The Sony PlayStation: A 2×12-Year Retrospective

Well, it's September 9th, 2019, which means its time for another 12/12 console anniversary. Yes, today makes 24 years since Sony's very first PlayStation console was first released in North America. Though Sega and Nintendo pretty much owned the home console landscape at the time they decided to enter the frey, a combination of smart business decisions and key partnerships, in addition to some pretty massive missteps by the competition helped Sony to quickly become the dominant force in the industry. A position they have continued to enjoy for the majority of their console-making career.

​Sony first began their foray into game consoles in the late 1980s when they entered into a partnership with Nintendo to create a CD-ROM add-on called the Play Station for the upcoming Super Nintendo console. The partnership was rocky though, particularly when Nintendo went behind their back to form another partnership with Sony's competitor Philips. At one point Sony even approached Sega with a proposal to a similar partnership to the one they had with Nintendo, but Sega, unfortunately, declined. Eventually, Sony decided to abandon the project altogether in favor of creating their very own gaming system for the next console generation. This, of course, is what would go on to become the PlayStation.

After settling on engineering the console to specialize in handling three-dimensional polygonal graphics, Sony then had to figure out how to get games made for its system. For this, they mainly relied on securing hundreds of deals for third-party games, both exclusive and multi-platform. In addition, they also acquired the British video game company Psygnosis which, along with creating the fantastic wipEout series for them (one particularly excellent entry of which appears on our list below), also had the unintended benefit of resulting in a more economical, dedicated game development system for their new console.

Finally, Sony needed to figure out how to get a jump on the already long-established competition. They accomplished this in two ways. With Nintendo, they primarily did this simply by beating them to market, since their next generation Nintendo 64 console wasn't even ready for release until the following year. And with Sega, they simply found a way to capitalize on their blunders, particularly by undercutting them on pricing. By selling the PlayStation for $100 less than Sega's Saturn, they made it a lot more attractive to otherwise undecided console shoppers who couldn't quite see the additional cost benefit of Sega's offering.

Even with a leg up though, without the right games, the PlayStation brand wouldn't have lasted for very long. But great games are something that every PlayStation console has always had in spades. Read on for our list of 12 of the best ones the original PlayStation had to offer.

Ridge Racer (Namco, 1995)

Since the dawn of home video game consoles, gamers had longed for as close to an authentic arcade experience as they could get. Every successive console generation brought them closer than the last, but none (save the prohibitively expensive and somewhat hard to find Neo-Geo) could quite seem to match up. While Ridge Racer itself may not have been 100% accurate, it was arguably as close or closer than most had come before. Not only was it a near-perfect arcade conversion, but it was the near-perfect conversion of a pretty popular racing title at that. As such, as well as an exclusive launch title, Ridge Racer played a vital role in generating invaluable interest and early positive publicity for Sony's brand new console. It also allowed the system to stand as a legitimate and compelling alternative to Sega's Saturn (which boasted two of its own hit arcade racer offerings).

wipEout XL/2097 (Psygnosis, 1996)

In addition to Ridge Racer, there was another fantastic little racing title that appeared in the early days of the PlayStation's life. Unlike that game, however, it wasn't a port of an already popular arcade game. It was an all new Nintendo-inspired experience from Sony developer Psygnosis that took the stylish, futuristic racing of F-Zero and combined it with weapons and track designs similar to those found in Super Mario Kart. Factor in the three dimensional graphical power of the PlayStation and its no surprise that the game had a winning formula.

But this list is all about experiences that could only be found on the PlayStation, and the original Wipeout was unfortunately, not an exclusive. Its 1996 sequel, however, was (at least for the first year it was out). It was also a major improvement over the original in just about every way possible, with the one notable exception being the head-scratchingly stupid name change for the North American version of the game (wipEout 2097 is a much cooler title than wipeout XL). Whatever you want to call the game though, it was still a smash hit that even today is looked back upon by fans and critics alike as the very best entry the series has to offer.

Twisted Metal 2 (Sony, 1996)

Another launch title that was an early PlayStation hit was Twisted Metal. This dark and extra violent weaponized demolition derby game struck a chord with mid-'90s gamers that earned it a fanbase as well as franchise. It even established its own new niche genre that would eventually spawn a handful of imitators. Despite being both unique and interesting, the development of the game had been a bit rushed and the overall quality wasn't quite sufficient to truly call it a classic. Thankfully though, the sequel got more time in the oven and was a marked improvement over the original as a result. Boasting the same great gameplay but with all new content and features, and larger stages to boot, Twisted Metal 2 was not only a bigger hit than the previous installment, it ended up being the most successful entry in the entire series. Now that's a classic!

