Monthly Archives: December 2013

GentleBen’s Favorite Games of All Time (PlayStation)

PlayStation (PSX)

Let me start off by saying, I love the PlayStation! For me, Sony’s entire line of PlayStation gaming consoles have been superb. I have been an ardent PS fan since 1995 and have purchased every iteration of the console, all the way up to the present day PS3. I even pre-ordered the PS4, displaying an unprecedented level of faith in the Sony brand. (Please don’t let me down Sony!) That probably makes me a Sony Fan Boy, but I am OK with that. Heck, I’ve been called much worse.

I first caught a glimpse of the PlayStation in 1995, at my friend Wellang’s house. I can remember thinking “Man what a game changer!” Not only did it use a CD instead of a cartridge, you could save your game on detachable memory cards, the controllers were loaded with buttons and you could even play your music CDs through the  gaming console! It was an amazing little system and I have been a big fan ever since.

Back in the day, it seemed like PlayStation had all the games that I wanted to play. For the PSX, they had games like Final Fantasy 7, King’s Field, Xenogears, Lunar, Colony Wars, Wild Arms, Mega Man X4, Tomb Raider, Resident Evil 2 and Gran Turismo. When the PS2 came out, it was a similar story. Games like King’s Field: The Ancient City, Devil May Cry, Disgaea: Hour of Darkness, Resident Evil 4, Gran Turismo 3 & 4 and God of War were so much fun. Even the PS3 has its fair share of great games: Call of Duty World at War, Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls, Red Dead Redemption, Skyrim, Bioshock, Boarderlands and Grand Turismo 5.

PlayStation consoles were everywhere in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. Lots of gamers ended up owning all three systems, including me. There was a huge amount of Sony brand loyalty. It just goes to show you, the PlayStation has treated us pretty well.

Now many PS fans will admit, Sony lost a substantial chunk of the gamer population with their less than favorable launch for the PS3. However, I think the PS4 will re-claim a lot of their former glory. I’m very excited and can hardly wait to see what PlayStation 4 brings us. That being said, I wanted to take another stroll down memory lane and look back at my top 5 favorite games on the PlayStation 1 (PSX). Hope you enjoy.

#5: Command and Conquer

Now before you start, I know that Command and Conquer (also known as C&C) was NOT originally a PlayStation 1 game. I know, I know……. it was a PC game that was just ported to the PSX. And yes, I know that it was less than a perfect port. Sure it had clumsy controls, lacked the ability to save in the middle of missions, was missing a few musical tracks, had lower resolution graphics and did not have any form of multiplayer… I understand all of that. BUT never-the-less, C&C was one of the main reason’s why I first purchased a PlayStation 1. Let me explain…

Back in the early 90s, I had been watching my friend Arkalius, play through C&C on his PC and I had absolutely loved the entire concept of the game. Being able to control vast armies of troops, vehicles, tanks and aircraft, all while designing a base, building up an army and crushing my enemies, seemed like good times to me! We would sit there in front of his computer for hours, Arkalius playing and me watching. I would vicariously play out the missions, plan attacks, offer suggestions and share in the experience as much as I could. Most of which fell on deaf ears.

Unfortunately, my friend was not the most sharing of individuals and I seldom got a chance to put my well-planned strategies to the test. So, when I heard that C&C was due out on the PlayStation, I thought “AT LAST! Now I can play my OWN copy of the game!” My only other option was to buy a PC, but that was WAY more of an expense then simply picking up a PSX plus the game.

I spent hours upon hours playing C&C, going over each and every level, building epic bases, designing different layouts for defense and planning detailed and sometimes overly complex battle plans. Sometimes I’d win, other times I’d loose, but it was always a blast.

My favorite level in C&C was one of the last stages on the GDI disc and I played it over and over, to the point of exhaustion. It was soooo much fun! I still remember the password for that level too: GTJ2PV460. Usually, I would setup a series of fortified walls, Advanced Guard Towers and Machine Gun Towers that would chop the enemy to pieces. I would also capture the main tiberium field and keep NOD’s harvesters blocked. No tiberium = no money. I also loved using coordinated attacks to push through the enemy’s forward base, distract their obelisk towers and use an APC filled with engineers to capture their 2nd construction yard. It was in the far southwest of the map, right across a small river so it was easy to defend and nicely out of the way. That would open up the ability to build NOD weapons and add their tanks, troops and gun turrets to the mix.

