Past the halfway mark in Retro Sanctuary's Top 100 PlayStation 1 Games list and we are supposedly going to get to the good stuff. This appears to mostly be the case despite Tomb Raider polluting the list (it deserves a place on reputation alone despite aging like milk). Weirdly in this list of 10 (and supplements), there are two Shmups, with one of them deserving its place on the PS1 while the other is just better on the Sega Saturn. Other than that, we have some great games such as Valkyrie Profile and Dino Crisis 2 along with strong and interesting titles like Silent Bober and Devil Dice. Capcom features on the list twice, with the best Mega Man game on the console, as well as yet another fighter, and JRPGs are represented by Atlus's then-fledgling Persona series.
Overall, this is a strong choice, and it's indicative of the strength of the console's library that its top 50 game list shouldn't have any weakness. Of course, I expect Retro Sanctuary's lists to have mistakes in them, but I think there are many games to plug those mistakes by now. Of these games, I reviewed three (along with some supplemental reviews), but I have already played Persona before and will write about Mega Man X4 in a different blog. All other games I have played for a bit to get my thoughts, as well as did some research.
50- Einhander (1995, 1996):
Einhander is notable for two reasons: That it's the first and only Shmup made by renowned JRPG developer Squaresoft, and that is one of the best Shmups in a system that isn't known for the genre. Directed by an ex-Konami employee who worked on Gradius II and Xexex, it had pedigree behind it and indeed delivered a great game for fans of the genre.
Its major innovation was the ability to equip two limited-ammo power-ups at the same time and change their orientation and direction of shooting. Over the course of a run, enemies that you can destroy to get weapons will frequently show up. With excellent shooting mechanics, brilliant bosses, and a variety of options, this was clearly a superior Shmup. However, despite the RPG pedigree of Squaresoft, the game isn't anything more than a Shmup. In that way, it isn't as innovative as the best games in the genre like Radiant Silvergun. Also, the game is really difficult with little leeway for genre novices. However, it does have a generous checkpoint system.
Visually, the game doesn't look as good as the best sprite-based 2D Shmups, but it looks really good for a mainly polygonal game. Yet, it does allow for interesting camera angles and some showy battles. Also, the art style and direction are good throughout. If the art is not to your liking, then the soundtrack surely should be. Its made by the Black Mages keyboardist, Kinichiro Fukui, and is an eclectic mix of classical-techno mixes with some sci-fi opera thrown in for good measure.
49- Rival Schools: United by Fate (1998):
This wasn't Capcom's first attempt at making a 3D fighting game, both Star Gladiator and Street Fighter EX were competent and well-regarded 3D Fighters in their own right, so it doesn't get any points for novelty. Instead, Rival Schools stands by its sense of style, solid fighting gameplay, and interesting characters and character designs. The fighting game masters at Capcom created yet another very good fighting game with interesting characters and mechanics. Here, the school setting sets the game apart, while the fighting combines many ideas from other fighting games into a competent and engaging system.
New to the PS1 version is another disc besides the Arcade conversion, along with additional story scenes (with Japanese VA), called the "Evolution" disc. This is basically the same game but with extra characters (such as Sakura from Street Fighter) and modes, along with additional mini-games. However, this mode should have been bigger than what we got in the West. It should have included a life sim mode where a created character can interact with the characters in school, but Capcom couldn't justify the extra localization effort.
48- Devil Dice (1998):
Devil Dice is an interesting and unique Action-Puzzle on a system filled with middling games of the genre. There are two central mechanics to the game: You can move on top of a dice, changing its face as you move through a square grid, or you can get down and push it without changing the face. The goal is to move dice with the same number close together to create chains. There are two main modes, with the main one tasking you to compete against another player or the computer to get the most points on the same map, and another tasking you with clearing the level with a limited number of moves.
With a frantic multi-player-friendly mode and a more cerebral Puzzle mode, this game scratched two itches and did the best with a limited but solid concept. However, I doubt many people will enjoy paying a premium price for the game, which would be sold as a $10 indie game in today's market.
47- Mega Man X4 (1997):
Capcom made four core Mega Man games for the PS1 in addition to spin-offs like the excellent Mega Man Legends duo. The first was Mega Man 8 (1996), a continuation of the classic series, which was reportedly better made for the Saturn than the PS1. Not long after, Mega Man X4, which is widely considered one of the best games in the franchise was released. While I largely agree with that sentiment, I still think that Mega Man X5 (2000) is also a really good game and that Mega Man X6 (2001) has some good points.
Anyways, I will provide more details about this game and the rest of the PS1 Mega Man games in my ongoing Mega Man Lordspective blogging series, so check it out. One thing I wanted to note is that I believe Mega Man X4 to be such a good game, that I surely think it deserves a spot more advanced than number 47 here on this list.
46- Persona 2: Innocent Sin and Eternal Punishment (1999, 2000):
This section covers two rather similar games in the now famous Persona franchise. Both Innocent Sin and Eternal Punishment shared similar mechanics and characters, but they diverged in telling alternate stories. To this day, the fan base is not clear which game is better. Originally, only the second game was localized west, with Innocent Sin getting an official English localization for the first time with its PSP port.
At this point in the franchise's history, it didn't yet include the social elements that designated future entries. Instead, it was still similar to its parent Shin Megami Tensei franchise but with named playable characters instead of a party of demons. You can fuse new "Personas" for each of these characters, and weaknesses played a big part in battles, but it was too slow and cumbersome compared at points.
However, with a story featuring the occult, Nazis, and freaking Adolf Hitler, it compensated for its lacking gameplay systems with a stellar and mature story. Still, no one could have looked at this game and expected the absolute behemoth of a franchise it will become for Atlus.
