PlayStation has turned 25 this week, well it’s actually 26 but the western release was staggered and it came out on the 29th September here in the UK; this has made me feel a little old. I haven’t gamed with PlayStation those full 25 years. I remember my brother getting a PlayStation as a gift from our parents. This was his first console and was probably around 1997 so a couple of years after it had been out. We’d only owned a Sega Mega Drive before this and the jump up in many different aspects felt extreme. In celebration of this milestone, and with the PS5 releasing later this year I wanted to run down some of my favourite games and memories of the PlayStation.
Final Fantasy VII (1997)
Final Fantasy VII hit me in a lot of ways as a 12-year-old. It’s graphical prowess Vs what I’d played before, it’s characters, depth of story and the expansive, massive world all blew me away. It’s one of the first games I played on a PlayStation having borrowed a friend’s console for a weekend before we owned one. I remember getting through Midgar and then having to give it back; it only needed that long to hook me though. Those early sections and the connection forming between those blocky characters and me stuck through the years. It was one of the first games I paid for when my brother got the console (sure, I probably paid for this from Christmas money). Once I had it, it was as good as I remembered from that first playthrough. I then got to experience the entire story and world.
It may not be the game I’ve completed the most amount of times now but it is one I went straight back to. I attempted to get everything on that second run but didn’t finish it. I returned again in my late teens and completed that task, defeating all the Weapons, breeding a gold Chocobo, obtaining Knights of the Round and earning everyone’s ultimate weapons. I couldn’t get enough. I remember feeling differently, both to the characters and story on that third run. I wasn’t quite as enthralled having experienced another jump in graphical and processing prowess with later consoles. I was though more understanding, more aware. I understood the story and the aims of the characters, both protagonists and antagonists better with more knowledge and a wider world view. I have that same sense with the Remake as the story and characters are fleshed out even more 17 years on from my return to the original. Final Fantasy VII will always be one of my favourite experiences for how it shaped my desires from games and how it turned messing around on the tele into a full hobby.
Resident Evil (1996)
Fucking hell, I think this game gave me and my brother some of our first proper scares in video games. It wasn’t the first scene where you discover the zombie over a corpse and it turns to you, that was more of a ‘Cool!’ moment, it was that dog jumping through the window. If that wasn’t enough as we ran from it another breaks in on the second screen. I’m sure it took us ages to complete it as we’d make sure the other was around when we wanted to play it. Resident Evil isn’t a game where you can easily swap the control pad between you. My brother and I would have extended play sessions whilst the other back seat commentated. A lot of “no, not that door” was shouted. It’s also a game, like a few on this list, that was a little too old for us to experience and has probably done more for my desensitisation to horror than anything else. Yet it also helped my brother and I build our patience both within the game and with each other.
Grand Theft Auto (1997)
This was probably the first real sandbox game I played. It was also, probably, the most violent game I’d played at that time. I didn’t play it in 97. It was more likely 99 so I was 14. I remember this because I used to cruise the streets listening to the Offspring album Americana. Each song was a different mood and elicited a different play style. Blazing through the streets, lapping around the map on a song like Staring at the Sun, or winding my way through the small roads cutting across the map listening to Pay the Man – I made my own fun. I was more interested in exploring that big urban world than playing the missions and driving to my own soundtrack was part of that. It was another pass and play game with my brother, die or get caught by the cops and it was the others turn to have a go. This was something that would stick with me – my friends and I would do this a lot when at university with GTA4.
Metal Gear Solid (1999)
This is an experience like no other. MGS is the game that blew my tiny teen mind the most. It’s lengthy cut scenes providing story and exposition punctured by stealthy playing was completely new to me. Kojima has a special place in my mind as a pioneer of game making running from MGS up to Death Stranding. From the first moment I emerged as Solid Snake onto Shadow Moses I knew it would be special and big moment after big moment kept me hooked. The sniper battle with Sniper Wolf was insanely tense and, like a lot of the game required a reasonable amount of skill to overcome; it took several attempts to get through. I remember my brother watching me play this, well both of us watched a lot of this game. There is a lot to take in with the story, this extends to the main plot and to all of the characters. The focus on a group of enemies in Fox Hound allowed for some interesting battles but more interesting stories weaving into the main plot. I loved MGS and played Twin Snakes when it released for the Gamecube just to do it all over again. I did play Twin Snakes alone thought and something was lost not having my brother to experience it with again.
