It’s that time of year again: you’re looking for gifts for your friends and family, and maybe making up a list for yourself. Although videogame companies always want to dazzle with the newest and shiniest products around this time of year, many gamers and collectors are just as interested in looking back to retro systems and their games.
For this holiday season, we’ve compiled some common, uncommon, and rare picks for some retro Sony systems: the PlayStation 1, PlayStation 2, and the original PSP. Whether you’re new to the system or an avid collector, these are some must-have games.
PlayStation 1: Spyro the Dragon (1998), Metal Gear Solid (1998)
Spyro the Dragon stars Spyro, a young dragon who is tasked with rescuing his dragon elders, recovering stolen eggs and other treasures, and defeating the Gnasty Gnorc. It’s a cartoonish platformer, just the right level of difficulty for a younger player, and hard enough for an adult who wants to 100% it. Its standouts are easy-to-use controls and fantastic music. Some of the graphics look primitive even for their time, but overall the game’s aesthetic is pretty good.
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Metal Gear Solid is a bit more on the adult side of things, however. This stealth game follows the spy Solid Snake into a nuclear weapons facility. This game shows off the odd cleverness its creator, Hideo Kojima, is now known for: a psychic enemy can read your memory card and render your first-person controller port useless, and a certain code can only be found on the (original) game case if you forget it. This is a difficult game, but it rewards thinking outside of the box, and you truly feel accomplished when you overcome the challenges thrown at you.
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Playstation 2: Devil May Cry 3 (2005), Kingdom Hearts II (2005)
Devil May Cry 3 is your basic action-adventure hack-and-slash. It’s actually a prequel to the first game in the series, and even Capcom doesn’t talk about the second game anymore, so you can start with 3. One of the coolest things about this game was that the bosses became your weapons once defeated, which led to some pretty interesting weapon designs and weapon handling. Some of the “cool” stuff seems a little cheesy now (one weapon is a literal electric guitar, and the “D” attack rating is “Dope”), but it’s still a pretty fun, just-challenging-enough game.
The “Dante’s Awakening” edition allows players to try the game out as Vergil, Dante’s brother. This edition is just as easy to find as the original, oftentimes still a part of the collector’s box set of the first three games that it was originally released with.
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Kingdom Hearts II is a game meant for younger players. It sounds like a fanfiction: Final Fantasy characters and Disney characters fighting together for the forces of light and dark! It’s actually an enjoyable action-adventure hack-and-slash (no blood in this one, though) game, and it marks the exact moment before the storyline of the Kingdom Hearts series flew off the rails. It’s an accessible game, it’s unintentionally a little goofy (no pun intended) when characters like Mickey Mouse speak of good and evil and the darkness of man’s heart, but the only huge negative is the six-hour tutorial that cannot be skipped.
Although the story is harder to follow without playing the first game, Kingdom Hearts II improves on gameplay, controls, and graphics from Kingdom Hearts I so much that you’re probably better off just reading the manga for the first game to get the story.
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PSP: Final Fantasy: Patapon (2007), Dissidia 012 Final Fantasy (2011)
In Patapon, you command an army of creatures by beating drums, similar in the way you would play a rhythm game. Messing up confuses your creatures, staying on beat will increase their attack power. Patapon is one of those games you recognize even if you’ve never played it or any of the games in its series before. This game was a hit when it first came out in 2007, and it’s been on stores’ PSP display shelves ever since.
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Dissidia 012 Final Fantasy is part remake part prequel of 2008’s Dissidia Final Fantasy. The game showcased fan favorites of previous Final Fantasy games, going all the way back to Final Fantasy I, and allows players to pit them against each other. Dissidia 012 also added a story mode and some more characters to the fray, both villains and protagonists. It’s a good pick for fans of classic Final Fantasy games who want to mix things up a little.
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Playstation 1: Oddworld Abe’s Oddyssee (1997), Final Fantasy IX (2000)
Oddworld is a unique game. When I played it for the first time, I had never seen anything like it, and I’m not sure if I’ve really seen anything like it since. Abe is a slave who discovers his people will be slaughtered and sets out to liberate them before that happens. The gameplay consists of platforming and puzzle-solving while avoiding enemies and successfully helping Abe’s brethren. It is a challenging game, and I’d be lying if I said it never made me quit out of frustration. But I always returned to it for more, determined figure out the task at hand. If you have a short fuse, this may not be the game for you.
