The PlayStation 1 era of video games, lasting from 1995 until the PlayStation 2's release in 2000, was defined by its JRPGs.
Unlike most other genres of the era, Japanese role-playing games were largely story-based, weaving epic tales that proved video games could be more than just mindless diversions. Gameplay typically revolved around turn-based combat, relying more on tactics than hand-eye coordination. Due to their reliance on plot and menu-based mechanics, many JRPGs stand the test of time even after decades of graphical improvements. Let's take a look at nine of the best JRPGs that the PS1 had to offer.
Final Fantasy 7, Final Fantasy 8, and Final Fantasy 9
Let's just get the obvious out of the way first. Final Fantasy 7, Final Fantasy 8, and Final Fantasy 9 rank amongst the most beloved games history. Final Fantasy 7 redefined what a video game could be for an entire generation of gamers, while Final Fantasy 8 and Final Fantasy 9 took big risks, shifting their game mechanics enough to feel completely distinct from every other game that came before them and overshadowing pretty much every other game on the PS1. If you like video games in general, all three of these are must-plays. If you've already played them, they most likely rank amongst your favorites already.
Lunar 2: Eternal Blue
Featuring fantastic character designs, full-blown anime cutscenes, and one of the best soundtracks in any video game ever, Lunar 2: Eternal Blue easily deserves far more recognition than it gets. Lunar 2's gameplay is classic RPG perfection, with each party members' play style feeling incredibly distinct (one of them is a gambler, and his best move hinges on a dice roll). It also had a gorgeous hardcover guidebook that would run you a few hundred dollars if you were to buy it nowadays.
The Legend of Dragoon
Culturally eclipsed by the release of Final Fantasy 8, Legend of Dragoon never achieved the mainstream success of its contemporary, but nevertheless picked up a cult following that sings the games praises even to this day. Alongside a great story, the best part about Legend of Dragoon was its Dragoon Transformation mechanic, whereby your characters could temporarily transform into legendary winged warriors with enhanced move-sets and powerful special attacks.
Xenogears was the spiritual predecessor to the Xenosaga and Xenoblade games, meaning that it's all about two things: anime and robots. Okay, that's simplifying things a lot. In actuality, Xenogears' plot is amongst the deepest and most complex in any video game, even standing out amidst a genre that prioritizes storytelling. If you like great video game storytelling, there are few games that will ever even come close to Xenogears.
While Suikoden 2 didn't make a huge splash upon its release, many JRPG fans retrospectively consider it the single-best title of its era. The Suikoden franchise's big gimmick is that, instead of having a roster of five to 10 playable characters, your character roster clocks in at 108. Suikoden 2 makes great use of the variation in its characters, resulting in a game that can be played over and over again in countless different ways. The old-school, 32-bit graphics, which worked against it at the time of its release, have also served to make Suikoden 2 game look a lot better than its 3D contemporaries all these years later. As a side note, if you like Suikoden, be sure to check out the Kickstarter for its spiritual successor, Eiyuden Chronicle: Hundred Heroes.
Persona 2: Eternal Punishment
Technically the third Persona title, Persona 2: Eternal Punishment is the sequel to Persona 2: Innocent Sin. Eternal Punishment improves upon its predecessor's unique gameplay mechanics, specifically the rumor-based system wherein rumors spread throughout the city, changing how your character interacts with other people. This would go on to heavily influence the mechanics of future Persona titles. And yet, unlike the later Persona games, Eternal Punishment's deeply unsettling art style is still in the same vein of the series it spun off from—Shin Megami Tensei.
Final Fantasy Tactics
While traditional JRPG combat relies solely on menu-based battle options, Tactical RPGs add on grid-based positioning wherein your units must move around a battlefield in order to confront opponents. These games also typically feature perma-death mechanics, so if a unit dies, they die forever. There have been plenty of great Tactical RPGs over the years, but none have surpassed Final Fantasy Tactics, which boasts an incredible story and the single-coolest unit in any game of its genre—Thunder God Cid.