Flashback: The PlayStation

In our Flashback feature, we'll revisit the game systems of the past, one by one, and GameSpot editors will recall memories, fond or otherwise, of their experiences with them.

by

Design by James Cheung
Video by Tim Tracy

In the years since the game industry's inception, there have been many kinds of games and gaming systems, some of which have been successful, and others which have been good examples of what not to do. Whether you witnessed the older generations or are new to the gaming scene, you'll be able to appreciate the effects of the game industry's history on the present and future of video games. In our Flashback feature, we'll revisit the game systems of the past, one by one, and GameSpot editors will recall memories, fond or otherwise, of their experiences with them. The graphics may be dated, but the memories are still fresh.


The Sony PlayStation

T
he PlayStation was Sony's introduction to the game industry. While at the time the company's success at making games was not guaranteed, its foray into the video game world has proven in the years since the PlayStation's launch to be, at the very least, financially lucrative. Rivalries between Sega, Nintendo, and Microsoft have been both notorious and competitive, and even now the big three continue to duke it out as we head into the next generation of systems.

The PlayStation, which celebrates its 10th anniversary on September 9, 2005, launched in Japan on December 3, 1994, and in the US nearly a year later. Sony was (in)famous for edgy marketing campaigns and (over)saturating the market with a ton of third-party games. Criticism of Sony revealed problems with the PlayStation's hardware and the mediocrity of many of the system's games. However, the PlayStation was competitive and innovative, and it dominated game sales. The second iteration of the PlayStation was called the PSOne, a sleeker but otherwise identical system that was released in 2000.

Competition with the PlayStation came in two forms, the Sega Saturn and the Nintendo 64. Although both systems were competitive in some respects, the Saturn suffered at the hands of an early launch. Released early to vie for a larger chunk of the gaming market, the Saturn didn't have enough games to keep gamer interest. Nintendo, in a sad, ironic twist, had support problems because it stuck with the cartridge format for games. Had Nintendo and Sony maintained their early collaboration on the CD-ROM based add-on to the SNES, things might have turned out a lot differently for the game industry.

Through ups and downs, the PlayStation's theme was games, games, and games. The system is responsible for a lot of franchises that have made their way over to the PS2 (and soon to the PS3). It's also responsible for a lot of games that should never have been made in the first place. Such is the price you pay for having so many games to your name.

One of the PlayStation's other claims to fame was popularizing importing and modding, for better or for worse. The PlayStation support in Japan was arguably better than that in the US, and gamers learned quickly that with many types of games, getting the Japanese version meant getting the exact same gameplay much earlier. Although CD-based games worked for Sony in the long run, they were also easier to copy, and modding ran rampant, especially later in the system's life span.

Nobody could have guessed that Sony would be as successful at video games as it was. But it's clear that Sony would not be working on its third console generation if it hadn't been for the PlayStation.

The First Employee

We sat down with Todd Colletti, now GameSpot's Director of Engineering, who can best be described as the first employee at Sony Computer Entertainment of America. Since Todd witnessed the entire PlayStation era firsthand, we thought he would be the prime candidate to give us the straight dish on the conceptualizing, building, and life span of the PlayStation.

In the spring of 1994, Todd began work at Sony on a project called, at the time, the "PSX." As the manager of research and development, Todd was in charge of third-party relations, creating and licensing peripherals, and first-party content development for both software and hardware. Despite the fact that he had not been in the game industry before his gig at Sony, gaming was very much his hobby, as he dabbled in game coding for the Amiga. Although he aided in planning for the PS2 before he left for GT Interactive in 1998, the PlayStation was very much Todd's expertise at Sony.

Watch the interview with Todd as he spills the beans on Ken Kutaragi's exact reaction to the breakup with Nintendo, as well as what went into determining the price of the console.

Cracking open the System

The PlayStation console that was launched in September of 1995 was very different from the original CD-ROM-based system Sony first started to develop in 1988. Nintendo had revived the video game industry with its hugely successful Nintendo Entertainment System, and several manufacturers jumped in to get a piece of the growing market. Both NEC and Sega launched new 16-bit systems in Japan. The PC Engine, an 8-bit system with 16-bit graphics (later released in North America as the TurboGrafx-16), arrived in 1987 from NEC, while the Sega Mega Drive (named the Sega Genesis in North America) hit Japan a year later in 1988. Sony also wanted to get into video games, but it wasn't ready to develop and market its own console just yet.