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Final Fantasy IX used to get a lot of hate compared to the other PS1 Final Fantasy games. Personally, I never understood it. The characters were rounded out, interesting in their personalities and stories and in their design, the world was steampunk-medieval, graphics weren’t bad, there was a cool system which let you watch cutscenes happening at the “same time”… Ironically, the hate of it probably is what made it the easiest PS1 Final Fantasy to get a hold of in stores and flea markets and tag sales. This meant more people got a hold of it, found they enjoyed it, and things started balancing out.
If you want a Final Fantasy that still has that Medieval feel but you have a 3D fix as well, Final Fantasy IX may be a good choice for you. It’s a little more forgiving for newcomers to the series than Final Fantasy VII or Final Fantasy VIII.
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PlayStation 2: Silent Hill 2 (2001), Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater (2004)
Silent Hill 2 begins when James Sunderland receives a letter from his dead wife which says she’ll be waiting for him in the town of Silent Hill. Sunderland barges into the town, no longer the sunny vacation destination he remembers, but a flat, misty hellscape full of terrifying, semi-humanoid monsters, including the infamous Pyramid Head. The game is a disturbing psychological enigma, great for horror fans who like to think rather than just fight and survive, though there is a combat aspect. There are a handful of multiple endings based on your behavior in the game, which retroactively cast different meanings onto the already-ambiguous game plot. The only real downside to this game is that controls are a little clunky, and the combat is often imprecise.
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Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater may not seem an obvious choice for this section considering how critically acclaimed it is and how well it did sell, but this is a game series marked for the strong, loud opinions fans have for its games. Although the figures show a beloved game, Snake Eater fans and even haters are strangely quiet about it. This game featured innovative systems where Big Boss could kill and eat his own fauna to varied effects, and could switch his camouflage in order to sneak around better.
Like previous and succeeding games in the series, Snake Eater is primarily a stealth game chock-full of trademark Kojima Easter eggs. Because this game is a prequel it can be played before the other Metal Gear games with no problem, although the smoother controls and game systems may spoil you a little.
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PSP: Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII (2008), Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker (2010)
Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII is an action RPG which stars Zack, the SOLDIER Cloud emulated and confused himself with in Final Fantasy VII (1997). This means that the player can actually live out and maybe finally understand the truth behind the “memories” Cloud described then, and maybe make sense of everything. This also means that the player gets to see “returning” characters such as Sephiroth before he loses it (kind of), Cloud as a young man, and others.
This game experimented with real-time combat, and brought back the materia system, which allows players to “equip” Zack with magic, abilities, and stat boosts. If you’ve never played Final Fantasy VII before, you may want to play that game before trying this prequel out, although if you’re feeling brave, jump right into it—then play Final Fantasy VII and let us know if it helped you understand things better.
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Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker
Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker is a prequel to the PS1 Metal Gear games, though it is set a decade after Snake Eater. In Peace Walker, Big Boss navigates Costa Rica to uncover a CIA plot involving nuclear arms, just as stealthy (hopefully) as ever. This game also included multiplayer versions of many of Snake’s missions, with versus modes for some. Peace Walker‘s sales figures were low outside of Japan, but such figures are deceptive–the tallied figures didn’t include digital downloads. Critically, the game makes almost all “best of” PSP lists, and fans are similarly vocal with their affection for it.
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Playstation 1: Tomba! (1997), Wild Arms 2 (1999)
Tomba! is a peppy sidescroller that might have cemented itself into your memory because of its extremely strong ad campaign. Tomba, cute and cartoony, completes sidescrolling missions to defeat evil, mutated pigs. This is a fun game that keeps you active, though there is a lot of backtracking, which can be annoying. It’s also sometimes difficult to figure out what Tomba can interact with, and how, as there are times when he can move to different planes on the screen. This game was popular enough to warrant a sequel, but it didn’t sell well enough to get reprinted with the greatest hits label, and its company went out of business shortly afterwards. An unopened copy of the game can fetch hefty prices online.
