Before the PlayStation 1 was released, Nintendo’s NES and SNES were RPG powerhouses. And the developer driving this was Square, with legendary titles such as Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy VI. However, Nintendo’s RPG monopoly fell off when the PS1 was released.
Because if there is something that Sony did very well, it was getting top-tier 3rd party developers like Square on board to release their most ambitious games on the PS1. That’s how we got genre-defining games like Final Fantasy VII, Suikoden II, and Vagrant Story. The PlayStation came two years before the N64.
And when Nintendo released its first 3D console, its RPGs were mostly first-party titles like Paper Mario and Legend of Zelda. Today, I am going to take a look at the 35 best PS1 RPG games of all time. So strap in, and let’s get started.
Suikoden II is the successor to an extremely underrated roleplaying game that broke several boundaries when it was first released. Even to this day, certain elements from the early Suikoden games feel revolutionary and inspiring. You play the son of Genkaku, a hero from the first Suikoden who saved his state from being taken over by the imperial kingdom of Highland.
Your character and his friend acquire two halves of a mysterious magical artifact, called the Rune of the Beginning. Those who bear this rune are destined to a life of struggle and turmoil, cursed with a dark fate. When Suikoden II was released, its graphics were criticized for using retro-style 16-bit sprites rather than 3D.
However, Suikoden managed to blend excellent storytelling and characters with large-scale strategic combat in a truly unique way that hasn’t been replicated since. It quickly acquired a cult following, despite suffering from poor sales figures during its launch. Owing to popular demand, a remastered version of this game and its predecessor are scheduled to be released in 2023.
Final Fantasy VII
Well, it was pretty obvious that Final Fantasy VII would make the top 3 of my list. As with any list talking about the best RPGs on PS1. Some of you might even be disappointed that it didn’t make number 1.
But this list is a reflection of my preferences and tastes, which might vary from others. I think Final Fantasy VII is an excellent game, one of the best in the entire series. And it certainly put Japanese roleplaying games at the forefront of RPG gaming for well over a decade, by popularizing the genre in the west.
Before FF VII, JRPGs were a neat little novelty. After FF VII, JRPGs went mainstream and people wanted more of these character-focused RPGs with an anime art style and quirky combat systems. Not only did FF VII feel more action-focused than previous Final Fantasy titles, but it was also the first 3D Final Fantasy game.
Released at the dawn of the new millennium, this is a 21st-century game. It arrived just a few months before the PlayStation 2, during an era when 3D RPGs were no longer a novelty. People had played Final Fantasy VII, Shenmue, and many other excellent RPGs.
The Nintendo 64 and Dreamcast packed more processing power than Sony’s PS1, and they could push higher polygon counts. Still, the developers of Vagrant Story weren’t going to make any compromises and wanted to make a truly cutting-edge RPG. They pushed the hardware of the PS1 to its absolute limit for this game.
Vagrant Story contains some of the most mature narrative themes and beautifully directed cutscenes you’ll see in any game from that era (still looks good today). Its gameplay is unique in that there are no shops or NPC interactions. Putting aside traditional JRPG tropes, the game focuses on building and modifying weapons while solving puzzles (it is a fantasy detective story with some action elements).
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
Old 2D side-scrolling Castlevania games from the 1980s and 1990s still hold up well to this day, and Symphony of the Night is proof. Technically, this is an RPG. As it facilitates a higher degree of player choice and freedom through the use of large non-linear levels with multiple paths and secret areas.
However, the core gameplay is still closer to that of an action-adventure game. The protagonist is Dracula’s son Alucard, a dhampir. Alucard is trying to find Shaft, a dark magic master who has put Richter Belmont under a mind-control spell.
Once you defeat Shaft, the game inverts upon itself and you go through the first castle once again- only this time everything is switched around. There will be new enemies and bosses, and you must collect five fragments of Dracula to wake him from his slumber. After awakening, Dracula becomes the final boss.
