The year 1997 was a huge one for videogames. The PlayStation was hitting on all cylinders, the Nintendo 64 was just getting into the mix, and PC gaming was in a bit of a renaissance with gritty tales like Fallout and ultra-violent games like Grand Theft Auto signaling the future to come.
It was tough to narrow the videogames of 1997 to just ten top games, but these are the best the year had to offer. You’ll probably recognize most of these games as they are now considered classics and, if you don’t, this might be your change to acquaint yourself with some of the best the 1990s produced.
10. Age of Empires
Microsoft’s strategy game Age of Empires came out of nowhere to become one of the most beloved real-time strategy games ever made. A strategy game in the vein of Starcraft less than Civilization, Age of Empires tasked players with building base facilities and churning out troops over a range of different historical eras and using a variety of civilizations, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. Age of Empires spawned a competitive scene and showed how the PC could just do some things that a home console never could – namely, anything that involved a mouse and multiple, complex menus. The game holds up to this day and is easily one of the RTS games ever made.
9. Quake II
Following DOOM, Quake was sort of a strange game. It was well received upon release but there was something a little different about it. Quake II eschewed all the trappings of the single-player DOOM experience and emphasized multiplayer gaming, much to its benefit. This game became the standard for PC graphics and even led to the downfall of the Cyrex chip manufacturer. Being able to handle Quake II was a mark of pride for a PC rig, and being able to play Quake II well was every first-person shooting fan’s goal. Quake II elevated what DOOM introduced and helped spawn things like Unreal Tournament and games like Overwatch today.
8. Gran Turismo
Sony’s flagship racing series got its glorious start in 1997 with its release on the original PlayStation. Featuring graphics never before seen in a racing game and realism that went beyond what could be expected, Gran Turismo delighted fans and created a namebrand series that continues to this day. The game’s emphasis on realism and simulation have landed it a center place in racing game fanatics’ hearts, and the original is an interesting piece of software today. Though the graphics are not nearly as impressive as they were, everything is quite a feat considering the hardware on which it was made to run. A classic, though not necessarily something you should play today, Gran Turismo for the PSX elevated the racing genre to the hyper realistic mode we see today.
7. Final Fantasy Tactics
Considered by some fans to be the greatest strategy RPG ever made, and by other fans to be the greatest Final Fantasy game ever created, Final Fantasy Tactics is a gem of a game that is timeless and essential. The gameplay is spot on and challenging almost to the point of maddening. But it’s all in good fun, and with an awesome story to top it all. The graphics, music, and presentation are high-quality work even by today’s standards but where this game truly shines is in its deep gameplay. With systems upon systems upon systems to learn, gamers can spend hundreds of hours trying to master this title, and it encourages it. Easily one of the most replayable RPGs ever made, Final Fantasy Tactics is one of those rare games that happens once every few decades.
6. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
Spawing the eponymous Metroidvania genre of action adventure games we have all come to know and love, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night’s release in 1997 was nothing people were clamoring for but once it arrived it was all anyone could talk about for weeks. Castlevania was a stalwart in the gaming industry and a veteran series by the time the PSX rolled around. No one was expecting this tried-and-true formula to shake things up so much, but boy did they ever. Featuring some of the most gorgeous graphics, music, and sound to grace the PlayStation, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is your SNES Castlevania 4 experience times ten. Tons of content, tons of stuff to unlock – just absolute mountains of Castlevania gaming goodness in this title. Gamers play as Alucard, a change from the whip-wielding Belmont clan, but can unlock a variety of secrets that truly change the game’s dynamic. Another game on this list that easily holds up today, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is a masterpiece of gaming design and execution.
5. Grand Theft Auto
If you’ve ever wondered where the infamous Grand Theft Auto series got its start well it was in 1997. Extremely violent and totally awesome upon its debut, Grand Theft Auto inspired the usual cries of “but what about the children?” when it was launched. The series has never shied away from controversy since, nor has it lessened in quality. Grand Theft Auto’s somewhat humble PC beginnings do not match its present as a gaming powerhouse but the basic elements are all here in the first installment. No one knew then what a series this would become but everyone was definitely aware of how special the original game was. If you’re looking to experience something similar, indie game Retro City Rampage was inspired by the original Grand Theft Auto’s gameplay design.
Before it became a pseudo-first-person shooter slash Elder Scrolls with guns game, Fallout was a gritty, dark RPG for PCs that embraced everything 1990s and everything 1990s PC gaming. Looking for dark graphics? Check. Looking for a gritty, hard storyline? Check. Looking for violence, humor, sex, and oblique political commentary? It’s all here, in one game. The original Fallout games were narrative experiences with an RPG overlaid on top of it. The range of options given to the player in how they played the game was astounding for the time and encouraged a variety of play styles, each of which could lead to entirely different gaming experiences. Fans of Fallout now do owe it to themselves to play the originals if they have not done so. Many fans of Fallout and Fallout 2 point to New Vegas as a spiritual successor in terms of narrative outlay and style but there’s nothing better than the originals.
3. Mario Kart 64
One of the best multiplayer games for the Nintendo 64, Mario Kart 64 brought the popular karting title to Nintendo’s latest system and kept everything that made the SNES game a classic while adding just enough to keep the formula fresh. This game did everything right, from the tracks to the characters to the modes. Nothing felt extraneous, and everything was essential – just as a game should be. Now some of the Mario Kart games suffer a bit from bloat, but not from lack of quality. Mario Kart 64 is a stripped down essentials and a must-play for fans of the series. It holds up well even to this day and it’s not hard to see why so many people hold it in their top 10 games of all time.
2. Ultima Online
Before MMORPGs, or heck even MMO anything, was a big deal, there was Ultima Online. While we all enjoy online gaming in some form or another today, it was a rarity way back when. Ultima Online was a pioneering force in games and this game helped establish many of the conventions that Everquest and later World of Warcraft would adopt. Hard to imagine that one of gaming’s biggest genres began in 1997 but it did with Ultima Online.
1. Final Fantasy VII
This game changed the home videogame console industry and brought down a dynasty while birthing a new one. When Final Fantasy VII was first announced for Sony’s PlayStation, the videogame world was in shock. The series had made its name on Nintendo hardware, and now it was abandoning Nintendo for the Big N’s upstart rival. This move would be huge. While the PlayStation’s momentum was already strong, this catapulted it into the stratosphere. Featuring 3D models that could not be done on the Nintendo 64 with cinematics and pre-rendered backgrounds as well, Final Fantasy VII helped usher in the “cinematic” era of gaming that titles like Metal Gear Solid became known for and helped perfect. An absolutely amazing game from top down, Final Fantasy VII is critical to the history of videogames because of its perceived role in ending Nintendo’s almost two decades of dominance in the home console market. What makes this even more interesting is that Nintendo’s rival PlayStation grew out of a proposed joint venture between Nintendo and Sony that Nintendo backed out of at the last minute and in a very public manner. Sony’s embarrassment soon became Nintendo’s comeuppance as Final Fantasy VII not only came out for the PlayStation only but was a sensation in North America unlike any other JRPG released before it.