautiful polygonal vehicles and amazing CD soundtrack made it one of the most impressive games at launch.
It was notable for having relatively few loading times for a CD-ROM game, with Namco loading the entire game in memory and giving players a port of their arcade hit Galaxian, to play while this admittedly long loading time takes place. Knowing they were a good idea, Namco patented this feature in 1995, which stopped others doing the same user-friendly thing until the patent expired in 2015.
It’s exactly the sort of game that you would want to launch a system with – The perfect demonstration of the experience you could expect from the PlayStation, and launched a series that outlasted its arcade roots and spawned many sequels and spinoffs for future game systems. Namco followed Ridge Racer by porting all of it’s best arcade titles almost exclusively on PlayStation, such as Tekken, Point Blank and Time Crisis.
Final Fantasy VII
It might not look like much now, but Final Fantasy VII is one of the most important games ever made, and I sincerely mean that. For years, Square has been pushing the boundaries of storytelling in video games, despite being limited technically by the visuals possible on the NES and SNES systems. After a very public spat with Nintendo, they moved over to Sony’s side, who welcomed them with open arms and gave them the technology they needed to push Final Fantasy, and the JRPG genre in general, into a new era.
Final Fantasy VII was given a big marketing push by Sony and as a result, helped make JRPGs popular in the Western world and opened the floodgates for many more adventures to be released on the system at a time when many would barely make it out of Japan.
Weaving themes of identity, love, loss and saving the planet, it ensnared players with it’s fully rendered FMV cutscenes and memorable characters. Players had a beautifully realised world to explore, filled with exciting locales and situations, while the fully polygonal battles were the most exciting things ever seen on the system, especially the insanely over the top Summons. All while having one of the most memorable video game soundtracks over the last few decades.
Final Fantasy VII was an instance of Square capturing lightning in a bottle in a way they’ve tried and failed to do with several spinoffs for this game, and there’s a reason that fans have wanted some sort of remake for over a decade now. It made Sony systems into the consoles to get if you like RPGs, and that reputation still remains after two decades of the PlayStation brand.
Metal Gear Solid
The 32 & 64-bit era was an exciting time for video games, as the boundaries of what a game could and couldn’t do were shattered time and time again. For years we had put up with the most threadbare of narratives in games, and the advent of CD added awful voice acting and FMV to the mix. It took a game, like Metal Gear Solid to really define what was possible with the medium.
Hideo Kojima’s cinephilia and directorial ambitions led to a game that was unlike any other. The basic mechanics were mostly taken from the original MSX and NES version of Metal Gear, but updated for a new age, defining the stealth genre as we know it.
Yet, it was Metal Gear Solid’s overall presentation that made it such a compelling and important release. It featured voice-acting that was a vast improvement to what we had seen in other games, while the in-game cutscenes have a cinematic flair to them that no-one had ever attempted before. The narrative was far-fetched, but so full of twists and turns that you couldn’t help but give it your full attention. The sum of all of these aspects was an incredible release that was an absolute essential for anyone who ever wanted to see what games could one day become.
Solid Snake’s PlayStation debut had an incredible impact on both the console and the medium as a whole and hailed the revival of a series that could have easily fallen into obscurity.
It’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment that the medium of video games properly entered the mainstream consciousness with any lasting impact, but the arrival of Lara Croft in Tomb Raider is definitely up there. At a time when Britain was cool again and the Spice Girls preached the word of Girl Power, Core Design’s heroine came at just the right time – A pretty face to put on the front of a game box to mostly attract the male gaze, but one that quickly became an iconic figure for both genders.
While the original Tomb Raider was initially a timed exclusive for SEGA’s Saturn console, it was the PlayStation where Lara really shone, and once Sony got their chequebook out and signed an exclusivity deal of their own from September 1997 to the year 2000, it was there that both the Tomb Raider games and Lara herself really made their mark in mainstream culture.
The original game sets the template for the third-person platforming action that would sustain the series for decades, as players delve into the darkest of environments, avoiding traps, solving puzzles and shooting at all creatures great and small – Including the infamous T-Rex.
As Lara Croft shot into stardom, appearing on non-games magazine covers, commercials, two movies and even onstage during U2’s Popmart tour – Along with it came the PlayStation’s perception as a must-have console. And while the game series may have had the occasional misstep, it remains a beloved franchise, so much so as it’s about to receive a third movie adaptation, this time going back to Lara’s origins in a story based on the game’s’ own return to form in the 2013 reboot.
Every system needed a mascot, or at least that was the perception. Mario and Sonic were established superstars for Nintendo and SEGA, but when the PlayStation arrived, finding a figurehead was a painful process for Sony. There came a point when Sony possibly realised, that maybe they didn’t need to develop their own hero – Why not let other developers try and fill that position for them?
The PlayStation was a haven for a new wave of 3D platform pretenders and considering the whole idea of a 3D platformer was relatively new, there were so many takes on what such a genre could be like, with many failures along the way. For every Croc and Spyro, there were, even more, platform pretenders that just didn’t cut the mustard. Before Nintendo’s Mario 64 showed the world how it was done, no-one really knew the best way to bring the platformer genre to 3D.
But in Crash Bandicoot, the PlayStation had a game of its own that took a unique approach to solving the various issues involved in defining the genre. In taking a mostly 2.5D approach to design and placing a fixed camera behind the player, Crash Bandicoot avoided the camera issues that plagued so many other platformers in the newly-defined 3D platformer genre. This view is arguably far from perfect as it did make judging jump distance difficult – But it was playable enough and more importantly, intuitive enough for players of all abilities to pick up and play.
Crash himself was certainly a mascot born from the Sonic mould (after all, the game’s original pitch was jokingly named “Sonic’s Ass Game” due to the over the shoulder camera view), and his quirky look and 90’s cartoon attitude was enough to make for some entertaining commercials as the character invaded Nintendo’s Seattle offices, calling Mario out in a style that only SEGA would have once dared.
His stock may have fallen once the PlayStation 1 era ended, but those that grew up with those original three Naughty Dog-developed games, this game is tied into those fond memories of the system. Look at the massive popularity of the remastered Crash N-Sane Trilogy for proof of the game’s synonymous link to the PlayStation brand.