Today, even thought I have the classic C&C for my PC, I still love to play the old PSX version. There are so many awesome memories wrapped up with that game and such a huge amount of nostalgia, I can’t help but love it. Plus, it sure made a huge impact on me, opening up the flood gates on a ton of other RTS games.

#4: Tomb Raider

When it comes to puzzle solving, adventure games, it doesn’t get much better than Tomb Raider. This game blew my mind when I first saw it. The graphics, the music, the freedom of movement, it was all spectacular.

Not only could you walk, run and jump, but Lara could perform a host of other varied and complex interactions within her environment. Lara could side-step, dodge, perform a handstand, climb across ledges, hang off cliffs, roll, dive, and even swim. It was the most realistic movement any of us had yet to see, in a video game.

You searched for clues, solved puzzles, discovered treasure and uncovered lost civilizations. You faced off with wild beasts, poachers, and even a few fellow treasure hunters. You spent a good deal of time escaping death from a multitude of disastrous traps and environmental elements. It was a fight for Lara’s very survival and you felt extremely connected to it all.

Of course,  Lara was far from defenseless. She could really handle herself in combat, usually carrying her two trusty pistols, but also using shotguns, magnums and even dual wielding Uzis. It was all great fun and really stands out in my mind as one of the most well known games of the 90s.

One element that I remember most in Tomb Raider was the puzzle solving.  My friend Wellang and I would always work together on the trickiest puzzles, coming up with ideas, trying things out and making suggestions. We both felt connected to the whole experience. It was as if our very survival depended entirely on our wits. Sometimes we succeeded, sometimes we failed, but each time it was a blast.

I also remember the deaths in Tomb Raider being pretty gruesome for its time: plummeting to my death, burning alive, drowning, being electrocuted, becoming impaled on spikes, getting killed by human enemies, and even being eaten alive by wild creatures. To this day, I can still remember the last boss picking me up like a rag doll and slamming me into the ground, over and over again until I was dead. What a horrifying moment.

Despite the graphics not aging very well, this game is still a lot of fun to play. I recommend that anyone who has not played it, to give it a try. Even to this day, I would still this one pick and relive a few wonderfully brutal, Tomb Raider moments.

#3: Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (SoTN)

When Castlevania fans talk about their favorite Castlevania games, a large majority of them will rank Symphony of the Night as one of the best in the franchise. They would be correct in doing so. Everything about the game just clicked together so well, that many fans and gaming publications still rank it as one of the best games on the PlayStation 1. I still own the original Symphony of the Night and it is definitely one of my favorite Castlevania games of all time.

SOtN was actually a direct sequel to a Japanese only title called Castlevania: Rondo of Blood, for the PC-Engine.  To us North American fans, who had no prior knowledge of this fact, Symphony of the Night seemed like an entirely new type of Castlevania adventure, with maybe a slight connection to Dracula X on the SNES.

SOtN was quite a departure from the older NES and SNES Castlevania games. Sure, it was still a very action oriented, side-scrolling game, but many of the similarities stopped there. First off, it no longer starred a Blemont, you now played as Alucard, the half-human-half-vampire son of the infamous Count Dracula.  Because of his lineage, Alucard was extremely powerful and very skilled. He could equip a ton of different main weapons, sub-weapons, armors, capes and accessories. He could use a wide variety of items, cast magic, use familiars and even transform into a wolf, a bat or a cloud of mist. Compared to the members of the Belmont Clan, Alucard was vastly out of their league. You felt unstoppable.

Also, SOtN was not your typical level based linear game, either. It was geared more towards an open world environment, with elements of exploration and discovery. It still took place in Dracula’s castle, but instead of your standard 8 or 9 levels, the game gave you the entire castle to explore.  This allowed the player to move from area to area seamlessly and to explore each and every dark recess of the Castle.

