Friday 22 November 2019

WELCOME TO YOUR PARTY, SATURN!!! YOU'RE SO OLD NOW (The SJY Community's Top 100 Favorite Saturn Games List)

So it’s been 25 years, huh? A quarter century? Well, shit.

This is one hell of a milestone. To be honest, we weren’t really sure how to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Sega Saturn’s Japanese launch so we figured we’d ask for the community’s help. We started by putting together a survey to capture the community’s all-time favorite Saturn games. About 150 of you responded (thanks, everyone!). And after that, we tallied up your responses to build the community’s all-time top 100 favorite Saturn games list, which we’ll feature at some point in this piece. Probably towards the end.

But we didn’t just want to throw together the list and leave it at that. We also asked some of our friends from around the community to contribute a few words to share their love and enthusiasm for some of the Sega Saturn games which mean the most to them. Before we jump into it, I’d like to thank our wonderful contributors, including Retro Faith, the Dreamcast Junkyard’s Mike Phelan, Kev Mason, and Lewis Cox, Saturn Junkyard alumni Lady Morgan, resident Clockwork Knight guru Peter O’Hanlon, Patrick Traynor and Peter Malek of Sega Saturn Shiro! and the Saturn Junkyard’s own Camron Graziano, Gaz Cormack, and Jeff Bradford. I’d also like to give a huge thanks to the one and only Simon Early – a.k.a. Father Krishna – the deeply passionate and generous bloke who got us into this whole mess in the first place.

Thanks for helping us celebrate – now let’s party!

- Brian
In Shenmue's timeline, the Sega Saturn would be at least 33 years old.
Keio Flying Squadron 2 | SEGA | Victor Entertainment | 1996 (JP & EU) | Unranked (Out of top 100)

Sega Mega-CD owners may very well be familiar with the Victor-developed Keio Flying Squadron. These days, it seems to be more known for its ridiculous second-hand asking price, but those in the know will sing praises for its wacky anime-centric shoot-em-up gameplay. Its 1996 Saturn sequel, on the other hand, seems to have fallen by the wayside, perhaps due to it never reaching a full international release (it was never released in North America, only Europe and Japan). It also switched out the original’s beloved shoot-em-up gameplay (mostly) for side-scrolling platformer levels. But what the game changes about its gameplay, it doesn’t lose in presentation, fully taking advantage of the Saturn’s ability to create amazing 2D environments – and in Keio 2’s case, ones that feature many references to both ancient and modern Japanese culture.

Players take control of bunny-eared protagonist, Rami, jumping on the heads of enemies or whacking them with one of the game’s few weapons. The gameplay, in all honesty, is pretty generic, not being that far removed from any other standard platforming fare, but what Keio Flying Squadron 2 lacks in original gameplay, it makes up for in imagination. Every single second of Keio 2 is filled with excitement and insanity, featuring unique and highly varied levels, from underground racoon mines to deadly theme park attractions (featuring a ridable roller coaster), and Ninja castles. The plot just seems to take Rami all over the place, and the boss fights are complete madness. The high level of imagination put into Keio Flying Squadron is undisputable, and in a way, features the same kind of balls to the wall, anything goes creativity that we often rely on modern indie studios to provide. I’m a big fan of games that take me by surprise, and Keio Flying Squadron 2 is a wonderful and well-executed example. Its gameplay might not blow you away, but damn, what a hilariously trippy experience from start to finish.

Clockwork Knight | SEGA | 1994 (JP); 1995 (US & EU) | Ranked 75th

Clockwork Knight has always been a very special game to me. I always had a thing for platformers, but something always just felt a bit different from the others with the fact the main character was an old, classic style toy and that he used his key to attack. My first experience of the series was actually a Japanese copy of Clockwork Knight 2, and we played it on our PAL Model 2 Saturn via a "CD+Plus" cart plugged into the top of the console. I don't know what it was at first that made it so special, but I suspect that it had to do with my age at the time. I think I was around 6 years old, and I still loved the whole legend of Toys coming to life while you slept... it all seemed a bit magical to me, and seeing this game just added a little bit more magic to my childhood.

Another thing I always loved about the series was the music. The mix of different styles always stood out to me and was a big difference between what the Mega Drive and what the Saturn can do. A huge memory of mine is the end credits scene where the perfume bottle "Soltia" sings the classic song "A Lullaby". It was always just something really interesting for its time I felt, and me and my father both really loved it, so we've always had a bonded memory and love over the series. As a small footnote, "A Lullaby" was actually written before Clockwork Knight by the composer "Hirofumi Murasaki" for his daughter who had recently been born.

