The top 10 PlayStation RPGs of all time

Ranking the best PS1 roleplaying games ever.

Sony’s PlayStation 1, intimately known as the PSX, was a magnet for top-tier roleplaying games. A golden age, if you will. It was by playing and living within their worlds, absorbing myself in their intricate stories that I developed a true appreciation for the video game medium.

Now, more than twenty five years after the PlayStation originally launched, let’s look back at the best RPGs the console has to offer. The ranking of these all-time classics will be an eternal source of debate, but there’s no denying that each of the ten games deserves a coveted spot on the list.

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10. Final Fantasy Tactics

Final Fantasy Tactics demands quick-wittedness in both battles and plot. Steeped in intrigue and betrayal, the game tackles themes such as religion and politics (every time I say that word, an uncle appears in the window) in a tale where its true hero has been erased from the annals of history. Spoiler alert, the hero is our protagonist Ramza Beoulve. This beloved RPG weaves strategy into its gameplay as you navigate grid-based battlefields, relying on your party and their myriad job-specific abilities.

9. Breath of Fire IV

Duality is the main plot focus in the fourth game of Capcom’s draconic RPG series. On one hand, we have Ryu, the naïve protagonist who trusts humans because circumstances have presented him with good company. On the other, Fou-Lu, who sees his faith in humanity shattered every time he considers giving ordinary people a second, third, or fiftieth chance. Playing as an omniscient observer and keeping a cool head to the unfolding events makes you put the story facts on a scale and feel your conscious heavy with the final decision, confirming that Ryu’s only humane link – and ours – are his fellow adventurers. Breath of Fire IV features classical turn-based combat in which you control six party members in battle with three in front and three supporting at the back. A combo system also allows sequentially cast magics to breed more powerful ones.

8. Star Ocean: The Second Story

Star Ocean has always had a knack for blending fantasy and science fiction without disregarding the maxim “never bring a knife to a gunfight”. You choose to play as either Claude or Rena and the interactions, outcomes, and characters change depending on the protagonist. Eventually, their paths cross to save the world. Although the plot is very black and white, Star Ocean has innovated by adding solo interactions with your party members that slightly alter the game’s ending (with over 80 variations!). Some characters join the group if you discard another, giving you more reason to replay even after completing Star Ocean. The combat is action-driven yet doesn’t rely on mindless button bashing. On the battlefield, you move freely unleashing skills while your party members act according to the tactics issued. The skill system is robust and as one skill increases so do your characters’ attributes and you learn specialties.

7. Persona 2: Eternal Punishment

Who knew you could satisfy your desire to beat up Hitler by playing Persona 2? This is just one of the elements that make this PlayStation RPG iconic. Following the central idea of “who said dealing with demons is a bad thing”, keep in mind Persona 2 is actually split between two games, Persona 2: Innocent Sin, and Persona 2: Eternal Punishment. They could have warned me or at least put “Persona 2-2” in the title. I played Eternal Punishment first and soon felt something was missing… an entire previous game’s worth of character-building and plot!

One of the major antagonists, Joker, and the rumour features appear in both. By spreading a rumour, if a majority believe it, it becomes true, whether resurrecting an asshole enemy from the past or adding new items on the market. In turn-based combat, you deal with demons either by shooting them, invoking your Persona’s spells, or negotiating – not advised if currently on a crossroads. Trying to please a demon to get its help would prove a very peculiar mechanic.

6. The Legend of Dragoon

Burning Rush! Those who upgraded all Additions to the maximum level slept with Dart’s voice in their heads for months. The battle system in The Legend of Dragoon sported a type of combo system and with each well-timed button, the combo would extend, an annoyingly repetitive voiceover indicating success. It was one of the game’s design highlights and, eventually, each character would be able to morph into a Dragoon and cast its respective element spell.

You play as Dart, a warrior who returns to find his village being attacked and his childhood friend kidnapped. Gallant as most protagonists, he goes on an adventure to save her and succeeds yet unintentionally stumbles upon a legendary power hell bent on destroying the world. To this day its fans are clamouring for a remaster.

5. Final Fantasy VII

“Fifth!?” you may cry. How dare I? Although Final Fantasy VII was a revolution for JRPGs, thrusting them fully into the realm of 3D, even today – following the success of Final Fantasy VII Remake – it can be argued that it wasn’t necessarily the best this genre had to offer on PS1.

In Final Fantasy VII was play as Cloud, an ex-SOLDIER turned eco-terrorist mercenary with a foggy memory of his turbulent past. Flanked by a memorable cast of characters, we see them go from attempting to thwart a giant corporation to battling a silver-maned megalomaniac seeking godhood, a JRPG trope that is fairly old hat at the point. The transition from 2D to 3D was monumental for the series, allowing the mages at SquareSoft to conjure up compelling cinematics with which to tell their saga.

Final Fantasy’s Active Time Battle (ATB) combat returned once again and although party members had pre-set weapon proficiencies and Limit Breaks, they could still be customised using the game’s rewarding Materia system.

4. Xenogears

Xenogears has an incredibly complex plot, with references from Freud, Carl Jung, and religious symbolism. Our protagonist, kindly known as the Slayer of Gods, suffers from anxiety and depression, and has multiple personalities. The unfolding story shows us how past traumas and experiences (and chit-chat with God), can define our lives.

