Over the next few months, we will be inviting the fantastic people at SuperMegaStore to write about their very favourite retro videogames moments. Up first, we have a Top 5 Lesser Known PS1 Gems. Aka the PlayStation aka PlayStation 1 aka PSOne aka PSX depending on who you’re talking to. Anyway, over to those who know much more than me…
Playing and collecting retro videogames is usually associated with nostalgia but at SuperMegaStore retro-gaming is not only an opportunity for everyone to play videogames they once loved, but also a chance to explore a world of stories that you never had the time, ability or birthday money to play during your childhood.
To that end, we would like to talk a little about our favourite underrated PS1 games. I’m sure most of you have played one of these, but just in case you haven’t, take a look:
Bushido Blade (1997) is a weird game. Most of the games on this list are easily defined within their genres, Bushido Blade on the other hand created a genre of its own!
What looks like a standard fighting game, that would play like a SoulCalibur or Tekken, soon shows you that this is not the case in anyway.
My first 10 minutes of playing were dedicated to learning how quickly and easily I could be killed and the next 10 spent finding out that I too could defeat my enemies with ease. The game is less about fighting and more about strategy, it doesn’t tell you that though, it makes you learn.
Fights in this game can last a few seconds or a few minutes depending on how good you are at finding or creating openings in your opponent’s guard. It perfectly weaves slow, thoughtful build up and fast-paced swordplay in a way that I had never seen before and haven’t found anywhere else since.
The key to Bushido blade lies in its simple ruleset; you can defeat your opponent with one blow, they can do the same to you and in order to progress, you must fight within the code laid out by the bushido. These rules add an intensity to the fighting and allow the game to punish and reward you in equal measure for fantastic strategy or stupid decisions.
Parasite Eve 1 & 2
I am sure many people in PAL regions would have played PE2 (2000) and many people in NTSC regions would have played the original (1998). In my mind the Parasite Eve franchise is one of the most underrated in the PS1’s history.
You rarely hear anyone speaking about PE and when you do its usually to damn with faint praise! It’s either SquareSoft’s attempt at making a Resident Evil clone or it’s just a prototype for games like Vagrant Story/any other RPG without a turn-based battle mechanic.
NEW YORK DETECTIVE
Parasite Eve puts you in the shoes of Aya Brea, a New York detective. Through mutated mitochondria – remember, this was at a time when Square seemed to want to have real-world explanations for all the magic in their games – she has the ability to cast magic spells on both herself and her enemies. Some of which are the most horrifying abominations I have ever seen outside of Mark Hammil turning into a cockroach in The Guyver.
PE is an exquisite blend of Resident Evil and Vagrant Story styles of gameplay. I think this is where the comparisons come from. Aya controls like a tank. Anyone who is familiar with early 2000’s third-person games will know exactly how that feels, although this might not be on purpose. It’s almost like the game reminding you constantly that you aren’t completely in control. At the same time, Aya has many offensive and defensive spells at her disposal and you can upgrade pretty much everything, even the vest Aya wears into battle.
In short PE & PE2 lie in a perfect space between third-person horror and fantasy RPG. It’s the kind of game that has you waking up in a cold sweat, not because it’s causing nightmares but because you finally worked out how to get the maximum number of upgrades onto your favourite weapon.
Heart of Darkness
This could be my favourite platformer on the PS1, or just ever.
I can’t remember a game having as hard a time shipping than this one, being slated for release on not one but four consoles that were either obsolete or dead before the game was ready to ship. This game spent 5 years in development hell – for comparison Crash Bandicoot was in development for around half that time.
When you hear of a game going through development hell your heart probably sinks, and rightfully so, it’s rare for a game to come out of this in any way close to its original vision. Think about Duke Nukem Forever or The Last Guardian, both of these games should have continued the form of their predecessors and cemented themselves as classics, as Duke Nukem 3D and Shadow of the Colossus had done a decade before. Not only is a long, drawn out development a problem, it’s usually a symptom of deeper problems that are lying just below the surface.
