25 years ago, the Sony PlayStation released in Japan. A lot of us here at Kotaku have pretty fond memories of the PlayStation, from bartering for access with our siblings to sitting in dark, dusty basements, illuminated only by the light of an old TV and some sharp, sharp polygons. Take a walk down memory lane with us.
The original PlayStation hit Japanese shops on December 3, 1994, and was available around the world by the end of 1995, launching a legacy of consoles and games that would endure for decades to come. The humble home console begat countless mascots who became household icons. PlayStation brought us Crash Bandicoot, Spyro, and Parappa the Rapper – not to mention a deep list of role-playing games that would solidify Squaresoft’s chokehold on the RPG scene for years to come as well as being a launching point for studios like FromSoftware.
The PlayStation debuted juggernaut series like Guilty Gear, Wild Arms, Resident Evil, Silent Hill, Persona, Tekken, Suikoden, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, and Soul Edge, the precursor to the Soulcalibur series. It was the first home console to host series like Bloody Roar and Grand Theft Auto. And who could forget Bubsy’s first foray into 3D?
PlayStation also had several cult classics, like Alundra and Vagrant Story and Xenogears and Fear Effect and Bust a Groove and a bunch of other games you probably wanted to be on the PlayStation Classic but weren’t.
As we wish the original PlayStation a happy 25th, here are some of our fondest, funniest, most knuckleheaded PlayStation memories.
When I agreed to turn over the stack of bills and change I kept stored in a small brass chest like Scrooge McDuck, I only knew a few things about the PlayStation. My older brother, or my parents, or both, told me I had to pay him $30 or so to play it. He had bought it with his own money from working the summer at A.C. Moore, an arts-and-crafts chain based in New Jersey that just last month announced it was going out of business after 34 years. Months of stocking the shelves with fall foliage garland and adjudicating arcane sales on picture frames had netted him a machine which could play Final Fantasy VII.
My net value at the time didn’t quite add up to $30, but it was really the principle of the thing that mattered. I wasn’t so much buying a stake in the console as I was paying tribute in exchange for the positive externalities associated with having a brother six years my senior who was forced to share. The PS1 wasn’t the first console of his that I got to play, but it was the first I had contributed to in some small way.
I’m not sure when I first became aware of the PlayStation, but I remember seeing the screenshots of a Final Fantasy prototype for the N64 in a copy of GamePro and later seeing a commercial for Final Fantasy VII on TV. I realised that the box my brother had brought home would be able to take me to the grainy, industrial dystopia I’d seen months ago.
I don’t know if I’ve ever played the opening of a game so breathlessly since. I was sure some inkling of the next millennia had injected itself into my consciousness via the 32-bit light beams pummeling my eyeballs. Then I proceeded to save over my brother’s file – level 15, just left Midgar, in the midst of Cloud’s first flashback – and that brief but beautiful epiphany was replaced by calculations of how long I could survive on my own living in the ravine five blocks down.
Doesn’t really seem like it’s been 25 years, huh? Well, that’s probably because unless you were an early adopter living in Japan, it hasn’t. 25 years ago, we were at the midpoint of the lifespan of the 16-bit systems in the U.S. I got Final Fantasy III and Donkey Kong Country for Christmas that year and have fond memories of playing one of those. I knew that PlayStation was available, of course, being a thorough reader of every video game magazine I could get my hands on, but I’d be lying if I said I had any desire for one. I didn’t really want a 3DO or a Jaguar, either! They all seemed like the same sort of beast – expensive multimedia machines with lots of futuristic features but no must-have games.
It wasn’t long before that situation got flipped on its head. I bought a Nintendo 64 two years later, but by the next summer, it was PlayStation with all the games and Nintendo asking us to wait months and months between major releases. With Final Fantasy VII on the way, I had little choice but to buy one. (It helped that the U.S. PlayStation, which had launched in September 1995 at $300, cost just $150 by March 1997.)
Then came Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, and Street Fighter Alpha 2, and Wild Arms, and Parappa the Rapper, and what’s a Nintendo 64? Yeah, it launched in 1994, but it was really the events of 1997 that cemented PlayStation’s status in the world of games. If you didn’t have one, you simply weren’t plugged in to what was going on in the world of gaming. I’m not sure if that will ever be the case again.
It was dark and dusty in my parents’ basement, and with an abiding fear of spiders that endures to this day, it took a whole hell of a lot to lure an 8-year-old me down there. That whole hell of a lot was the PlayStation resting in the basement’s bowels, attached to the only TV that my parents would suffer me to use while they were trying to watch television. Sunk deep into a puke-green chair that was several decades older than me, I played game after game. I was terrible at most of them, but it was character-building, I think.
I rented Heart of Darkness from Blockbuster, got to the very first swimming section, and quit permanently, my small hands clammy with fear. I played Monster Rancher Battle Card: Episode 2 almost to completion but got stuck with a deck that couldn’t win me the last card I needed and no recourse to fix it without waiting several in-game cycles. I wouldn’t touch the Final Fantasy series until X, but I fell in love with Square’s lesser-known Threads of Fate, which has remained one of my favourite games to this day with its memorable characters and outstanding soundtrack. I played Crash Bandicoot, was buns at it, and later played Crash Bash against my friends with a shameless fervour. I played Spyro 2: Ripto’s Rage and threw my first controller on one of the time trial challenges. I played Digimon World, hated it, then played Digimon World 2, and hated it. I learned a valuable lesson about doing the same thing and expecting different results: Thanks, video games.
