10 Hardest PS1 Games of All Time

Not like that, ya animal.

The original PlayStation belonged to a very different era for gaming compared to what we’re used to now. In today’s world, accessibility features and the expectation of actually being able to finish a game are a luxury that wasn’t so normal in the 90s. Back then, most PS1 games didn’t take long to complete time-wise, but the sheer difficulty present in a lot of them turned a 4-hour title into a 40-hour practice run.

The difficulty could be tied to budget and pretty short development times, with some studios perhaps not able to afford playtesters — or even have the time to hire them. But most notably, it was also during a time when hardcore arcade games designed to chew through your wallet in exchange for a few minutes of gameplay were the norm, and those were then ported to ruin some poor kid’s Christmas Day.

It’s no secret now that the 90s kids grew up with some incredibly harsh games that these days are made easier with tutorials, but if you’re feeling retro when it comes to your self-inflicted pain, then these are the ten hardest PS1 games you should check out.


10. Driver


Developer(s): Reflections Interactive
Publisher(s): GT Interactive

This game could win an award for the most brutal tutorial ever made. From the moment you get in the driver’s seat, you’re forced to tick off a large list of complex stunts without any insight into how to do so. Of course, there’s a harsh time limit to perform all these manoeuvres and the confined space of a car park to do everything in. Many gamers have voiced their struggles with Driver’s opening tutorial, so all the more horsepower to you if you’ve managed to speed through this level.

The only reason Driver isn’t higher on this list is because the difficulty lowers significantly after the opening mission, though there are excessive difficulty spikes later on that bring the game’s challenge back to its frustrating opening level. It’s the equivalent of going to your first driving lesson and being asked to perform a slalom, reverse 180, and break test as soon as your fingers touch the wheel. Good luck.


9. Skullmonkeys


Developer(s): The Neverhood Inc.
Publisher(s): Electronic Arts

Skullmonkeys is a platformer that utilises a unique (and rather smooth for its time) claymation style. While the hazards and enemy numbers build up at a consistent pace, Skullmonkeys’ levels can quickly become overwhelming as the challenge stacks against you in harsh enemy placements and savage boss fights that aren’t for the faint of heart.

Skullmonkeys also has a bizarre save system, or lack thereof, as you can’t actually save. Instead, you’ll be prompted to enter a password given at the end of each world to return to the level you were last at. If you forget the password, then all progress will be lost, and you’ll be left to restart. It’s not pretty, especially if you have managed to fight your way towards the end without a scratch on your controller.

However, due to technical issues, the game tends to dish out passwords that don’t work, so you’re always at risk of losing your save every time you turn Skullmonkeys off. Fortunately, in today’s world, you can look up these codes, so even when you’re only a few hops away from completion, a quick Google search will get you back in no time. But back in 1998, you were screwed without those codes, and the idea of restarting the whole game just by forgetting a gimmick password is nothing short of frustrating.


8. Heart of Darkness

Heart of Darkness PS!
Heart of Darkness PS!

Developer(s): Amazing Studio
Publisher(s): Interplay Entertainment, Ocean Software, Atari SA

Amazing Studio didn’t hold back when crafting this visually pretty and cathartic narrative about a kid venturing into an alien world to rescue his beloved dog. They also didn’t hold back on the difficulty either.

Heart of Darkness has an incredibly challenging opening level, similar to Driver, where death can occur right from the moment you spawn. Relentless enemies swarm you from all sides as you get to grips with the gameplay, and challenging platforming can send you hurling your way back a save. The clunky controls don’t often match Heart of Darkness’s pace, especially in some of the more challenging encounters where positioning and attack timing are key.

Fortunately, the game is learnable with its unlimited lives system, so if you die (which you will), try, try, and try again until you succeed. It is also worth mentioning that only a few enemies in a swarm will attack you at once, so you won’t be deleted out of existence by a horde. Despite this, Heart of Darkness is still an unforgiving game, with many players reminiscing about the nostalgia and challenges the game has to offer the same way in which you’d go to group therapy.