I was lucky enough to meet Hirofumi Murasaki over Facebook in 2012, becoming good friends with him, and in 2015, I actually met up with him for drinks in Tokyo, where he signed by Clockwork Knight soundtrack. Every year I'm discovering more hidden secrets about the series, even to this year where we found out that an illustration contest took place and the winners’ drawings were shown in the credits of the second game’s Japanese version. I don't think I'll ever stop loving it, and I think all Saturn players should give the game a fair shot...but play 1 and 2 if you do!

- Peter O’Hanlon (Tongara)

Winter Heat | SEGA | AM3 | 1997 (JP); 1998 (US & EU) | Ranked 69th

The Winter Olympics has always been that slightly weirder younger brother of its summer counterpart, and the same can be said of its place in video games, with the snow and ice always playing second fiddle to another joystick waggling track and field clone. But with Winter Heat, SEGA not only delivered an awesome arcade sports title that bettered its sunnier compatriots, it delivered what is still the best video game Winter sports compilation ever.

Sure, there’s a bit of button mashing in the speed skiing, but the sheer variety on offer - from the angular 3d alpine and sliding events to timing and reaction based high flying events - and the sense that the game offers depth rather than instant gratification, marks it out more like a precursor to the DC’s Sports Jam than a sequel to Athlete Kings. Still popular now thanks to its excellent record keeping and multiplayer joy, there’s not many niche genres that can still hold a Saturn title up as best in class like Winter Heat.

- Mike Phelan, The Dreamcast Junkyard

Shinrei Jusatsushi Taromaru | Time Warner Interactive | 1997 (JP) | Ranked 63rd

Shinrei Jusatsushi Taromaru (Psychic Assassin/Killer Taromaru) came out on January 17th, 1997 in Japan. For a while, it was slated for a US release (according to some game magazines at the time), but since the release of Taromaru coincided with the end of Time Warner Interactive, the game never traveled west and, in fact, had an extremely limited print run (5,000-7,500 copies; some have said 60,000 but given its rarity, I find that unlikely). Before hipsters ran the prices of Saturn games into the stratosphere, it was extremely difficult to track down a copy of Taromaru to buy (back when it cost $75+).

Taromaru is a side scrolling action game in the similar vein as Treasure's masterpieces of the time. In fact, Treasure legend Hiroshi Iuchi even drew a comic for the game that can be found in the game's manual (and did some work on the backgrounds). One aspect of the game that tends to throw new players off is that it relies on a lock-on system; that is, to attack enemies, the player has to wait for targets to lock on to them, at which point Taromaru (short range, but whose charge shot can hit multiple enemies at once) or Enkai (long range; charge shot hurts a lot) can rapidly shoot lightning bolts at them.

In so far as the comparison to Treasure, this really comes from a wealth of masterfully designed boss fights, both in terms of art and gameplay. Taromaru also features a killer soundtrack.

These days, Taromaru fetches obnoxious prices but it is most definitely worth playing for Saturn fans and is an absolute treat of a game to master across two playable characters and multiple difficulties. (I like call to this masterpiece the “Zap-Zap Game!” If you've played it, you'll understand!)

- Lady Morgan

Policenauts | Konami | 1996 (JP) | Ranked 60th (Tie)

Lying back in your chair, feet on your desk, neon lights to your back, and your trusty pistol on your desk. A women wanders into your office. She hands you pills and a photo, and tells you her husband has gone missing. Then it dawns on you, it’s your ex-wife, but she looks 20 years older than you are. Then it dawns on you, you were frozen for several years, and you are a relic of a time gone bye.

Policenauts has to be my favorite game on the Sega Saturn, PERIOD! An entertaining and thrilling Visual Novel with Light Gun elements interspersed, by the legendary Hideo Kojima. Not to mention the amazing soundtrack, which was so good, it was released on vinyl…IN THE WEST!

While us westerners never got our hands on this game, we are able to enjoy this finally translated on the Sega Saturn!

If you’ve never played this before, get a RHEA/Pseudo Saturn/Phantom chip, get a light gun or a mouse, sit back, relax, and enjoy the experience!

- Patrick Traynor, Sega Saturn Shiro!

Sonic Jam | SEGA | Sonic Team | 1997 (JP, NA, & EU) | Ranked 27th

Sonic fans were buzzing with the news of a 3D game for Sega's new console. The anticipation that was bubbling would turn sour as delay after delay hit Sonic Xtreme. The first time we would see Sonic in 3D was as a secret character in Christmas Nights but there was another title that gives us one of Sega's greatest 'what ifs'.

