We are now closing in on the final third of Retro Sanctuary's Top 100 PlayStation 1 Games list and we are naturally getting the good stuff. However, there are some serious errors on this list. For me, it's extremely inappropriate to have Final Fantasy Tactics out of the top 30 games on the PS1, as it's one of the most influential TRPGs of all time. Other serious errors are the inclusion of Time Crisis, which has a significantly superior arcade port, and Rayman 2, which is a very good 3D Platformer with a better Dreamcast port. Otherwise, the rest list is a mostly fine collection of games. It has two fighting games (three if you count the brilliant Super Puzzle Fighter Turbo II) of varying quality (Darkstalkers 3 is very good while Tobal No. 1 needs to be replaced with one of the better fighters we already covered), a highly-regarded Shmup, a Square cult-classic, a racing game, and the brilliant 3rd Person Shooter/Stealth game Syphon Filter.
At this stage, the strength and breadth of the PS1 library is apparent. Very good games were being made with different art styles, genres, and multiple developers that were great fun at the time. From these games, I reviewed and enjoyed Thread of Fate and Syphon Filter 2, as well as both its sequel and prequel. This may look like a mistake if you have been following me since I have not posted any reviews for Syphon Filter yet. That's because I started a collaboration with Sharukurusu on reviewing/discussing the entire Syphon Filter series, which we will post soon. Now, let's get on to discuss these cool games.
40- Darkstalkers 3 (1998):
Also known as Vampire Savior, this is the Capcom fighting games series that is famous for creating the character of Morrigan, who went on to achieve more fame as part of the Capcom vs. Marvel franchise. As with most of Capcom's 2D Fighting games of the era, Darkstalkers 3 was a brilliant game that unfortunately couldn't get the credit it deserved in a market that is crowded by Capcom itself.
The game is a visual spectacle, with an incredible array of animation for both attacks and reactions across 18 characters. Whether it's the sprites of the beautiful and sexy characters or the unique animations of monstrosities such as Anakaris and Sasquatch. Being a Capcom game, the spectacle is in the service of a solid fighting engine that is strategic and satisfying, if rather button-mashing friendly.
Yet, other than some unique characters with unique and brilliant animations, as well as a solid fighting game base, this game is simply an inferior arcade port. It doesn't add any story sections or any way to explore these characters in any way other than to fight with/as them. Thankfully, they show much of their personality through their animation.
39- Rayman 2: The Great Escape (2000):
Like other 90's mascot characters, Rayman had to dip his toes into 3D Platforming action, and boy did he dip it many times. Rayman 2 was ported to nearly every system imaginable at the time, even the GameBoy Color as baffling as that sounds. Naturally, the quality of ports varied, with the Dreamcast version considered the best by the game director himself. This is why I didn't review the game as part of my PS1 reviews despite the PS1 port being well done by most accounts.
After all, who wouldn't love a well-made Mario 64-inspired collect-a-thon 3D Platformer with solid graphics and performance?
38- Time Crisis (1997):
This is the PS1 port of the brilliant Light Bung Rail Shooter, Time Crisis, and it is therefore a worse version of the game. Not only are the graphics considerably worse in the PS1 port, but the controls are not as satisfying as holding the weighty arcade gun model. Of course, it doesn't need to be said that a Light Gun accessory is needed to get the best out of this game.
Suffice it to say, no console until the Wii would give Light Gun Rail Shooters the space and technology to strive outside of the arcades.
37- R-Type Delta (1998, 1999):
This is another solid entry in the famous R-Type Shmup series. Like many of the Shmups that favored the PS1 instead of the Saturn, R-Type Delta went for polygonal models interposed in front of a 2D background, and it honestly doesn't look half bad even if it doesn't compare to the best-looking 2D Shmups of the time. In a way, Irem's 3D answer to Taito's RayStorm was an equally impressive polygon-based Shmup that doesn't look as nice as the best in the genre despite its best efforts. That being said, the 3D perspective did allow the team to create more dramatic camera shifts and showcase the field of battle in a more cinematic way.
From a gameplay perspective, the game is true to the series in many ways but it adds two more vehicles to choose from. It's a horizontal Shmup that is typically slower than bullet hells and its main gimmick is an auxiliary drone attached to the ship, called a "Force", that both protects you and is used to attack. Each vehicle choice has its own style of "Force", which helps the game's replayability. Regardless of choice, a fan would be replaying this game a lot due to its difficulty and to get better at it, but that's typical for this demanding genre. Along with having a killer soundtrack.
36(S1)- Syphon Filter (1999):
Games like Metal Gear Solid showcased the development in gameplay and storytelling that was possible on the PS1, and many aspiring developers raced to follow its example. Several attempts failed at providing a compelling narrative, compelling gameplay, or both. Syphon Filter does an admirable job in crafting a 3rd Person Shooter/Stealth game in a post-MGS world. Not only does it have a decent and cinematic story, but also has a solid and compelling gameplay structure and mechanics.
That doesn't mean that the game is free from flaws though, although many of those flaws were standard fare in its era. Poor draw distances and the occasional transparency flaws show the game's age, but the relative smoothness of its movement and solid gameplay systems keeps it fun even for the modern gamer.
36- Syphon Filter 2 (2000):
The first Syphon Filter game followed the steps of Metal Gear in making an Action-packed game with some cinematic sensibilities, and it proved to be one of the better games that partially imitated the great PS1 classic. Syphon Filter 2 is more of the same, but thanks to the lessons the development team learned, it is a much tighter experience in both its gameplay and story.