7. Crash Bandicoot

Crash Bandicoot PS1
Crash Bandicoot PS1

Developer(s): Naughty Dog, Vivendi Games
Publisher(s): Sony Interactive Entertainment, Vivendi Games

Oh, the days before The Last of Us and Uncharted, when Naughty Dog was known for this box-hopping, wumpa fruit-eating bandicoot. Crash Bandicoot is one of the PS1’s platformer classics, known for its fast-paced gameplay, charming visuals, joyful soundtrack, and sheer difficulty that ties it all together. This game constantly tests you on the spot with its varied enemy placement and plenty of environmental traps that will one-shot you if any of your orange pixels come into contact.

Fortunately, there are masks sprinkled sporadically throughout the levels that provide protection, and extra lives are relatively plentiful, but even with loads in the bag, the room for error is almost nonexistent.

You have to master the rhythm and pacing of each level, which is especially difficult in the hog-riding and boulder-chase sections where you are moving so fast, you’ll think you’re speedrunning. Those boulders put the player into panic mode as you sprint away from an incoming rolling game over screen. The same can be said about the hog-riding levels as you charge through while various environmental hazards come into focus, so you can’t time your jumps or have a moment to think. In those situations, you either play until you come out triumphant or send your controller crashing through the screen.


6. Einhänder


Developer(s): Square
Publisher(s): Sony Computer Entertainment

Einhänder is a 2D side-scrolling shoot-em-up where you pilot a spacecraft that can wield multiple weapons to smite Earth’s invaders. What’s most interesting is how you can target certain parts of each mechanical enemy and even shoot off weapons that can be equipped on the fly. As a result, players have some wiggle room to tweak the difficulty depending on what weapons they use, but that doesn’t mean you can blast your way through each level without any scratches.

Enemies can take quite the beating, making it challenging to whittle down their health bars while dodging bullet-hell-style attacks and environmental hazards. To make matters even harder, lives are limited, and if you die enough times, you will have to restart the entire story, which can be frustrating if you’ve made substantial progress.

The difficulty shines more thoroughly in the numerous boss fights you’ll encounter, usually resulting in a massive mech whose attacks not only spray the whole arena but also constantly change as the fight progresses. For example, Gustav, one of the bosses of Einhänder, uses multiple ranged and close-range attacks while the room itself rotates during the fight.

Fortunately, like a modern Soulsborne, their attack patterns are learnable, but it may take a few cruel deaths before you get their fighting style down.


5. Alundra


Developer(s): Matrix Software
Publisher(s): Working Designs, Psygnosis

Unlike a lot of games on this list, Alundra’s difficulty doesn’t stem from electrifying combat or intense on-the-spot platforming, but instead comes in the form of puzzle-solving. This action-adventure game is about patience, as you’ll be stuck in the same room for hours trying to figure out what to do. Puzzles make up the majority of the gameplay, and there are a few action sequences that can add a new flavour of challenge, though most fights aren’t too intricate.

The jump system is complicated and rather frustrating because it requires precise timing and positioning, which can be a little tricky to dictate from a top-down perspective. Some puzzles can even be left to chance, like randomly spawning barrels that you need to collect, which can drop from four different locations in the room. Most annoyingly of all, if you fail the puzzle, you’ll be forced to leave the room to retrigger it and try again. This gets repetitive after a while, especially if you’re praying for the RNG gods to be in your favour.

Be careful when backtracking to previously completed areas because when you return, you may find puzzles you’ve completed before have sprung back up, and you’ll have to beat them again to progress. This adds a little extra layer of frustration to an otherwise enjoyable game.


4. King’s Field

King's Field PS1
King’s Field PS1

Developer(s): FromSoftware
Publisher(s): FromSoftware

It wouldn’t be a hardest games list without a FromSoft game appearing, and their debut title holds a huge influence over their later games such as Dark Souls and Elden Ring. King’s Field is an action RPG set inside a dungeon full of plenty of ways to die.

The combat hasn’t aged well, with players having to attack once and then wait for a recharge before striking again. This rather clunky gameplay flow can be tedious when facing multiple enemies, and if they don’t kill you, the numerous traps will. King’s Field can also be hard to navigate through, as you are always confined between lengthy corridors that split off into numerous rooms, many of which are locked.

