A surprise list appears! But don’t panic – you will believe what number seven looks like now and fifteen is unlikely to shock you – what’s happened here is I’m very short on time, would very much like to write something before I probably disappear from my blog for a week or so (if not longer… but let’s hope not!), and like a hungry person on the day before pay day I am trying to make the most of what I’ve got lurking in the back of my digital store cupboards. Luckily for me it was the Saturn’s Japanese twenty-fifth anniversary (a quarter of a century? Where did that go?!) yesterday: as some of you may have worked out I am a little bit fond of Sega in general but their 32-bit powerhouse in particular is just a vast sea of treasure as far as I’m concerned so here’s one Saturn game I’d recommend having a look at for every year the brilliant thing’s existed – some so obvious you may have not thought about them in a long time, some so obscure you may not have heard of them in the first place. Whether they’re easily available worldwide or import-only delights everything in the list below is definitely worth playing, so if you need a little Saturn inspiration or just want to reconnect with some old favourites there should be something on the list for you.
One last thing before we get stuck in: The games below are presented in alphabetical order, there’s no other sorting or ranking going on here because they’re all fantastic in their own special way. Oh and whether a game’s listed under its Japanese or English title is mostly down to whichever pops into my head first when I go to type out the name – I’m sorry, but I’m not sorry enough to actually go and tidy up any inconsistencies you may find (I’m already going straight to hell for making a listicle anyway, so there’s no point fretting over little things like that).
Assault Suit Leynos 2
Sometimes sequels don’t quite hit the mark, but even the biggest fan of the original Leynos and Valken would struggle to find fault with what’s presented here. Beautiful screen-filling sprites really play to the Saturn’s strengths, and underneath all that visual splendour is a great and highly customisable game filled with replay value and some very satisfying weaponry.
I wrote about this one in some detail over here not so long ago, so all I really want to add here is to emphasise that I adore Burning Rangers and every moment with it has always been an absolute pleasure. I know it’s not cheap but do play it in a language you understand if you are able to do so – the radio chatter in this one’s far more than a bit of background noise.
Ha! Just kidding. This game is terrible and I hate its guts, please don’t waste a single second of your time on it.
Dragon Force II
More “proper” strategy than traditional JRPG but still full of pretty elves and overconfident heroes with pauldrons a mile wide. There’s nothing wrong with the English-available original if you were wondering – I just happened to have the sequel to hand for easy screenshotting.
Eiyuu Densetsu III: Shiroki Majo
Also known as The Legend of Heroes III: The White Witch, Falcom’s classic RPG has received a million ports and remakes of the years but this one’s always been my favourite. By cutting back on everything that gets in the way of that wonderful story and then spending all the development time normally wasted on drawing a million one-hit enemies on beautifully expressive (and often unique) character sprites instead Hudson really have made the definitive version of Chris and Jurio’s adventure, and created a time-respecting alternative to the usual JRPG template.
You will need to keep your TV turned up or wear headphones for this one but it’s worth making the effort – Kenji Eno’s sci-fi tale may be a linear one but when you’re lost in a maze of corridors and hear that little warning “ping” telling you there’s a completely invisible monster somewhere up ahead and it’s getting closer…and closer…
As I hopefully made clear only one blog post ago, Shining Force is incredible and I love it to bits – shame they never made a 32-bit one, isn’t it? WAIT, THEY DID. The similarities here are no accident, FEDA (both the SNES original and this Saturn remake) is the product of a splinter group of original Shining staff going off and doing their own thing. It’s got a law/chaos morality system, amazing fox-ladies, and best of all – a post-battle XP pool that allows your healers to do their job properly in battle instead of tediously trying to wring every last morsel of experience out of weakened enemies.
Sega’s answer to Smash… or it would be, if this hadn’t come out first! All your Virtua Fighter and Fighting Vipers favourites are here (era-appropriate, of course), joined by an increasingly bizarre cast of unlockable extras ranging from Sonic the Fighters characters (their only home appearance until the digital 360/PS3 port), Daytona USA’s Hornet, and even the AM2 palm tree. Never has a serious game been so silly – or this much fun!
Galaxy Fraulein Yuna Remix
Yuna’s the best sort of 90’s heroine: she’s a ditzy schoolgirl and intergalactic idol all rolled into one and fearlessly beats other women in themed outfits up before winning them over with the power of friendship. She may have started life on the brilliant PC Engine, but in my mind this extremely well done remake of her original adventure was her finest hour.
Treasure have a go at the side-scrolling beat ’em up genre, and predictably do a legendary job on their first try. Like all the best arcade games this one is a lot of fun whether you’re just there to thrown cowardly goons into barrels or chain together devastating combos using the game’s in-depth move list, making it a great game for a quick blast with friends or a month-long solo session.
Do you like racing games? Do you like shmups? Do you wish someone, somewhere, had made a game that combined the two? Then this game, and more than likely only this game, is the one for you! And for everyone else this is an intriguing take on the usual vertical shmup formula that screams glorious 90’s arcade gaming out of every last pixel.
