If all’s gone well and I’ve got my dates correct as well as written something vaguely passable in time then today/tomorrow/yesterday/sometime around now (delete as applicable) is the Saturn’s 20th anniversary, hurrah!
This is going to sound more than a little off-kilter for a celebratory post but there’s no getting away from the fact that the Saturn got off to a bad start on western shores, being both more expensive than the Playstation as well as the launch titles looking significantly worse than their Sony-flavoured counterparts. You’ll never catch me arguing that Battle Arena Toshinden was a better game than Virtua Fighter (Ridge Racer vs. Daytona USA however is a much closer call) but it sure as hell looked a lot better, and that was damn important when you were trying to sell the future of gaming at the dawn of the 3D era to people who knew and cared about gouraud shading.
Outside Japan the system never really recovered from this opening stumble, with Sony’s young upstart soundly thrashing any and all challengers and becoming so popular in the process that it actually ended up coming full circle and having a lot of hyper-niche games of its own. But even with the Playstation being so hip and cool my dad bought a copy of Tekken 2 and then hid it from my brother and I so he could get a head start on the game I always had a soft spot for the Saturn, and was rewarded for my bone-headed stubbornness with the likes of NiGHTS, Burning Rangers and Shining Force 3. Deep Fear was an inexcusable PAL send-off though, even if the normally excellent (UK) Sega Saturn Magazine gave it a thoroughly undeserved 86% review score at the time (no I will not let that awful game off the hook).
Of course over in Japan though things couldn’t have been more different, with the Saturn being Sega’s most popular and successful console of all time over there. Japanese gamers had access to a wealth of titles the rest of the world simply never got to see; from fantastic arcade ports to the beginnings of the wildly successful Sakura Taisen series as well as more RPGs than a genre fan would know what to do with (trust me on this). So while us western fans of Sega’s 32-bit console may never quite get over that need to justify our original purchase as we explain our console allegiance, we can at least play safe in the knowledge that the one country that arguably really mattered gave the Saturn the success it deserved.
These days general opinion of the Saturn has changed and gamers have now accepted the console as the connoisseur’s import hardware of choice; however all this “hardcore” attention towards the likes of Radiant Silvergun and Shinrei Jusatsushi Taromaru has robbed a lot otherwise perfectly good (and reasonably cheap) titles of their chance to shine. So if you do decide to dust off your Saturn today, don’t worry that you’ll come across someone boasting about playing Street Fighter Alpha 3 (with 4MB RAM cart!) “as intended” or sharing photos of their complete set of US Magic Knight Rayearth picture disc variants (*yawn*), instead you should sit back with a copy of Fighters Megamix, Panzer Dragoon Zwei, or any of the other games shown in the screenshots in this post (mouseover an image for the title) and revel in the knowledge that you’re playing some of the finest games ever to grace the planet – and you didn’t need to break the bank to do so either!
Oh, you’re still here? Want some more Saturn recommendations? Check out my top ten Saturn games*!