The PS1 proves to have a strong library with a pretty solid top 80-71 games according to the Retro Sanctuary List. However, the list continues to select poor titles among those that deserve the honor. Of the below game, two are outright bad games, and two I can guarantee don't deserve to be in a top 100 PS1 games list.
What these 10 games show is that the PS1 had a really strong RPG and Action-Adventure titles, with games like Alundra, Star Ocean 2, and Breath of Fire IV showing up this early in the list despite being very good games. Even the titles related to those game are good enough in some way to be included in this list. Let's see in the future reports if Retro Sanctuary picks better games than these, or if we will still see terrible games like MDK and Vigilante 8.
Alundra is widely considered a spiritual sequel to the great Genesis game, Landstalker. Yet, other than the clear A Link to the Past (ALttP) influence, the game is nothing like it.
It has a much more serious story, and the gameplay loop is now even closer to ALttP. In fact, if you want to consider this a "Zelda clone", then this is clearly one of the darkest, and best of "the clones".Thankfully, the game's art design wasn't affected by the need to introduce 3D graphics, and as such the game looks great with its 2D sprite graphics.
On all counts, Alundra is a very good game that nearly reaches greatness. I think that with a little more polish in its dungeon design and platforming gameplay, this could have easily been one of the best PS1 games.
As it is, it is a very good Action-Adventure game with a uniquely somber story and surprising depth and complexity to its narrative, which manages to shine through mostly good gameplay that is occasionally marred by excess in difficulty or length.
80(S)- Alundra 2: A New Legend Begins (1999, 2000):
In many ways, Matrix Software's Action-Adventure games were invariably inspired by and compared to The Legend of Zelda series, a fact we can see with the original Alundra which was heavily inspired by A Link to the Past both in its look and structure.
Carrying on, you would guess that its 3D sequel would be inspired by Ocarina of Time. Yet, that's not the case, as Alundra 2 attempts to basically be a 3D looking top-down Action-Adventure game.
In that departure (which didn't age well), and in its more lighthearted story, the game was a disappointment to fans of the original. Yet, despite its shortcomings, and because of some of its quirks, I actually think that this game was unfairly rated at the time. It's a really charming game that I would remember long after I forget the original
As such, I am basing my final judgment more on feeling than observation, and I feel that Alundra 2 is, despite its flaws, a more charming and memorable game than the first, but it's not the better game. Unfortunately, its 3D graphics didn't age well and they bring the game down, as they affect both the presentation and gameplay of the title.
79- Rollcage Stage II (2000):
Rollcage Stage II is almost a Kart Racing version of Wipeout but without the style and level of control of that title. Simply put, I found the driving in this game to be horrendous and the weapons mostly useless, but all of that wasn't as bad as the droning and barely describable soundtrack.
To be sure, there are some great ideas in the game. For one, you can shoot missiles at objects in the environment, causing them to collapse and hinder the other racers. For two, you can drive upside down, and your car can land on either side without any issues (how does that work for the drivers though?)
Also, it is worth mentioning that this game had some fans at its release, with a spiritual successor, Grip: Combat Racing, being Kickstarted.
78- Star Ocean: The Second Story (1998, 1999):
The retirement of the space-based JRPG franchise, Phantasy Star, allowed for another to shine in its place. For many people, the second game in the Star Ocean series is a true masterpiece. Yet, it is rarely considered as one of the top PS1 RPGs.
After finishing the game once, I fully understand why it is a favorite game for many, while at the same time failing to stick-out much for those who didn't fall in love with the game. I feel that Star Ocean 2 is the rare JRPG that is built to be replayed several times, and that super fans of the game are ones who like this aspect of it. For someone who rarely replays games, it means that I am missing a big portion of the experience.
Nonetheless, even a single playthrough showcases how this a charming game with tons of customization options. So much, that even with some slightly mindless gameplay and a prosaic story, it still is a very good game.
77- RayCrisis (1998, 2000):
Among fans of the genre, RayCrisis is not held in as much high-esteem as its predecessors or other Shmups of the same time, and I agree despite not being an expert in the genre at all. The series's main gimmick is that you attack both objects in the foreground and objects in the background, forcing you to pay attention to the entire playing field from threats that may be immune to one form of attack.
Overall, I think the game has two major flaws that simply doom it in comparison to its betters.
First, the presentation is weakened because of its reliance on its dated polygonal graphics and a poor soundtrack in my opinion.
Second, the game's presentation makes it unfairly difficult because it is harder to gauge distances, and if objects are in the background or the foreground.