Final Fantasy Tactics
A spinoff of the mainline Final Fantasy series, Tactics is a turn-based battle RPG in which you pit your army against another. An isometric camera perspective is used, and everything is rendered in 3D which allows players to immerse themselves in the action. Movement on the battlefield is tile-based, similar to classic turn-based RPGs.
What makes FF Tactics interesting is its usage of complex environmental factors like terrain, weather, etc. Things like terrain elevation, surface type, and rain can affect the movement of your units. Each unit has a job + class, these two determine how far it can move (range) and how often.
If you like the Akira Toriyama art style that he uses in Dragon Ball and Dragon Quest, you’ll love Chrono Trigger. It was originally released for the SNES in 1995 and made its way to PS1 in 1999. This game arrived on PS1 just before Chrono Cross, the sequel to Chrono Trigger.
It is an enhanced port, with anime cutscenes made by Toriyama’s Bird Studio and Toei Animation. There is also a bunch of bonus content that’s unlocked after game completion. Chrono Trigger’s setting is different from most fantasy RPGs, as it takes place during the prehistoric era of Earth (with dinosaurs and early humans).
Breath of Fire III
Much like Final Fantasy VII, Breath of Fire III was a landmark moment in the series as it marked the transition from 2D to full 3D graphics. Plus, a lot of the text-based dialogue was replaced with proper voice acting which assisted with player immersion and created some very memorable moments within the story. Like prior games, Ryu is the protagonist- he is the last member of a race known as the Brood.
Broods are like Dragonborn and can transform into dragons. The world of this game is filled with anthropomorphic creatures, vibrant colors, and scenic landscapes. The game is split between navigation, battle, and story sequences (during navigation, you can use special abilities to break objects in the environment and gain access to secret locations).
There is a new mechanic in Breath of Fire III called the Master System. With this, members of your party can become apprentices under certain powerful NPC characters. During your apprenticeship, you’ll be able to learn new abilities and improve your stats.
Made by Square, Xenogears is a fantasy JRPG featuring humanoid mecha called “Gears”. The combat is turn-based and uses a slightly tweaked version of Active Time Battle (ATB).
In ATB, your characters don’t move on fixed 1:1 turns. Instead, they move based on charge meters that fill up in real-time.
These charge meters fill up even when you’re in the combat menu or switching between characters. The plot and characters of Xenogears are depicted in light of heavy religious themes. And many elements of the game are inspired by Jungian psychology.
Xenogears is a very narrative-focused game with lots of animated cutscenes and extended conversation sequences. There are battle sequences featuring both human characters and Gears (mecha). The world map is massive, with multiple cities, historic locations, geographical features, etc. spread across several continents.
Star Ocean: The Second Story
The original Star Ocean wasn’t released outside Japan, but fans of the series were elated when The Second Story got an English version. It’s one of the few sci-fi JRPGs of that era. Released during a time when most JRPGs told high fantasy stories with dragons and kings and magic.
In Star Ocean, a young cadet from a futuristic space-faring human civilization is stranded on an unknown planet. He feels as though he has been transported a few thousand years back in time. Since the technology and culture of this new planet are stuck in the medieval age.
The cadet makes new friends in this strange world. And goes on a multi-planetary journey to stop an evil group who are hatching a conspiracy to take over the universe.
The sequel to Chrono Trigger, Chrono Cross is set in the same universe but has different characters. That’s because it tells an entirely new story, and has new game mechanics that weren’t present in Chrono Trigger. The game deals with parallel realities.
Your player character is Serge. He is a teenager exploring an alternate world in which he died as a child, trying to find out why his world and this one are so different.
Navigation takes place on an overhead map which is a scaled-down version of the actual game world. The map contains various areas you can visit, like dungeons, towns, jungles, etc.
A game in which you play a Valkyrie, Lenneth. She collects the soul of fallen warriors from Midgard, bringing them to Valhalla where they either become einherjar or her companions for the battle of Ragnarok. During her journey as a Valkyrie, Lenneth trains countless warriors for Ragnarok.
You fight monsters, do quests for various NPCs, and gain new powers. The story also shows Lenneth recovering memories of her original life as a human before she became a Valkyrie.