Final Fantasy VII (Squaresoft, 1997)

Final Fantasy VII is probably the one game on this list that needs no introduction. Although the series was pretty well established well before the seventh installment, that was the entry that took it from a quality, somewhat popular entertainment option to the single biggest, most celebrated RPG franchise of all time. Fortunately for Sony, it also happened to be the entry that saw Square switch the series from Nintendo exclusivity to PlayStation exclusivity. Though they certainly had their reasons for doing so, as they were able to use the increased power and storage capacity of Sony's system to create a much bigger, more graphically advanced Final Fantasy game than any that had come before. The game sold like gangbusters upon its release and helped to make Sony's PlayStation console a runaway success. Longtime fans are surely looking forward to experiencing deja vu next year, when Square releases the Final Fantasy VII remake exclusively on Sony's latest runaway success story, the PlayStation 4.

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (Konami, 1997)

Prior to 1997, Konami's Castlevania series had long enjoyed a near-exclusive, highly successful association with Nintendo systems. Although they would continue to release a number of important Nintendo-only Castlevania titles for many years to follow, that year, Konami released the first series installment for the PlayStation. It was an exclusive that turned out to be one of the most critically-acclaimed games of all time (and, interestingly enough, one that still has never graced a single Nintendo system to this day).

But Symphony of the Night was a departure in more ways than just the system it appeared on. It also managed to shake things up by successfully merging the same type of satisfying, action-oriented monster-slaying castle exploration that the series was already famous for with RPG elements and a non-linear open world map similar to what had been seen in the slightly-less-popular second NES installment, Simon's Quest. Being a PlayStation release also meant that the graphics were a vast improvement over most of those earlier releases as well. In addition to which, at a time when three-dimensional gaming had become the hot new trend, Symphony of the Night was a testament to the fact that 2D still had plenty to offer.

Resident Evil 2 (Capcom, 1998)

The first title in the now long-running Resident Evil franchise was a groundbreaking hit for the PlayStation and was also largely responsible for creating the survival horror video game genre. The game was equal parts creepy and compelling and was essentially a no-brainer of a purchase for early adopters looking for something good to play. Yet, despite being a fantastic progenitor for the series, Resident Evil wasn't perfect. Probably the single biggest fault with the game was the inclusion of some pretty criminally bad live action full motion video sequences. The sequel, thankfully, did away with these and instead featured computer generated cinematics with better (though still not exactly spectacular) voice actors. Resident Evil 2 also offered better graphics, more varied locations and even additional modes, including a perspective-shifting "B" scenario that was supposedly inspired by Back to the Future part II. How cool is that?

Tekken 3 (Namco, 1998)

As with other titles on this list, Tekken 3 wasn't the first series entry to appear on the PlayStation. In actual fact, it was the last, but it was far and away the best. The first came out shortly after the PlayStation's launch and, like Ridge Racer, was the exclusive port of a hit arcade title which helped the console attract more players. While Tekken 2 definitely upped the ante a bit, and was also very well received, it was Tekken 3 that really took things to another level. Set many years after the previous two games, Tekken 3 featured an almost entirely new cast of characters, many of which would become fan favorites and series staples. The fighting was also overhauled and made deeper, more varied, and more realistic than ever before. The difference these changes made resulted in an installment from an already popular fighting series being propelled to the stratosphere. At the time it was released, Tekken 3 was one of the highest-rated games around and it is still today considered by many to be among the greatest fighting games ever made.

Hot Shots Golf (Sony, 1998)

Over the last twenty years, the game developer Camelot has made something of a name for itself as the talented creator of numerous excellent Mario Golf (and Tennis) titles for Nintendo. Yet interestingly enough, Mario Golf was actually not their first foray onto the virtual links. That distinction belongs to the equally excellent Sony-published 1998 PlayStation title, Hot Shots Golf (aka Everybody's Golf). Though Sony second party studio Clap Hanz has masterfully handled the now well-established and popular franchise from the second game onward, Camelot is the studio that deserves the credit for getting the proverbial ball rolling. It was the original that set the now series standard features of beautifully varied, realistic courses, deep, yet accessible, gameplay, and fun, animated characters. Nintendo may have Mario Golf but PlayStation has long held its own on the golf front, thanks to Camelot and Hot Shots Golf.