Fortunately for Sony, in a situation destined to repeat itself several times over, Nintendo had fallen behind the console technology curve and needed to release a new system to catch up with its competitors. Nintendo had started development on the successor to the NES, the Super NES (known as the Super Famicom in Japan). The new system would feature a 16-bit CPU core and numerous auxiliary chips, including a custom-made Sony sound processor. The SNES would play cartridge-based media, but it would feature an expansion port for hardware additions.

The NEC TurboGrafx-16 primarily used game cards, but it was also the first console to offer an optional CD-ROM expansion peripheral. In comparison to game cartridge capacity that topped out at roughly 4-5MB due to cost and the technology limitations of the day, a CD-ROM could store an unheard of 680MB worth of game data and was much cheaper to mass-produce. Nintendo tapped Sony to develop a similar CD-ROM expansion unit for its Super NES console. Sony, Philips, and Microsoft had developed a CD-ROM XA (extended architecture) format that made it easier to access and return data, audio, and video at the same time. The Sony-developed drive would be Nintendo's answer to the PC Engine's CD-ROM drive and the CD-ROM peripheral Sega was developing for the Mega Drive.

Sony planned to use the Nintendo deal to get a foothold in the console market by developing its own console system that could play SNES games as well as CD-ROMs. Better yet, Sony had the lucrative software licensing rights to the new Super Disc CD-ROM format. Recognizing the Sony threat, Nintendo turned around and announced that it was working with Philips to develop the SNES CD-ROM drive in 1991. Nintendo couldn't stand to let a competing SNES-compatible CD-ROM system harm its potential software licensing revenues. Sony, Philips, and Nintendo eventually worked out a deal that let Sony continue with its development of a SNES-compatible CD-ROM system but gave Nintendo all game licensing rights.

Development delays and poor market reception for competing NEC and Sega CD-ROM peripherals eventually doomed the original PlayStation device, but Sony gained valuable console development knowledge from the experience on both the business and hardware sides. The CD-ROM peripherals from the 16-bit generation could enable support for higher-quality games, but the hardware was so prohibitively expensive that it didn't make sense for developers to create CD-ROM games for such a small install base. Why make a CD-ROM game for a peripheral device when you already know there's a much larger market for your game on the console level?

The 16-bit era had already peaked by 1993, so Sony set its sights on preparing a stand-alone console for the next generation, code-named the PlayStation X. Sony dropped the "X" designation from the official console name, but the popular letter would resurface later in the multifunctional PVR/DVD-recorder PSX line based on the PlayStation 2 console. Sony built its new 32-bit PlayStation around the CD-ROM drive instead of a cartridge slot, but it made sure to keep the system affordable as a dedicated gaming machine. Sony also signed on as much developer support as it could for its console, since having great games proved to be much more important than having the most advanced hardware. And that's how the original Sony PlayStation evolved from an ill-conceived Nintendo CD-ROM peripheral into the PlayStation console that helped Sony dominate the console market as we know it.

Sony has shipped more than 100 million PlayStation and PSOne units since first launching the system in Japan in December of 1994. The PlayStation 2, released in 2000, is closing in on the 100 million mark, and Sony plans to introduce the PlayStation 3 in the middle of next year.

With thousands of games under the PlayStation's belt, it would be impossible to properly pay homage to all the games that deserve it (and conversely, to point out all the games that maybe shouldn't have been games in the first place). Instead, a few editors sound off on games that were particularly memorable to them. Perhaps you remember them, or perhaps you don't, but you should recognize the feeling of nostalgia echoed here.

Vib-Ribbon

By Justin Calvert, Editor, Previews

Vib-Ribbon has as many levels as you have songs in your CD collection.

