If the NES and SNES laid the foundations of the JRPG on home consoles, then the PlayStation is arguably the machine that took the genre to the next level.
With the mighty Final Fantasy VII landing on Sony's console, it all but assured the Japanese company victory in its native Japan – with the welcome side-effect being commercial success in the West and the elevation of the JRPG as one of the most popular video game genres.
However, there's so much more to RPGs on the PlayStation than the Final Fantasy series; the machine's library is bursting with quality role-playing titles from a wide range of publishers, including Konami, Namco, GameArts and Atlus.
In our list, we've pulled together a selection of PlayStation RPGs you simply won't want to miss. They're not displayed in any rank or order; instead, we feel that these are games that every self-respecting RPG fan should sample.
Unquestionably one of the finest tactics RPGs ever made, Final Fantasy Tactics has it all – a mature and deep storyline that boasts more than its fair share of political intrigue and backstabbing, gorgeous visuals, a sumptuous soundtrack courtesy of Hitoshi Sakimoto and Masaharu Iwata and some of the most finely-honed mechanics you'll see in any Final Fantasy outing. Remade for the PlayStation Portable in 2007 (with a superior English translation) as Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions, this is a masterpiece, pure and simple.
Final Fantasy VII is an RPG that surely needs no introduction. Arguably the most famous example of the genre on the 32-bit PlayStation, it marked the debut of the series on non-Nintendo hardware and established a bond between Square and Sony which has endured right up to the present day, with Final Fantasy XVI being a time-limited PlayStation 5 exclusive. Comprehensively remastered as Final Fantasy VII Remake, Final Fantasy VII Remake Intergrade and Final Fantasy VII Rebirth, Final Fantasy VII is perhaps the crowning glory of the long-running franchise and one of the best video games of all time. There might be better ways to experience it's story today, but the original game still has the power to captivate and entertain.
The original Suikoden was the first RPG released in the West on the 32-bit PlayStation, and therefore holds a special place in the hearts of many fans. However, few would try to argue that it's in any way superior to this 1998 sequel, which takes the core concepts of the first game and improves on them massively. Over 100 recruitable characters are on offer, and it's possible to take more than 40 of them into battle with you. A mixture of traditional RPG with strategy elements, Suikoden II has beautiful 2D artwork and a fine soundtrack; it was bundled with the original for PSP in Japan in 2006, and a high-definition remaster is currently in development under the title Suikoden I & II HD Remaster: Gate Rune and Dunan Unification Wars.
First released on the Sega CD in 1992, Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete is an early example of what is now a common practice: remaking or remastering classic games for a new audience. Initially released on the Sega Saturn in Japan, it sticks to the same basic storyline but offers more characters and a far deeper plot, as well as massively improved 2D visuals and updated music. The PlayStation port was picked up for Western localisation by Working Designs, and it has become one of the more desirable titles on the secondary market. The game would be remade two more times – in 2002 as Lunar Legend and in 2009 as Lunar: Silver Star Harmony.
The second Lunar title – Lunar: Eternal Blue – was also given the remaster treatment, and Working Designs released this in North America in 2000. It's also well worth a look.
Few games were as experimental and overshadowed as (at the time) Square’s Vagrant Story. When standard JRPGs such as Final Fantasy IX and Chrono Cross released that same year, many passed on this action role-playing game with a concise, compelling plot and a battle system with a staggering amount of depth – albeit with quite the learning curve. Chain Abilities during combat played out almost like a rhythm game with the Risk system, Grimoires, and Break Arts adding more strategic layers. Light puzzles also kept the overworld exploration engaging, and its France-inspired locale made for quite the unique setting. Unfortunately, Vagrant Story ended on somewhat of a cliffhanger for protagonist Ashley Riot, leaving many wanting for both a proper sequel and a thorough remaster.
Parasite Eve holds the distinction of being Square's first M-rated video game in North America, and its status as a sequel to Hideaki Sena's novel makes it even more unique. It's also not set in a typical fantasy realm, despite being an RPG; instead, it takes place in New York and sees the player controlling police officer Aya Brea in the present day. The combat is also unusual; it takes place in real-time but can be paused at any moment, giving it a more familiar RPG feel. A truly different RPG from Square, Parasite Eve would get two sequels – Parasite Eve II (1999) and The 3rd Birthday (2010), but we're amazed that the series hasn't had a modern-day revival.
Final Fantasy VII's worldwide success triggered a flood of Western localisations of Japanese RPGs, with 1999's Valkyrie Profile being one of the more noteworthy. Taking inspiration from Norse myths and legends, the game places you in the role of a Valkyrie who travels through the game collecting the souls of dead warriors. An enhanced port arrived on the PlayStation Portable in 2006 entitled Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth, while a prequel – Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria – was released on the PS2 in 2006. Another prequel – Valkyrie Profile: Covenant of the Plume – hit the Nintendo DS in 2008.
Created by many of the same people who would later fashion the brilliant Final Fantasy Tactics, Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together actually began its life on the Super Famicom in Japan in 1995 before being ported to PlayStation and Saturn. Atlus picked up the former game for localisation in North America, giving players their first taste of this sublime strategy RPG. Like its spiritual successor Final Fantasy Tactics, it fuses a deep story with rewarding and complex mechanics to create one of the most captivating games of this type. Square Enix would later remaster the game on the PSP, and, more recently, on modern consoles, under the title Tactics Ogre: Reborn.
While this is technically the second game in tri-Ace's Star Ocean series, it's the first to be released in the West – so we imagine the title may have caused some confusion for North American RPG fans. Still, it's a wonderful RPG, and one which mixes space travel with a more traditional fantasy setting. Cadet Claude C. Kenny finds himself stranded on an undeveloped world and must help the locals defeat a sinister enemy before he has any hope of returning to his home planet. An enhanced remaster called Star Ocean: Second Evolution arrived on the PlayStation Portable in 2008, while a fresh remake – Star Ocean: The Second Story R – launches in 2023.
The first instalment in the long-running Xenosaga series, Xenogears came out of Tetsuya Takahashi and his wife Kaori Tanaka's proposal for Final Fantasy VII, and was ultimately allowed to grow into its own thing. With its detailed 3D visuals, lush anime cutscenes, futuristic storyline and unique take on the 'Active Time Battle' system popularised by Final Fantasy, Xenogears quickly became a cult classic; Takahashi would later establish Monolith Soft, continuing the series with the Xenosaga games (published by Namco) and, more recently, the Xenoblade Chronicles series on Nintendo consoles.
We honestly tried to keep this list to a single mainline entry in each series, but we couldn't not include Final Fantasy IX. Developed in tandem with Final Fantasy VIII – which retained Final Fantasy VII's futuristic vibe – this 2000 outing was more in tune with past instalments, opting for a medieval fantasy setting. As a result, it feels very much like a 'classic' Final Fantasy and would mark the last time that legendary composer Nobuo Uematsu was entirely responsible for the music.
As the second most renowned JRPG on this list, Chrono Cross served as a sort of a JRPG swansong for the PS1, releasing just a few months before the PlayStation 2. Of everything the sequel to Chrono Trigger is known for, its striking and vibrant visuals for the era come second only to its stellar soundtrack scored by Yasunori Mitsuda. With songs like ‘Scars of Time,’ Chrono Cross deserves to be in the conversation for best video game soundtrack. The rest of the game – with its complicated, inter-dimensional story packed with dozens of unique playable characters – stands out with a deep elemental-based combat system that still holds up. What we wouldn’t give for Chrono Cross to get a proper, respectful remaster.