The PlayStation 1, often abbreviated to just PS1, is one of the most impactful and influential video game consoles. Though quite underpowered by modern standards, it brought both commercial success and the ability to read CD-ROMs to the fifth generation of consoles. (The Sega Saturn, its digital competitor, also had CD-ROMs instead of cartridges… but was nowhere near as successful.)
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the history, specifications, games, and the modern availability of the PS1.
A Brief History Of The PS1
The PlayStation 1 was initially developed as an add-on for Nintendo’s Super Famicom/SNES, a unit for the fourth generation of consoles. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your point of view), Nintendo and Sony were unable to come to a final agreement, and the contract was cancelled.
Instead of allowing their work to go to waste, Sony ultimately decided to press forward and take a gamble on the future of video games. They bet that 3D graphics were going to be the future – and with the PS1’s release in late 1994, history proved them right. The PS1 controller – which featured a comfortable, flexible design – definitely helped.
The PS1 sold over 2 million units in Japan during its first six months and another 800,000 in the United States over its first four months there. While these sales weren’t quite as good as what the SNES was still achieving at the time, it did put the PS1 ahead of other consoles in its generation. The PS1 eventually went on to sell more than 100 million units.
One of the biggest factors in its success was Sony’s outreach to other developers. Nintendo and Sega – its main competitors at the time – had taken an isolationist approach where other developers were mostly left on their own. Sony decided to release programming libraries, organize support teams, and occasionally even give direct help with development.
All of this culminated in a series of influential, genre-defining hits like Gran Turismo (racing), Final Fantasy VII (role-playing), Tomb Raider (action-adventure), and Metal Gear Solid (stealth). Even today, many of the PS1’s most popular games are considered worth playing if you have access to them.
The PS1’s launch price was $299 in the United States and dropped to $199 in May 1996 to remain competitive with the Sega Saturn. Sales shot up in the US, but it took longer for the PS1 to achieve dominance in Japan.
The PS1 uses an LSI CoreWare CW33300-based Central Processing Unit. This unit allowed for over 30 million instructions per second, 132 megabytes of bandwidth through the bus each second, and a 4 kibibyte instruction cache for the CPU’s RAM. (Kibibytes should not be confused with the more well-known Kilobytes, although they are close to the same size.)
However, the real heart of the unit is the Geometry Transformation Engine. The fifth generation of consoles saw the main shift from 2D to 3D graphics, and this unit was an instrumental part of allowing the PS1 to display graphics that were outstanding for its time.
The GTE in the PS1 allows for 66 million instructions per second, as well as 90,000 polygons per-second with texture mapping, lighting, and Gouraud shading. This increases all the way to 360,000 polygons per second if only flat shading is needed.
The GTE is supported by a 32-bit Sony Graphics Processing Unit. This is the part of the console that actually draws the polygons, handles 2D graphics and sprites, and provides colors and textures for the pictures displayed on-screen.
The CD-ROM drive has a maximum storage capacity of 660 Megabytes, with a maximum data throughput of 300 kilobytes per second. Information is saved on removable flash cards with 128 kilobytes of memory.
Here are the best PS1 games, as ranked by sales and overall reception.
The best-selling PS1 game of all-time (with about 10.8 million sales) is Gran Turismo, an early racing game that received immense critical acclaim at the time of its release. The first entry in the series got a boost from being shipped with some PS1 consoles, but the direct sequel (Gran Turismo 2) is the third best-selling game and did not have sales support.
Between the two racing games is Final Fantasy VII, which sold about 9.8 million copies. This game (which recently had a remake green-lit by the developers) follows the tale of Cloud Strike, a mercenary who joins eco-terrorist organization AVALANCHE as they work to save the planet from mega-corporation Shinra.
The fourth most-popular game on the PS1 is Tekken 3, which showed the increasing popularity of the fighting game franchise as it evolved. The original Tekken isn’t even in the top 100, while Tekken 2 shot up to #12 on the list. It’s widely considered to be one of the greatest fighting games of all time – despite its age – and introduced many of the characters and gameplay modes that have since become staples of the franchise.
#5 on the list is the first to not receive significant critical acclaim. The PlayStation version of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (or Sorcerer’s Stone, in the United States) received mixed reviews at best, with many feeling that the franchise name was the main draw for many buyers. The game features a mixture of third-person action and puzzle elements, as well as a number of spells created specifically for the game.
#6 on the list is the original Tomb Raider, featuring the adventures of archaeologist Lara Croft as she seeks treasure, solves puzzles, and defeats a variety of creatures. Tomb Raider is widely considered to be one of the most influential titles in the 3D Action-Adventure genre, and most games since have drawn at least some inspiration from it. The sequel (Tomb Raider II) wasn’t quite as popular but still hits #11 on the list.
Speaking of sequels, #7 on the list of the best-selling PS1 games is Final Fantasy VIII. While there’s no direct story connection between FF7 and FF8, the popularity of the previous title was definitely a factor in helping FF8 reach 7 million copies sold. In this tale, Squall Leonhart and his mercenary friends are pulled into conflict with a powerful sorceress, only to realize things are worse than they could ever have imagined.
#8 on the list is Crash Bandicoot (followed by Crash Bandicoot: Warped at #13 and Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back at #14). This is an impressively stable set of sales and stands as a testament to the humor and challenge of this platforming series. The animation was considered particularly good for the time, and the bright colors made the levels more interesting to explore.
Coming in at #10 (since Tomb Raider II, discussed above, is #9) is the first Metal Gear Solid. Sold with the tagline “tactical espionage action”, the story follows Solid Snake as he tries to stop a nuclear terrorist threat from rogue special forces unit FOXHOUND. Like Tomb Raider, Metal Gear Solid is considered to be one of the biggest influences in its genre – in this case, however, it popularized stealth-based gameplay.
The PS1 in Modern Life
Many PS1 games are not available digitally – and of those that are, some are only available on the PS3 and the PS Vita, both of which are considered older units now. In addition, production of the PS1 stopped in 2006, so there’s a limited quantity available.
Most consoles for sale are used. In addition, you might want to look for the PS One (an updated, curvier version of the PS1). Used PS1s typically retail between $20 and $40 for a unit in good condition. New units are extremely tough to find and will cost you significantly more. The console may or may not come with a PS1 controller, a PS1 memory card, and other important peripherals – so be sure to check the listing before you buy.
That said, you may not need the console itself unless you want the original experience. All PlayStation 3 consoles are capable of playing PS1 discs, so if you plan to buy a PS3 anyway, there’s not much point in getting a PS1.
Games are generally easier to come by. Many people are selling large stacks of PS1 games at a low price – there’s little demand for them, so you can often get games for just a few dollars. That said, unopened versions of popular games (such as Final Fantasy VII) are significantly more expensive because of their value to collectors.
Some PS1 games are available on the PlayStation Store, especially on the PS3, PSP, and PS Vita. (The PS4, at the time this guide was written, had limited support for classic games – something many people hope will change.) While Sony isn’t selling all of the greatest hits, many of the more popular titles – including Final Fantasy, Disney, Spyro, and Tekken entries – are available digitally for $10 or less.
Altogether, there are more than 200 PS One classics available through the PlayStation Store, and this is the best way of enjoying many of these classic titles.