So, do you remember vib-ribbon? Odds are that unless you live in Europe or used to make a habit of importing quirky games from Japan for your PlayStation, the answer is no. That's because NaNaOn-Sha's rhythm action game, in which you assume the role of a wire-frame rabbit named Vibri, was never released in North America, much to the disappointment of numerous GameSpot editors at the time.

Vib-ribbon's premise, like its charming vector graphics, is extraordinarily simple. You choose a song, the song determines the layout of the obstacles that will hinder your progress along an otherwise straight line, and then--using only four buttons on the controller--you have to negotiate those obstacles. There are four different types of obstacles in vib-ribbon, each assigned to a different button, and when you're playing a more difficult level, you'll often be confronted by hybrid obstacles that can only be traversed by pressing two buttons simultaneously.

The songs included on the vib-ribbon CD were undeniably catchy, but one of the game's best features was that it let you pop in any music CD from your collection to create entirely new levels. If you chose a particularly mellow track, you'd invariably get to play through a relatively easy level, with very few changes of pace and very few hybrid obstacles. Pop in something more upbeat, though, and the levels became extremely challenging, with multiple hybrid obstacles approaching you at different speeds and constantly changing camera angles adding to the confusion.

At the end of each level, you'd be given a score, and, depending on your performance, you'd get to see Vibri do a little happy dance. The numbers weren't terribly important, though, at least not as important as the form in which you finished the level. If you managed to string together a combo of successful obstacles, Vibri would evolve into some kind of rabbit prince with wings, a crown, and new animations. Mess up, though, and Vibri would devolve into a frog and, ultimately, some kind of worm with a square head. At a time when most video games were striving for realism and cutting-edge visuals, vib-ribbon stood out (and still stands out today) as a reminder that neither of those things are really necessary to make a fun game.

Tekken 3

By Avery Score, Assistant Editor, Mobile

Wow, did this game ever look amazing.

In 1998, Tekken 3 represented the absolute pinnacle of three-dimensional fighters. The game furthered the technical precision and grace of its forebears by adding new fighters, new modes, and new full-motion-video cinemas--all the while striking the perfect balance between speed and graphical acclaim.

Tekken 3 arrived late in the PlayStation's development cycle, and many skeptics argued that the home port wouldn't live up to the arcade original. Namco's System 12 board was based on the PS's architecture but featured twice the VRAM, along with dedicated audio RAM. Namco compensated by prerendering the game's backgrounds in two dimensions and by ever-so-slightly reducing the quality of the fighter models. The result was a game that, while not visually arcade-perfect, would remain the de facto graphical standard for console fighters until Namco bested its own efforts with its enhanced Dreamcast port of Soul Calibur.

Its extended move lists and excellent ball mode notwithstanding, Tekken 3 was more of a natural extension of a brilliant fighting system than a revolutionary product. What got Tekken to the party in the first place was its excellent control, which was based around simple and intuitive combinations of directional pad/stick movements in conjunction with one or more of the game's four attack keys. Executing these moves felt natural, and it was therefore possible to perform impressive combos with relative ease. The gameplay's most distinctive feature, however, was just how powerful the attacks really seemed. Despite its cartoonish particle effects, Tekken's techniques looked bone-shatteringly devastating, from Paul's windup haymaker to Nina's pressure-point punishments.

The latest Tekken 5 was successful largely because it eschewed the eight-way running and tag-team nonsense of recent series installments (which will remain in nameless ignominy) and instead hearkened back to the gameplay of Tekken 3, which really got things right. Tekken 3 is unquestionably the best fighter in the PlayStation's star-studded pantheon.

Jarrett and Labonte Stock Car Racing

By Brian Ekberg, Associate Editor, Sports

Jarrett and Labonte who? Stock car huh? Forget the name. This was one of the best racing games on the PlayStation, period.

When you think of racing games on the original PlayStation, the name that most often comes to mind is Gran Turismo...and with good reason. The GT series inarguably did more to put console racing sims on the map than any game or games before it. However, Gran Turismo and its sequel were far from the be-all and end-all of racing games on the original PlayStation. In fact, Sony's original console--from top to bottom--had a very deep racing catalog that featured a number of entries that didn't always make the grade, in addition to a select few that truly rose above the pack. Codemasters' Jarrett and Labonte Stock Car Racing was just one such racing game.