The game boasts innovative turn-based combat with a combo system that to this day I struggle to understand. Choosing the right attack can unlock powerful Deathblows moves, whereas Gear battle will call down giant robots to do your bidding as long as they have enough fuel. Xenogears manages to blend a great cast, giant mechas, and feelings of existential crisis into one of the best RPGs not only of the PS1 era, but of all time.

3. Final Fantasy IX

Often overlooked in favour of Final Fantasy VII, there are many who regard this to be the greatest entry in SquareSoft’s monolith series. It marked a return to FF tradition with a high fantasy theme and a plotline connected to powerful crystals, maniacal antagonists, and emotional character arcs.

Even within its medieval setting, Final Fantasy IX has a unique style running throughout, with a charming cast and familiar combat/progression systems. Compared to some of the layered mechanics featured in other Final Fantasy games, IX may be seen as a tad simplistic though levelling characters and unlocking their abilities was no less rewarding. This was also the last game in the series to feature a freely explorable world map. More than twenty years later, Final Fantasy XVI is promising that same return to the series’ roots, Chocobos, crystals, and all.

2. Chrono Cross

Chrono Cross is like a younger child who is expected to accomplish great feats simply because their older sibling was such a trailblazer. However, it’s fair to say that Chrono Trigger was always going to be a tough act to follow…

For some, Chrono Cross crushed expectations and for others, it left a lot to be desired. In truth, the best way to experience Chrono Cross is to leave any preconceptions and comparisons at the door, simply enjoying the game for what it is and not the legacy it carries upon its shoulders. Immerse yourself in an engaging, unpredictable plot that straddles between parallel universes, boasting a rich cast of more than 40 characters each with their own motivations. Chrono Cross also innovates with its combat, utilising a stamina system and element grid. You can be a high-risk, high-reward player sacrificing accuracy for damage or play sparingly while building an area of elements to hit hard on your next move.

1. Breath of Fire III

My all-time favourite RPG. Breath of Fire III was the breakthrough that converted me into an RPG megafan, flipping the switch and allowing me to grasp the genre’s very essence. Due to that fact alone, Capcom’s sequel ranks far higher on this than you may have expected.

Hero Ryu’s development is put into perspective for us. We follow him from childhood to adulthood as we learn, together, about living in the world while saving it occasionally. With each friendship he makes, so do we. At each struggle, we overcome it together. It’s unlike other JRPGs where the protagonist already has a mysterious/forgotten/generic past.

Refining the series’ turn-based combat, Breath of Fire III didn’t think too much outside the box in the gameplay department. Save for the Genes feature, a cookbook for destroying our enemies while the ingredients transform Ryu into powerful forms such as dragons.


And there we have it, the top 10 PlayStation RPGs of all time. Disagree with our ranking, have some additions of your own? Let us know in the comments below.

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7 Comments

  1. Ha. I was mouthing ‘what about BOF III’ when I saw IV on the list, thinking it would be a one game per franchise affair :) Would have slotted Suikoden and Grandia in there somewhere myself; but then Xenogears and Chrono Cross weren’t released over here in the UK so I associate them more with later, emulation memories than PSX ones. Nice write-ups though.

  2. Good list and very difficult to rank considering the quality of PS1 JRPGs. However VII at 5th is criminal :P also, Final Fantasy VI deserves a mention even if its 2D as that is probably the best FF in terms of its story & characters.

    • What’s even more criminal is putting IX ahead of it and ignoring VIII.

      IX is the worst of them. Who can even remember any of the characters in it? Or much of anything else about it?

      Not as bad as Lightning Returns though. Or as insulting as the remake of 7. But still completely forgettable.

      • Oooooh don’t know about that :P

        IX definitely had the most simplified levelling & battle system. However its story, presentation, OST and characterisation was far more memorable than VIII imo. VIII had a great OST, graphics but its junction system was poor & its story just doesn’t compare. The characters were really uninspired too.

        The 13 trilogy in general was pretty terrible and stand out as the worst entries in the series. Would rather play Dirge of Cerberus on repeat for the length of time it takes to complete the 13 trilogy than play those again.

      • I liked 8 more than 9 because the plot was just a little bit deranged. And the junction system was something different and a lot more interesting.

        Plus the hilarious moment when you think you’re about to win a boss fight against Seifer the easy way when Odin pops up. I think it was 100% guaranteed he’d pop up during that fight and use Zantetsuken. And then he dies and you spend the rest of the game with a chance of Gilgamesh using Excalipoor.

        And 13 was not a trilogy. There were 2 games. 13 and 13-2. Nothing else. I quite liked 13, and 13-2 was a huge improvement. Nothing else happened after that. Don’t try and convince me otherwise. If anything did happen to make it a trilogy, it would be the worst of all the FF games.

  3. Different yes. Interesting…debatable. It was hard to adjust to the junction system from the materia system in 7 which I loved instantly. 13 was a trilogy and all were comparably poor :P the battle system in 13 was so poor.

    • The problem with 13 was it took too long at the start. Same issue with the remake of 7. What should have been 5 or 6 hours ended up being 30 hours. And the battle system was infinitely better than the mess they made of the 7 remake.

      13-2 didn’t have that pacing issue, and was a huge improvement. Lightning Returns doesn’t exist. And if it did, it would be terrible.

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