Sonic Jam brought together the classic sonic story from the original Mega Drive titles. To compliment the games Sonic Team added a large museum featuring artwork, videos and music from the series. The museum was brought to life in a 3D environment where you control Sonic to reach the various museum exhibitions.

There are five challenges to complete in the 3D Green Hill Zone that allows you to explore a 3D Sonic world for the first time. Completing the challenges uncovers a giant ring that displays the game credits when you jump through. As a huge Sonic fan this tantalising taste of what could have been on the Saturn is both cruel and intriguing.

- Retro Faith, Retro Faith UK

Magic Knight Rayearth | SEGA | Working Designs | 1995 (JP); 1998 (NA) | Ranked 25th

From one of the first Saturn games announced to the last US release. Rayearth had quite the journey West. Legal issues with rights holders and even lost code that Working Designs had to rewrite themselves. Was it worth the wait and all the efforts? Personally I would say yes, yes it was. What makes it such a joy? The anime FMVs, the easily accessible gameplay, the vibrant colourful world, the simple story premise, the cheeky bits of Working Designs translation and even reading the girls diary’s. Working Designs hard work and dedication to deliver on their promise to fans shines through in Magic Knight Rayearth. If you haven’t given Rayearth a try and you’re in the mood for a charming adventure, that stars three endearing young girls. You really can’t go wrong with Magic Knight Rayearth.

- Camron Graziano (Tsundain), The Saturn Junkyard

Virtual On: Cyber Troopers | SEGA | AM3 | 1996 (JP, NA, & EU) | Ranked 24th

Little did I know that the game sampler I received with my Saturn would contain a demo such as this. Virtual On was the first overhead fighter I had ever played in my life. At first, it was very hard to control and I had no idea what was happening half the time. It took practice, a lot of it.

The more I played, the better it became. I love firing missiles and gigantic lasers at robots and destroying them while making super high jumps. The most fun this game has to offer is telling your friend to split screen with you and watch them struggle to keep up while you maul them mercilessly. Virtual On is run and gun fun for everyone and has been my favorite Saturn game seemingly forever.

- Jeff Bradford (Virtua Neptune), The Saturn Junkyard

Tomb Raider | Eidos Interactive | Core Design | 1996 (NA & EU), 1997 (JP) | Ranked 23rd

The Sega Saturn is actually my favourite console of all time, there I said it! A huge part if it’s charm for me at the time was discovering it was the underdog, something I was completely unaware of at the time of purchase as I put almost zero thought into it, It said Sega on it and I had played Sega Rally and Virtua Cop one afternoon at a friends who had one, and then instantly demanded one for Christmas as soon as my mum picked me up that later that day.

Throughout the era of Saturn I only knew one other person who had one, that included the entire cohort of my 1400+ school. Whilst I had always been a games obsessive there was already a part of me that loved that only me and my friend Jared actually had the Sega Saturn, it made the special games seem more special somehow.

Away from the ‘big names’ of the system, there was one game I was obsessed with. Tomb Raider, I remember seeing the screens for it and thinking it looked like nothing I had seen before. Replaying now I was surprised by how minimalist and sparse the sound design is, and I use that as a positive. As it really adds to the experience that I loved all those years ago that you are alone and isolated in some unforeseen land, being an actual adventurer and explorer, rather than an action hero as seems to be the norm now. I loved the feeling of carefully moving your way through the environments, positioning yourself to climb and scale as you work out the puzzles and environments and where switches are likely to be, I remember thinking it was cool you could holster and pull out the guns as that was something I had never seen before, and made sense you wouldn’t climb with them out.

At the time I was playing the game competitively to see if I could complete it before my brother (Playstation) and my friend (PC) - so was finding myself compelled to methodically press on no matter how hard it got. The T-Rex is a moment that everything remembers, and rightly so, however, there were many great moments, the first appearance of the man in black who was hounding you, the arrival of each new creature that is stalking and hunting you, the falling blades. Tomb Raider for me is easily one of my top 5 Saturn games, and in terms of overall ‘experience’ of what a game and it’s memories mean to me, is easily in my own personal top 10.