Heart of Darkness joined a very exclusive club, one that includes Team Fortress 2, Alan Wake, Resident Evil 4 and a select few others, because not only did it survive development hell, but it is incredible despite of it, a game that I am sure in some way inspired the creation of games like Limbo, Inside and Badland and a game that goes toe to toe with those games in terms of atmosphere, story and visuals.
If Heart of Darkness released today it would be an instant indie darling. I wholeheartedly believe that all Atari would need to do to save themselves from irrelevance is to stop making cheap, plastic plug ‘n’ play consoles and make a sequel to this game.
Jade Cocoon is different.
It’s a Frankenstein’s monster of standard RPG and collectathon elements and it immediately burrowed itself into my lizard brain. As a JRPG it was insanely ahead of the curb with voice acting and realistic character models. Also with it’s as-close-to-seamless transitions between cut scenes and gameplay as was possible on the PS1.
On the surface it seems like a standard JRPG. The ability to summon and battle monsters you collect and raise, as well as battle monsters yourself leads to layered encounters that transition depending on how you and your enemies’ teams have been selected. Imagine playing Pokémon and when your team is unconscious, you have the option to fistfight with the rival trainer. Just the pure pleasure alone of being able to give Gary a black eye would be worth the price of the game!
SETS ITSELF APART
Jade Cocoon also sets itself apart from other RPG’s of the time being so heavily steeped in Native American culture and mythos, giving the game a fresh feeling when compared to the standard SquareSoft offerings of the time.
When I came to play this game for the first time, I was in a bit of a rut with JRPGs. Having recently completed Final Fantasy VII through X, great games but very similar nonetheless in visuals, gameplay and to a certain extent tone. Jade Cocoon is refreshing in gameplay mechanics, visuals and in story, it almost seems like a game designed for those who are burnt out on the standard RPG fare that retro gaming usually offers, below the surface you will find a heart-warming story full of characters you will come to love and horrifying monsters that you find yourself rooting for in battle.
This is one of those games that can seem expensive because of people gouging buyers on eBay but if you look hard enough you can add this great game to your collection easily for less than £30 and it would definitely be £30 well spent. Definitely a lesser known PS1 gem!
This game may be a little harder to find than the others… What you’re going to want to do is find an English-translated reproduction. You can often get these for the Sega Saturn and PS1 or just spend an hour or two working out how to use an emulator. If you decide to get a physical copy you will need to use a modified PS1 or Saturn. Alternatively, you could just learn to speak Japanese. This may seem like too many hurdles to be worth it, but I can assure you it’s not.
If you’ve ever wondered what a crazed re-telling of Lethal Weapon through the lens of Blade Runner and 2001: A Space Odyssey would look like then you’ve found the right game, most people say the Saturn version is the definitive version, but we all know the PS1 is the definitive console.
HIDEO KOJIMA and AKIHIKO NAGATA
There’s a lot of pedigree in this game. Hideo Kojima and Akihiko Nagata came together to make it (as they had done before and would do again) – Kojima writing his standard overly complicated story and Nagata scoring it to perfection. Fans of Metal Gear Solid will recognise a lot of the themes in the music. One track in particular was used and remixed for MGS.
The artwork is gorgeous too and I would cite the artist if it wasn’t for the fact that he now seems to be known solely for the production of high-quality hentai (DM me for links).
As to expect with Kojima’s games there is a mix of a few different genres. There are point and click elements, light gun sections and you’re going to be watching a tonne of cutscenes, Kojima loves making movies when he should be making games – amarite?!
Taking control of a loose cannon cop in a story steeped in intrigue, full of double crosses and heavy with neo-noir atmosphere is super engaging! Though you can’t use a light gun on newer TVs and using a controller can get frustrating, the game still draws you in. It pushes you to keep playing for one more minute, one more hour til the game is over and you’ve lost a day.
To summarise, is there really any point in reviewing a Kojima game? We all know it’s going to be great right? But this one is special. It came at a time when consoles and PCs couldn’t do what they could 4 years later, the limitations seem to, in this case, have given him the opportunity to create the movie type games he always seems to want to make without all the extra gameplay mechanics which can sometimes distract from the story.
These, in our opinion, are some of the most fun and underrated PS1 games ever made, as always though, for every list of things, there are 100 things left off that list that shouldn’t have been.