Looking back, Sony’s third console reminds us of a young adult coming into their own. The PlayStation 3 did this by courting both genre-defining exclusives and the biggest third-party games of the generation while ditching its predecessors’ reputations as Japanese RPG machines. These exclusives – for the most part – featured layered characters with impactful stories that we still celebrate today for good reason. They’re some of the best tales the video game medium has ever told.
That’s not to say there weren’t standout JRPGs on the PlayStation 3 – quite the contrary – or that there weren’t non-narrative-driven games, but when you look at the list of the best PlayStation 1 games, it doesn’t take long to see an obvious maturation toward strong narratives.
Don’t worry – we’ve done our homework to prove this hypothesis by putting together "XX of the best PlayStation 3 games" in no particular order. Read on to find out whether or not your favourite game made the cut.
Few games defined a generation better than The Last of Us. With this narrative-driven masterpiece, developer Naughty Dog took its experience creating Nathan Drake’s spirited Uncharted adventures and cranked the ‘sombre’ dial up to 11. We’d argue Joel and Ellie’s journey from a ruined Boston to Salt Lake City still encompasses the pinnacle of video game storytelling. In fact, we’d go a step farther and claim it ranks high as one of the most poignant and well-told stories of any format – not just games. It helped that the sneaking, scavenging style of gameplay with visceral encounters between bandits and infected alike was a recipe for perfectly paced tension.
If The Last of Us defined a generation narratively, Dark Souls did so with gameplay. From Software’s innovative hit, a refinement upon the exploratory Demons’ Souls, is the most copied game in recent memory, spawning the entirely new Soulslike genre. Many games at that point in time strayed into hand-holding, tutorial-heavy territory, not trusting the player to figure things out on their own. Then entered Dark Souls with nary a hand to hold in sight, letting the player die over and over, lose progress, and plumb the depths of its esoteric story for themselves. It’s no wonder that From Software’s games have since gone on to amass Game of the Year Awards like they’re farming souls.
Other than Final Fantasy (which – spoilers – didn’t make this list), Solid Snake’s stealth-action epics were the reason you bought a PlayStation. Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots lived up to the series’ pedigree, giving us a pensive narrative that served as a satisfying conclusion for Solid Snake’s decades-long history. MGS4 managed to stay true to the series’ roots while introducing enough new gameplay tweaks that successfully brought the stealth-action genre into a new generation. The illustrious Hideo Kojima added his signature cinematic flair with cutscenes that played out almost like a film – one of these infamously being over an hour long. Truly, no game at that time or since has been quite like Guns of the Patriots.
“Step aside, Indiana Jones. There’s a new treasure hunter in town,” is what was probably said in 2009. While many lauded Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune for its dashing, Hollywood-esque story, it wasn’t until Uncharted 2: Among Thieves that the series became a universal Game of the Year nominee. Pretty much every outlet at the time gave it a perfect score, citing how the stunning set pieces with memorable characters, exciting shootouts, and platforming through gorgeous locales challenged Hollywood for Blockbuster supremacy. Why go see a summer action flick when you could play one? To this day, the opening sequence with Nathan Drake waking up in a train dangling over a snow-encrusted cliff ranks high on our list of ‘best ways to start a video game.’
The fourth Grand Theft Auto graces this list for one major reason: somehow, Rockstar Games took the absurdity the series is known for and tied it together with an evocative critique of the American Dream from the perspective of Eastern European immigrant Niko Bellic. We’re not quite sure that would fly in today’s political landscape, but we digress. All the trappings of a GTA game where there and done better than ever before: police chases, car crashes, assassinating mobsters, massive drug deals, bank robberies, more police chases and car crashes, and a massive map – this time of the New York analogue, Liberty City – to explore. GTA4 could definitely use a proper remaster, ideally before we get another version of Grand Theft Auto V – which, believe it or not, also debuted on the PS3.
A wholly unique take on both platforming and creation, Media Molecule’s LittleBigPlanet was an ambitious project for the time that lived up to its ‘Play. Create. Share.’ motto. LittleBigPlanet’s main draw was the create function, where you could build your own levels and share them with the world. The tools to do so required some patience to get used to even with thorough tutorials. However, once mastered, creating levels was limited only by your imagination; way back in 2008, some LittleBigPlanet players made some absurdly creative levels that rivalled those of professional developers. But even if you didn’t want to create, Media Molecule included over 30 stages of a superb platformer packed full of trinkets to collect as the iconic Sackboy.
