It’s been 27 years since the launch of the original PlayStation, and while games have evolved by leaps and bounds in the two and a half decades since, it’s impossible to deny the lasting impact Sony’s flat grey box had on the industry and pop culture at large.
From bandicoots to battle-hardened super-soldiers, the PlayStation is single-handedly responsible for some of the most iconic characters and franchises of all time, and while there are so so many to love, we wanted to look back at the very best the console had to offer, including some great PlayStation exclusives. These are the greatest PS1 games of all time.
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Check out the video above for the top 10, and click through the gallery below or scroll down for the full list!
25. PaRappa the Rapper
Before Rock Band, before Guitar Hero, even before Dance Dance Revolution, there was Parappa the Rapper. An unlikely rapping game starring a cartoonishly flat dog and his animal pals, Parappa won us all over with catchy songs and a quirky charm that stood out among other games seeking to posture themselves as “extreme” or “hardcore” on the new generation. Nothing else on the console looked like Parappa (until Um Jammer Lammy arrived, of course). This rhyme-spitting canine is so beloved, in fact, that we named him one of the top 10 dogs in video games. I gotta believe!
24. Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee
Abe’s Odyssey was such a weird game; an action/puzzle/platformer with a story that’s sort of like a crazy outer-space Soylent Green. Abe’s Oddysee is fondly remembered for its bonkers character design and deep lore, which led to several fun, weird sequels and spinoffs like ‘Munch’s Oddysee’ and ‘Stranger’s Wrath, and featured unique systems for communicating and working together with your fellow Mudokons, plus various alien species you can ride, telepathically possess, or manipulate into taking out your enemies for you.
23. Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped
While we’ve ranked Crash Bandicoot 2 higher, it’s undeniable just how important the entire Crash trilogy was to the PlayStation legacy – and that largely comes down to just how damn fun and challenging Naughty Dog made those first three games. While Warped’s base levels may not be as rewardingly challenging as Cortex Strikes Back’s, it still offers plenty of extremely fun platforming levels, mixed in with a host of vehicle/riding challenges. Perhaps the most robust Crash of the original three games, Warped uses its time-hopping set dressing to offer a wide variety of levels, enemies, and tricky create locations, but makes them all feel part of a fun, cohesive whole.
Developed by Neversoft (the same developers behind the Tony Hawk franchise), PS1’s Spider-Man served as the template for pretty much all the good superhero games to follow. This was the first Spider-Man game many of us played that really captured Spidey’s unique method of traversal, swinging between buildings, climbing up walls and acrobatically taking down enemies. It was also filled with easter eggs and secrets, including many, many Marvel cameos (like the Human Torch and Daredevil), unlockable costumes like Spider-Man 2099, the Amazing Bag Man costume or even his classic Captain Universe getup. They even got Stan Lee himself to do all the descriptions of each character in the character viewer!
21. Mega Man Legends 2
Before Mega Man Legends, I don’t think people really thought of the Mega Man series as being all that great for story and character. Mega Man Legends changed all that, presenting one of the most unique and charming 3-D action/adventures ever, and the sequel only improved on the formula.
Nowadays, holding a PlayStation controller without the familiar analog sticks feels almost unnatural – like wearing someone else’s shoes, or when your arm falls asleep after leaning on it wrong – but there was a time when the DualShock controller seemed like an unnecessary gimmick. How do you rally players to adopt this new technology? You present them with the threat of rampant, mischievous apes.
As the title would suggest, Ape Escape told the timeless tale of a group of mischievous primates on the loose. Players were given the urgent task of subduing them with variety of gadgets regularly implemented by real life animal control specialists, such as a hula hoop, remote control car, and a device like a kayak paddle that could be spun around really fast to achieve flight. Each of these gadgets was controlled by waggling the DualShock’s right stick, a concept akin to rubbing your stomach and patting your head back in 1999. Nowadays, such a mechanic would be deemed “gimmicky,” but the late ‘90s was a simpler time, and Ape Escape’s solid implementation stuck the landing. Oddly enough, Ape Escape proved to be oddly prescient; in 2016, a chimpanzee named Chacha escaped from a Japanese zoo, and local police were able to subdue him safely – presumably thanks to simulations they’d run in Ape Escape.