45- Silent Bomber (1999, 2000):
This is an exciting game with novel Action gameplay and surprising production value. At one point, I debated whether I should come back and properly review it, but then decided that it occupies the same space as Shmups in my book, but in a different way. This is a top-down Action game where you control a "Bomber" called Jutah, who may be the inspiration for the "grimdark" serious Bomber Man game released on the Xbox 360. As Jutah, you run around the battlefield placing bombs in the field and detonating them to kill enemies. With upgrades, you can place more bombs with a wider explosion range, and you can augment these bombs by placing "special liquids" (such as napalm) beside them to augment the damage.
On the face of it, this feels like Bomber Man with a full circular motion to a certain degree, and that's not actually far off from what the game actually is if you combine it with a Shmup as well. You frantically run around the battlefield (also jumping and dashing around) placing bombs into the path of enemies, next to targets, or just plain supply bombs, and then run away from the chain of explosion. In the end, you get scored for your destructive powers, and the drive to improve your arsonist and bombing skills is paramount to fully appreciate this game.
Yet, something else elevates the game beyond its Action-heavy focus and that's a somewhat decent story and a surprising amount of semi-competent voice acting. As such, even if mastering the mechanics won't interest you much, maybe getting to the end of the story will.
What would Resident Evil play like if all the enemies in the game were mobile and aggressive dinosaurs? Not very differently, as the first Dino Crisis game demonstrates. If you were not aware that the game was made by Capcom, you would be forgiven to think that this is the most blatant Resident Evil clone that ever existed.
As such, this is a case where a game is being judged in comparison to its peers and inspiration. Since it was made by Capcom, it survives the sin of unoriginality through experience and provides a really solid PS1 Survival Horror experience, but it suffers from lacking the trapping and atmosphere of the Resident Evil locations. Yet, I imagine if it was released before Resident Evil, then it would have rightly been celebrated as a revolutionary game. Instead, we are left with a minor mechanical step forward that misses some of the unique pulling factors of the original.
Still, this was Capcom's first attempt at making a Resident Evil clone and they stuck too close to the source material. Now check out what they did with the sequel.
Moving away from aping the Survival Horror formula of Resident Evil like the first game did, Dino Crisis instead crafts its own identity as an Action-heavy take on the genre, giving justice to the concept of fighting dinosaurs for survival.
This is simply a much better sequel, and probably one of the best Action games on the PS1. Now I understand why my 13-year-old cousin was so addicted to this game, which is as fun to play as is interesting to look at and watch. In fact, he was so addicted to the game, that after beating it, he still wanted to play it and finish it in less time, which he did several times. This culminated in an all-nighter just before school started and even missing the first day of school. When his mother knew about that, she threw the PS1 (I remember that it was the small white one) down the stairs. I distinctly remember coming into their house just as the console hit the ground.
To my knowledge, my cousin (who grew up to be a normal person) rarely if ever played video games after this. In that case, he did sign off the hobby with one hell of a game.
43- DoDonPachi (1997):
This is a famous Bullet Hell Shmup by masters of the genre, Cave, which was also released on the Sega Saturn. Based on everything I read about the game, the Sega Saturn version is considered better, which is no surprise considering that console's Shmup pedigree and penchant for Arcade conversions. In fact, I have already written about the game when reporting on the top 100 Saturn games.
To sum it up, this is a vertical Shmup where bullets cover an absolutely beautiful screen, daring you to get good enough to progress, but enticing with amazing action and a bloody good heart-pumping soundtrack
42- Valkyrie Profile (1999, 2000):
Valkyrie Profile is just the type of game that is typical of the many hidden gems in the PS1 library. Experimental in every way, both trying to expand the genres before it and forge its own path, it ends up becoming an entirely unique game.
Not all of those experimental games succeeded, but Valkyrie Profile pulls it off extremely well. It's a game with unique and engaging gameplay, brilliant graphics and music, and a pretty good story and characters. Rarely putting a foot wrong, it fully justifies its reputation as a cult-favorite title. As far as that designation goes, I doubt many games would give as convincing and strong an argument for the title as Valkyria Profile. This is one of the most unique and ambitious JRPGs on the PS1, and it frankly deserves much more attention than it initially got.
With excellent graphics and great sound, a bloody good and unique battle system as well as a unique mature story and setting, it is just a damn good game. It's a testament to how good this game is that I powered through without getting much bored even when I started feeling that it was a little longer than it should. Only now, at the end of the review, do I remember a feeling of impatience as the game extended for a chapter or two more than it should have.
Regardless, I am extremely glad that I finally played this game, and I hope we continue to see more of the series as well as for the latest releases to succeed in some way.
41(S)- Tomb Raider, Tomb Raider II, and Tomb Raider III (1996, 1997, 1998):
Lara Croft is certainly one of the most iconic characters on the PlayStation, but it is difficult to know if the success of the games led to her iconic status, or if it was that status that led to the success of the games. Having played and reviewed the first two, and tried the third, I honestly think that the latter case is more likely.
In my opinion, the massive success of Tomb Raider, despite its admittedly revolutionary 3D graphics and design (which were outclassed within a year), is entirely due to its marketing and sudden capture of the cultural zeitgeist. Without that, these are games with ugly graphics, boring and stiff gameplay, and few interesting things to do.
As can be seen, by the rapid release of sequels, Core Design kept pumping these games out with minimal improvement, riding the commercial high until the franchise crashed in the PS2 era.
41- Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation (1999):
Originally, the reason I wasn't going to review this game is that it had a better Dreamcast version. While that is indeed the case, the better Dreamcast version exposed how creatively bankrupt the series became. It's the same game, with marginally better graphics, new locations, and the same stiff control scheme that makes it unbearable to play.
Financial success does not equal quality.
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.