Few games improved upon their prequel in every conceivable metric the way Batman: Arkham City did. Where the critically acclaimed Batman: Arkham Asylum took place within the confines of an island prison filled with insane supervillains, Arkham City opened it to the slums of Gotham. The ‘freeflow’ combat system, which would later inspire just about every subsequent superhero game, received further tweaks and improvements, making it more satisfying to punch thugs and grapple with a massive rogues’ gallery. Stealth, gadgets, detective work – all the hallmarks of Batman returned and were made even better. Throw in some top-notch voice work from the likes of Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill, and you’ve got a certified classic on your hands.
Rockstar Games certainly had a flair for tackling difficult themes through its fictional open worlds during the PS3’s lifespan. Case in point: Red Dead Redemption sparked a staggering amount of academic study. Protagonist John Marston’s inability to escape violence as he hunts his former gang in order to safeguard his family is still one of the more heartfelt and tragic tales told in gaming; the epilogue (which we won’t spoil here for the few of you that haven’t yet played) gut-punched us so hard we still feel it to this day. It helped plenty that Rockstar Games paired this tale with what few could disagree was the pinnacle of cowboy-based gameplay. Gambling, bounties, running from the law, and duelling – if it was a popular cowboy trope, you could do it in Red Dead Redemption.
Writing this list has made us realise it’s an absolute travesty that we haven’t gotten a third entry to the illustrious Portal series. The sequel to Valve’s incredibly imaginative and witty puzzle game took every aspect of the first and amplified it. Portal-based puzzles became all the more mind-breaking with the inclusion of mechanics like the different gels. Cave Johnson – voiced by the legendary J.K. Simmons – brought so much wit and humour that his lines are still frequently quoted. The incredibly challenging cooperative mode required more communication and critical thinking than we thought possible in a video game. Portal 2 was – and still is – the entire package.
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare changed first-person shooters forever. In 2007, it rivalled Halo 3 in both critical acclaim and sales. A short but intense single-player campaign thrilled with an action-packed, morally grey war story with nuance and spectacle in equal measure. The real star, however, was the online multiplayer, which just about everyone and their uncle played obsessively. We still know our way around the map Crash better than we do our own neighbourhood, those crumbled streets with the downed helicopter seared into our memory after hours and hours of sweaty team fights. For a long time afterward, the series – and other FPS – would chase the high that only the original Modern Warfare provided.
Quite likely the most anticipated role-playing game in history, everyone lauded The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim as a masterpiece across all systems. The PS3 was no exception. Bethesda packed so much to do, so much to explore in the Nordic province of Skyrim, that many warriors, mages, and stealthy archers never bothered with the main quest, instead looting, exploring, and murdering their way through the wintry landscape to their heart's content. Skyrim also did dragons justice. Fighting some bandits outside of Markarth? A distant roar might signal the arrival of a fire-breathing monstrosity, turning a routine encounter into a fight to remember. With so much to do, it’s no wonder that discussion around Skyrim hasn’t ceased over a decade later.
The violent conclusion to Kratos’ epic battle against the Greek pantheon helped redefine action-adventure games. Impressive graphics and cinematic camerawork provided a scale never before seen in the genre; the battle with Cronos – where Kratos literally rips out fingernails from a hand several times his size – in particular impressed us. Indeed, God of War III played like cathartic stress relief in video game form, giving you something new to smash or sever around every corner with Kratos’ growing repertoire of weapons. Pairing these weapons with magical attacks and new grapple mechanics ensured that the bloodshed never grew stale. Left ambiguous at the trilogy’s conclusion, we now know that Kratos left Sparta for the realms of the Norse Pantheon, yet at that time the ending left us craving more mayhem.
More than a decade separated the first iteration of Street Fighter III from Street Fighter IV, making the original fighting game’s successful return to the limelight a cause for celebration. Capcom managed to blend mechanics peppered throughout the series’ history with new ideas to make arguably the best fighting game of the generation. Returning characters like Ryu, Chun-Li, and E. Honda felt like their counterparts from years prior, yet at the same time, tweaks to their kits and the inclusion of the Focus Attack brought the series into a new era. Strong online play, cinematic finishers, a handful of intriguing new characters, and a fresh, vibrant art style enshrined Street Fighter IV as the go-to fighting game on the PS3.
