The Nintendo 64 is a video game console that is seen as a lot of things. With the benefit of hindsight, it is easy to look back and see the console as the moment where Nintendo started to lose its grip on the video game industry that it once dominated.
With the Nintendo Entertainment System and its successor the Super Nintendo, the company essentially annihilated all competition. Though the Sega Genesis certainly put up a fight, it couldn't compete with the wide variety of first and third party games that Nintendo made available to consumers.
With the Nintendo 64, things were different. The console didn't just have great first party games - it had some of the best first party games of all time that still remain classics to this day. For those who may be unfamiliar with video game terminology, "first party" refers to games that are made by the same company who makes the system the games are played on. Classic titles for the Nintendo 64 include "Super Mario 64," "Mario Kart 64," "Mario Party" and the undisputed classic "The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time." The issue was that because of Nintendo's curious decision to use cartridges as a storage medium, third party developers left the system in droves for rival Sony and their recently released PlayStation. The PlayStation used compact discs as a storage medium and was much easier to program for.
The Nintendo 64 wasn't just missing third party games, but it was primarily missing them from one genre that would go on to prove incredibly important: role playing games. The Super Nintendo had established a long history of quality RPGs that included the first few "Final Fantasy" games, the classic "Chrono Trigger" and even hybrid RPGs like "Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars", and "Earthbound". The genre was always fairly popular with hardcore gamers, but one title in particular caused it to explode during the mid 1990s. "Final Fantasy VII" was released for the Sony PlayStation in 1997 and causes the role playing game genre to explode in popularity. Suddenly games that originated in Japan that didn't have any hope of being released in North America were becoming incredibly popular in the United States. But when gamers tried to find their RPG fix, they soon found on that the Nintendo 64 had very few titles that qualified. It certainly didn't have any titles that matched the massive popularity and incredibly high quality of Square's "Final Fantasy VII."
The Sony PlayStation, on the other hand, was filled with RPGs of varying qualities. Because compact discs held a dramatically larger amount of information than cartridges, the games themselves could be much longer and more detailed. One of the primary reasons why the genre became so popular was because the stories that were being told were so intricate and detailed. The games themselves also took dozens of hours to complete, which made them seem like an incredible value of the games from the previous generation. Even a game as expansive as "Super Mario Bros. 3" for the Nintendo NES; could be beaten in only a few hours. "Final Fantasy VII," on the other hand, took anywhere from 30 to 60 hours to complete - IF you didn't stop to do any of the dozens of side quests or play any of the mini games that were included.
Because of the physical and storage limitations of cartridges, Nintendo essentially had to secede the role-playing game genre to Sony for an entire generation. Even the best first party games in the world couldn't match the number of high quality third party titles and especially RPGs that Sony was offering to gamers. The rest, as they say, is history.