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.
Of the eleven games included in this report, I have reviewed nine of them. There are a couple of games that can be considered hidden PS1 Gems such as Vanguard Bandits and Saiyuki: Journey West. Also, of the two cult favorites in Squaresoft’s SaGa series, I found the second one to be significantly better. All of these games are better than some of Retro Sanctuary’s selections and can probably stake a claim at being in the top 100 PS1 games list. The rest are not worth it in my opinion.
Here is a brief on these ten games, please enjoy:-
- Genre: Survival Horror.
- Publisher: Infogrames; Developer: Darkworks.
In a telling signal of its diminishing legacy, several reviews of Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare suggested that it was heavily inspired by Capcom’s Resident Evil series, which is obvious to anyone looking at both games in the context of the PS1. However, it was Resident Evil that was inspired by the first Alone in the Dark game, which is the game frequently thought to have originated the Survival Horror genre.
Yet, the game’s two sequels were disappointing messes, and Resident Evil’s success cemented it as the leader of the genre that The New Nightmare then emulated. Unfortunately, while a competent game at the time, there is little to recommend this game today.
In truth, Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare is not a bad game. It would have been a solid title to play at the time, despite being inferior to other games in the genre. However, it doesn’t justify a playthrough today, not for its own merit or for any historical significance.
- Genre: Action (Hack ‘n Slash).
- Publisher: Namco; Developer: Namco.
Released relatively late in the PS1 life cycle, Dragon Dogma was touted as an Action RPG with some relatively decent graphics and combat. I don’t know if that genre classification is what caused it, but the game was considered to be a mediocre ARPG and did not have a good reputation.
However, I think if people stopped to consider what is the actual genre of the game, they may not have been disappointing at what it is not. Simply put, Dragon Valor is no more an RPG than Guardian Heroes on the Saturn was. This is a Hack ‘n’ Slash game with some minor RPG elements.
I think Dragon Valor was a fine game for its time. In fact, its graphics meant it should have been seen as a cutting-edge Hack ‘n’ Slash game. Yet, the perception that it should be an ARPG has hurt it in my opinion, as it primed people to expect something that it wasn’t designed to give.
That being said, the repetitive nature of the game and its lack of a core selling point means there is little reason to play the game today.
A68- Carnage Heart (1995, 1997):
- Genre: Strategy, Programming Sim.
- Publisher: Artdink, Sony; Developer: Artdink.
From the genre of the game, you can expect that this can be a very complex game. In fact, with limited in-game tutorials and a complex interface, the game is downright unfathomable. Simply put, the game tasks you with sending a group of mechs in strategic missions. Whenever they meat enemy units, some real-time fighting occurs.
This may seem straightforward at first. Except, you never control your inits in these battles. Instead, you must program them with an in-game visual programming tool, and they will behave and fight according to your program. For instance, you can put in the frequency of radar locating and the response to locating the enemy at certain positions.
As you can imagine, it can become extremely complex and is probably very rewarding for those willing to invest the time to understand it. Yet, that isn’t my idea of a good time with how limited my actual time is.
A67- Glover (1999):
- Genre: 3D Platformer.
- Publisher: Hasbro Interactive; Developer: Interactive Studios.
In an era of abundant mascot platformers, Interactive Studios looked at all the mascot designs and they decided to come up with something drastic, something different. Their mascot platformer starred a… glove. Seriously…
Despite the odd choice of a mascot, this 3D Platformer was considered surprisingly good at the time, on the N64. The PS1 version is known to be terrible, and I only put it on this list as a reminder that 3D Platformers usually suffered on the PS1.
- Genre: Tactical RPG.
- Publisher: Fox Interactive; Developer: Argonaut Software.
With the massive success and revolutionary impact of Super Mario 64, it was natural for more 3D Platformers to be developed. Platforming was proven to work in a 3D environment. However, most of the early attempts at 3D Platformers outside of Nintendo’s expert hands produced disastrous games such as Bubsy 3D.
One of the first successful attempts outside of Nintendo was Croc: Legend of the Gobbos, which was made by true 3D artists, which honestly shows. Yet, regardless of how good it still looks today, the gameplay design is simply lacking in many ways. Despite my complaints regarding the game, there is no denying its importance as a genre pioneer. Yet, while games like Super Mario 64 and Crash are still remembered, and are still fun even in their original form, games like Croc are not.
That’s because the game is lacking something at a design level that was hidden at the time due to its dazzling visuals. Yet, with the passing of time, the game’s faults are much more apparent today.
- Genre: Tactical RPG.
- Publisher: Working Designs; Developer: Human Entertainment.
Vanguard Bandits, known as Epica Stella in Japan, is one of those obscure quintessential Japanese games that would have never been released West if not for companies such as Working Designs which thrived on porting them. It’s a Tactical RPG (already a niche genre) featuring Mechs in a medieval setting (a niche within a niche) with plenty of story and character.
As a game, this is probably one of Working Designs better porting choices, but that’s not the case for the localization itself which is hindered by the company’s usual liberty with translation. While this doesn’t irreparably ruin the game, it does hinder what otherwise could have been a solid very good game.
Overall, I think that Vanguard Bandits is indeed a hidden PS1 gem. It has a core of solid gameplay and story ideas in an interesting world. Also, it has some replayability factors due to its multiple routes.
However, due to the colorful localization of Working Designs, the dialogue is childish and juvenile on many occasions. In fact, it is downright cringy in many character interactions and interview moments.
If you can ignore that part of the game and maybe imagine a better dialogue that fits the story, then maybe you can see Vanguard Bandits as the truly very good game it was
- Genre: RPG, Dating Sim.