- Kev Mason, The Dreamcast Junkyard

Shining the Holy Ark | SEGA | Camelot Software Planning | 1996 (JP); 1997 (NA) | 21st Ranked

Are you lost in the mines? I bet you are. Welcome to Shining the Holy Ark! And don't let the silly name fool you; this game is not to be taken lightly. Sonic Software Planning did not hold back with this title. Like its older brother Shining in the Darkness (Sega Genesis 1991), Holy Ark is a first-person dungeon crawler known for its lengthy dungeons and over-the-top level of difficulty. Released for the Saturn in December of 1996 (May 1997 US), Holy Ark was the second Shining title to grace the console. While fans impatiently waited for the 3rd installment of the Shining Force Saga, Sega took a leap of faith and released Holy Ark first. A bold move indeed, but well worth the risk.

You play the role of Arthur, a mercenary hired by the King of Enrich castle to eliminate a ninja named Rodi. Right from the very beginning of the game, you know you are in for one hell of an adventure. The music alone is enough to drag you in, and you can't help but feel a bit intimidated as you enter the first dungeon. Within a few minutes you will understand why this game is notoriously known for its difficulty.

The music is outstanding and the graphics are surprisingly stunning! The monsters are well designed and some a bit scary even. I was blown away by how good this game looked. And I still am. I'm currently working my way through this game blindly and enjoying every moment of it. The dungeon puzzles are unique and a bit frustrating at times, but the payoff of conquering one will make you feel like a champion.

If you have flirted with the idea of indulging in Holy Ark, know that I highly recommend this game for any gamer. Even though it's extreme in the difficulty category, the gameplay is silky smooth and controls very well. So what are you waiting for? Shine that Holy Ark!

- Lady Morgan

Sonic R | SEGA | Traveller’s Tales & Sonic Team | 1997 (JP, NA, & EU) | Ranked 17th

Dearest Sonic R,

You’re the community’s 17th favorite Saturn game which, to some, probably feels high…just like the diamonds in in the sky.

But guess what, baby? You’re my number one.

Over the years, many of us dismissed you as a quirky, unconventional racing game with a cheesy soundtrack. You polarized fans with your clunky, unwieldy controls and they bitterly derided you for not being a “real Sonic game.” And once upon a time, I might have agreed…

…but that was before I learned how to treat you right…and left, using the 3D pad’s shoulder buttons. It made a world of difference, baby. I gave you another chance and it didn’t take long for me to finally feel the sunshine.

I’m so glad we could work it out. Take me back in time and I would’ve realized your cheese was really charm all along.

Once I stopped trying to see you as a racing game or a Sonic game, the pieces all came together. I wasn’t racing. I was exploring. I was strategizing. I was collecting. Once I realized that, I was in love.

And so today, I give up dreaming. You may not have been the Sega Saturn Sonic game I thought I wanted but you were absolutely the one I needed.

With love always,

Brian Vines, The Saturn Junkyard

Radiant Silvergun | SEGA | Treasure | 1998 (JP) | Ranked 13th

There you are, after round and rounds of enemies, after so many bullets and Game Overs… There you are, fighting a Red/Black Silhouetted man, jumping and flipping all over the place… “Awesome!” While I can’t say I was at the ground floor for Radiant Silvergun, I certainly fell in love with it.

Addicted to Ikaruga, I tried this game out, knowing it would be just as fun if not more fun… And I was a bit disappointed at first. The game felt pretty slow, the controls were confusing, and I kept dying on easy….

Playing it more and more, I finally get the controls, learn how to effectively use them. Every Treasure game has a gimmick, and this one didn’t disappoint. While slow going, it’s worth the effort!

- Patrick Traynor, Sega Saturn Shiro!

Radiant Silvergun is my go-to Saturn game for whenever I have no idea what I’m in the mood to play. I’m not sure I’ve ever tired of it. It’s frequently featured in discussions about the platform’s best shmups – and indeed, Silvergun is the highest-ranking 2D shmup on this list – but I’d hesitate to peg it squarely in the genre without a cavalcade of asterisks. Part shooter, part puzzle game, part platformer, with a dash of light RPG elements, Radiant Silvergun is a deeply innovative, genre-bending title.

Treasure’s seminal shooter is unique in that, to truly maximize your score (which may or may not be your goal), it demands players emphasize restraint as much as destruction. Silvergun’s enemies come in three different colors to destroy, and the game gives you six very different weapons to get the job done. Kills reward you with progressive score combos when you chain together as many like-color enemies as possible. You’ll begin to learn the increasingly-complex enemy and obstacle patterns the game throws at you. You’ll need to assess the most effective weapons for each situation, determine which enemies to shoot and – even more importantly – which not to shoot.

Like jazz, as they say, sometimes it’s about the notes you don’t play.

