If you happened to own the first PlayStation (PS1) console in the U.S. between 1995 to mid-97, you might recall just how slim the pickings were when it came to the PS1's RPG game library back then. Considering how many Sports games, Action games and Platform games there were for the system at the time, RPG's were few and far between. It wouldn't be until Final Fantasy VII was released in August of 1997 that the PS1 would become the go-to console for RPG's, launching the popularity of the genre into the behemoth it is today. Let's take a look back at the few RPG's that did exist on the PS1 pre-FFVII.
1. King's Field (release date: 2/15/96)
Released five months after the PS1 came out in the U.S, the earliest RPG for the console was King's Field, which was actually called King's Field II in Japan. The game featured an expansive 360-degree environment to explore, 3D animated graphics, and a difficulty scale only rivaled by future From Software games. My only problem with the King's Field series was that the combat was usually too slow-moving for my tastes, but those that can deal with that and the harsh difficulty are rewarded with an enriching RPG experience. King's Field has gone on to become a cult classic of sorts for early PS1 games, and is the true spiritual-successor to today's hardcore RPG experience in games like recent From Software release Dark Souls.
2. Beyond the Beyond (release date: 9/11/96)
Beyond the Beyond was the first RPG I bought for the PS1 and my second favorite on this list. I remember being so excited that the PS1 now had an exclusive, traditional RPG in their arsenal. It was also one of the first "dual-case" games I remember for the PS1, due to the manual being too thick to include in a single-disc case. I believe the game was bashed for being a bit too cookie-cutter of an RPG for most tastes, but I vividly remember really enjoying this game. Combat was a lot of fun, and the 3D turn-based gameplay was unique for a PS1 RPG. I haven't played Beyond the Beyond since it first came out, but I do still own a copy and will have to give this game another playthrough soon enough.
3. Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain (release date: 11/14/96)
Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain was something of a surprise when it was released during the late fall of 1996. You played as a newly resurrected vampire named Kain, who you must guide on a journey of revenge against his would-be murderers, the Circle of Nine. Along the way Kain must feast on blood to survive, and just about any NPC in the game was a target. The game had a unique top-down display on the right side of the screen which depicts Kain in a coffin, and a vial of blood displays his health. Although Blood Omen was more action-oriented, it has enough RPG elements going for it to classify itself as a legit RPG for the PS1.
4. King's Field II (release date: 11/20/96)
The second U.S. release in the King's Field series, King's Field II (King's Field III in Japan) offered the most explorable environment in a PS1 RPG at the time. Everything was bigger, from the outside world, to the enemies and the characters, and the story had an immersive, epic feel to it. While the game may have featured the same, slow-moving gameplay aspects as it's predecessors, there was much more to hold my interest this time around. As it stands, King's Field II remains my favorite game in the series.
5. Revelations: Persona (release date: 12/14/96)
Atlus released Revelations: Persona as their first RPG release for the PS1 in the U.S., and would go on to become a big player in RPG's for Playstation consoles in years to come. Revelations: Persona was something of a surprise when it was released. It featured a modern setting where a group of high school students are playing a game called "Persona". Hell literally breaks loose when demons are summoned through actions in the game and the group of students embark on a journey to stop the demons from taking over the city.
Revelations: Persona featured a first-person dungeon-crawling experience, weaving through schools, hospitals and police stations in search of answers. The angled third-person viewpoints during combat was also unique to this RPG, as well as the ability to summon demons to aid the players. The Persona series is more popular than ever thanks to the fantastic Persona 4 release a few years back, but it all started here.
6. Suikoden (release date: 12/28/96)
The first Suikoden game is the only RPG on this list that I have yet to play. I never remember seeing it in the stores while attempting to get an RPG fix in the early days of the PS1, and had no idea it even existed. I thought the supremely amazing Suikoden II was the only U.S. release at the time. Word is that this first Suikoden game is an excellent entry into the series, with fleshed out characters, fantastic music and an enthralling, memorable story...only eclipsed by the sequel, Suikoden II. I bought this first game on Playstation Network a few years back, and will definitely have to dive into it soon.
7. Vandal Hearts (release date: 3/27/97)
Vandal Hearts gets a nod as the first turn-based tactical RPG for the PS1, and it would lay the foundation for future strategical RPG hits like Final Fantasy Tactics.Vandal Hearts featured several character classes, many types of enemies and a series of grid maps made up of squares in a variety of heights. The player could move their group of characters around the map during each turn, making for some fun and interesting battles. The graphics of Vandal Hearts may have been eclipsed by future tactical RPG's, but the heart and charm of this game still shines through even today.
8. Wild Arms (release date: 5/21/97)
The final entry on this list happens to be my favorite. Wild Arms is one of the best RPG's I've ever had the pleasure of playing during those early days on the PS1. The story focuses on the western-fantasy themed lands of Filgaia, where giant behemoths called the Metal Demons have returned...and destruction is coming. It's up to a group of three young vagabonds -- Rudy the Gunslinger, Jack the Treasure Hunter and Cecilia the Mage, to stop the threat of the Metal Demons and save the world. This RPG really grew on me as I played it, and there is a certain charm to the cutesy-styled look of the characters during the 3D combat scenarios that just can't be matched. Not only that, but Wild Arms features some of the strangest enemies and boss monsters I've ever encountered. It's a true classic PS1 RPG in my book.
Unfortunately Wild Arms would only get three months of playing time and praise, because on August 31st, 1997, RPG's on the PS1 would never be the same as Final Fantasy VII was released in the U.S. A true classic RPG for the PS1 was born, and games like Wild Arms quickly faded into obscurity. I remember spending the rest of 1997 completely engulfed by FFVII's world, and the game sealed my love for RPG's forevermore. Dozens of excellent RPG's would grace the PS1 console after the success of FFVII, and the console went on to become to having the best RPG libraries gaming has ever seen.
Think it's time to finally play that first Suikoden game, seventeen years after the fact!