10 PS1 Games That Were Ahead Of Their Time

Vagrant Story
Vagrant Story

Over the course of the lifespan of the PlayStation 1, some games made it clear that things were never going to be the same again, and other games didn’t have that immediate impact. It’s the latter we’re focusing on here, with 10 PS1 games that were ahead of their time. From innovative features trapped on otherwise average releases, to excellent titles that simply came out too early in the PlayStation’s run to be properly appreciated, these are the games that told us in one way or another where the industry was headed, even if the games themselves didn’t know it.

 

1. Urban Chaos

Developer: Mucky Foot Productions
Publisher: Eidos

Released in 1999 and 2000 for the PC, Dreamcast, and PlayStation 1, Urban Chaos received very mixed reviews from critics where the PS1 version was concerned. Some of those frustrations can perhaps be attributed to the staggering ambition of this title. While some of the things that really matter in Urban Chaos, particularly the controls and camera, are deeply problematic, playing the game for an hour shows you just how ahead of the curve this game was in some regards.

Urban Chaos has you playing as either cop D’Arcy Stern or soldier Roper McIntyre in a world crumbling under relentless waves of brutal gang violence. Lucky you, there’s also a mystery at the heart of all of this, and Urban Chaos plays out across twenty-four main levels. Where the game proves remarkable is in just how much you can do within these non-linear missions. You can explore a city, interact with citizens, take on side quests, arrest people, and even move indoors and outdoors. It’s a huge game for the year 2000, playing around with sandbox elements that today are commonplace.

While these features may be pretty limited for a PS1 game nearly a quarter century old, it’s still amazing to see how forward-thinking Urban Chaos truly was.

 

2. Alien: Resurrection

Developer: Argonaut Software
Publisher: Fox Interactive

Alien: Resurrection was an odd release for the PS1, coming out a full three years after a movie that at least this writer thought was fine. The game is a decent FPS whose greatest flaw perhaps is that it’s just not a terribly interesting title. From gameplay to graphics and sound, it’s all a very average PS1 FPS that’s at least worth a look.

However, when you play Alien Resurrection, you’ll realize the dual stick control scheme is unlike anything that was being done by similar games at that time. Other FPS releases on the PlayStation 1, Medal of Honor being one, offered optional control setups that would prove to be similar to what became the standard as we know it now. However, Alien Resurrection is the only title whose default control scheme could be dropped into any modern player’s hands without any further explanation being necessary.

What’s funny is that at the time of its release, some critics found fault with the control setup, adding that it made a very difficult game even more unpleasant to play. By the end of the decade, it would be the default for every first person shooter. Alien Resurrection just got to the party way too early.

 

3. Music

Developer: Jester Interactive Publishing
Publisher: Codemasters

Music: Music Creation for the PlayStation was ahead of its time as a music creation suite. Creating relatively complex songs using only your video game console was proven to be a viable concept in 1998 with the release of Music: Music Creation for the PlayStation. A European exclusive from Codemasters, the game gave players an opportunity to create their own tracks and even videos using a wide array of tools and samples. Music made itself particularly appealing by giving everything a certain amount of accessibility. A first-time player of Music can get a grip on the options and menus in no time at all.

From there the game offers a surprisingly deep software experience for creatives, with Music featuring sixteen channels with a variety of pre-made sounds that can be layered together to create something unique. The songs you can create here are of course limited with the PS1 hardware, but there’s also so much you can do with these basslines, audio samples, vocals, sound effects, and more.

It’s all limited to dance with Music: Music Creation for the PlayStation, but you can easily see the gem of a concept that is now standard in games as varied as Animal Crossing: New Horizons and Incredibox. All of these games have one major thing in common: Using games that aren’t designed as edutainment to nevertheless teach people invaluable skills. There’s something really cool about that.