If there ever was a case to be made for not judging a racing game by its name, JLSCR was it. First of all, the Jarrett and Labonte referred to in the title weren't the legendary NASCAR racers Dale Jarrett and Terry or Bobby Labonte. Instead, the title referred to Jason Jarrett and Justin Labonte, the sons of the famous stock car drivers--neither of whom actually appeared in the game itself. Second, this game had practically zero to do with American stock car racing. In effect, JLSCR was the third in Codemasters' European hit racing series, TOCA Touring Car Championship. When it was initially released in Europe, the game was known by a slightly more pronounceable name: TOCA World Touring Car Championship. What began as a likely well-intended decision to change the title to something marginally more familiar to American racing fans ended up being an odd footnote to a game that, in effect, didn't need any help in proving its worth.

After all, JLSCR is one of the unsung heroes of the original PlayStation's lineup--an overlooked gem that featured the biggest lineup of cars this side of Gran Turismo 2 and a feel for the road unbeaten by any game of its generation. Typical of the TOCA series, cars were destructible in JLSCR (a feature the Gran Turismo series didn't boast back then and still doesn't...three iterations later). That, coupled with the game's outstanding artificial-intelligence-controlled opponents, meant that if you lost a bumper in a race, it was usually your fault. With spot-on re-creations of famous tracks, like Bathurst, Laguna Seca, Hockenheim, and the modern-day configuration of the Nürburgring, 42 drivable cars (from manufacturers like Ford, BMW, and Lexus), and a challenging opponent AI that was more sophisticated in 2000 than anything found in this year's Gran Turismo 4, JLSCR was a high-water mark on the original PlayStation, and it was a game that paved the way for Codemasters' high-speed successes on the PS2 and Xbox today.

Xenogears

By Bethany Massimilla, Community Manager

Many of Xenogears' characters were shrouded in mystery.

In a crowded PlayStation role-playing-game lineup, Xenogears was cut from a different cloth. Instead of a bright fantasy setting, swords, and lighthearted child heroes, the world of Xenogears brought science-fiction sensibilities, giant robots, and highfalutin narrative. You still ended up saving the world, but only after the characters battled through a mire of matters philosophical, psychological, political, and spiritual. Even after cross-checking the bewildering amount of religious references and brushing up on your Jung, Xenogears always had a new wrinkle to throw your way in its ambitious and lengthy storyline. Just about every character you encountered had a secret past that would slowly unravel in front of your eyes, with many revelations that were truly surprising. So many of the major players in the game were at the same time both heroes and victims, pawns of not just the events of their time but of their own fates. Watching events unfold was like completing a blank jigsaw puzzle and flipping it over when finished to find a whole, intricately designed picture on the other side.

The complex narrative had the benefit of being accompanied by Yasunori Mitsuda's wonderful music, a soundtrack that was often lyrical, haunting, and uplifting. The many themes he composed for the game were emotional and stirring, providing a perfect backdrop for all the turmoil (both internal and external) the characters experienced. It was a game with a serious and sometimes truly pretentious delivery, and it wove a complicated web of events and relationships all the way to the very end. Whether you liked it or loathed it, you'd be hard-pressed to find another PlayStation RPG quite like it.

Raiden Project

By Greg Kasavin, Site Director

What you do in Raiden Project is avoid enemies while blowing them up.

While the PlayStation was busy wowing the masses with its fancy-pants texture-mapped polygonal graphics, some dedicated video game players took the system as a sign of the apocalypse...the 2D gaming apocalypse, to be precise. The new 3D era of gaming presented a huge threat to all the traditional hand-drawn 2D games out there, the likes of which were still quite popular in the mid-'90s when the PlayStation first rolled out. In light of that, it's difficult to decide whether Raiden Project----one of the earliest PlayStation games to combine two vertical-scrolling space shoot-'em-ups into a single package--was like chicken soup for the fan of 2D gaming or a sinister plot to lull such fans into thinking more, similar games would follow suit.

