The PlayStation 1 had such a massive library of games that it is impossible to do it justice with a simple top 100 games list. As such, I decided to supplement my usual review of a top 100 games list (this time, I used the top 100 PS1 games list from Retro Sanctuary) with other games picked up from different lists. This parallel "Additional List" is not numbered in any ordered way, so the quality of the titles theoretically varies from top to bottom with no rhyme or reason.
In this report, ten franchises are featured with the prequel of three of them, for a total of thirteen games. Of these games, I fully reviewed eight and casually played the rest. Based on these reviews, I find that it's absolutely criminal that no Mega Man Legends game is included in the Retro Sanctuary list. Also, three games are heads and shoulders above many of the selections in that list: Legend of Mana, Kartia: The World of Fate, and Brigandine, with Incredible Crisis deserving a spot based on its expertly delivered weirdness alone. Other than these games, the rest have either aged terribly, were never good in the first place, or simply boring to play with no redeeming factors.
Here is a brief on these thirteen games, please enjoy:-
A60- Legend of Mana (1999, 2000):
Despite the stellar reputation and good commercial performance of the first three Mana games, all of which followed a similar formula and gameplay template, Square never returned to that style with the remaining games in the franchise. Instead, it experimented heavily with each game, creating something that is only connected by name.
The first title that started this trend was Legend of Mana o the PS1, which aimed not only to subvert the expectations on its series but all expectations on RPGs in general. It deviates in nearly every way from the games of the past and those of its own era for better or worse.
Mostly, I feel a bit disappointed that I didn't like The Legend of Mana as much as I hoped I would. Right of the bat, I knew that the game's non-linear narrative and style would need a lot of work through its gameplay to win me over. Unfortunately, that ended up being the game's weakest part, since I could forgive its disjointed story but could never forgive its boring gameplay and combat.
Sadly, the game's weaknesses absolutely betrayed the major strengths in graphics and sound that it had. If it had the gameplay and story that it deserved, I am sure that this would have been one of the best games on the PS1.
A59- Kartia: The Word of Fate (1998):
The most striking thing about Kartia: The Word of Fate is immediately apparent, and it is the distinctive artwork and character design of Yoshitaka Amano of Final Fantasy and Front Mission fame. Attempting to support Amano's art is an ambitiously unique Tactical RPG system with a mature and character-driven story.
Admittedly, the gameplay and story do not consistently live up to the excellent art design, nor do the basic sprites translate the full character of the many portraits Amano drew. However, its ambitions in both story and gameplay do go beyond their minor hiccups and annoyances, and the result is a perfectly respectable hidden PS1 gem.
Initially, I thought that I wasn't enjoying the game at all and was sad to see Amano's wonderful designs wasted. However, as I figured out the game's card mechanics and started to ignore the writing flaws of the story, I started enjoying it a bit more, especially when I started the second of two parallel stories. In the second story, starring the tragic heroine, Lacryma, the intricate story, and various connecting threads started becoming more apparent and consequently shined. Ultimately, I now recognize it as a true hidden gem with characters that are worthy of their unique designs.
A58- Guardian's Crusade (1998, 1999):
Not having RPG games of its own, Activision in the 1990s attempted to latch into any obscure RPG properties from Japan and support localizing it. Surprisingly, these localization efforts were highly competent but were honestly mostly wasted in mediocre games.
It might seem a bit harsh to call Guardian's Crusade a mediocre game, but in a way, it is designed that way. This is a JRPG that is designed to be a person's first JRPG, and as such is basic in its mechanics, story, style, and difficulty. Unsurprisingly, for any experienced player, the end result is a simply boring game.
Besides the simplicity of its mechanics, the game's story, graphics, characters, and music were just extremely lacking or downright average. Activision did not have a winner in their hands with this game, but the charm and technical competence in which they handled the localization obviously had an impact on the charming localization of Alundra 2, which is a better realization of the visual and tonal style of this game.
At least something good did come out of their experience with this game.
A57- Chocobo's Dungeon 2 (1998, 1999):
I tried several times to get into the Mystery Dungeon Roguelike Dungeon Crawlers before, mostly with the Shiren series. Yet every time, I get bored fast and question the time I am wasting on them, Which is why I hoped that Squaresoft's experience in RPGs may have helped alleviate the worst aspects of that series with Chocobo Dungeon 2.
