PlayStation 3 retrospective – The Good, the Bad, and its continuing mission

by Ron Duwell | March 17, 2017

Ten years is the standard that Sony is looking for with each console it makes, and that is exactly what it has achieved with the PlayStation 3. Sony has announced that it will cease production in Japan over a full decade after the console’s launch, and seeing that the PlayStation 3 achieved Sony’s ultimate goal, now would be a good time to look back on the console.

We’ll take a quick look at what the console did right, what the console did wrong, and why it is still hooked up to the same television set that my PlayStation 4 is locked into.

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THE GOOD!

Free online gaming

It seems like a distant memory now, but in an age where even Nintendo is charging you to game online, we long for the days of being able to sign into absolutely any game and play with our friends for free. The previous console generation is where online gaming really started to take off, and this was key in Sony’s ace in the hole over Microsoft. You had to pay for Xbox Live, you didn’t have to pay for PlayStation Network.

I mean, you even had to pay online to play Phantasy Star Online and World of Warcraft at the time! But nope, Sony kept its basic online services absolutely free throughout the course of this console’s lifetime.

Mic drop!

Instant Game Collection and Sales

Eventually, Sony was forced to start charging some people for online services since it started to leak money. That’s how PlayStation Plus came into being, and while it is a requirement now, there once was a time when gamers had the option to pay for Sony’s online network.

Why would any sane gamer want to do that? Well, if you pay for PlayStation Plus, you get free stuff! The PlayStation 3 is where Instant Game Collection came around, soundly adding to our backlog every month and making us feel the weight of modern gaming on our shoulders.

I would say this is more important, but Sony also ripped the idea of weekly sales straight from Steam at a time when Valve was raking in huge dollars from heavy price cuts. The PlayStation Store through PlayStation 3 made sales a staple of console gaming, a fixture that remains intact today.

Excellent exclusives, artsy fartsy indies

While it was the Xbox 360 that actually got the indie ball rolling through the Xbox Live Arcade and even the artsy fartsy movement going with Braid, Sony’s indie initiative picked up and ran with the concept in ways that Microsoft didn’t. The result was PlayStation becoming the preferred console platform for indie developers, which kind of carries over into our current console generation.

No game better fits this section than thatgamecompany’s Journey, a game which rocked critics and gamers alike when it launched in 2012. That was followed by The Unfinished Swan the next year, and then it became obvious what Sony was aiming for.

Both consoles can claim supremacy when it comes to exclusives, too. For every Gears of War there was a Resistance, and for every Halo there was an Uncharted. Even the fabulous Crackdown found an answer in Sony’s inFamous. In the closing years of the generation, I give the PlayStation 3 the edge thanks to The Last of Us, sticking to its guns even after the hype for the succeeding console had gotten underway.

Filling that Japanese niche

This was instrumental in helping the PlayStation 3 regain lost ground after a terrible first year. In 2008, a string of excellent games made their way to the console that helped attract gamers who loved the PlayStation 2’s helping of terrific Japanese games. It’s no secret that Microsoft didn’t thrive on its exclusivity deals and that Japanese developers were drying up at the time.

In response, PlayStation 3 threw Metal Gear Solid IV into our faces but, more importantly, cranked out the revolutionary sleeper hits Demon’s Souls and Valkyria Chronicles to prove that Japanese developers indeed had what it took to keep up with the booming Western AAA market. These games towered over Microsft’s early Japanese attempts with Blue Dragon and Lost Odyssey.

From there, both the Xbox 360 and PlayStation shared hits like Final Fantasy XIII, Dark Souls, and Catherine, and Japanese games started to find their footing again.

Delivering Blu-ray to us at a reasonable price

In the spirit of the PlayStation 2 and how it effectively got DVDs into our houses at a relatively cheap cost, the PlayStation 3 provided a nice alternative to a standard Blu-ray player at the time, which was still astronomical in price.

The PlayStation 3 was by no means cheap, but with the ability to act as both a Blu-ray player and a game console, it provided an alternative path to making Blu-ray the preferred format of its format war with HD-DVD.

THE BAD!

Year 1

To say that the PlayStation 3 got off on the wrong foot would be the understatement to end all understatements. Whether Sony succumbed to a big headed attitude thanks to the unprecedented success of the PlayStation 2 or just assumed that anything with a PlayStation name would be untouchable, gamers were not impressed with what they saw at first. The PlayStation 3 stumbled out of the gate miraculously, and it was already behind the Xbox 360, which had a huge head start and plenty of quality games to its name at the time.