One thing's for sure: It was awesome. To the untrained eye, Raiden Project was just your typical arcade game, with a name that would soon pave the way for a sneaky sissy and a gibberish-spouting thunder god. But to the aficionado, Raiden Project was one of the first pixel-perfect arcade-to-home translations of any game on yonder side of the NeoGeo. Lavish attention to detail could be found, and some extreme options were available, letting you go so far as to tilt your monitor or television on its side to preserve the original arcade-style vertically oriented aspect ratio.

Oh, and the games themselves were great. Intense shoot-'em-up action like this hasn't been accomplished any better very often, and the option for two-player simultaneous gameplay made Raiden Project a perfect choice for PlayStation early adopters who cut their teeth at the arcades. The PlayStation had some other memorable shoot-'em-ups after this one, including Philosoma and Einhander (the only shoot-'em-up to date from the maker of Final Fantasy), but Raiden Project got it right straight out of the gate. Ironically, all those 3D PlayStation games that looked so amazing for their time now look ugly and generally much worse than Raiden Project, with its clean lines and timeless design.

Legacy of Kain

By Dave Toister, Data Producer

The bloody aftermath of a glorious battle.

The original Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain was a good example of how the PlayStation was taking games to the next level, both in technical prowess and in targeted age range. Kain was one of the first violent, adult-rated role-playing games on home consoles that featured a mature storyline and excellent voice work.

Kain was an action RPG at heart that used the standard isometric camera angle made famous by games like the original Zelda, Secret of Mana, Soul Blazer, and others of that ilk. But the one thing that really set Kain ahead of the pack was its use of voice. It was one of the first games (and still one of the very few to date) to tell the entire story via voice-overs, with no text dialogue at all. Every important scene was rendered in beautiful computer-generated graphic video clips, some of the best of its generation. Minor story progressions, upgrades, and more were told in voice as the game played on, without interrupting the action any more than the scene required. The totally immersive voice work provided a new level of gaming, thus making the play-through feel almost like an epic movie story unfolding.

Very few games have come close to the quality of voice acting that Kain provided, especially given the fantasy content it revolved around--Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time comes to mind, but that game was not released until nearly a decade later...deep into the next generation of consoles--and it is questionable if any game has yet surpassed the voice work in the original Kain.

The mature level of Kain was another factor that really made it stand out. While games such as Mortal Kombat had paved the way for mainstream mature themes in subsequent games, few had done so without being gimmicky. Kain, however, managed to combine a bloody graphical representation with a fitting storyline and atmosphere without simply exploiting gore for being gore. For a medieval/vampire-themed game, the level of blood and guts was quite fitting.

Unfortunately, the sequels to Kain did not follow the style of the original, as they dipped more into the realm of the 3D, box-pushing action platformer genre. As such, the original Kain holds its place in history as one of the most unique action RPGs on the PlayStation, or any other system for that matter.

Tobal 2

By Jeff Gerstmann, Senior Editor

The first Tobal game from Square, titled Tobal No. 1, was an interesting but ultimately flawed fighting game that was released on the PlayStation in 1996. There were a lot of neat ideas presented, but really, the only reason people picked up the game at all was because it came with a demo of Final Fantasy VII. A year later Square put the finishing touches on a sequel and released it...in Japan. Due to the first game's stateside sales slump, Tobal 2 was never released outside of Japan. It's too bad, because Tobal 2 was a great game that fixed up a lot of the troubling problems in the first game, and at the time, it looked totally amazing.

Tobal 2's characters were untextured, for the most part. But this is probably what enabled the game to run at such a smooth frame rate. The smoothness of the game's animation made it look very, very good. The fighting system was a unique style that took high, medium, and low attacks into account. Each player also had a superpowerful fireball that could be charged up at any time, but doing so would suck life off of your own meter. The fireballs could kill in one hit if charged enough, but considering how easy it was to sidestep in the game, they only caught you if you were asleep.

Another reason PlayStation owners had to get into importing.

Tobal 2 also had a pretty cool role-playing-game mode where you'd take your character around towns and into dungeons filled with monsters. Items and potions would beef up your fighter's statistics. Unfortunately, this section was a little thick with Japanese, making it a little tougher to wade through if you weren't familiar with the language.

