I grew up in the 90’s. My first home console was the Nintendo 64. It was my entire life. At that time, being between five and six, I didn’t know about any of the previous consoles until later on. That generation included the Sony Playstation and the Sega Saturn. I had played the Playstation at a cousin’s house a bunch during that time, and was enthralled by the graphics of Spyro, Crash Bandicoot, and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. That console has the proper level of love and nostalgia for it. The Playstation dominated this generation of consoles and practically every other after it. It was a smashing success. Following this, I seemingly forgot about the console generation.
After all, there are many other generations to focus on, and my favorite console of all-time, the Microsoft Xbox was calling my name. Like a siren, my quest is still to get a complete North American collection, but another console would capture my attention like no other before. Thanks to Youtuber, Sega Lord X, his videos showed me just what the Sega Saturn was all about. In Japan, the console was a much bigger success than in the US market. Sega of America fumbled the ball on multiple occasions with regards to the consoles launch and support in the West.
Why I Was Enraptured By The Sega Saturn
The Saturn is a strange console in the grand scheme of things. It followed up the wildly successful Sega Genesis. It was a killer console when it released in Japan in November of 1994. The launch was highly successful with Virtua Fighter leading the charge on the system. The biggest strength of the Saturn was it’s ability to almost flawlessly reproduce arcade games at the time. Arcades were still huge at that time, and like PC’s today, they were the cutting edge of video game technology. So the ability to take Virtua Racing home with you, was a huge boon for the console.
I was barely 5 months old when the Saturn released, so it wouldn’t be on my radar at all. There’s something to the almost untapped nature of the console that draws me to it. It’s the ultimate underdog story on Sega’s part when you think about it. It was also a cautionary tale. Sega packed as much power as they could into the Saturn, but it was hard to properly develop for. As is usually the case in video games, more power came at a cost to developers. Keep it simple, stupid, rings true here.
The Boxes Are Weird And Interesting But The North American Prices Are Outrageous
In the West, this is what a Sega Saturn game looks like. It’s about as tall as two normal CD cases. In Japan, Saturn games are in those normal jewel cases. This isn’t the main reason why the Saturn is such an enigma, but it definitely doesn’t hurt. You can always tell a Saturn game from any other game in the world. (Besides Sega CD, which are the same size).
Now with this cool look comes cost. The Sega Saturn only had 255 releases in North America compared to 900+ in Japan. There’s a huge contrast in price for North American games compared to the rest of the world. A game like Panzer Dragoon Saga is the greatest disparagement for this. In Japan, the game is Azel: Panzer Dragoon RPG, and it’s around $35 for a complete copy. The North American version is the holy grail of Sega Saturn collecting (for normal release games) and is around $1000 if you want a complete copy.
They’re the exact same games, but one has an English translation, and one doesn’t. There are myriad examples of this from the Japanese Saturn library to the North American library. For some games like the original Panzer Dragoon, you can just get the Japanese version and it’s completely playable. You just need either a Japanese Sega Saturn, or an Action Replay cartridge that gets around the region lock on the system.
There’s Something Nostalgic For Me, And I Haven’t Played The Console Before This Year
As someone, like I’ve mentioned before, there’s just something strangely nostalgic about being able to fire these games up from around when I started playing games. Even if I’ve never played them before, it makes me feel like a kid going to the video store to pick a game to play. I generally don’t like looking at reviews for these games, and basing it on gameplay videos and if the game looks cool. That is a recipe to backfire, but it helps when you can play either copied games or try them out with ROMS or emulators. I don’t like pirating games. I detest people that do it, but using emulation as a way to “rent” the game before I spend a chunk of change on it, is a great way to not get burned by the horribly inflated prices of retro games these days.
It’s like I say with listening to old material from a band that you love, that you’ve never heard before. It’s like getting brand new music. The same goes with the Saturn. I’ve never played Powerslave (the game, not the Iron Maiden album) before, after watching some gameplay for it, I definitely want to. Normally the only place to play kickass FPS games in the 90’s was on a PC. The Saturn has a pretty varied assortment of shooters like this, including a great port of Quake.
The Controller Is The Absolute Best For Any Retro Game Console
The Japanese models or the Model Two North American Sega Saturn controller is the single best controller for playing any retro game. From the D-Pad, to the buttons, to just the feel of it in your hand, it’s the best, bar none. I’m not a huge fighting game fan, but in the time I’ve played Marvel VS. Capcom on the system, it’s fluid, and intuitive. For games like Astal or other shoot ’em up games like Radiant Silvergun, the controller is also a master there. The only place where it lacks is in the 3D style games like Nights Into Dreams, but there, it’s more than serviceable.
Just make sure you’re not getting the atrocious North American Model One controller. For whatever reason Sega Of America decided not to immediately bring over the fantastic style of the Japanese controller.
The Weird, Wild, And Everything In Between Resides Within The Saturn
The Saturn has many flaws, including not having a 3D Sonic the Hedgehog game, when that might have swayed the tides of battle for the console. What it does have now, is a library of games that are interesting and that you can’t really get anywhere else. In the case of games like Guardian Heroes, you can get a better version on the Xbox Live Marketplace for a fraction of the cost of the original game. Radiant Silvergun also had a magnificent port to the Xbox Live Marketplace that you can get for cheap these days.
Games like Burning Rangers, Policenauts, Saturn Bomberman, Dragon Force 1 and 2, Astal, and many more are exclusive to the Saturn. That makes the system wholly unique from any other around it. It’s like taking a time machine back to the mid 90’s every time I fire mine up.
The Saturn Is Worth Your Time, Even If The Cost Is Prohibitive
What it really comes down to with the Sega Saturn and me, is that it’s a console that you have a wide variety of ways to play. If you want to go the full blown collector route, it’ll be costly, but you can play the games. If you want to emulate them, Sega Saturn emulation has never been better. Other ways include more nefarious ways like burning the games or buying high quality reproductions. In these cases, they’re great ways to play games like Policenauts that are only available in Japanese. Just because the game is locked behind a language barrier, doesn’t mean that everyone shouldn’t be able to enjoy it.
The Sega Saturn is worth your time as a video game fan. Give it a shot and you won’t regret it.
For more on the Sega Saturn, video games, or any other general pop culture, make sure to check back to That Hashtag Show.
Also, thanks to Sega Lord X for making great videos about the Sega Saturn.