Final Fantasy IX
The first few games after Final Fantasy VII had the monumental task of living up to the expectations set by their predecessor. That’s why some of these titles such as FF VIII and FF IX were judged unfairly by both critics and gamers. Still, Final Fantasy IX tried to do something different with its plot and gameplay, instead of living in the shadows of FF VII.
It is set in the world of Gaia, a medieval fantasy version of Earth. The game’s story involves international politics, war, and the journeys of common individuals caught up in the midst of it all. Storytelling in FF IX also takes a more parallelized approach.
You have these things called Active Time Events that let you see what’s going on around the world with your other party members. ATEs take the form of short cutscenes and generally don’t provide any items or gameplay-related information.
Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete
A remake of the original Lunar: Silver Star Story, Complete adds new scenarios and characters. It is truly a more comprehensive package, with superior storytelling and a richer cast of characters. The PS1 release is based on the Sega Saturn version, which came out in 1996.
The graphics and sound have been improved compared to the Genesis version. With new anime-themed cutscenes that flesh out the story much better. Randomized enemy battles can now be avoided more easily.
Since you can see the enemies as you approach each other, combat is initiated only after direct contact. You can program movements, spells, and attacks in advance with the auto-combat system (taken from Lunar: Eternal Blue). Bosses auto-scale based on your party’s level, and there is no upper limit.
Front Mission 3
Another mecha-based RPG from Japan, but this one has rather unique mechanics that make it play like XCOM instead of a traditional JRPG. Your mecha are called Wanzers (based on Panzers) and are much more realistic than traditional Japanese mecha. These things are big, heavy, and slow- with tons of ranged weaponry.
They can be customized, upgraded, rebuilt, and repaired between missions. Progression through the narrative is linear- you watch a cutscene, get your mission briefing, complete the objectives, and continue the loop.
The Legend of Dragoon
Set in a high fantasy world, featuring characters with wacky names, The Legend of Dragoon seems like a bog-standard JRPG at first. But then you notice something different about the gameplay, which combines both turn-based strategy and real-time movement. Then, you have quick-time events built into attacks that rely on player reflexes to boost damage.
These quick-time events are called “Addition Attacks” and also provide spirit points in addition to bonus damage. Spirit points can be used to transform into “Dragoon Form” during combat which gives you wings and new abilities. With a development budget of $16 million, The Legend of Dragoon is one of the most expensive games of its time (as well as one of the best-looking games).
You may not have heard of this franchise before, but it is a rather big deal in Japan. The Wild Arms IP encompasses multiple PlayStation exclusives, manga, toys, phone apps, and even an animated TV series. It all began with the very first Wild Arms game released for PlayStation in 1996.
A 3D RPG made by a company previously known for its shooters, Wild Arms drew inspiration for its plot and setting from westerns. Not just cowboy movies, but also manga and anime based on the wild west. And since this is a JRPG, it’s got that tinge of fantasy mixed with traditional western elements.
Fantasy is injected in the form of ARMs, which are mystical weapons wielded by outlaws and other renegades. They are said to be leftovers of a violent, bygone era that was filled with many legendary warriors.
Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together
Originally released on the SNES, ports of this game were made for both the Sega Saturn and PlayStation. Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together is a quirky and colorful RPG with a simple, yet entertaining plot and memorable characters. Its main draw isn’t the story or dialogue.
Instead, it’s the gameplay, which combines the best elements of tactical roleplaying and strategy games. You view the battlefield from an isometric perspective, which gives you an excellent view of the terrain features (these decide where your characters can move). There is an in-game clock that advances by one day each time you move on the world map and a weather system that can change randomly.
Brave Fencer Musashi
What seems like a hack ‘n slash action game from the box art, is actually an action adventure with roleplaying elements. You view the world of Brave Fencer from an overhead perspective, as Musashi goes from town to town, vanquishing all sorts of monstrous creatures along the way. Musashi’s character is a mix between a samurai and a heroic demon hunter (he carries two swords, each with unique combos and mechanics).