Unfortunately, other than the Chocobo and some light Final Fantasy tropes, this is a full-fledged Mystery Dungeon game, warts and all. Honestly, I tried to like these games so many times, but I now have finally given up on this genre for good.
For those interested, this is one of the better spin-offs on the PS1.
A56- Incredible Crisis (1999,2000):
Incredible Crisis may be one of the weirdest games released on the PS1. In fact, it may be one of the weirdest games ever released. Being one of the first games to showcase a typical brand of Japanese humor and wackiness that would later be replicated by games such as Captain Rainbow, Rhythm Heaven Fever, and the WarioWare series, this game has a curious place in history.
Like those games, this is basically a collection of small Action, Rhythm, and Puzzle mini-games presented in a wacky exterior with a wacky story. Thanks to its excellent music, character design, and art direction, the game ends up being better than the sum of its parts, and worth playing despite the weakness of some of its mini-games.
Featuring the wacky escapades of an everyday Japanese family through a bunch of mini-games representing their mishaps, the game manages to be much better than the sum of its parts through its crazy premise and unique graphical and sound design. Weirdly, the game's soundtrack is actually composed by Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra, which is a world-famous Ska band, whose unique musical style and energy is perfectly expressed by the game.
All of this makes Incredible Crisis a truly unforgettable, and dare I say, Incredible experience.
Brigandine is one of the few late 90's games that attempted to combine the Grand Strategy genre with Tactical RPGs. Oddly, all of those games, like Dragon Force on the Sega Saturn, feature a similar anime-inspired character design and story that recalled some of the classic medieval setting anime shows of the 80s.
That retro look at a time where "futuristic" and "realistic" trends were all the rage may have contributed to their relative obscurity, but their undoubted quality led to some of them being cult hits.
I am glad to say that Brigandine on the PS1, in all of its versions, certainly has the quality and pedigree to deserve its cult-favorite status. This is a really good game. With its interesting world and array of characters and creatures, as well as its mix of Strategic and Tactical RPG gameplay, Brigandine offers a sandbox of sorts in which to play. In this sandbox, you can focus on the limited but solid story of the game as you plan your conquest of Forsena, and you can imagine a parallel narrative that follows your own unique path of conquest.
Thanks to the very TRPG elements and the variety of monsters and characters, you can play the game multiple times with different natures, and I don't think it will ever be boring. Sure, the game may be lacking in certain production elements, and it has some unfulfilled potential. However, the ambition of what's there ensures that fans of the game won't forget it for a long time.
A54- King's Field II (1995,1996) & King's Field III (1996):
I am just going to go right out and say it, the PS1 King's Field games are irredeemable trash. They are extremely ugly, even when compared to other First-Person games in the same era, extremely hard in unfair and mechanically suspect ways, and bland in their story and world design. While you can get a hint of what FromSoftware would be capable of in the future, there is just a massive pile of shit to go through to get any of those hints.
First, let's talk about the First-Person Action RPG gameplay since that is ultimately the biggest culprit behind the game's flaws. Besides being yet another bad example of First-Person gameplay on the PS1, these games are actually much worse due to their poor hit detection and lack of contextual feedback. As a result, fights devolve into ballet dances with an array of indistinguishable and poorly designed enemies in a bland and indistinguishable world.
Simply put, these games have no value other than as historical relics for those interested in FromSoftware's developmental history.
A53(S)- Mega Man Legends (1997,1998):
I think it's weird how much people like Mega Man Legends. Objectively, I don't think it excels in any one thing that it does. It has charming graphics that are terribly constrained by technical limitations. A well-realized world that is absurdly small in scope. Good gameplay ideas that become repetitive and boring on closer scrutiny.
Yet, it combines all these partially flawed systems into a passionate package that manages to charm despite itself. It manages to evoke some special feeling that I think stuck with fans of the game since its release and grew with its sequel and the unrealized hopes of a third game.