This game also has plenty of secrets to find and first introduced the invisible wall, which later became a foundation in many of FromSoftware’s titles to hide rewards behind. But unlike the other Souls games, where the environment hints there might be a secret to find, King’s Field has players mash the X button on every wall to detect the one that holds a reward. It quickly deteriorates into a tedious grind for those looking to 100% the game, making King’s Field one of the hardest PS1 games — giving even the most diehard Souls fans a challenge.


3. Fear Effect 2: Retro Helix

Fear Effect 2
Fear Effect 2

Developer(s): Kronos Digital Entertainment
Publisher(s): Eidos Interactive

Fear Effect 2: Retro Helix is an action-adventure game that strikes a resemblance to the original Resident Evil games. It was known for its incredible difficulty, intricate story, impressive visuals, and, let’s be real, its sexual content.

There are plenty of instant-death scenarios that can sometimes take you by surprise, forcing you to restart until you get it right. To make matters more difficult, numerous inconvenient save points can make you lose around 30 minutes of progress, which is frustrating if you’re stuck on certain enemy encounters. There are even a few head-scratching puzzles sprinkled into the mix that’ll keep you guessing often, with obscure solutions that don’t make a lot of sense.

The difficulty jump in the last chapter is absurd, as the fear gauge refills grow scarce and puzzles are more frequent and complex. Not to mention the save points become almost non-existent, so losing progress after multiple puzzle completions can feel incredibly cheap. It’s especially worse if you’re stuck on a puzzle but have to make 30 minutes of progress to reach it each time you die.


2. Tomb Raider III

Tomb Raider 3
Tomb Raider 3

Developer(s): Core Design
Publisher(s): Eidos Interactive

Tomb Raider III is notoriously regarded by fans as a devastatingly brutal entry to the 3D action-adventure series. Of course, Tomb Raider III has a ridiculously punishing beginning (like a lot of games on this list) that has players mashing buttons to figure out what to do in the heat of deadly combat encounters or mind-boggling puzzles. Not to mention the game has no shortage of pitch-black areas, leaving you to explore with only a tiny aura of light to spot instant death traps and enemies.

Pair that with the save crystal system: a collectable that is sparsely scattered throughout the 23 levels that limit how many times you can save. This mechanic is punishing at best, as the challenging firefights, complex puzzle-solving, and tomb-delving you’ll be doing can meet you with a swift end. This will send you screaming back to your last save, only to do it all again. This makes Tomb Raider III one of the hardest PS1 games ever made.

We can only hope the difficulty for Tomb Raider III is streamlined for future remakes to allow both new and returning players alike to enjoy the game to its fullest. That way, we don’t have to keep one eye on the screen and the other on a walkthrough.


1. Rayman


Developer(s): Ubi Pictures
Publisher(s): Ubi Soft

If you thought the original Crash Bandicoot was hard with its precise movement and timing, then Rayman takes things to another level of unpredictable absurdity. Don’t let the vibrant, colourful, and charming world fool you; the level design is absolutely cruel. It requires pixel-perfect timing to dodge enemy and environmental attacks, complex boss fights that bombard most of the screen, and downright unfair jumps onto platforms you can’t see all while having limited lives.

Rayman implements a devastating enemy spawn system, which means no 2, 4, or 50 runs are the same as they spawn almost anywhere in the level. You can’t memorise or prepare for what’s around the corner because where an enemy wasn’t placed before, it will likely be there the next time you come running through. Not to mention the slippery environments that funnel you down to a quick game over screen, or the dangerous spike traps that are generously sprinkled throughout to keep you on your toes.

You do unlock the ability to defend yourself, but punching enemies takes a lot of preparation because it’s tedious lining up your shots. Each enemy has a decent-sized health pool, so it can quickly become repetitive if you have to restart a lot. Rayman’s difficulty could actually be unintentional, as the game allegedly wasn’t play-tested, which would explain the sheer brutality the majority of players have experienced. All of this combined is what makes Rayman the hardest PS1 game ever released.

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