19. Crash Team Racing
While many have come for the Mario Kart throne, Crash Team Racing, surprisingly, is perhaps the kart racer to come closest. Long before its modern-day remake, the original CTR surprised and delighted fans with a mascot racer worthy of excitement alongside Nintendo’s long-standing franchise.
Introducing a varied and fun set of original tracks, wacky weapons that smartly pulled from existing Crash lore, and offering a skill-based drifting/boost system – that was both innovative and fun – made Crash Team Racing one of the more beloved entries in the kart racing pantheon to this day.
18. Syphon Filter
Pulling inspiration from hit titles like Metal Gear Solid and GoldenEye, Eidetic Games – now known as Sony Bend – combined elements of both with their own unique blend of stealth and action to create a unique adventure that spawned several sequels. Syphon Filter offered a wide assortment of fun weaponry that allowed you a good amount of freedom to approach problems in different way throughout its 20-odd levels of espionage action. Perhaps most memorably, you could tase enemies to death, preempting the whole “don’t tase me bro” fiasco by nearly a decade.
17. Soul Reaver: Legacy of Kain
Perhaps more accurately titled “Legacy of Kain 2”, Soul Reaver is an incredible second chapter in what might be one of the most underrated game franchises ever. Gothic and macabre, the Legacy of Kain sequel is more like a grimdark Ocarina of Time than its top-down, action RPG predecessor, Blood Omen. Shifting between the world of the living and spectral plain to solve puzzles and traverse the twisting corridors of Nosgoth would prove deeply influential beyond the PS1 era, as well. The characters and story, penned and directed by Uncharted’s Amy Hennig, are miles above most Playstation games of the era and, despite a rushed and anti-climactic ending, Soul Reaver stands on its own and deifies Kain in a fantastic re-introduction to the series.
16. Final Fantasy Tactics
When Final Fantasy Tactics arrived in 1998, it was arguably the best turn-based strategy game ever to grace consoles. Even today, there are few games in the genre since that have even come close. The juxtaposition of cute yet super-deformed characters works well, especially when they get caught up in one of the most complicated video game plots of all time. This is yet another game that proved the PlayStation didn’t have to rely on fancy 3D graphics – though it’s a shame we never got a true sequel (the two Game Boy Advance spinoffs, although not bad, were a huge tonal departure).
15. Medal of Honor: Underground
There wasn’t an enormous list of must-play first-person shooters on the original PlayStation – the genre simply wasn’t as ubiquitous on consoles at that time as it is today. There are a handful that carved out a legacy – like Quake II, or Disruptor – but probably none did so more successfully than the incredible Medal of Honor. Wolfenstein 3D may be the granddaddy of FPS WWII action, but Medal of Honor (and especially Underground) was the series to really drag it into the third-dimension, kicking and screaming, “Rennt um euer leben – er hat ‘ne Panzerfaust!”
Arriving just a year after the original and late in the console’s lifespan, the prequel/sequel Underground is one of the best shooters of its era thanks to its memorable main character Manon Batiste, a fantastic array of levels, and its terrific behind-enemy-lines tone. You could also trick Nazis into posing for embarrassing photographs before you shot them, which is simply brilliant.
14. Final Fantasy IX
Final Fantasy IX promised a return to the series’ fantasy roots, and it absolutely delivered. Knights, mages, princesses, crystals, all of the Final Fantasy mainstays from the early entries were present and accounted for – but what people still love most about it are its characters. Wily Zidane, sad and naive Vivi, doofy loyalist Steiner, and a dozen other memorable characters (except for Amarant, no one remembers him) helped make Final Fantasy IX and incredible way to close out the single digit entries in the series, paying reverence to the games that came before it, and setting the stage (quite literally) for the next era; it was a beautiful, moving swan song for Final Fantasy on the PlayStation.
13. Silent Hill
The original Silent Hill slid off the beaten path of the zombie survival horror du jour into something much more daring and unknown. The town of Silent Hill was an obtuse place to visit, full of nonsensical, psychosexual creatures that prodded at protagonist Henry’s sanity; this was much more Jacob’s Ladder than it was Night of the Living Dead.
