Wednesday 1 November 2017

Opening Up Your Saturn Library

Hey Saturn Fans! No sooner do we get the wise words and slightly dodgy anime of the Virtua Schlub over here at the Saturn Junkyard, but now we are blessed with the most wonderful epistle from another one of our Trans-Atlantic correspondents, this time in the shape of The Southern Sega Gentleman. Very soon, he'll be here at the 'Yard and able to pen his articles right here from Blog Central, but until then, I'm going to post it for him. So although my name appears at the bottom, this is not my work. To ensure no one thinks I'm trying to pass it off as my own, I'll use the 'guest font and colour'... So without any further ado, I'll leave you in the care of the southern Sega Gentleman...

So now that you’ve gotten your first Saturn, or maybe you’ve busted it out of the jail that is your closet, what’s next? Well, you could throw down a few bucks for a cheap title or two, maybe even splurge and drop $50 on a disc only copy of Resident Evil. More than likely though, you’ll come to find out, quite soon in fact, that the Saturn is not the friendliest console when it comes to the wife or the wallet. Don’t go giving up hope or trying to sell that baby yet though! In this article we aim to show you that there are many avenues to consider when you don the hat of SEGA Saturn owner.

First let’s go over the most basic solution, the Action Replay. While those of us in North America and Europe felt cut short by the sudden departure of our beloved Saturn, those in the Japanese market saw it live on until 2000. The Saturn was the greatest success SEGA would ever see in the Japanese market, in turn you can now purchase Japanese copies at significantly lower prices than their NTSC or PAL equivalents. Titles such as the aforementioned Resident Evil, Biohazard in Japan, can be found for $25 complete in box (CIB). So how does that have anything to do with an Action Replay you ask. Well, if you haven’t already realised, the Action Replay (AR) acts as a region bypass. Not only this, but it also allows for cheats to be enabled, much like the Game Genie, so common to us 90’s gamers. Summed up, this opens up your gaming horizon to numerous titles that would have otherwise been outside the range of your wallet, or were never released in your consoles regions. But hold on, what about all of those great RPG’s that never saw a release outside of Japan? Next up, the Pseudo Saturn!

So let’s assume you already have one a those Action Replays laying around. Say you wanted to play Policenauts, but never kept up with those pesky Japanese language classes back in high school. Well have no fear! Thanks to the growing Saturn community and some very tech savvy individuals, games that were once only a dream to us non-Japanese speakers, can now be played with beautiful English Subtitles! So how do you play them you ask? Simple my friend. Just take that AR laying around and swap the firmware over to the latest version of Pseudo Saturn. This can be done through the disc swap trick (Please don’t do that), or through a modded console. You can also buy pre-loaded AR carts for around $50 USD on Ebay. By doing this you will lose the AR’s ability to be used like a Game Genie, as well as your game save function, but in return you will be able to play back ups and fan translations directly through that beautiful Saturn. As Puedo Saturn has picked up steam and support over the last year, numerous firmware updates and improvements have been made, so keep an eye out for future updates as to broaden your gaming possibilities further.
Now one issue some may raise with both of the previous options is that of damage to the RAM/ROM expansion port. This concern has arisen as it has become common knowledge that some third party carts have pin sets larger than that of the original carts produced by SEGA. Plugging these carts in repeatedly can possible cause irreversible damage to the port, and in turn completely nullify both of the previous options. Most people are unlikely to insert and detach a cart multiple times a day, however there arises another issue with the reliance of using the RAM/ROM port to expand your gaming. Case in point, King of Fighters 95 and Ultraman: Hikari no Kyojin Densetsu. KOF 95 depends on the use of a special ROM cart to allow the game to be played. KOF 95 also is region exclusive to Japan (NTSC-J). Some YouTubers have shown were an AR can sometimes be used to bypass the region lock, however, this method relies on violently snatching the AR out and replacing with the KOF 95 ROM cart quite quickly. Remember how I talked earlier on damage to the expansion port (So that’s probably a no go). So is there a solution to this conundrum? Why yes there is.

Let’s talk about modding. First off, many gamers aren’t quite comfortable with soldering or even opening up their consoles to begin with. Well I have great news for all you good folk, YouTube and Google are your friends! There is a wealth of information on how to do everything from cleaning the guts of your beloved Saturn, to the basics of how to solder on a new chip. When you have become comfortable with these things, and you haven't just decide to pay someone else to do it, you’ll need to know what to put in your beloved Saturn.