Also like jazz, there isn’t necessarily a single best way to enjoy this game, which lies at the heart of its lasting appeal. Silvergun places a heavier emphasis on experimentation than most shmups. It frequently rewards you for trying new tactics in various situations – whether it’s trying a different weapon against familiar enemies or zigging when you would have zagged. Silvergun’s focus on discovery helps make the process as rewarding as the outcome.

You’re also not obligated to utilize any of Silvergun’s pattern/puzzle chain mechanics just to enjoy it. You can also treat it like a typical shmup, focusing on precision movement and memorization, and blasting everything in your path. Each of your six weapons will level up the more you use them, allowing you to progress from where you leave off in subsequent playthroughs. Destroying everything won’t net you the highest scores but it’s a surefire way to build up your weapons and tear through the parade of larger enemies and bosses with little fuss – and that is rewarding in its own right.

- Brian Vines, The Saturn Junkyard

Burning Rangers | SEGA | Sonic Team | 1998 (JP, NA, & EU) | Ranked 8th

At times it feels like a glorified tech demo, showcasing all that could be done in the right hands. And at other times Burning Rangers goes beyond tech demo to deliver an overload for the senses. Every box gets checked off, lighting and particle effects, transparencies, polygons everywhere and a bumpin up beat techno jazz tunes that just ups that late 90s charm.

Now that you are convinced that Burning Rangers looks the part, how does it play? Well there’s the tricky part. Burning Rangers is about putting out living firing and saving people. You’ll use jet packs, lasers and voice guidance to save the day. Using the 3D pad will yield the best results, but there will still be occasional missed grabs and landings. Even with this in mind Burning Rangers is still a technical marvel, a challenging adventure and oozing with charm.

- Camron Graziano (Tsundain), The Saturn Junkyard

Shining Force III: Scenario 1 | SEGA | Camelot Software Planning | 1997 (JP); 1998 (NA & EU) | Ranked 6th

Shining Force III is one of the most well-known RPGs on the Saturn and quite possibly the best in the bunch. This delightful addition to the Shining Series is broken up into three different scenarios which follow three different protagonists; Synbios, Medion & Julian. Each scenario takes place at the same time, often overlapping with each other. What makes this game even more unique is that you can actually link your save files together; keeping all of the names & stats from each scenario! And for those who collected all three volumes, Camelot also released a premium disk that offers a series of battles in which you can choose characters from all of your save files.

But there is some bad news. Sadly, only Scenario 1 was released in the US. It wasn't until nearly two decades later that a fan site took the time to translate the last two scenarios. Although a bit choppy, fans finally got to finish what they started years prior.

Shining Force III is a tactical turn-based RPG that plays like its older brothers, Shining Force 1 & 2, which were released for the Sega Genesis. Camelot Software Planning also added a new feature called the Friendship System. This allows characters to form bonds with each other which would help boost actions on the battlefield. In general, Shining Force III was a bit more challenging than its brothers, but not unbearable.

Scenario 1: 12-11-97 Synbios // God Warrior of the Kingdom
Scenario 2: 4-29-98 Medion // Target: Child of God
Scenario 3: 9-23-98 Julian // Bulzome Rising

Shining Force III was composed by the talented Motoi Sakuraba. Music and gameplay go hand-in-hand and Sakuraba delivers! Like Holy Ark (also composed by Sakuraba), the music alone will suck you in. The enticing melodies will be stuck in your head for days, forcing you not to forget the battle at hand. Unfortunately, the graphics are a bit below par, but the gameplay and soundtrack make up for all of the visual flaws.

I highly recommend this game. The in-depth storyline is absolutely fantastic and will leave you starving for more. Be forewarned: Shining Force III is a time trap. Once you start, it's hard to put the paddle down. What you intend to be a couple hours of gaming will turn into a full day of war! If you are an RPG fanatic, this game is a must. It contains all the ingredients that make for a near flawless Fantasy Role Playing game. Oh, you didn't play Shining Force 1 or 2? That's okay. There is no connection in story. So go for it! The Bulzome Sect isn't going to destroy itself, ya know...