Wild Arms 2 seems like a weird mash-up of Old West, Chinese mythology, and steampunk, and that’s what makes it so endearing. The decaying western world of Filgaia is troubled even further when a demon god from a thousand years earlier is unsealed and brought back to consciousness. Ashley, part of the group that summoned the demon, ends up with a group of fighters—ARMS—determined to combat the demon and reverse the planet and its people’s luck.
It’s superficially similar to Final Fantasy in how you navigate the world, and there is turn-based combat, though you can control your character’s movement during combat to affect how your attacks land. Its combat system is challenging at first, but once you stop thinking about it in relation to other games, it becomes intuitive. This is another game that, outside of other games in the Wild Arms series, I really haven’t seen anything quite like it before or since.
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PlayStation 2: Dark Cloud 2 (2002), Final Fantasy VII: Dirge of Cerberus (2006)
Dark Cloud 2 (also known as Dark Chronicle) was the sequel to an incredibly innovative game that combined dungeon crawler and town building. Dark Cloud 2 built on these and improved the graphics and gameplay, which the original did need badly. The game is a hack and slash, and weapons level up and be worn down, though again, this whole system is much more forgiving than in the first Dark Cloud, where broken weapons were gone forever. The town-building aspect is still pretty similar to the first game, with improved graphics.
Since the game has been released on the PS network, the price of the hard copy has dropped somewhat, but before it wasn’t uncommon to see copies of the game cresting over $100, and even stores like Gamestop had it for prices that couldn’t be justified for fans with limited budgets.
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Final Fantasy VII: Dirge of Cerberus is the sequel to the classic Final Fantasy VII, though this shooter follows Vincent Valentine rather than his former teammate Cloud Strife, the protagonist of the first game. A sect of Shinra’s super soldiers target Vincent for a rare substance which helps him control his more monstrous alternate form, Chaos. This game looks as much into the past as it does the present, and Vincent deals with memories of his dealings with the mad scientist Hojo and Lucrecia, Sephiroth’s actual human mother. Confusing? It wouldn’t be an FFVII spinoff if it wasn’t. Because parts of this game take place in the original game’s environments like the Shinra mansion, it even lets you pretend that we got that Final Fantasy VII remake.
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PSP: Wild Arms XF (2007), Silent Hill: Shattered Memories (2010)
In Wild Arms XF, Filgaia suffers from a depletion of resources at the hands of armed forces. Though one travels over world maps and in town in a manner similar to many RPGs, the combat is in the style of strategy games. As in many other strategy games, these maps are just as often puzzles to be figured out, and the game lets you leave matches with no penalty to try again later. The matches also vary, sometimes having turn limits which have to dictate your plans, and many matches are timed, in that your vitality and then health will begin slipping as the match continues. It’s a good pick for strategy fans who want a game that won’t go stale, even in the endgame.
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Silent Hill: Shattered Memories was a “reimagining” of the first Silent Hill game, which means it took the premise and characters and threw them into totally new scenarios. Unlike previous Silent Hill entries, the game had no combat and always kept player’s attention focused on the story: Harry Mason searching for his daughter in Silent Hill intercut with Harry Mason in therapy sessions. Your behavior in the main story sections and in the therapy sessions affect how Mason’s story develops and ends, so it also has great replay value.
Though fans went gaga over the controls the Wii version of the game offered, the PSP port is supposed to be an impressive feat in its own right. The graphics look great on the small screen, and although controls had to be modified for the handheld system, this was done intuitively.
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All three of these Sony systems had pretty expansive libraries, and if you find yourself enjoying these titles, there are plenty more to explore, even just within the game series on this list. Though the Playstation “image” was styled as more “adult” than its major rival, Nintendo, there is actually a wide variety of games for just about every taste and preference available on these three systems.
Were you an avid PS1, PS2, or PSP player who was surprised by an omission or addition of any of the titles on this list? Let us know if you have any retro Sony favorites that you think should be up here!