I hear all the time how the Sega Dreamcast (Rest in Peace) is the most underrated console of all time. How it did everything right, had the best launch lineup in history and still got no love from mainstream gamers. But I recently bought a Saturn and started playing through it's vast library and I now firmly believe the Sega Saturn overwhelmingly deserves that title.
Unlike the Dreamcast, the Saturn never got much love at launch and still doesn't to this day. Very few people ever owned one and fewer still have played through it's amazing library. At the time, it was a 2D powerhouse in an industry that was more interested in 3D gaming and it quickly fell deep into last place against the much more exciting Nintendo 64 (64 bits!) and the absolute cultural phenomenon that was the Sony PlayStation.
I was 10 years old at the time of it's launch (May 1995) and I was a hardcore Sega kid. The Genesis did what Nintendidn't and I was loving the attitude of Sonic the Hedgehog, the cool tunes of Streets of Rage and the bloody version of Mortal Kombat. I was positively ecstatic about the Saturn. But the $400 launch price ($620 in today's money) and weak launch lineup dumped a bucket of water over the head of my hype. Nintendo likewise killed a lot of my interest with the epic disaster that was the Virtual Boy and the delaying of the Ultra 64 into late 1996. And Sony? Who would buy a console from Sony? Did a company that made Walkmans even know how to make games? Such was the mind of children in 1995...
After talking about it with my friends and family I just decided to wait. Too many unknowns. Better to see how things shake out. By the time the Nintendo 64 finally launched, I had made my decision. I would fly the flag of the Big N. Super Mario 64 is a hell of a negotiator after all. But I soon came to regret that decision as the PlayStation deluge of awesome titles soon had me trading in that N64 for the cinematic awesomeness of Final fantasy VII and Metal Gear Solid. And so I went through that whole generation without playing or seeing much of the obscure Sega Saturn. My strongest memories of the black boxed console was playing Nights into Dreams and Panzer Dragoon at a demo kiosk in Software Etc. Both are excellent titles but hardly killer apps.
It was largely external forces that killed the Saturn. Retailers refused to stock it due to it's early and unexpected launch, the terrible 32X add-on for the Genesis poisoned the well for a lot of fans (the Sega CD was amazing but that is another blog post) and most of the Saturn's best games were left in Japan. But it deserved better than that.
I believe a console is ultimately judged by it's software. And the Saturn had most of the best games of that generation. Many of the games that we associate with the PS1 here in the USA like Grandia, Dead or Alive and the Lunar games are actually ports and generally play better on the Saturn. Allow me to take you on a tour of the highlights of the Saturn library...
Capcom and SNK clearly preferred the Saturn (and continued to support Sega during the Dreamcast era) and it showed in the multitude of Street Fighter, Samurai Shodown, Fatal Fury and Metal Slug games that were exclusive. Many of these games were also ported to the PS1 but the Saturn versions are FAR superior. Especially, X-Men Vs Street Fighter, Marvel Superheroes Vs Street Fighter and Street Fighter Zero 3. There were also several exclusives like Night Warriors and Dark Legend.
When it comes to 3D fighters of this era most people think of PlayStation hits like Tekken, Soul Blade and Bloody Roar. And those are excellent games but the Saturn was far better than the N64 in this regard. Games like Anarchy in the Nippon, Savaki, Zero Divide The Final Conflict, Last Bronx, Virtual On: Cyber Troopers, Fighting Vipers and the venerable Virtua Fighter series are some of the best of the era. But one game that needs to be talked about more often is Fighters Megamix. It combined both Fighting Vipers and Virtua Fighter into one epic package. You can even fight as a car from Daytona USA and punch people with your wheels! This game is so amazing that it boggles my mind that it never got a sequel.
The most complete version of Hideo Kojima's epic adventure Policenauts is only available for the Saturn and it is a crime that this game is still (as of August 2015) unavailable outside of Japan and fan translations. And don't get me started on the criminal obscurity of Snatcher. After the firing of Kojima, I believe there is a special place in hell for Konami... Moving on.