Final Fantasy VIII
This game continued the sci-fi trend that had started with Final Fantasy VII. However, it’s set in a completely different universe with all-new characters and a plotline that is unrelated to FF VII. At the start, you’re introduced to a mercenary gang led by Squall Leonhart.
The story revolves around their journey to defeat an evil sorceress who has taken over one of the most powerful nations of the world and its military. Final Fantasy VIII features 3D graphics like its predecessor but uses a different art style. It substitutes the Chibi anime-like figures from previous games with more realistic-looking people.
A mix of the survival horror from Resident Evil, and action roleplaying from Final Fantasy. To this day, Parasite Eve delivers a unique blend of atmospheric body horror and action shooter that you won’t get anywhere else. You play NYPD special agent Aya Brea who’s chasing a mysterious woman called Eve, as she goes around turning the people of New York into zombie-like creatures.
Jade Cocoon: Story of the Tamamayu
Imagine Pokémon, but with a darker tone and none of the cuteness. In Jade Cocoon, you play Levant whose job is to capture bug monsters called Minions and convert them into pure-spirited creatures. The entire world of Jade Cocoon is infested with these monsters, and civilization only exists within small, scattered villages that contain Cocoon Masters.
Legend of Mana
Legend of Mana takes place in a distant, high-fantasy world that was once teeming with life and positive energy. However, the source for this energy- the Mana Tree, was burned down nine centuries ago. Since then, all the races and species who used to cohabitate with each other have been engaged in increasingly bloody wars.
Fairies, humans, ogres, etc. are all at each other’s throats. Your player character intends to fix centuries of decay, collapse, and mistrust by restoring the Mana Tree. Legend of Mana has a branching storyline that gives you multiple paths to reach the final chapter.
Japanese RPG developers like to mix sci-fi and medieval fantasy. And it usually ends up as a mecha story featuring knights and demons, with a heroic protagonist who goes up against an evil overlord. Vanguard Bandits uses the same basic formula, but with a tactical RPG twist.
Its gameplay is the unique selling point, combing elements from both FF Tactics and Front Mission. The mecha in this game are known as ATACs and can be fitted with gems that give them unique abilities. What makes the game interesting is its collision and knockdown system that can be used to temporarily incapacitate enemy mechs, so they can’t defend against attacks.
Made by the same team that gave us Lunar, Grandia is a fantasy JRPG with a plot centered around the themes of adventure, heroism, and camaraderie. In Grandia, you have a party-based combat system with members who can be rotated in and out between battles. Levels are gained for individual weapons and spells, based on how often you use them in battle.
Tales of Eternia
One of the late-stage JRPGs for Sony’s PS1, Tales of Eternia takes inspiration from other JRPGs and recycles mechanics from the last 2 Tales games. This time, the main character is a hunter by the name of Reid who is led into another dimension by a mysterious girl. Here, Reid finds himself embroiled in a centuries-old conflict between two warring worlds.
The first Suikoden is a magnificent, forward-looking RPG that still holds up today. Unlike other JRPGs of the era that barely skimmed over mature themes, Suikoden went in deep. It explored complex, multidimensional characters and showed a fictional world with relatable characters.
Suikoden struck a perfect balance between the macro-political atmosphere of its world and the interpersonal relationships of each character. Plus, it must hold some kind of record among JRPGs with its 107 recruitable characters. Party sizes are also massive, with up to six members in your party (you can provide instructions to each one or let them auto-fight).
Breath of Fire IV
Once more, we step into the shoes of Ryu who’s the last of his kind- a race of shapeshifting beings who have dragon blood running through their veins. This time, Ryu’s nemesis is an ancient emperor who has been immortalized through a powerful spell. This emperor wishes to attain godhood and control the entire world.
Dragon Warrior VII
Back in the day, Dragon Quest games were released in North America as “Dragon Warrior”. Because I guess the latter sounded cooler to the marketing execs. Commercially, Dragon Warrior VII was a great success and had sold over 4 million units by 2001.