- Lady Morgan

Virtua Fighter 2 | SEGA | AM2 | 1995 (JP & NA); 1996 (EU) | Ranked 5th

Does anyone remember seeing Daytona USA running on the Saturn for the very first time? I do, back in 1995 my local Virgin Mega Store had a Saturn kiosk running Daytona, I actually heard it before I seen it, the famous and instantly recognisable intro music drew my attention straight away, I was already getting a Saturn for Christmas that year so this was a chance to see one of its flagship launch games running for the very first time. Back in those days we just had screenshots in magazines to look at, I walked up to the kiosk with my bud Glen at the time to check Daytona out, now I knew it was never going to be a match for a $15,000 Model 2 arcade machine, however, what I was greeted with upon casting my eyes on the screen felt like a punch to the gut. The disappointment was hard to stomach. I thought this looked absolutely horrendous – was this really the extent of the Saturn’s 3D capabilities? The insanely poor draw distance with textures popping up everywhere was an eyesore beyond belief.
Now pop up was common place back in the 32-bit era, but this...this was on another level, to further confound my disappointment was the atrocious choppy frame rate which maxed out at 20fps with frequent drops below that.

The game not only looked like a dog’s dinner, but it ran like it also. To even further reinforce this and cast my disappointment in stone, a few days earlier I seen Ridge Racer running on the PlayStation and visually it completely destroyed this. THAT was next generation 32-bit graphics. Not this. My feeling of regret for choosing the Saturn was strong, I tried to convince myself it didn’t look so bad, I knew I was getting a Saturn so I felt at the time I had to, completely bullshitting myself to my friend stood beside me who’s disappointment was also written all over his face – “hey this looks all right, doesn’t it?” – fishing for any crumbs of assurance and approval from him but instead his silence spoke volumes more than any words could.

Having been a die-hard Sega owner this felt like one of the biggest let downs I had ever felt in gaming. We all know that the gameplay is spot on, they got that right thankfully, it handled like the arcade game. However, first impressions make a huge impact back then. I wanted next generation 3D graphics and this didn’t deliver.

Now what does all this have to do with Virtua Fighter 2? Well nothing, but I thought it was appropriate to convey how I felt about the Saturn in that moment in time and to give you an insight about what I thought the Saturn was only capable of, and to give you as big a contrast as possible to how I felt about seeing Virtua Fighter 2 for this first time,  After seeing Daytona, I thought this was it for the Saturn…this is as good as it gets visually. I had also had the chance to play the first Virtua Fighter a few days earlier and although it was not the greatest port, being that it was a port from a model 1 game I still didn’t mind it as much.

Virtua Fighter 2 is a game I played in the arcade. It’s incredible, lifelike, fully-textured characters comprising of a massive polygon count and silky-smooth framerate blew me away, at that point it felt like graphics couldn’t get any better, this was well beyond anything I had seen.

The game was hard. I didn’t know many of the moves back then but I knew there was a very deep fighting game in there. I was aware this was being ported to the Saturn; I was looking forward to it of course but I didn’t hold much hope for a good-looking game, but it wasn’t until seeing a small trailer for the game running on the Saturn on the TV show Games Master it COMPLETELY blew me away. I recorded every episode of Games Master on VHS back then and must have watched this small clip of VF2 around 200+ times, it felt overwhelming. “The Saturn can’t do this” seeing it for the first time I mistakenly thought it was the arcade version of the game, what we got here was a rock-solid, unwavering 60 frames per second, crispy hi-resolution textures, and incredible lifelike animation that was equal to the £15,000 arcade machine. A game that graphically, in my eyes, blew Tekken on the PS1 out the water which was considered the benchmark for graphics in a 3D fighting game at the time.

The term “arcade perfect” was one that got thrown about a lot back then, but this felt like that to me seeing the small clip. It was a very long - month wait for the game to be released, I continued to play the arcade game when I had the chance until – at long last – I finally bought the Saturn game on release. Seeing it running on my screen for the first time was easily and still to this day one of the biggest “wow” moments I’ve experienced in gaming. My faith was absolutely restored in the Saturn. It was more than restored; it was exceeded.

I must have played Virtua Fighter 2 every day without fail for around a year solid. I knew every single move the game had to offer across all characters. I had Ranking Mode High Scores in CVG magazine. I played it so much that most of the moves are still ingrained into my mind today in 2019. I can play it and still know around 80% of all the moves. Of course, my reflexes are not as good any more but this is still a game I play occasionally on Xbox Live and PS3.

VF2 is a classic example of a game that’s easy to play and get into but very hard to master. Pulling off moves is easy, but the key to success is utilising the normal moves effectively. Chaining combos need to be inputted so fast that they can only be pulled off by doing them faster than the move appears on screen. Akira’s Stun Palm of Doom 5-hit combo takes much more skill and precision than any 50+ hit combo you’d care to mention in Killer Instinct. This is a combo that I personally have only been able to pull off a few times.