RPGs are my favorite genre and I admit that the strength of a consoles RPGs have great influence over my opinion. Having said that, there is no denying that the Saturn runs rings (pun intended) around the N64 and even rivals the PS1 in RPG goodness. I mean how many good N64 RPGs can you name? Ogre Battle 64? Paper Mario? If you leave off the Zelda games (Action RPGs), there isn't much... Now look at the Saturn:
Panzer Dragoon Saga (arguably better than FFVII)
Dragon force II
Lunar Silver Star Story
Lunar 2 Eternal Blue
Albert Odyssey : Legend of Eldean
Magic School Lunar
Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers
Shining the Holy Ark
Shining Force 3 (Scenario 1, 2 and 3) Yes, its a whole trilogy of Strategy RPGs where you can carry your save game over
Magic Knight Rayearth
Langrisser Dramatic Edition (compilation of Langrisser 1&2)
Langrisser 5 Pretty much the entire Langrisser SRPG series
Mystaria: The Realms of Lore (AKA Blazing Heroes AKA Riglord Saga)
And then there are action RPGs like Princess Crown, Legend of Oasis and Guardian Heroes. If it weren't for Final Fantasy, I believe that the Saturn would be the undisputed RPG king of the 5th Generation.
The greatest failure of the Saturn in many gamer's eyes is that there never was a great Saturn Sonic the Hedghog game but while that is true, the Saturn is very hard to top when it comes to action/adventure games and platformers. Take a look at this lineup:
Nights into Dreams (Far better than most PS1 platformers)
Burning Rangers (love this game so much!)
Mr. Bones (So underrated!)
Clockwork Knight 2
Sonic Jam (Sonic 1/2/3/Knuckles and yes they look better then the original versions, also Sonic World)
Die Hard Arcade
Three Dirty Dwarves
Tomb Raider (developed as a Saturn exclusive)
Oh, what's that? You like Shooters?! Well arm your missiles and power up your shields and prepare to be amazed cause the Saturn was the undisputed king of shooters and shootemups.
Radiant Silvergun (THE best shmup of all time. I don't even.)
Panzer Dragoon Zwei (easily the best on-rails shooter of the era. Star Fox 64 can suck it)
Darius Gaiden (still playing this one all the time)
RayForce (AKA Layer Section AKA Galactic Attack)
If you like light gun shooters then Virtua Cop 1&2 and House of the Dead will compete with Time Crisis any day of the week. Thanks to GoldenEye 007 and Medal of Honor, First Person Shooters became more popular than the other forms of shooters but as FPS games go, Saturn exclusives like Gungriffon 1&2 were better than most and PC ports like Quake and Duke Nukem 3D were better on Saturn.
Survival Horror fans got the best version of Resident Evil on the Saturn but that wasn't all. Kenji Eno's famous "Enemy Zero" and "D" became cult hits that still get name dropped a lot today and the Saturn exclusive "Deep Fear" is arguably the best survival horror game of that entire generation.
But now we come to the sad end of this tale. Most Saturn exclusives are still to this day ONLY on the Saturn. Many have never been re-released on any other platform and maybe never will and that has a lot to do with the Saturn's bizarre hardware. Even emulation is incredibly difficult and perfect Saturn emulation is probably never going to happen. And so I thought I'd make this blog post to let whomever reads this know that there is still at least one gamer out there that has experienced the hidden brilliance of the Sega Saturn.
The PlayStation had an amazing rival in the Saturn and in my personal opinion the N64 deserved to be in last place. The N64's clumsy and fragile controller combined with it's high costing/low data cartridges and very small game library (especially RPGs) make it the inferior console of it's generation and yet the N64 sold 23 million more units than the Saturn. I mostly attribute this to the great reception of the SNES. Most gamers could be forgiven for thinking that after FFVI, Secret of Mana and Chrono Trigger, Nintendo 64 would be the home of RPGs in the 5th Gen. How were we supposed to know Square and Enix would jump ship?
What really bugs me though is that unlike the Dreamcast, the Saturn has not been talked about with loving reverence and remembered with rosy fondness. Despite selling relatively the same as the Dreamcast, the Saturn was on the market twice as long as the Dreamcast was and it's game sales were higher. The Saturn is long overdue another look by gamers and hopefully this blog post is good step towards that.
For those few of you out there that did own a Saturn, what are your favorite Saturn games? I know I skipped over quite a few gems in this post. Lemme know in the comments about others I should check out. Thanks for reading!