Its foreboding atmosphere was made more unbearable by the fact Henry was the definition of an ‘everyman,’ and it was much smarter to run than it was to fight, wildly shooting at whatever was emerging from the fog. A defining psychological horror game, Silent Hill (and its audio that still rattles around in the brain to this day), is impossible to forget.
12. Spyro 2: Ripto’s Rage
Like its fuzzier down-under brother, Spyro 2: Ripto’s Rage smartly builds off the groundwork of the original game and offers a wonderful balance of challenge and fun, all while expanding on what makes the series work so well. While Spyro: Year of the Dragon would lean more into playable secondary characters, Ripto’s Rage keeps the emphasis largely on Spyro and a richly realized world.
Tied around the theme of seasonal hub areas, Spyro’s second journey spins off into any number of unique and memorable mini-worlds, from beaches to thundery hills to mountaintop monasteries. A plethora of side characters, a host of smart collectibles, and an unexpected adventure in the land of Avalar made Spyro 2: Ripto’s Rage a standout in the great Insomniac trilogy.
One of the first games you spent in a car that didn’t really qualify as a “racing game,” 1999’s Driver was a unique blend of open-world mission design and exceptionally fun (i.e. destructive) arcade driving action. While its ambitious sequel introduced novel new concepts like being able to get out of your car – a full year before GTAIII released, mind you – and the astounding ability (for its time) to render curved roads, it wasn’t as impactful as the pure unadulterated rush of classic car chase goodness that the original provided. From the deeply satisfying squelch of crumpling steel under its detailed collision modeling to the surprisingly deep Director Mode that let you turn your wildest mission and free-roam moments into your own Hollywood action sequences, Driver handily e-brake slides into the PS1 hall of fame.
10. Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back
Naughty Dog’s mascot platformer trilogy became synonymous with the original PlayStation immediately after its first release, but it’s the second of the three games that has remained in our hearts and minds all these years later. Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back is a great middle-ground between the original’s platforming and Warped’s expansive arsenal, techniques, and secrets. As Crash climbs his way up a series of chambers full of challenging platforming levels, Naughty Dog’s gauntlet of jumping, spinning, and “woah”-ing offers some of the franchise’s best levels, offering players a true challenge but in a way that always felt achievable.
9. Vagrant Story
Vagrant Story is perhaps one of the original PlayStation’s most underrated games – a massive action RPG developed by a powerhouse RPG hit machine, helmed by one of the most underrated auteurs of the last 25 years. It’s a game that, in many ways, almost shouldn’t work; it stacks an almost ludicrous amount of systems on top of a plot dense with political intrigue, dark magic, and at least two textbooks worth of ancient history. But it all comes together in a truly exceptional experience.
You’ll manage special attacks, customize weapons tailored for specific enemy types, build your own armor, solve puzzles, and fight some of the hardest bosses this side of Dark Souls using a quasi-rhythm based battle system. While it remains the most underrated and oft-forgotten entry in Square’s PlayStation catalogue, that doesn’t prevent this hidden gem from being one of the best the console had to offer.
8. Tekken 3
The universally-acclaimed Tekken 3 remains one of the most-respected fighting games ever made, but it was its astonishing ability to lure in even non-fighting game fans that helped make Tekken 3 one of the most iconic games on the console. Adding a third axis to the action and allowing players to dodge left and right, circling their opponents, was a seismic shift for Namco’s seminal slugfest. A cocktail of wacky cinematics, eclectic characters, and bruising beatings, the King of Iron Fist tournament is the undisputed champ when it comes to PS1 fighting games, and will always remain up there with the very best fighters in the business. At the very least, it’s definitely the reason an entire generation of gamers knows what capoeira is: cheers, Eddy Gordo.
7. Resident Evil 2
Though it enjoyed a cracker of a remake in 2018, the power of the original Resident Evil 2 is still untouched as one of the best Resident Evil games. Set in a bizzaro police station – an elaborate evolution of the first game’s haunted house theme – Resident Evil 2 combined ornate, weird puzzles with a plethora of nasties that ranged from the garden-variety zombie to more out-there monstrosities like a giant moth and sentient, mutated poison ivy.
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Throw in a hulking, seemingly invulnerable tyrant that relentlessly pursues you and the ability to play through from two different perspectives, and you’ve got an all-time horror classic.