A quick look on YouTube and some of the professionals in japan where this game was huge is simply mind bending to watch. These guys are able to pull off chain combos with basic and special moves that you didn’t know existed or were technically possible. It’s like watching a master at his craft and this is the beauty of this game. VF2 is easy for anyone to play and anyone can get something from it no matter what your skill level is, but it also has depths that can only be unlocked by a select few.

- Gaz Cormack, The Saturn Junkyard

NiGHTS into Dreams… | SEGA | Sonic Team | 1996 (JP, NA, & EU) | Ranked 3rd

NiGHTS dropped as competition to Mario 64 and to Crash Bandicoot, though that’s not very fair, as the game is nothing like the aforementioned titles. NiGHTS is a score attack game presented with glitz, glamour and pizzazz to stand out as a jewel in the Saturn gaming crown.

The game revolves around two troubled children who find NiGHTS in their dreams. But what is NiGHTS? Is it a dream, a figment, or a memory? Whatever it is, together with NiGHTS the children fight off the nightmares of the evil Wiseman and at the same time grow as individuals in order to overcome their worldly problems.

The game is an insanely well-tuned, high-scoring, point chaining thrill ride. The sensation of flight is fluid and free, taking advantage of the Saturn 3D Analogue Pad to translate every nuance of motion to an action on screen. The timed levels engender a palpable adrenaline rush as the player endeavors to find the most optimal flight line to pick up the most points possible. Each point collected gives the player a brief moment to collect the next point to form a chain – and each item chained multiplies in value for a higher score. Thus, the game is a mad, thrilling flight in collecting items in the most efficient way possible to rack up the best score.

The gameplay, coupled with the ridiculously good graphics and ever-changing game music would be quite enough to propel NiGHTS into the top tier of Saturn gaming, but there is even more to the game. Tracked in a separate memory file is the Pian population – the little angel beings that roam the levels. They fly, they mate and lay eggs, and they even build little statues and snowmen, depending on the level. The gamer has a cursory effect on their life cycles… and their overall happiness is what determines how cheery or sad level music is. Further, there is even the possibility to breed strange mutants, if a Pian and a Maren (enemy) mate. The ultimate goal is to produce a King Pian in this quasi-side quest of the game proper.

The game itself is quite short – only seven dreams for the kids to play through – but of course, with a game like NiGHTS, finishing the game is really a subjective point. The story may be complete, but the quest for a slightly higher score will burn brightly long after the contemporary Mario 64 and Crash Bandicoot are done and begin to collect dust on the shelf. Pure gameplay, in a blend of instant, arcade-like thrills and deep, satisfying replay value that has you coming back again and again is NiGHTS' bread and butter. This is SEGA at its finest, folks.

- Peter Malek, Sega Saturn Shiro!

Panzer Dragoon Saga | SEGA | Team Andromeda | 1998 (JP, NA, & EU) | Ranked 1st

An RPG more famous for being expensive and rare. A game that was plagued with set back after set back and even rumored that a priest had to chase away evil spirits. It still remains as fresh and unique as it was in 1998. Panzer Dragoon Saga is the third entry into the Panzer Dragoon franchise and for me personally the best entry in the series. What Saga does for me is everything the other games don’t, the biggest thing is the freedom.

Other Panzer Dragoon games are on rail shooters that require we memorize patterns and course layout. Saga on the other hand relies on you exploring every inch of the dystopian world Team Andromeda crafted. Even in the bleakest seemingly most empty corners of the map there is still much detail and love crafted in. Even after repeated play throughs I still enjoy hopping onto my dragon and just soaring. Now after 25 years there has never been a more accessible time to experience this legendary game.

- Camron Graziano (Tsundain), The Saturn Junkyard

It’s hardly a surprise – and maybe only appropriate – that Panzer Dragoon Saga nabbed the top spot on the community’s list of favorite Sega Saturn games. Despite owning the damn game for nearly a decade – and despite Panzer Dragoon Zwei being my all-time favorite Saturn game (it still is) – it took me forever for me to finally get around to playing Saga. It had an undeniable mystique. It just never felt like the right time to play it. In hindsight, perhaps I just didn’t know what I was missing. I always figured I’d probably play it…eventually.

**** Thematic spoilers for PDS to follow. ****

And eventually came – literally last year – when I finally broke down and accompanied Edge on his futile quest for revenge in a ravaged world he’d never truly understand. While the rest of gaming was caught up in the narrative arms race towards convoluted, cinematic, and overwrought storytelling, Saga sought simplicity. It relished in its opacity. Saga trusted us as its co-authors, leaving us space to derive meaning between the breadcrumbs of its story arcs and world building. It felt intentional. It was refreshing. It would not be replicated.