 

4. Galerians

Developer: Polygon Magic
Publisher: Crave Entertainment

An amnesiac psychic going against a class of genetically modified humans is a great premise for a survival horror game, and it’s executed very well with the 1999 game Galerians. Playing as protagonist Rion, you begin the game in a desperate bid to reestablish your identity. As you begin to learn more and more about yourself, you become increasingly aware of the existential threat facing humanity itself. It soon becomes clear that you’re the only one who can stop this imminent destruction.

That sounds like a pretty good plot, one that certainly has some unique elements going for it, yet many critics in 1999 dismissed Galerians as another effort to cash in on Resident Evil. While these games may have shared the same genre, they couldn’t have been more different.

That fact is never more apparent than in the way Galerians used an extremely complex management system for your character. Evolving, developing, and managing your psychic powers is just the beginning. You have to maintain your character’s wellbeing at all times, with an AP bar that represents your stress levels, and how it never stops slowly ticking upwards. Using your cool psychic powers will only raise those levels, so you have to be very, very careful. This is a gameplay mechanic that sounds commonplace today. Not to this depth in 1999.

 

5. Bushido Blade

Developer: Lightweight
Publisher: Square

Released in 1997 and 1998 to mostly enthusiastic reviews, Bushido Blade was a third-person one-on-one fighting game that took a very different approach from the arcade-style brawlers that dominated the day. Rather than fast-paced chaos, although let it be said that Bushido Blade is still a very quick fighting game, Bushido Blade forces you to embrace careful strategy. Very careful strategy, to be precise, since these fights often come down to a single blow placed upon a specific point of the body. Even a glancing blow or strike can damage a limb, impeding the fighter’s ability to move properly and attack effectively. It’s staggering to imagine a game pulling all of this off in the late 90s.

One-hit kills dominate in Bushido Blade, the story of ninjas squaring off in a battle to regain lost honor. Choosing from a variety of options within eight distinct weapon types, players will even have to take the particulars of weaponry into account. There’s a very different degree of strategy going on here, as opposed to anything the PS1 or any other console was offering in the late 1990s.

Bushido Blade anticipated games like Hellish Quart by decades. Unlike some of the other games we’ve mentioned, critics did pick up on its innovations at the time. Players did too, with Bushido Blade selling well enough to get follow-ups on the PS1 and PlayStation 2.

 

6. Jumping Flash!

Developer: Exact
Publisher: Sony

Context is particularly important when talking about PS1 games that were ahead of their time. Out of context, Jumping Flash! doesn’t look all that special with a modern gaze. Released in 1995, it’s among the very first PS1 games, and it was lauded nearly 30 years ago for giving players a surprisingly fun, albeit strange 3D first-person platformer. This was a powerhouse example of what the PS1 could do.

Players assume the role of a robotic rabbit that needs to collect jet pods across six worlds and eighteen main levels. You’ll do this by making massive, carefully timed jumps across platforms, with a plethora of enemies trying to stop you every step of the way. That part is pretty standard platforming stuff.

Not only was Jumping Flash! one of the games Sony could point to as an example of what the PS1 brought to the table, but it also proved 3D platforming was viable at that point. No other game before Jumping Flash! had shown developers in no uncertain terms that 3D platforming had finally arrived. It’s not a perfect game by means, but remains a nice bit of fun for the curious or nostalgic,

 

7. Driver 2

Developer: Reflections Interactive
Publisher: Infogames

Driver was released in 1999 and gave players a unique opportunity to assume the role of an undercover cop posing as a getaway driver, who then got stuck in an underground parking lot because he couldn’t ace his driving test. Brutally hard tutorial aside, it was a blast in its year of release, and sold very well, leading to the 2000 sequel Driver 2, which didn’t do quite as well.

Driver 2 received solid reviews, offering four distinct cities, an elaborate story mode, and even an option to simply drive and explore the cities. You can see the effort being made to improve upon the first entry.