6. Tomb Raider
The original Tomb Raider is, at heart, a haunting solo adventure, a quiet jaunt through an aggressive world that mixes up real-life beasts like wolves and bears with dinosaurs and cat… mummies? While it cemented Lara Croft as a video game icon that would span several more generations, the original Tomb Raider should also be celebrated for its genius, with intricate level design and properly awe-inspiring environments. Plus, a shotgun that you can still feel through the ages.
5. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 isn’t just regarded by many as the most monumental game in the series, and it isn’t just considered as one of the greatest sports games ever made; it’s one of the highest-rated video games OF ALL TIME.
No matter what some desperate ding-dongs trying to review bomb it 18 years too late may think, THPS2 was an absolute cultural haymaker. Marrying exquisite arcade extreme sports action with a soundtrack that launched a million mixtapes, the original Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater was one of the most influential and iconic games of its era, and adding more moves, a simple but wildly addictive skate park editor, and a sackful of more searingly good songs made this stunning sequel a spectacular refinement of the formula.
4. Gran Turismo 2
Taking nothing away from the original, pioneering Gran Turismo – the best-selling PlayStation game of all time and the godfather of all console racing sims – Gran Turismo 2 was everything the first installment was and much, much more: an absolute gorilla of a racing game, so stuffed with content it had to ship on two CDs. With almost 650 cars from over 30 manufacturers, the scope of GT2 was unprecedented, dwarfing its otherwise excellent 1999 crosstown rival, Need for Speed: High Stakes. The PS1 played host to a small but fondly-remembered selection of serious racing games back in the late ’90s – like the TOCA and Colin McRae series – but Gran Turismo 2 was the biggest and broadest of the lot (and it was the only one that came with a scratch ’n’ sniff disc).
3. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
Releasing an “old-looking” 2D Castlevania on the PlayStation seemed like a strange move to some in 1997 – even IGN’s original review reads: “It looks like the same old 2D platform action as before.” Other classic franchises had already made the jump into the third dimension, and new games like Tomb Raider were showing what the PS1 could do that previous consoles could not, but keeping Symphony of the Night 2D allowed Konami to refine Castlevania’s gameplay to absolute perfection, and its beautiful pixel art has aged much better than most of its 3D contemporaries.
Then there’s the incredible soundtrack, which fans are still humming to this day. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is about as close to a perfect video game as you can get, one that is still being copied and iterated on by modern developers.
2. Final Fantasy VII
Final Fantasy VII is (almost) solely responsible for putting JRPGs on the map. No one had ever seen anything quite like it when it launched on the original PlayStation in 1997. It’s the second only to Gran Turismo in units sold, and for good reason. The dark, sci-fi storyline and incredibly of-the-times character design took a whimsical fantasy franchise, and brought it to an international audience in a way that neither Sony or Square could have possibly predicted. It’s a timeless classic that spawned an entire universe of spin-offs (and one stellar remake) that absolutely deserves all of its praise, despite some of its more glaring shortcomings.
1. Metal Gear Solid
Long before we had the intricate sandbox of The Phantom Pain, and before the twisting plots of The Patriots or bloated diatribes on the complex political realities of war, the third entry in Hideo Kojima’s Metal Gear series cardboard-box-crawled its way onto the PS1 and things were never the same again.
Metal Gear Solid offered a singularly unique blend of stealth/action gameplay, and coupled it with a wholly bizarre yet utterly delightful cast of characters and a story that challenged our ideas of traditional video game “heroes,” and pushed at the boundaries of cinematic storytelling in video games at the time. All of these exceptional elements, plus some truly unforgettable breaks in the fourth wall, combined to create a gaming experience that still holds up as one of the best to this day.
Choosing the absolute best PlayStation games was wildly difficult, and as we’re a diverse group of fans with wildly varied tastes, not everyone’s favorites could make the list. In consideration of that, we wanted to give some shoutouts to the following games which are also quite excellent:
- Dino Crisis
- Brian Lara/Shane Warne Cricket ‘99
- Need For Speed: High Stakes
- The Legend of Dragoon
And those are our picks for the best games on the original PlayStation; did any make your list that weren’t on ours? You can check out our full list of the top 25 PS1 games on IGN, or if you want to look ahead, be sure to follow all our coverage of the upcoming PS5 and Xbox Series X.