76- Anna Kournikova's Smash Court Tennis (1998, 1999):
This is an okay Tennis game that isn't as good as the best SNES Tennis game I played, or near the level of fun of Mario Tennis on the Nintendo 64. Its polygonal characters are not bad, and it is easy to judge the path of the ball. However, serving is a bit wonky causing many double faults.
75(S)-Breath of Fire III (1997, 1998):
Both on the SNES and the PS1, Capcom’s Breath of Fire series was rarely considered as examples of the system’s best RPGs. In many ways, they felt too formulaic and safe to be contenders for greatness. On the PS1, where graphics were going into a more 3D and “realistic” style, the first BoF game was firmly planted in the past.
Ironically, it is this last quality that best preserves BoF III for today’s players. Its sprites and 2D graphics and animations have aged better than most PS1 RPGs, and what may have been considered (erroneously) a weakness at one point is the game’s biggest strength along with a surprisingly good story and characters.
Yet, other weaknesses that were noted in the past, such as a lack of innovation and depth in its combat and an overall sluggishness to the experience, all contribute to dragging the game down. In the end, BoF III’s adherence to past SNES RPGs is both its biggest strength and most damaging weakness
75-Breath of Fire IV (1999, 2000):
I don't think either fans or Capcom itself would have predicted that Breath of Fire IV would be the last traditional game in the series. After all, it was released with a lot of love from Capcom, and it looked like it was setting up the mythology for future sequels.
For whatever reason, the next games in the series went in a completely different direction, and the franchise has since lain dormant.
This is a shame because here we have a classic RPG, built-in many ways like an updated SNES RPG, that begs for a traditional sequel. After all, I still have bittersweet feelings at its ending, and I wish I was still it was a little bit longe
If your major complaint about a game is that you want more of it, then that is already a veiled compliment. The truth is that Breath of Fire IV is a very good game that has clear flaws. There are some clear filler chapters, and characters and story are not explored enough through dialogue.
Yet, in its full design, it conveys so much potential and personality that you cannot help but fill in the missing narrative through your own imagination as we have always done in the SNES era. I think that's why the game is so beloved by its fans, as this is clearly an RPG crafted in the image of the best SNES games
74- Vigilante 8: 2nd Offensive (1999):
Initially, I was supposed to review this game. However, I had such a bad experience in the first two hours that I decided against it. Simply put, this is an ugly Vehicular Combat game with poor controls, poor music, and no reason to exist when the Twisted Metal series existed at the time. It's a shame for it to feature in ANY top 100 PS1 games list.
73- Mr. Driller (1999):
Mr. Driller is a fun Puzzle game by Namco that has a lot of depth, but I wonder how much of a replay value it has. The concept is simple enough; you dig down one block at a time, trying to go as deep as you can. However, blocks of the same color connect to each other, and digging one block (down, up, or sideways) destroys the entire chain. As blocks are destroyed, everything they supported comes tumbling down. As things tumble down, they can be arrested by blocks of the same color, and if the chain of blocks is big enough, they get automatically destroyed causing a combo of destruction.
It's a very solid concept that goes a long way in differentiating the game from others in the same genre. Not satisfied with just that core concept, Namco also added in an Oxygen meter, which makes things even more hectic and fun. As you go down, you need to keep an eye for oxygen tanks to fill your ever-depleting meter. However, in later levels, you notice that most tanks are behind unbreakable blocks. That's where a combination of fast puzzle solving and twitch platforming is needed to release the tanks and dig down as far as you can.
72- Micro Machines V3 (1997,1998):
Fans of this highly technical Arcade Racing game will probably ignore all its flaws, and it has many. For one, there is no bloody soundtrack. For another, highly technical is simply another word for stupidly difficult.
Personally, I never liked this series, and replaying it now, I know that I never will.
71- MDK (1997):
This a PS1 port of a PC game, and is reportedly a decent port of the game.
Yet, I don't think the game itself is decent in any way. Originally, I was going to do a full review of this, but I couldn't handle more than an hour with this ugly, boring, and ridiculously dark game. While the action is frantic and fast, it is in the service of vast battle arenas of utter boredom.
Graphically, the game is very dark, and the art direction is extremely poor. The main character looks like Pyramid-Head fucked an Alien, and the game doesn't bother to explain that at all. Hell, since the main character is a 2D image superimposed into a 3D plane, you could probably splice whatever you want into that space and it could fit better with the game.
This report is a consolidated review of the top 100 list by Retro Sanctuary. It features the reviews I made for the list but also has a brief paragraph about each game on the list that I didn't review. For games without an official review, the opinions I express are purely based on some little playing time and general research about the game and its reception at the time.