Still, some criticized the frustrating gameplay, choppy framerate, and the overall sense that the game was rushed out the door to meet a holiday deadline. One thing most critics agreed on was that the game was at least ambitious to try and expand the playing experience beyond simply driving the getaway car across various missions. At its heart this is still an action driving game, same as the first one, but Driver 2 also allowed players to get out of their vehicle, run the streets, and search for something else to drive. This part of Driver 2 anticipated the appeal of a 3D open world where players could run and steal and maim without a care in the world. Grand Theft Auto III did this concept much, much better, launching one of the most important franchises of the modern era, but Driver 2 got there first.

 

8. Tenchu: Stealth Assassins

Developer: Acquire Corp 
Publisher: Sony

Beyond launching a successful franchise, Tenchu: Stealth Assassins did more than just give players the chance to choose between two ninjas for a series of stealth missions. With a game that seemed to be of a similar spirit to titles like Tomb Raider. Tenchu: Stealth Assassins was something altogether very different, and it achieved this distinction by simply being one of the first games of note to create stealth missions around the fact that you’re playing a ninja.

Stealth was nothing new in gaming, and Metal Gear Solid would be released mere days after Stealth Assassins to kick off the whole stealth craze in earnest. Still, Tenchu: Stealth Assassins carved out its own niche by centering the gameplay around the world you’re playing in, with unique ninja-focused stealth missions in sandbox worlds. There’s quite a few modern games that take advantage of the style Tenchu: Stealth Assassins effectively created. Games like Nioh and Ghost of Tsushima both owe a pretty clear debt to Stealth Assassins.

Well worth a look if you haven’t played it, or haven’t played it in a long time, Tenchu: Stealth Assassins was well-regarded in its day, but even its most passionate fans didn’t anticipate just how influential it would be.

 

9. Vagrant Story

Developer: Square
Publisher: Square

The 2000 Square release Vagrant Story proved the PS1 still had really cool things to show you. Unfortunately, owing perhaps to its extremely difficult and unique gameplay, Vagrant Story sold poorly and is today remembered as an impressive effort at creating a singular game. The story alone, in which a knight named Ashley Riot investigates a cult in the kingdom of Valendia, stands as something very different from the norm of the time.

While critics at the time loved the game, Vagrant Story wasn’t fully appreciated for what it predicted would become a standard genre in gaming. You only have to look at brutally difficult action RPG titles like Dark Souls to see what Vagrant Story was going for way back in the fifth console generation. The puzzle and platforming Vagrant Story incorporated into its dungeon crawling RPG mechanics is also something you can see in similar contemporary games, and that also applies to everything from armor and weapon management, to the structure of the pitiless real-time battles.

Vagrant Story is arguably another example of a victim of timing. If only it had come out perhaps a few years later, it’s entirely possible that Vagrant Story would have found the audience it deserves.

 

10. King’s Field (King’s Field II in Japan)

Developer: FromSoftware
Publisher: Sony

We’re wrapping things up with a look at one of the earliest PS1 releases. Coming out in 1995 in the west as King’s Field, this game is actually a sequel to a 1994 PlayStation launch title that never left Japan. Even so, King’s Field, or King’s Field II as its known in Japan, was another good reason to own a PS1 in its earliest days.

An action RPG in which a prince must survive the mysteries of a dangerous island in order to find a holy weapon known as the Moonlight Sword, King’s Field has a looser connection to newer games like Dark Souls or even Elden Ring than that of Vagrant Story. However, the similarities that do exist between King’s Field and Dark Souls, games separated by several console generations, are well worth mentioning.

King’s Field is a difficult, sometimes punishingly so, first-person dungeon crawler that gave early PS1 adopters a taste of what the console could do with deeper narratives and better graphics than anything that had come before it. Success in this game will sound familiar, since it really comes down to having the right equipment at the right moment. There’s a farseeing element of strategy here that no console RPG would even attempt again until Vagrant Story in 2000. King’s Field is a PS1 game that was way ahead of its time, and it’s astonishing to see how far these early ideas have come.

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