**** End spoilers. ****

In some ways, Saga feels like it exists in a distinct place and time, on its own plane of existence from the rest of gaming history. And perhaps there’s some truth to that considering it was released at the tail end of the Saturn’s lifespan, long after its future was ceded to the Dreamcast. I dunno. Maybe it’s only fitting that a neglected JRPG set in a hopeless, post apocalypse would come to define the Saturn’s own post apocalypse. Still, considering the context in which the community continues to revere Panzer Dragoon Saga today, perhaps it just proves that some apocalypses are merely temporary.

Like Team Andromeda’s swansong, the Sega Saturn was also of its own place and time – existing adjacent to and beyond the medium’s history – and also lost to it. For a time. During its marketable lifespan, the Saturn was unknown to most and appreciated by a dedicated few. But give it 25 years and those few have grown into an enduring community of fans who’ve ensured the Saturn’s best years are yet ahead of it.

If the following list is anything to go by, we’ve got a shit ton of amazing Saturn games to play. So we must. It’s the Sanshiro mandate.

- Brian Vines, The Saturn Junkyard (@TheVirtuaSchlub on Twitter)

Croc: Legend of the Gobbos
Lunar: The Silver Star Story
Road Rash
Twinkle Star Sprites
Mega Man 8
Shinobi X / Shinobi Legions
Three Dirty Dwarves
Bug Too!
Bust-A-Move 2 / Puzzle Bobble 2
Dragon Force II
Sega Worldwide Soccer '98
Out Run
Asuka 120% Burning Fest Limited
Hyper Duel
Steep Slope Sliders
Super Tempo
Elevator Action Returns
Enemy Zero
World Series Baseball '98
Lunacy / Torico
Clockwork Knight
DecAthlete / Athlete Kings
Sakura Wars / Taisen 2
Dungeons & Dragons Collection
Manx TT SuperBike
Winter Heat
Digital Pinball: Last Gladiators
Duke Nukem 3D
GunGriffon II
Shinrei Jusatsushi Tarōmaru
Street Fighter Collection
Thunder Force V
Alien Trilogy
Sonic 3D Blast / Sonic 3D: Flickies' Island
Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3
Marvel Super Heroes
Baku Baku Animal
Die Hard Trilogy
Galactic Attack / Layer Section
Dark Savior
Virtua Fighter / VF Remix
Christmas NiGHTS
Cotton 2 / Cotton Boomerang
Fighting Vipers
Sakura Wars / Taisen
Marvel Super Heroes vs Street Fighter
Battle Garegga
Mr. Bones
Darius Gaiden
Last Bronx
X-Men: Children of the Atom
Akumajō Dracula X: Nocturne in the Moonlight (Castlevania: SotN)
Deep Fear
Bulk Slash
House of the Dead
Legend of Oasis / Story of Thor 2
Dead or Alive
Virtua Cop
Resident Evil
Albert Odyssey
Vampire Savior
Sonic Jam
Magic Knight Rayearth
Virtual On: Cyber Troopers
Tomb Raider
Street Fighter Alpha 2
Shining the Holy Ark
PowerSlave / Exhumed
Die Hard Arcade / Dynamite Deka
Street Fighter Zero 3
Sonic R
Saturn Bomberman
X-Men vs Street Fighter
Virtua Cop 2
Radiant Silvergun
Dragon Force
Fighters Megamix
Daytona USA / CE / CCE
Panzer Dragoon
Burning Rangers
Guardian Heroes
Shining Force III: Scenario 1
Virtua Fighter 2
Panzer Dragoon Zwei
NiGHTS into Dreams
Sega Rally Championship
Panzer Dragoon Saga

Good God, that was a long article. With that, thanks for reading and thanks again to the various friends of the Junkyard for their wonderful contributions. Thank you for helping us celebrate the Sega Saturn’s 25th birthday and remember…


Retro Faith said...

Wonderful, simply wonderful. What a great fanbase compilation. Thank you for such a great piece

Peter said...

The memories and experiences of the community being showcased like this is one of the great gifts that the Saturn gives, even to this day.

Virtua Neptune said...

Wow, there are some serious surprises on the top 100 list. I can't believe Sonic R was so popular (I know I voted for it though). It's a nice article, Brian. Very fitting such a Saturn milestone.