The time and effort it would take to translate the RPG mode was said to be the main reason that Square didn't bring the game over, since it didn't have a track record that would immediately justify the effort. Considering that everyone with tape over their PlayStation lid sensor or a mod chip was talking about how cool Tobal 2 was in 1997, it's still a little surprising that it never came over in English.

Warhawk

By Matthew Rorie, Game Guides Editor

Warhawk contained 110% of the FDA daily allotment of cheesy cutscenes.

One of the biggest surprises of this past E3 was the showing of a teaser for Warhawk, a future PlayStation 3 game from developer Incognito, best known for its long involvement with the Twisted Metal series of driving combat games. Incognito itself was formed around a core group of developers that was a part of Singletrac, the developer of the original Twisted Metal games on the Playstation, as well as a now-obscure launch title called...Warhawk.

The original Warhawk was emblematic of many of the best and worst trends of the Playstation era. On the one hand, it had a generally exciting feel to it, as it put you in command of a single, powerful airship (the eponymous Warhawk) to take on the legions of fighters and installations under the command of the evil Kreel. It was a pretty straightforward arcade flight combat sim, but it had good variety in its mission design and some seriously well-made weapons. The controls were fairly simple when compared to today's vehicle-oriented games, since there was only a D pad to work with, but you were still able to pull off some pretty sweet Immelmann turns and Millenium Falcon-ish squeezes through canyon walls and the like. Furthermore, the satisfaction of getting a missile lock on another plane and letting a swarm of heat-seekers loose needs little explanation.

So far as actual gameplay goes, Warhawk was fun to play through, and it was definitely a memorable launch title, although it was rather short at only seven levels, and it actually had you writing down Metroid-like passwords to save your progress. It also continued the bold Sega CD tradition of thoroughly execrable full-motion video sequences, complete with both the kind of dialogue you'd find in a comic book written by a seventh grader and Corey Haim-grade acting. As hard as it may be to believe, there was a time when FMV sequences were the equivalent of today's light-bloom or rag-doll physics in that they added a gloss of technological sophistication without forcing the developer to, you know, make its games any good.

That's not to say that Warhawk is a bad game. It's a bit more difficult to go back and play through than other PS games, if only because we're so used to the dual analog control system of most other free-flight games, but it's still worth checking out if you stumble across it in a friend's collection or at a yard sale. Or you can wait a year or two and get Warhawk for the PS3, which, even if it seems only tangentially related to the original game, will hopefully still have cackling madmen and wisecracking pilots in glorious Technicolor cutscenes between every mission. It just wouldn't be the same without them!

Metal Gear Solid

By Carrie Gouskos, Features Editor

The good old days: back when you could actually follow what was going on.

Remember Metal Gear Solid? Maybe that's a no-brainer. Of course you do. How about this? Remember when the Metal Gear Solid series had a story that took fewer than 25 plot twists? That's more like it.

Metal Gear Solid was the game that took the franchise in an entirely new direction. Although there had been two previous games (one released only in Japan) in the series, Solid became the new precedent for everything Metal Gear. It combined a complicated and rich storyline (you either loved it or you hated it), sprawling cinematics, impressive music and voice acting, oh, and gameplay too.

It was Solid's twist on the series that gave stealth action gameplay new life, but it was notorious designer Hideo Kojima's humor that makes Metal Gear Solid so completely memorable. If you've heard one thing about the game, it's probably horror stories about the battle with Psycho Mantis, the psychic antihero who seems to anticipate your every move. Whether he's divulging the inter contents of the Konami games on your memory card or you're evading him by plugging your controller into the second port, everything about the battle is innovative, in-character, and entertaining.

Metal Gear Solid was the game that made reading the back of the box hip again, a game so completely packed full of Easter eggs and references that it was worth playing through a second time just to figure it all out. Although later games in the series have certainly taken twists upon twists, Metal Gear Solid and its emotionally charged political storyline can be remembered as the pinnacle of gaming on the PlayStation.