The most basic, and most effective mod to perform, would be that of a disc security bypass. This allows the use of backups and fan translations, minus the Pseudo Saturn or God forbid the dreaded disc swap trick (which I will speak no further of). At the time of writing this article, the most common chip to perform this task was the Phantom Universal Mod-Chip. These can be found quite readily on the net for anywhere from $20 USD to $30 USD.  The Phantom works with all model 1 & 2 Saturns with 20 or 21 pin motherboard/disc drive combinations. As far as skill level with modding goes, this is pretty simple. All that is needed for install is soldering one 26 - 30 AWG (American Wire Gauge) Kynar wire between the disc drive’s 5V solder pad and the chip, bridging two solder points (depending on whether you have a JVC or Sanyo disc drive), and plugging in the respective ribbon cables. So this will alleviate you reliance on the Pseudo Saturn, next up is ditching that AR all together.

Now’s the time to bypass the pesky region lock out. To do this will take a fair degree more skill than our last endeavour. First we will need to ascertain which region free bios chip you will need. Without pulling apart your Saturn we can pretty easily narrow down which chip you’ll need. Model 2 owners, you’ll need a SMD bios chip. Model 1 owners, the earlier model 1’s will likely be DIP chips and the later model 1’s will most likely be SMD like that of the Model 2’s. Model one owners will have the hardest time installing these chips as SEGA liked to put them on the bottom of the boards and attach them using a pretty hefty epoxy. Why glue? So they could solder all the chips in one pass by wave soldering the boards (cost saving measures for the win!). With that knowledge under your belt, your last decision will be what BIOS you want for your boot up screen. Most chip providers offer everything for the NTSC/PAL boot up to the boot up of the Hitachi Hi-Saturn. Also, the going rate for a BIOS-Mod chip is pretty steady at around $6-$10 USD. As for the install, it is not for the faint of heart. First you’ll need to remove the existing bios chip, this can be quite the feet of brute strength depending the amount of epoxy under your chip. Next you’ll need to solder on the new chip, minus leg 1, 2, 43, and 44. Follow that by connecting the ground via a 26 - 30 AWG wire. The ground will bridge leg 2 and 13. Then you will bridge leg 43 and 44 to leg 23 for you power. Finally, remember that leg 1 is not used at all. So just leave it alone or clip it off, your choice.  After all of that is said and done, playing KOF 95 with its needed ROM cart will be a breeze on that NTSC or PAL Saturn!

So are there any more options for our favorite console? Why yes there is, how about we replace that optical drive altogether. No more worrying about scratches to your precious disc, no more worry of that dreaded “disc rot”, and no more screeching disc drive trying to load up a disc sector. Ladies and Gentleman, I present to you the complete Optical Drive Replacement. Named after the two moons of Saturn, the Phoebe and Rhea were born from the same minds that brought us the GD-EMU, these two devices completely do away with the need of optical media. They both store game files in a compact SD card, and allow for all the same utilities as the aforementioned options. Both units go for a hefty 130 Euro’s, and both can have quite a long waiting list behind them. If you’re up to both challenges, then let’s get to the technical side of things. 20 pin Saturn’s will need to have the Rhea installed, while 21 pin Saturn’s will need the Phoebe installed. You can easily determine which unit you have by opening up your Saturn and counting the individual wires on the ribbon cable connecting your motherboard to your optical drive. A complete installation guide for both can be found on the creator's site at

As you can see, there are a myriad of options for us Saturn owners to expand our gaming libraries and our gaming experiences. As well, there are countless guides and walkthroughs on how to install all of these options. Even if you don’t want to dig (which shouldn’t be that hard if you found this article), then you can always give one of us here at the Junkyard a holler, a few of us do this modding thing on the regular. The ol Saturn still has some tricks up her sleeves and she isn’t out of the race yet. From all of us here at The Saturn Junkyard, happy gaming, and may Saturn Shiro always be by your side!

This is the Southern Sega Gentleman signing off.


Blondejon said...

Fantastic article and depite the fact that he forcced me to get up at 7.30am to proof read it I hold no grudges.

The Southern Sega Gentleman said...

I just inquired my friend,it was 2:30am my time by the way. Truly appreciate the helpful eyes though!

fatherkrishna said...

Absolutely excellent sir! Thank you for such a well written and insightful piece!