Pop quiz! What game in 2012 took home the most Game of the Year and Musical Score awards? Mass Effect 3? Dishonored? The Walking Dead: A Telltale Game Series? Well, you guessed wrong, hypothetical quizee. It was Thatgamecompany and Santa Monica Studio’s indie darling Journey. An artistic masterpiece and short cooperative adventure game, Journey came at a time when the industry was trending toward long, cinematic experiences that took hours upon hours to see through. The star of Journey’s show was the seamless cooperative play, where another player would join your game as you assisted one another through the beautiful sandscapes. Only visual cues, an unforgettable score, and cooperation guided the little scarf-wearing figures to the game’s conclusion. At the end, Journey revealed the usernames of all those that helped you throughout the adventure, forming heartfelt connections with people you never spoke a word to.
Yes, once upon a time the hip thing to do was spend our weekends in our friend’s living room surrounded by a clutter of plastic instruments, tapping and banging away to the likes of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Blink 182 while singing slightly off key. Ears bled, yet we regret nothing. Somehow, developer Harmonix made one of the greatest rhythm games of all time in Rock Band, a true cultural phenomenon that everyone got in on. Famous musicians wanted their songs put in the game. Entire tastes of music were formed. And with hundreds of songs to download and play across multiple instruments and difficulties, no other party game on the PS3 matched what Rock Band offered.
The Mass Effect trilogy’s own The Empire Strikes Back still holds up as its best. It was another game that improved upon its predecessor by every conceivable metric, expanding into an absolute triumph of interactive storytelling. Nearly every decision made as Commander Shepard had weight to it as she/he solved the mystery of missing human colonies and the insectoid race called the Collectors. The overarching narrative and fully realised sci-fi universe weren’t the main draw here, however. Rather, the characters that joined Shepard’s crew – Garrus, Mordin, Tali, Legion, and more – and their personal stories stole the spotlight. This is all without mentioning the visceral combat that successfully blended RPG elements with third-person shooting mechanics, making Mass Effect 2 by far the greatest sci-fi epic to grace the PS3.
Previous PlayStation mainstays – Silent Hill and Resident Evil – seemed to take this generation off, the former MIA and the latter eschewing horror for action. Visceral Games filled this horror-shaped void on the PS3 by creating one of the most innovative and terrifying games we’ve ever played – Dead Space. Visceral made sure every second protagonist Isaac Clarke spent on the USG Ishimura – a planet-cracking starship – was one of unyielding tension. Horror game expectations were flipped on their heads, mechanics such as the holographic inventory screen and the dismemberment system gave Isaac no room to breathe as twisted creatures stalked him, and the lore surrounding the Necromorphs and the Red Marker made for both a riveting and frightening sci-fi experience.
The award for most stylish PS3 game goes to Persona 5, which you may or may not have forgotten was also released on the PS3 as it came well after the PlayStation 4’s debut. By no means does this overlap diminish its presence as the most aesthetically pleasing JRPG on either system. The fifth entry to the Persona series wasn’t all looks and great tunes, however. The teenaged Phantom Thieves’ quest to unseat adults taking advantage of their positions of power saw them exploring Tokyo during the day and invading twisted palaces created by corrupted desires at night. As ridiculous as that sounds, Persona 5 continued the PS3’s trend of rich, engaging narratives that doubled as social commentary. Developer P-Studio also improved upon turn-based JRPG formulae even further, giving us a game that succeeded as both life sim and strategic dungeon crawler.
Once upon a time, Studio Ghibli, Japan’s most renowned animation studio, and Level-5, one of Japan’s most well-regarded role-playing game developers, teamed up to make a JRPG. There was no way the result, Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch, wouldn’t top the best PS3 games with such pedigree behind it. Yes, the minion-based combat might’ve fallen flat and played slightly unwieldy, but the gorgeous landscapes, whimsical story, superb animated cutscenes, and – most of all – one of the best musical scores in gaming written by legendary composer Joe Hisaishi, more than made up for any shortfall. Collaborations of such calibre are few and far between, but Ni no Kuni proved way back in 2010 that there should be more of them.
We never would’ve expected Sega to make a WWII-inspired tactical role-playing game, but we’re grateful they did. In an era where few games took risks, Valkyria Chronicles mashed up a couple of genres that you’d think would go together as well as the greatest armed conflict the world has ever known and anime melodrama, yet it worked out wonderfully, mostly due to an intense story that never took its foot off the tank’s gas pedal. Switching between the overhead Command Mode and a unique turn-based battle system to guide the soldiers of Squad 7 through worn-torn hell made for one of the most unique experiences on the PS3 that we’d love to see another entry to.