Dave Mirra’s Freestyle BMX (2000)
This, like Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater is a game where my brother and I swapped the control pad a lot. The short time restrictions of a run to achieve various objectives was all we had before the pad was given up. This was both fun and frustrating. If I knew I was really close to getting the score needed but then had to give up the pad I would sulk. My brother was the same. We’d try to play through most of the Career style mode this way but would quickly get into a multiplayer game when we got to angry at each other. B-M-X or the mode where you had to score the most points from a random spot would quickly settle us back down. It’s another game to teach patience, this time mostly with each other.
Again with Tony Hawk’s, this is a game where I heard a bunch of bands first. Whilst I was a Nu-metal kid in my early teens the amount of punk they opened me up to, whilst limited, cannot be downplayed. Sublime alongside Deftones, Rancid alongside Cypress Hill; this changed who, and how I listened to music.
Fuck this game. Fuck that tutorial level. It was so hard. The game was crazy fun despite its difficulty. Part of that came from the handling of the car, some from the relentless cops and the rest from how good the AI was at getting away from you. It was almost GTA3 before GTA3 apart from some significant graphical limitations and not being able to blast anyone and everyone to pieces. This was a game I watched more than played. My brother and his friends would gather and play it. I’d hover waiting for them to fuck off so I could play something else. Then, I’d end up playing Driver and getting frustrated with it and switch the TV input to play 1080 Snowboarding or Ocarina of Time.
WWF Smackdown! (2000)
It would be unfair to talk about this game without mentioning all the other wrestling games my brother and I played on the PlayStation. WWF War Zone, ECW Hardcore Revolution and even Backyard Wrestling (which came much later) were absolutely worn through but WWF Smackdown! and its sequel, Know Your Role, were the best of these. My brother and I were big wrestling fans in those days especially of The Rock, Triple HHH and Stone Cold. We had our favourite characters to play as and became very proficient at hitting a Stunner or the Pedigree. Often we would set up matches that had appeared in that weeks Smackdown episode occassionally changing the outcome. We’d absolutely batter each other on those games and then practise moves on each other on a mattress (I may have put my ass through a window at one point trying to frog splash my downed opponent). These games sort of stopped us battering each other too much and gave a couple of young lads an outlet for any disagreements between them.
Vagrant Story (2000)
As discussed a lot of my favourite early gaming experiences were shared with my younger brother. Vagrant Story is different. I played this by myself. I’m not sure if it was the grungier aesthetic or more in-depth battle system but I remember my brother not really being interested. We rented Vagrant Story on a whim. The cover looked cool and it was a Squaresoft game. That’s all I needed. This does mean that we had a time limit on the experience and at 15 I was out doing a lot of other stuff in that short rental period. A lot of those first few hours stuck with me. As mentioned that grungy aesthetic was a different step to FF7, 8 and 9 and fit more with my other tastes. The characters and enemy models looked a little more grown-up, only slightly, yet enough for a 15-year-old to be pulled in. On the flip side of grown-up models, it also put its speech in bubbles reaching from each character rather than a window. Not as grown-up, just different. In combat, the system of targeting a specific body part was something I hadn’t experienced; it has become a staple of combat for many other series. The free movement in it also changing things up from all those turn-based, static JRPGs. It felt modern and did enough to be a very different JRPG from those I’d played before (Final Fantasy, Breath of Fire) ushering me into how JRPGs would be in the future.
This isn’t a definitive, nor an exhaustive list of my favourite experiences on the PlayStation. They are mostly the ones that have stuck with me 20 odd years later. I’m sure if you asked my brother his would be very different and the memories eliciting different emotions. There are a ton of games I remember playing like Soul Reaver or Time Crisis with the light gun which I shared experiences with my brother over. The PlayStation, whilst it was his console, is the system that really cemented in me that gaming was my main hobby. What are your favourite PlayStation games and what experiences can you remember from so long ago?