My main surprise when playing Syphon Filter 2 is the fact that it reviewed lower than the first game, which I think is purely due to its lacking of originality since it copies much of what the first game does. However, I think that is a poor metric to judge games by at the time and would be poorer still today.
While it is true that this sequel is heavily iterative, it improves a game with a solid foundation in almost every way, making this game much more polished and more fun to play by a noticeable margin. Playing these games back to back, I felt forced to play the first for completion's sake, while I really enjoyed playing the second, making it a better game in my book.
Originality has its value, but so does excellence.
36(S2)- Syphon Filter 3 (2001):
If you thought that a third Syphon Filter game in three years is a sign of creative fatigue, then you have thought right. For all intents and purposes, Syphon Filter 3 is almost identical to the second game but with poorer pacing and story beats. That explains why this third outing of Gabriel Logan and friends had the lowest scores on the PS1, but is too much of a good thing necessarily bad? I actually don't think so, which is why despite the game being clearly inferior to the second outing, I still enjoyed my time with it at its best.
So, while it is true that the game's mechanics and the majority of its missions meet the same high standard, you can't help but expect a sequel to be better. Failing to achieve that, I think this game is a minor disappointment, and in a way, it was common for games in the same franchise to fall on their face with the fast development cycles of the PS1 days. This one manages to fall with some dignity intact.
Made by some of the same team that developed the uber-serious Xenogears game, at a time when Square seemed to have a Midas touch, Threads of Fate was made to be a contrasting light-hearted adventure that still makes an impression. At that, the team succeeds while maintaining Square's excellent PS1 track record.
Despite a number of minor issues that keep it from being a great game, is a charming and memorable title that could endear itself greatly to the player. It did that for me when I first played it, without completing it, nearly two decades ago, and it endeared itself to me again this time as well.
I think that it is difficult to accurately review Threads of Fate since its strong suits are hugely subjective and depend on accepting the charm and comedy of the narrative while its weakest aspects are clear to everyone. Simply put, playing the game could be a boring experience. This is why this is a rating that will not accompany a recommendation. I don't know if you would like the game, but I was won over by its charming story and graphics, its brilliant music, and the image of Rue's nemesis with that giant arm will keep haunting me forever.
34- Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo (1996, 1997):
Ironically, we see the second appearance by the sexy Morrigan in the same list of 10 games. Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo is a puzzler designed by Capcom to be based on fighting games, as such, it is natural for that Puzzler to be a fighting game in itself. Although it has some solo modes, the core conceit of this game is the Puzzle Battles in which your performance in the tile-matching puzzles throws more stuff at your opponent to deal with.
Naturally, this concept has been ported, recycled, reformed, and iterated into several successful Puzzle Fighters that owe some of that success to the glory days of this game.
33- Tobal No. 1 (1996):
Having excelled at RPGs, Square experimented with different genres in the PS1 era, from Shmups to Survival-Horror, with Tobal No. 1 being their attempt at making a 3D Fighting game. As expected from Square, the polygonal graphics and performance of the game were top-notch. However, I don't think Square had the basis down to make a compelling fighting game from both a mechanics and character point of view. Not figuring out the mechanics may make some sense for a newbie at the genre, but wasting Akira Toriyama in making generic and forgettable characters is borderline criminal.
However, there is one thing that Square understood in making the game, and that's the importance of a meaty single-player experience in a home fighting game. Alas, the "Quest" mode included here is singularly boring and not a good example of that need at all. Thankfully, Square never abandoned their hopes of making successful fighting games, with success finally finding them with the FF-themed Dissidia.
32- Final Fantasy Tactics (1997, 1998):
Final Fantasy Tactics is one of the greatest games on the PS1. Built on the foundations of the SNES's TRPG Ogre Battle while acquiring the name and pedigree of the Final Fantasy series, it came out as a mechanically brilliant TRPG with a very good story despite some shoddy translation issues. Normally, this would be the type of game that I review in more detail as part of this review journey. However, not only did this game receive a substantially improved port on the PS1 (Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions) but it may also get the HD-2D remake treatment like its spiritual Tactics Ogre sibling did.
As such, while this game is undoubtedly one of the PS1's greats, it's no longer trapped to the limited aspect ratio and subpar translations of that system. Also, unlike the case of Final Fantasy VII, I don't think the remake would alter the gameplay and style of the game to such a degree that it can be considered a different game. After all, the mechanics of the game as well as its brilliant sprite graphics and music lived on gloriously on its PSP port.
31- Colin McRae Rally 2.0 (2000):
Codemasters were, and still are, masters of the Racing genre and Colin McRae Rally 2.0 is another example of that mastery in the PS1 era. With both a more "realistic" Rally mode and a heart-pumping Arcade Racing mode, this game aimed to capture the entire realistic car racing market. In Rally mode, you race against the clock in intricate stages while modifying your car to suit the design and conditions of the track, while Arcade Racing is a battle against 5 other cars to see who runs through 3 laps first.
Being released at the turn of the millennium, the graphics are among the best in its class on the PS1. While its polygons are still a bit blocky-which suits Rally cars-and the tracks are still 3D models built on top of 2D backgrounds, the overall presentation is crisp and clear and is rendered in perfect 60fps. Yet, these facts don't change the fact that the technology for this genre kept on improving, and is frankly a genre that only progressed with time with little value in going back and playing its earlier masterpieces other than historical curiosity.
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.