Gran Turismo (Sony, 1998)

If Ridge Racer opened the door(s) for racing games on the PlayStation, then Gran Turismo took those doors and blew them off completely. While arcade style racing was the de facto standard at the time, Sony game designer Kazunori Yamauchi, and his internal development studio, Polyphony Digital, decided to instead create a simulation racer the likes of which had never been seen (or done) on a video game console before. After spending multiple years working on it, they finally released their new game in 1998, and all of their hard work definitely paid off. The game was met with monumental acclaim and even went on to become the number one best selling game for the PlayStation console as well as the premier racing franchise on any console. Nowadays, Microsoft's Forza franchise may be the undisputed champ, but the Gran Turismo series still remains one of the better sim racing experiences (in addition to a key exclusive) for the PlayStation brand.

Metal Gear Solid (Konami, 1998)

Though it may be the first entry in the Metal Gear Solid series, MGS is actually the third game in the Metal Gear series, with only the original having appeared outside of Japan prior (when it was first released on the NES, back in 1988). When they started development on Metal Gear Solid, series creator Hideo Kojima and his team specifically had the intention of making the best PlayStation game ever. With that in mind, they consulted with members of an actual SWAT team in order to make the game feel as realistic and accurate as possible. The game also relied heavily on in-game cinematics and voice acting due in no small part to Hideo Kojima's personal love of movies. The result was an incredible action/stealth game that actually felt like playing through a blockbuster film at times. Some reviewers did in fact acknowledge it as one of the best PlayStation games ever (if not the best), and many have even described it as being among the greatest games of all time. Mission accomplished.

Street Fighter Alpha 3 (Capcom, 1999)

What can I say about Street Fighter Alpha 3 that wasn't already covered in my very own Game Changers article a while back? Arguably the greatest Street Fighter game of all time (with the possible exception of Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike), Alpha 3 had it all: beautiful, colorful hand drawn sprites, gorgeous backgrounds, fantastic new music, multiple combo options for various play styles, and a huge assortment of well-balanced characters to choose from (including many returning fan favorites and even a few interesting new challengers). In addition, it even featured story elements and endings for every character, as well as a thrilling two-on-one mode called Dramatic Battle. If all of that wasn't enough, the PlayStation release also added a brand new World Tour mode for even more variety. Though the game would later appear on other systems too, for over a year, the PlayStation was the only place outside of the arcade you could play this fantastic title.

Chrono Cross (Squaresoft, 2000)

Though it wasn't as big or impactful as Final Fantasy VII, Chrono Cross was still another incredibly well-received RPG by the same developer, Square(soft). The success of Final Fantasy VII, in addition to the comparative benefits of developing for the PlayStation, had led that to become Square's console of choice going forward. Therefore, Chrono Cross too, became the Sony-exclusive follow-up to a previously Nintendo-only release. That precursor, Chrono Trigger (which would eventually make its way to the PlayStation as well), was regarded as nothing short of a masterpiece when it was released on the Super Nintendo. Many even considered it to be among the greatest video games ever made. So it was really no surprise that it would see a follow-up before too long. Although Chrono Cross may not quite have risen to the same lofty heights of acclaim as Chrono Trigger did, it was enough of a critical hit to arguably still ​be considered the worthy sequel to one of the greatest games of all time (as well as one of the better games ever to grace the PlayStation).

Following a failed partnership with Nintendo, and despite being a well-known entity in the consumer electronics industry, Sony essentially entered the video game console market with very little experience to speak of. Despite that fact, and through a combination of business savvy, the right partnerships, and just plain luck, they managed to successfully enter a market that was basically already cornered by the competition. And Sony didn't just stop at getting a foothold in the market, they then went on to take the lead in fairly short order. Sony's PlayStation marked, not only the beginning of a exciting new console generation, but the arrival of a true third pillar in the console industry.

After the overwhelming success of the PlayStation, Sony then went on to dominate the next console generation with their follow-up, the PlayStation 2. A system which would actually play a fairly significant role in knocking longtime industry titan Sega out of the console business altogether. Even though Microsoft quickly rose up to take Sega's place in the console wars with their own impressive Xbox brand of consoles, Sony has mostly been able to retain their throne as the industry king. And it all started 24 years ago with the original PlayStation console.


(This is a repost of an article that also appeared on 12/12 Games.)

[Namco, Psygnosis, Sony, Square, Konami, Capcom]

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