- Publisher: Atlus; Developer: Red Company, Atlus.
Many PS1 RPGs with heavy Anime aesthetics had dating sim elements in the game. Yet, very few of them were ever localized west. Thousand Arms, which was published by Atlus, is one of few such games that was ported West.
Honestly, if this is the best of the genre, then we haven’t missed much. After all, Thousand Arms is a thoroughly mediocre game even without its dating sim elements, and those make it an even worse game.
Thousand Arms is a mediocre game both as an RPG and a Dating Sim. It has interesting gameplay ideas that are hampered by the awkwardness and slowness of their execution, and it has no interesting story or characters to successfully craft an interesting Dating Sim element in the game.
In fact, all it succeeds in doing is wasting some perfectly good design ideas and voice acting in a game that excels at practically nothing. It isn’t fun to battle when battles take too long, the story isn’t that good, and it is sure as hell that it isn’t fun to have dates in.
- Genre: Adventure Horror.
- Publisher: ASCII Entertainment, Human Entertainment; Developer: Human Entertainment.
One common mistake used when discussing the Clock Tower series is to claim that it is a derivative of the Resident Evil games, which is false both from a chronological and gameplay perspective. This series actually started on the SNES, and it plays nothing like Capcom’s marquee franchise. For starters, this is an Adventure-Horror game with point-and-click gameplay.
However, it is true that the first game on the PS1 owes much of its success to the interest in Survival Horror games that was generated by the first Resident Evil. Yet, I can’t imagine many of those who punted on the looks and feel of this game were left satisfied.
Clock Tower is a game that doesn’t have a good story, isn’t very fun to play, and offers little in terms of production design. I struggle to come up with a reason why anyone would want to play this game never mind actually enjoying it.
Yet, for kids especially kids playing together, I imagine them having a blast whenever Scissorman bursts into the scene and having a laugh when they fail to evade him. As an adult, I am not having a blast repeating the last 15 minutes because I couldn’t see the thing I was supposed to click half of the time and randomly dying the other half.
- Genre: Tactical RPG.
- Publisher: Koei; Developer: Koei.
Saiyuki: Journey West is one of the rare titles that deserve the “hidden gem” classification since it fulfills both parts of that qualification. It is hidden in the sense that few people have heard of it, with fewer actually playing it. It is a gem because it is actually a really solid game.
It is a Tactical RPG made by Koei, the masters behind the massive strategy series Romance of the Three Kingdoms, that is inspired by the Chinese epic, Journey to the West. With decent gameplay and a surprisingly good combination of story and characters, there is much to love about Saiyuki.
Yet, despite that, the game doesn’t pull as much as it should. I don’t feel compelled to continue going forward and feel I have to force myself back to the game. That lack of a pulling factor ultimately keeps the game from being a particularly shiny gem, but it is a gem nonetheless. When the biggest complaint about a good game is that there is simply too much of it, then it means that game is probably worth at least giving a try.
In the case of Saiyuki: Journey West, here is a game with an interesting story and characters and some really solid production and gameplay. Sure, the game does wear its welcome a bit, but that didn’t ruin the fun I already had with the game.
- Genre: JRPG.
- Publisher: Squaresoft, Sony; Developer: Squaresoft.
Despite routinely selling and scoring less than average for a Squaresoft JRPG, the SaGa series continued to be developed by the company since its inception as the second Final Fantasy game. That must mean that the series has some really dedicated fans.
That’s the only explanation why SaGa Frontier, a game that is incomplete in many ways, opaque in others, and generally deficient in structure, is so loved by many.
Honestly, when the game clicks, I can see something close to greatness here. However, that moment is often hidden in a cloud of anxiety and frustration that encompasses most of the game. When the best way to enjoy a game is to power through the mysteries of its mechanics and the weaknesses of its direction, then that’s not the mark of a great game. Yet many love that aspect about it.
True, SaGa Frontier is widely ambitious in its world design and scope, but that ambition has clearly taxed the developers greatly, with much missing content and haphazardly designed quests.
On top of all of that, the game carries the same unpredictable curse that is the SaGa growth system, which to me, simply subtracts from any game that features it.
- Genre: JRPG.
- Publisher: Squaresoft; Developer: Squaresoft.
Seeing the recent remaster of SaGa Frontier anyone might think that it’s obviously both a better game and a more regarded title. That can also seem the case if you consider the vast amount of love for the first game compared to a relative indifference to the second.
Having played both, I can see why the first game may have more of a cult following. It’s an uneven and poorly designed game, but it had a lot of ambition (that I think it failed to even remotely meet).
In contrast, SaGa Frontier 2 is a significant departure that tones down the most ambitious and non-linear aspects of the first game but offers a tighter and better-designed experience. In my opinion, it is the far superior game and is unfortunately forgotten to some degree compared to other Square games.
Still, despite being a huge step-up from the disappointing SaGa Frontier, this game never fully escapes the trappings of the SaGa series. It has some clear narrative weaknesses due to its non-linear and experimental storytelling and it suffers from a particularly egregious end-game difficulty spike.
Yet, despite those flaws, SaGa Frontier 2 still emerges as a game I am mostly glad I played. The battle system is really fun when it clicks, and the narrative has some strong bones even if it is not fully fleshed out.
Mostly, I won’t ever forget how the game looks, and I will be reminded of its every time I listen to the game’s beautiful soundtrack. It’s a fun storybook even if the final chapter nearly got me to chuck into the nearest blaze.
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.
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