Each area was connected by a short, creepy, transitional hallway, completely devoid of any background music, that served both as a loading screen and safe haven from the Gothic horrors that surrounded you. A bit of respite in a brutally savage game.

SOtN was a great game, but it was so much more than that. Not only did it utilize the classic, action oriented, side scrolling style of game play, but it introduced a number of RPG elements and game mechanics that I had never seen before in a Castlevania game. It kept it’s dark Gothic atmosphere and included a ton of visual enhancements, control improvements and a killer soundtrack that was nothing short of epic. It also spawned an entire line of hand-held  SOtN style games and has even been included in the PSP release of Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles. It has spawned a legacy all of its own and I count it as one of the all time greats.

#2: The King’s Field Series

Any one who knows me, knows that I am a big fan of FROM Software.  In fact, I have been a fan for some time now. More recent gamers might know FROM Software from their recent work on the Soul’s games: Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls, but they have been around since November 1986 and have developed their fair share of awesome games. I could bot choose between the two games, released here in the U.S., so I’ve grouped them together.

In the mid 1990’s and early 2000’s, they released an obscure, first person, action RPG series called King’s Field and it quickly became one of my favorite RPG series of all time. Why did I like it so much? Well, for me it was a combination of the game’s atmosphere, level design, music, story line, characters, and fully immersive, 360 degree environments. It was revolutionary for its time, and it had everything that I enjoyed in video games: swords, sorcery, knights, monsters and an engaging fantasy mythos. The entire series was awesome!

It was my friend Wellang, who first introduced me to King’s Field by renting King’s Field 2 and giving me the opportunity to spend a few hours behind the controls. Right from the start, King’s Field 2 was NOT an easy game. It didn’t have very a intuitive control scheme, your attack speed was painfully slow, enemy attacks were brutally devastating, the environments were unpredictable and you were given very little instruction or direction. The first time playing King’s Field 2, I was promptly killed only 2 mins into the game. In fact, it took me about an hour of playtime before I had even a BASIC grasp on the controls. Even then, in the heat of battle I would often hit the wrong button. It was a rough introduction, but oh so much fun. It was so much fun in fact, I went out a few weeks later and picked up the first game in the series, simply called King’s Field.

Unlike most other mid 90’s RPG’s both, King’s Field 1 & 2 took place entirely in a 3 dimensional, fully-explorable world. It was also in real-time and you controlled every aspect of your character’s actions. You could look up, down, left and right, you could circle strafe, you could aim in all directions, you could attack with swords, magic or ranged attacks…. I fell in love with both games. King’s Field also gave me a reason to buy a PlayStation 2, since King’s Field: The Ancient City was only available on PS2.

FROM Software created such an interesting world, with a great story line, mysterious characters and an engaging battle system. I couldn’t help but be wrapped up in their epic journey. Wondering and fighting through an unfamiliar landscape, surrounded by powerful enemies, all while discovering a rich collection of lore, really made me feel like I was an intricate part of that world’s fate.  It was an awesome experience and a great adventure. If you haven’t played either of them by now, I recommend you go out and give them a try. If nothing else, at least watch one of the rare Long Plays over on YouTube. I guarantee, it is well worth it.

#1: Final Fantasy Tactics

What?! Final Fantasy Tactics? Where is Final Fantasy 7?!!! Now, calm down, let me explain.

For any die-hard Final Fantasy fan, the 90s were probably some of the best years for that franchise. Final Fantasy 3/6, Final Fantasy 7 and even Final Fantasy 8 were all solid games with great music, wonderful characters and awesome story lines. I know for a fact that many of us spent hours upon hours of our time, exploring their respective worlds, leveling up and falling in love with each game.  Everyone I knew  was hooked the moment they put those games in their systems.

In the 90s, one of the most popular games to take over my small group of gaming friends was Final Fantasy 7 and everyone I knew was completely obsessed with that game. Why not, right? It was a fantastic game. Not only is it known as one of the best RPGs of all time, it STILL has a gigantic, very dedicated fan base. This is very impressive considering it has been some 16 years since it’s release date.