With its charming world and characters and a story that looks like it is directly pulled from the classic cartoons of the past, it was inevitable that the game would make some people fall in love with it. It is a seriously charming game with lots of things to like.
However, I cannot but wonder if perhaps there should have been more substance to the game, especially when it came to its limited dungeons and the repetitive combat. Also, while the story was charming enough, you feel like they shouldn't have kept the stakes so low until the very end and maybe should have explored the mystery of the world a bit more.
I think these faults ultimately keep the game from being a true great like it aspires to be, but it is clear the template of something wonderful and truly legendary was in the game, as can be seen with its illustrious sequel.
A53- Mega Man Legends 2 (2000):
The first Mega Man Legends game had a unique charm that made it a cult favorite despite what I consider to be some significant flaws and limitations. It looks like it was just a dress rehearsal for Capcom though, as the second Legends game manage to correct almost all of those flaws, greatly advance the game's formula, and still retain much of its charm, while massively improving the gameplay all around.
While not a perfect game, far from it, Mega Man Legends 2 is a flawed masterpiece that encompasses the full meaning of this designation. It's a massive shame that we may never get the third game in this sub-franchise. It has a flawed progression economy, not many things to do outside of combat, and the graphics and gameplay are still stilted compared to the masters of that genre even in that era. Also, needing Roll to change your special weapons outside of dungeons is a cardinal sin.
Yet, there is a reason fans of the game are still waiting over 20 years for Mega Man to get back from the Moon, there is a reason for such a strong attachment to this lightly flawed game.
I think that reason is this game's extremely unique charm, which is difficult to express in words other than its sheer audacity and ambition. An ambition to make a game that so closely mirrors a Saturday Morning Cartoon, a game that fits the looks and feelings of a Ghibli film of all things, a game that is unlike any other and yet feels so familiar. While the first game had some of those elements, it felt more like a proof of concept. Mega Man Legends 2 matures that concept and presents it in this semi-glorious form.
Is it any wonder that we are all hoping for a third game that finally fully realizes the potential of that concept and all of its unique and charming glory?
A52- The Misadventures of Tron Bonne (1999):
The original Mega Man Legends game introduced fans to a charming world that strongly evoked Saturday Morning cartoons and anime, and that unique charm earned it a deserved fandom despite its gameplay shortcomings. One of the biggest charming points of that game was the mischievous Bonne Sky Pirates family, with the middle sister, Tron Bonne, becoming an instant classic character along with the yellow Lego-like minions, the Servebots.
Recognizing the potential of these characters, Capcom made a complete spin-off starring the Bonne Family and their small army of Servebots, anchoring the whole thing on their charm. Unsurprisingly, to anyone who played games in the series, that charm is strong enough to pull the game beyond its modest gameplay elements into something truly special and worth playing.
This game is bigger and better than the sum of its parts. If it was only the few mission modes and the mini-games, it wouldn't be an impressive title at all. However, in the way these modes support the charming characters, and the way these characters do the same, that the game becomes something truly special.
Capcom, Inafune in particular, created something unique and special with the Mega Man Legends series, and of the best aspects of that series is The Misadventures of Tron Bonne, both regarding the game and character.
A51- Monster Rancher (1997) and Monster Rancher 2 (1999):
The Monster Rancher series was Tecmo's answer to the popularity of the Pokemon and monster training craze of the late '90s, and their approach to it was to provide a simulation-style to the gameplay. Each week, you can choose how to train your monster, and based on that training, the monster will grow and you can compete in monthly competitions. As the monster grows, you get access to more monsters, and you can combine them to make even stronger monsters.
One of the game's most unique gimmicks is that you can scan music and game CDs to summon different kinds of monsters, depending on the CD. With a big variety of monsters, there is a lot to get involved with for the genre fans.
However, no matter how you look at it, the gameplay is just a random approach to manipulate the statistics of your monsters with little to no direct input from the player. Battles are not really that interesting, and there is no story to speak off. Yet, my worst take on the game is the fact that the monster's designs are just so lacking and uninspired when compared to its contemporaries, with both Pokemon and Digimon having much more interesting creatures.
This report is a consolidated review of the additional list in my PlayStation 1 REVIEWS blogging series list. 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.