Never will you find this better represented than in Sony’s epic E3 2006 press conference. You wouldn’t be wrong in thinking that this is where the idea of an Internet meme actually became a viable phenomenon because there wasn’t a second of this show that still isn’t mocked to this very day. “Riiiiiidge Racerrrr!” “Giant Enemy Crab” in “battles which actually took place in ancient Japan!”

“Attack its weak point for massive damage!”

And to cap it all off with “$599 US DOLLARS!” Nope, said gamers, and responded by giving Microsoft new footing in the console industry.

Luckily, Sony was able to change its messaging, and the aforementioned Japanese sleeper hits and indie games gave it a unique edge and a much-needed surge of success. I don’t think I would have it any other way, because this would never have existed otherwise.

Slowly killing backwards compatibility

The PlayStation 3’s ultimate sin is not only doing away with the backwards compatibility, but doing so in a very slow and deliberate fashion. One reason the PlayStation 2 proved to be such a success was that people were able to take their entire PSOne collections with them! While the library built up, you could still play exciting new games like Final Fantasy IX and Chrono Cross on the PlayStation 2 in that first year of availability.

The PlayStation 3 was no different, letting people play both PSOne and PS2 games while the console scrounged up a few heavy hitters. The difference though is that one enough critically successful games had come out, Sony scrapped PlayStation 2 backwards compatibility from the console. This was done to save costs on future models since it was assumed that there would be no need for PlayStation 2 games in the future.

Many cried “Foul!,” and the original PlayStation 3 models skyrocketed in value on the secondhand market.

This isn’t the end of the story, believe it or not. Sony eventually started charging money for digital copies of PlayStation 2 games through the PlayStation Store, games that could be played for free on the original PlayStation 3 model, and suddenly, backwards compatibility became a thing that you had to pay for one game at a time rather than something that just came with the PlayStation brand.

Ultimately, Sony did away with backwards compatibility, turning to remasters and further digital purchases on the PlayStation 4. It was Microsoft who stepped up its game in this area, and the roles suddenly reversed with Microsoft somehow becoming a champion of retro gaming and gaming preservation. Nintendo did it, too, on the Wii and Wii U. That’s stopped with the Switch.

HD isn’t for everyone

The sheer amount of resources it takes to make an HD game fit onto a Blu-ray disc is a cost that a lot of mid-level developers and studios were able to pay. In that awkward phase between realizing this cost and the emerging of cheap digital distribution, many respected Japanese and Western studios sadly closed their doors since they were unable to keep up with the rapidly changing gaming industry.

I would also argue that plenty of PlayStation franchises themselves were actually hurt by the emergence of HD graphics. My opinion on this definitely differs from others, but Ratchet & Clank lost me when it made the jump to HD. Many forget this, but the original games were praised for being technical masterpieces for dragging as much out of the PlayStation 2 hardware as was possible. They were fun, but they were also unprecedented.

On the PlayStation 3, meh… Ratchet & Clank Future didn’t do all that much to stand out, and the series stagnated and ultimately fell off the map.

The same goes for God of War, Devil May Cry, and other franchises which failed to find a way to establish how HD could be used to improve the game’s core itself rather than just the appearance.

PlayStation Move

Sony thought that aping on the Wii’s motion controls would somehow do the console any good. Nope! VR might change a few things, but motion controls are the last thing I think of when I look at PlayStation’s controller.

ITS CONTINUING MISSION!

It’s a solid retro gaming console

Despite rattling on about how Sony killed off backwards compatibility, the PlayStation 3 is still the best retro console for diving into the PlayStation brand name’s past. All PSOne games are playable through any model, and many of them are cheaper than ever thanks to the ease of the PlayStation Store. I still use my PlayStation 3 to jump through hits that might never appear on the PlayStation 4, which has minuscule support for retro games.

As for PlayStation 2 games, well… you can still play your original discs on the 60GB model if you cough up the money and find one that still somehow works. Outside of that, the selection is limited on the PlayStation Store, but it covers enough of the console’s library to make it mentionable.

For me, it’s the only way I can currently enjoy SaGa Frontier, Brave Fencer Musashi, Star Ocean 2, and many of my beloved JRPGs from the era that were never given a digital option. This is the reason it still has a place on my shelf.


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Ron Duwell

Ron has been living it up in Japan for the last decade, and he has no intention of leaving this technical wonderland any time soon. When he's not...Ron has been living it up in Japan for the last decade, and he has no intention of leaving this technical wonderland any time soon. When he's not...