In the 7th installment of this legendary series, the Hero and his friends are transported back in time to a series of islands. Each one is filled to the brim with monsters and has its own backstory. You and your party defeat foes, become stronger, and advance toward stopping the main villain- standard JRPG stuff.
That’s right, Diablo even got a PS1 port. However, this is considered to be one of the less-polished versions of the legendary RPG. Despite its shortcomings, Diablo on PlayStation is an experience unlike anything else.
First off, it’s not a JRPG and doesn’t play like one. The art style, dialogue, storyline, etc. are mature and dark- with demons that genuinely look like they came straight out of some hellish dimension. Diablo plays like a dungeon crawler.
With 16 randomly generated levels that produce different demons on each playthrough. Finally, you enter Hell to fight the boss Diablo, who’s one of the three Prime Evils.
Koudelka isn’t set in a far-away kingdom or some alternate universe. For the entirety of the game, you’re restricted to one creepy mansion that is haunted by terrifying creatures from its past. Koudelka combines the horror of Resident Evil with puzzle-solving and turn-based action sequences.
Much like the first Resident Evil, camera angles are fixed and backgrounds are pre-rendered. As you explore the mansion, you find weapons and gear that will help you along your journey.
Legend of Legaia
For millennia, humans had coexisted alongside magical creatures known as “Seru”. These creatures helped humanity by gifting them with special powers, but one day they got corrupted by a dark mist and turned against humans. A human merges with one of the unaffected Seru and embarks on a journey to defeat the evil mist.
Tales Of Destiny
The precursor to Tales of Eternia, this game’s story is centered around Stahn. A young man stumbles upon a sentient sword and gets his destiny altered by it. After being imbued with the powers of this sword, he is recruited into an ancient warrior group that must stop evil forces from taking over the world.
Tales of Destiny uses something called the Linear Motion Battle System, which is a staple of the Tales series. Party members and enemies move in real-time on a 2D plane, either towards or away from each other (similar to a fighting game). Magic spells have a charge time, that increases based on the complexity and power of the spell.
Persona 2: Innocent Sin
Persona started as a spinoff series, based on the Megami Tensei universe. However, it quickly became more popular than the original franchise it was based on. These games usually feature high schoolers with unique personalities that manifest in the form of fighting spirits called “Persona”.
In Persona 2, a group of teenagers teams up to stop a mysterious person known as the Joker. This villain is warping reality by opening portals into other dimensions. Combat is turn-based.
There’s also a rumor system that acts as a social mechanic. It can turn scenarios in favor of the heroes by spreading rumors around the city. While Persona 2 has a single ending, certain plot points can be shifted around based on the choices you make.
Parasite Eve II
Aya from the first game is back, and so are the mitochondria mutations that turn people into hideous monsters. Now, combat is real-time with wider arenas that allow for more player movement. Parasite Eve II is closer to Resident Evil than a proper RPG, due to its increased focus on action.
Random encounters aren’t a thing anymore since you can see what’s in front of you and avoid it if you so choose. Parasite Eve II introduces ability trees that let you choose which powers you want to unlock with your XP. These include powers that Aya had in the previous game.
Final Fantasy Anthology
A collection of Final Fantasy V and VI for North American markets, it contains new cutscenes that weren’t in the originals. Plus, this is the first time American gamers were able to play an official release of Final Fantasy V. In Europe, the collection also included Final Fantasy IV.
The graphics and art style weren’t altered, keeping these games faithful to the original versions. However, bonus content was added in the form of a cinematic theater mode and concept art collections.
In 1994, there was no other console on the market that could offer performance similar to the PS1. Now, developers finally had a means of creating fully 3D roleplaying games with massive worlds thanks to the PS1’s CD drive. The games of this era also had full-motion video cinematics to give their stories more weight (once again, this wouldn’t be possible without CDs).
Many people complain that the PS1 RPG revolution had a cascading effect down the line for the PS2, whose library was filled with a bunch of poorly made JRPG shovelware. And that’s true to some extent because when a trend kicks off you are bound to get several bad examples for every good one. But it’s hard to deny that without the PS1 JRPGs, as we know them today, wouldn’t exist.