The original PlayStation was an outright powerhouse of a console when it came to role-playing games. As RPG fans, we were basically spoilt for choice! From tactical RPGs to traditional J-RPGs and even some Western RPGs as well, the console catered for everyone. However, the focus of attention for most RPG fans was taken up by the big guys such as Final Fantasy and Breath of Fire. This meant that there are an awful lot of great RPGs out there that don’t get the love they deserve.
So, to honour these oft-forgotten gems, I have decided to put together a list of my personal top 7 PSX RPG hidden gems. Each other these games hold a place in my nostalgia driven heart, but they are also all really good too!
7. Kartia: The Word of Fate
Kartia: The Word of Fate is a tactical J-RPG that was released in 1998. Initially, I was drawn in by the American cover art, which highly resembled Terra from Final Fantasy VI. However, as soon as I played the game I was taken aback by the storyline and gameplay. It was both simple and deep at the same time, managing to be challenging without off-putting to a brand new player. In fact, it had a last effect on me in that it helped solidify my love of tactical RPGs in general.
Kartia (known as Legend of Kartia in Europe) was released by Konami, back when they still made good games. It’s a really enjoyable game that you’ll be able to jump right into without much hassle. It will take a little getting used to, due to some gameplay features such as summoning your party members in battle, but it really is a great game!
6. SaGa Frontier
The SaGa Frontier series has seemed to fade from memory for a lot of people that I know. That’s a real shame because, whilst they aren’t the most outstanding RPGs, they were very unique and enjoyable to play. Playing far more like traditional RPGs, you’ll have turn-based battles and multiple characters. However, what really stands out to me is the world and the way the plot plays out.
There are a total of seven different scenarios, which you are encouraged to complete to get the full idea of the storyline. Completing each scenario and saving the game with it completed actually gives bonuses and rewards in the other scenarios.
5. Jade Cocoon
Released in December of 1998 in Japan, and then 1999 in the US and in the UK in 2000, Jade Cocoon was a very different type of J-RPG for the PlayStation console. The gameplay is best described as a more mature version of Pokemon, as you have to capture and “purify” the various bug-like monsters that infest the world. The storyline involves human sacrifice, demons and more, and the world feels very lived in.
Whilst it may not have been the longest RPG on the PSX, especially compared to many others, but the monster breeding system and post-game “dungeon” mean that you can get lost in Jade Cocoon for hours on end.
4. The Legend of Dragoon
Whilst it may be easy to get hold of this game on the PlayStation Network in the US, over here in the UK, The Legend of Dragoon has become a very rare game. Despite this, if you ever get a chance to play it, I would highly recommend it! It was nicknamed the “Final Fantasy VIII killer” when it was released, and whilst it may not have lived up to that name in the long run, it certainly had the potential.
The storyline is engrossing, starting off heavy and never letting up across all four discs. The gameplay also adds a sort of combo system called Additions, where you have to press the right button at the right time to continue your attack. Being able to transform into your Dragoon form also gives extra abilities and attacks, meaning that you get a tonne of gameplay out of The Legend of Dragoon. This is a brilliant RPG that everyone needs to experience.
3. Chrono Cross
Chrono Cross is commonly neglected in place of its predecessor, Chrono Trigger (which was also re-released on the PSX). However, this is sorely disappointing. Chrono Cross’ storyline is both deep and confusing, dealing with parallel universes. There is also a crazy amount of different characters that you can recruit into your party, but which ones you get depend on the choices that you make throughout the game. Because of this, the replay value is huge as well.
Even the battle system is a near-complete departure from traditional J-RPG formats. It may be a turn-based battle system, but the method in which you are able to choose and carry out attacks and skills is vastly different. It will take some practice to get your head around the combat, but once you do, you’ll find a wonderfully deep and strategic system that really makes you plan out every move.
2. Wild Arms 2
Looking back at the commercial performance of the Wild Arms series, it is really saddening to see how low sales figures were. In fact, the series sold so poorly that Sony actually stopped publishing them outside of Japan and third-party companies had to step in. Despite this, the games are outstanding examples of role-playing games. Out of all of them, Wild Arms 2 is my favourite, featuring a wide variety of characters with their own detailed backstories and tools to use outside of battle.
With a world full of puzzles that grow in difficulty as you progress through the game, a beautiful Wild West fantasy world with a goddess, demons and flying castles, and great boss fights, Wild Arms 2 is truly excellent. If you haven’t picked up and played Wild Arms 2, then you really need to do say. Sadly, it wasn’t released in Europe, so you’ll need to import a US copy of the game.
Now, for those of you who have been reading this blog for a while now, this one should come as no surprise. Koudelka is typically ignored completely. It sold very poorly and gained average to mixed reviews upon release, but did end up spawning a follow-on series called Shadow Hearts on the PS2 (also great games). It mixes Survival Horror and Tactical RPG gameplay with a very dark and gothic storyline dealing with love, black magic, religion and more.
Being honest, it is really hard for me to be objective about Koudelka as it is my favourite game, but it does have its flaws. The combat can be annoying and the voice acting isn’t brilliant. However, it is the very definition of a hidden gem RPG on the original PlayStation.
And That’s All Folks
So those were my personal top 7 underrated, hidden gem RPGs on the original PlayStation. Each one is great in its own right, and there are loads more out there as well, such as Final Fantasy Tactics. The PSX was brilliant for RPG fans, with such a huge variety, so if you enjoy these games then you really should go back and play some of these!
Have you played any of these games? Let me know what you thought of them in the comments below.