Most importantly, the PlayStation cultivated in me a love of rhythm games, starting with my friend’s copy of Bust-a-Groove, which would produce heated battles as we promised each other we wouldn’t antagonize each other with our attacks (we lied) and also somehow created a strange spinoff fanfiction between sentai superstar Kitty-N and disco dude Hiro. It extended to my first home DDR purchase, Dance Dance Revolution Konamix, along with a dance mat that was about as durable as a sack of paper. After playing Parappa in a store and hating it because I was stupid and didn’t understand how to play, I later poured hours and hours into Um Jammer Lammy and can still recite every word of every song by heart to this day.
Good looks, PlayStation Classic, for giving me rhythm, bops, and exercise. Eat your heart out, Nintendo.
The PlayStation remains one of my most cherished consoles, but it’s also one I got accidentally. As a kid, I really wanted a Genesis Nomad. If you’ve never heard of the Nomad, that’s a reason for that. It was a big, awkward portable version of the SEGA Genesis that came out late in the system’s life-cycle and was sold exclusively in America. The concept of having a full console experience was very cool. The reality was not. That thing ripped through 6 AA batteries in less than one car trip, making the experience of playing it on the go extremely expensive and unreliable.
After a month we returned the cursed thing to Toys-R-Us (RIP) and they took it back for store credit, no questions asked, as if to say, “Yeah, that’s fair.” With a bunch of store credit, I bought the only other thing there that made sense. I got the relatively new PlayStation and what I assumed were two good games: Beyond the Beyond and Bubsy 3D.
Reader, these were not very good games.
The situation did not improve until I bought Bust-A-Move Arcade Edition, a game with the most needlessly weird box art I’ve ever seen.
Screenshot: Sony (OldsXCool)
When I was around six, my older brother had a PlayStation and the game ESPN Extreme Games. Because it was a two-player game, he allowed me to play this one with him. For the most part, what you did in this game was race, either against the computer or against another player. It offered three modes of transport: rollerblading, mountain biking, and street luge.
For my entire adult life, the phrase “street luge” has crossed in and out of my mind. What is street luge, and why? These were the questions that my brother and I asked each other upon playing ESPN Extreme Games, and they are the same questions that I ask myself today.
Street luge, as depicted in ESPN Extreme Sports, involves laying on what appears to be essentially a skateboard, strapping yourself in, and screaming down a hill. As a child, I wanted nothing more than to try this. It looks absolutely hilarious. When my cousin came to visit from California he brought his Game Shark, and he and my brother changed the parameters on the street luge racers, making them go well over a hundred miles per hour when racing. I can still hear their laughter echoing into the night when I visit my parents’ home.
After giving up console games in favour of PC games and dating toward the end of the Super Nintendo/Sega Genesis era, I decided to give TV-based gaming another try in late 1996. Unfamiliar with the year-old PlayStation or the brand-new Nintendo 64, I found a local comic book store that was renting the consoles so I could try before I bought.
I tried the N64 first, putting down a massive security deposit for the console, Super Mario 64, and Pilotwings 64. I was impressed but not won over. I needed more games. I transferred my deposit over to the PlayStation and fell in love immediately with Jumping Flash, the 3D robot rabbit game. It had robots, rabbits, and 3D. Futuristic racer Wipeout was everything I’d ever wanted. Plus I could play music CDs on it. MUSIC CDS!
That’s how the PlayStation won my personal console wars. Well, after the guy at the comic book store told me the 3DO had already been discontinued.
I used to play this game called Pandemonium! Not a lot of people talk about it these days. It was a side-scrolling 3D platformer about two pals, a jester named Fargus and a young sorceress named Nikki who accidentally cast a spell that ruins their hometown; the bulk of the game is spent trying to get to a wishing well in order to undo the spell. It was fine, a friendly game with goofy characters for all ages. It wasn’t a PlayStation exclusive, but I didn’t put much stock in that. We had a PlayStation, and that was pretty cool.
It was my dad’s console, mostly. The switch to games on CDs made him skittish about the kids using it too much, so I spent most of my video game time on the Genesis. But sometimes, I’d play Pandemonium!, a good game for bridging generations of more than one type, as my dad would watch me play and I in turn would watch him play Resident Evil 2 or Metal Gear Solid.
At some point, a sequel to Pandemonium! came out, also for PlayStation. Aesthetically, it was almost unrecognisable. Nikki, the intrepid young sorceress, was sexed up with a halter top and biker pants. Fargus was now, uh, twisted – kind of insane and leering over Nikki. The game itself was still a solid 2.5D platformer.
The PlayStation would be the last console I played for some time; I skipped the next generation and returned to games in the middle of the one after that. I came of age largely away from video games but acutely aware of what was happening when I left, as Lara Croft became a weird video game sex symbol and video game marketing exclusively for young men reached a fever pitch.
Now we’re all older and a little embarrassed by all that, as we should be. It would be folly, though, to think that there are no lingering effects from juvenilia of games’ coming-of-age. Happy 25th birthday, PlayStation. Growing up isn’t always pretty, but it’s a good thing to do – and you never really stop doing it.
Featured image: Evan Amos (Public Domain)