Now, even though Final Fantasy 7 WAS a great game, it never held my full attention. By the time I got a hold of the game, I had already witnessed all of the most pivotal moments. I had seen Aeris’ death multiple times, I had witnessed the destruction of the Emerald Weapon and Ruby Weapon, even spent hours farming and racing chocobos. My friends had all beaten the game countless times and I had seen that ending more times then I had ever wanted to. There was just no surprises left in the game for me and I didn’t feel any great urge to play it further. Since my friend Wellang had first purchased it, FF7 had been passed around my entire group of friends and I had been with each of them, through most of their individual runs. I was simply burned out.

Besides, I wanted a game that was new, fresh and all mine. A game that hadn’t been played by all of my friends. A game that required skillful planning and surgical execution. Something similar to Command and Conquer. For me, Final Fantasy Tactics was that game.

FFT was not your typical Final Fantasy game. It was a turn-based, tactical RPG with a strong emphasis on character creation and proper utilization of very specific, strategic elements. Concepts such as elevation, line of sight, terrain and weather all played key rolls in your victories and in your defeats.

FFT utilized a system of fully customizable characters, specializing in various jobs and class skills. It was like nothing that I, nor any of my friends had ever seen before. Each and every character could become any one of twenty distinct character classes. This allowed players to customize their party with a host of character classes such as: Summoner, Wizard, Priest, Monk, Lancer, Thief, Samurai, Ninja, Mime, Bard, Dancer, Squire, Chemist, Orator, Archer, Calculator, Knight, Geomancer, Time Mage and a Mediator.

Also, each character was given a zodiac sign and each sign had a certain level of affinity with other zodiac symbols. It was a complicated relationship that could moderately alter certain battle actions like the amount of damage you inflicted on certain opposing signs, the amount of HP you could restore with healing spells, casting battle magic, hitting with a critical strike and a host of other in-game elements. In reality, I rarely took into account my character’s zodiac signs in my battle strategies, but I was aware of their existence and they did come in handy from time to time.

Instead of a fully open world, like the one found in FF7, FFT used a static map of towns, cities, forts and battle points all connected by predefined travel paths. Journeying from one of these points to another point, equaled one day of travel. After a while, weeks, months even years of in-game time would just slip by.

Random battles, story battles and even cut scenes would all occur on certain, pre-set locations. After you had activated a random encounter, set your 5 person team and set your battle formation, you would be placed on a 3D, isometric, rotatable playing field. Then, based on your character’s speed rating, and the speed rating of your enemies, you would all go in turn until you were either defeated or victorious.

The storyline in FFT was a thing of beauty, but far too massive to retell here.  The basic idea is that you control a young noble named Ramza as he grows and matures in a world filled with political intrigue, internal power struggles, murder, love, hate and disillusionment and a host of various trials and tribulations. The game made quite an impression on me and I loved every moment of it.

FFT was a wonderful game that combined my love of strategy games with the vibrant and powerful world of Final Fantasy. I became a master at this game, learning how to make the best use of terrain, status effects, character speed, elevation, magic, summons,  and a host of other powerful job skills. It was the first Final Fantasy game that I ever beat entirely by myself and it was my very first game where I broke over 250 hours of game play! (Even though the counter on the save slots stopped at 99hrs’ 99mins’ 99secs’, the in-game counter told a different story.) I rank Final Fantasy Tactics as one of the best Final Fantasy RPGs out there. It is also my favorite PSX game of all time. Final Fantasy 7 is good, but for me, Final Fantasy Tactics is superior. It just doesn’t get much better then this one.

Final Thoughts:

During the late 90s, I had the privilege of hanging out with some of the best gamers that I have ever known. They were dedicated, proficient and amazingly talented. From PCs to consoles, I used to aspire to game more like they did, but I never quite made it.

One of their favorite gaming consoles was the awesome PlayStation 1 and we all put a huge number of hours behind that little grey box. It had such a great lineup of games, it was difficult to come up with just 5 of my favorite titles. Those days were some of the best days of my early gaming life and it is so much fun to remember the “Good ‘Ol Days”. This is just a short list of games, but for me, these are some of the most significant titles I have ever played. I am hoping that the PS4 will continue to provide such wonderful content, but only time will tell.

Thanks for reading,

We’ll see ya soon…

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