Final Fantasy Tactics

By Greg Mueller, Associate Editor, Reviews

Final Fantasy Tactics wasn't the first strategy RPG, but it's one of the best.

Over the years, Square has released a number of Final Fantasy spin-offs. These games carry the Final Fantasy name, but they don't quite follow the same conventions of the series proper. Games like Mystic Quest, Crystal Chronicles, Chocobo Racing, and even Final Fantasy VII Snowboarding provided outlets for Square to try new things--and, of course, they let Square cash in on one of the biggest names in video games. Of all the spin-offs, only one has approached the level of quality of the numbered titles in the series: Final Fantasy Tactics.

Final Fantasy Tactics was the first Final Fantasy game to come out after Final Fantasy VII, which was a hell of an act to follow. In a move that turned out to be as wise as it was bold, Square didn't attempt to emulate the success of Final Fantasy VII in Tactics, choosing instead to create a completely different, more strategic role-playing experience. Strategy role-playing was around long before Final Fantasy Tactics, but it always had a relatively small following due to esoteric gameplay that required a lot more thought and planning to survive than the random, small-scale battles of most role-playing games. The power of the Final Fantasy name proved to be all Square needed to sell strategy role playing to the masses. The game was a hit and eventually earned a much-needed rerelease as a part of the PlayStation Greatest Hits catalog. Thanks to the success of Final Fantasy Tactics, we've seen a number of great strategy role-playing releases that might have otherwise never made it to US shores. In fact, due in part to the popularity of Final Fantasy Tactics, Tactics Ogre (the game that FFT was based on) was ported to the PlayStation and released in the US. However, Tactics Ogre didn't quite have the magic of Final Fantasy Tactics, so it lives on in obscurity along with all the other non-Square strategy role-playing games, like Vandal Hearts, Kartia, and Hoshigami: Ruining Blue Earth. It's not just the name that makes Final Fantasy Tactics special, though. From the deep, challenging gameplay to the complex and mature narrative, it all adds up to make Final Fantasy Tactics one of the greatest games of all time. Final Fantasy Tactics was--and still is--an experience worth buying a PlayStation for.

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night

By Steve Palley, Associate Editor, Mobile

No whip necessary.

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night was one of the PlayStation's very best games--a fact that's easily confirmed by the high prices aficionados now pay for the prized disk on eBay. If you liked side-scrolling action games (and during the reign of the PS, you probably did), SOTN automatically received a place of honor in your rotation. In fact, it may very well still be there.

Alucard's journey through the haunted naves and gloomy recesses of Dracula's castle was a paean to the evaporating art form of the side-scroller. It distilled decades' worth of hard design lessons and artistic experience into a single legendary masterpiece. Simply beating this game wasn't enough; by the time you had explored the castle and sent Dracula back into his long, dreamless sleep, you felt compelled to soldier on into the game's unknown depths until you had wrung 198 glorious percentage points out of your completion rating.

Symphony of the Night was built upon a huge foundation of secrets. There were hidden passageways at every turn, as well as incredibly rare, clandestine items that you might never find, even if you played through the game five times. There were Alucard's undocumented special powers, which you'd discover quite by accident, and, finally, there were the mysteries that shrouded his spirit helpers. Even the greatest obscurantists of horror, like Kafka or Lovecraft, would have been dazzled by this game's convoluted brilliance, which appeared to have poured directly out of the mind of a fellow mad genius. It was occult in the best sense possible: endlessly mysterious and endlessly compelling.

Few games in the art form's history have so successfully generated such an engrossing, nightmarish atmosphere and then lived up to it during the course of play. Indeed, the game's soundtrack was its own symphony of the night, and it was often capable of silencing an entire room with its grave elegance. No true gamer will ever forget the haunting soprano-alto duet at the character select screen. All of this fit hand in glove with the game's gorgeously painted backgrounds, as well as with the monstrous abominations you were tasked with destroying.

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night was a game produced by the best designers of the PS generation while they were at the very height of their creative powers. It amazed an entire cross section of the video gaming public and even spawned a great line of sequels on the Game Boy Advance. If there has ever been a game that merited rerelease, it's this one.

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