NiGHTS into Dreams
My favourite game ever, and my first Saturn game. The hi-score chasing aerial acrobatics aren’t for everyone but if you do come around to the game’s many peculiarities you’ll be practising endless loops and learning how to x2.0-clear bosses until you die.
Panzer Dragoon Zwei
Of all the Panzer Dragoon games available, this is the one I come back to most often. Lagi and Lundi’s escape from the evil empire’s clutches has them traversing everything from lush forests to desolate snowfields to the innards of an ancient bioweapon-spewing monolith. Every single route through these stages has its own highlight, from Lagi’s first flight as they canyon floor gives way to a sheer cliff face to a breathtaking run through twisting ruins at speeds so fast you’ll struggle to keep up. This game isn’t just one of the best on the Saturn, it’s one of the best full stop.
Panzer Dragoon Saga
It’s inventive, staggeringly beautiful, memorable – and flawed. The good far outweighs the bad though, and if you ever cared about Panzer Dragoon’s world in any way then this will ask as many fresh questions as it answers, and even creates the central plot point of the excellent sequel.
The one shmup everyone wanted to own – and now can, thanks to its excellent re-release on the Xbox 360 (also the Xbox One, thanks to backwards compatibility) of all things. It can feel a bit too long if you’re not in the mood for its extravagant time-loop storytelling, but nothing spurs a weary gamer on like the promise of HIDDEN GOOD BOYS.
The game that launched a franchise so powerful it even touched the unstoppable Game Boy Color and is still going strong today, even if only one game has ever been released in English (so far, anyway). This one’s been ported a lot and broadly speaking all the ports are at least as good as this original if not better, but as the Saturn version usually goes for next to nothing… you may as well start your newfound obsession with Kanna Kirishima at the very beginning, eh?
Saturn Bomberman Fight!!
This is the best Bomberman game Hudson ever made, and I will have to respectfully insist on fisticuffs with anyone who disagrees. The tight isometric arenas, bomb-avoiding backflips, and screen-shattering super bombs make every fight a frantic tactical joy. I always assumed the original overhead Bomberman formula was too perfect and too pure to survive any radical overhauls – it’s so good to be so wrong.
“Long easy right maybe!” – if you can hear that quote, you know why this is on here. It’s from that sweet spot of an era where gaming technology was advanced enough to give you the semi-realistic thrills and spills of sliding through mud in a car you’d heard of, but wasn’t so advanced that every game needed a million tracks and felt like a driving lesson.
Shining Force III
The whole trilogy is a mind-boggling epic that nobody has been brave/stupid enough to try before or since, and the lone English release is “just” an incredible SRPG and a worthy follow-up to Team Sonic’s older efforts all by itself.
You’d think this would be a colossal waste of money in an age where these games are so easy to find and play (legally or otherwise) but apart from being a very well ported collection (including proper Sonic & Knuckles lock-on features) it also still has extras you wouldn’t find anywhere else even if they weren’t attached to a charming miniature 3D Sonic zone.
Come for the unforgettable soundtrack, stay for the very interesting level design and all the well hidden collectables (including everybody’s favourite – the chaos emeralds). It’s noticeably unbalanced in multiplayer (a decent Sonic player will always beat anyone else in a straight race regardless of their skill or the shortcuts used), but it’s still good fun and does a lot more with its premise than you’d think it would.
This was my go-to “posh without the price tag” Saturn shmup until it inevitably became as unaffordably expensive as the rest of them. At least the price doesn’t have any impact on this epic shmup’s quality, which remains as entertaining as it’s always been. Visually it’s got that gritty-but-fancy arcade action look the Saturn was so good at, so it’s a great go-to game whether you want to show off the system’s 3D strengths or just sit down with a fun game.
Steep Slope Sliders
Cave (yes, that Cave) decided that arcade snowboarding might be there thing and turned in this ace game before going on to make Trick’N Snowboarder (PS1 – complete with zombies!) and finally Snowboard Heaven (PS2 – it’s… OK) for Capcom. I know everyone likes to go on about Nintendo’s 1080 series (and rightly so) but there’s a lot to love here too: It’s got a solid base game, an understandable trick/balance system, and some good (and even real time based, thanks to the Saturn’s internal clock) extras.
Street Fighter Zero 2
The dramatic battles, everything about Gen’s amazing stage, playing on a system where six face-on buttons came as standard… this is my favourite port of my favourite Street Fighter for all those reasons and many more.
Giant fighting robots ON THE MOON – what more could anyone wish for? It may not be as polished as its elaborately titled arcade/Dreamcast sequel Virtual On: Oratorio Tangram but the first game’s still an awful lot of laser-filled fun (it’s got split-screen versus too!), and if nothing else it boasts one of the greatest music tracks ever to bless a fighting game with its presence.
(Apologies to anyone disappointed by this emergency replacement of the promised Geograph Seal article – I honestly have started working on it, I just know I haven’t the time to finish it before my deadline.)