Winter, 1996. Depending on where you lived the Saturn was either on its knees, desperately scrabbling for relevance in a field utterly dominated by the Playstation, or it was doing really quite well and had a lot of brilliant titles due out soon. For Japanese gamers living in that happy land filled with 4mb RAM carts and Sakura Taisen the white Saturn was still all shiny and new and this triple pack of playable demos was given away to new owners eager to have a taste of what was coming in the new year for Sega’s 32-bit console.
We’ll look at the discs in the order they’re presented in, so that means Sonic R is up first.
This Sonic R demo is very polished but feature-lite, making it great for Saturn fans at the time but not of much interest to anyone hoping for any early snapshot of the game’s development. From the title screen you’re taken directly to the character select menu – the standard five characters appear in a race but only Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, and Amy are available – and then you’re dumped into a single player race around Resort Island. All the medals and even the chaos emerald are in their usual locations and can be collected, and everything else is exactly as it should be, including Richard Jacques fabulous vocal track Can You Feel the Sunshine?. Once you complete three laps and do your little victory dance the game goes back to the title screen.
Next up is by far the most interesting of the three demos, as it contains two Shining Force 3 battles made especially for this disc. After an opening FMV that’s nothing like the one used in the final game (but possibly used in scenario 2 at some point? I’m afraid I can’t remember, it’s been a while…) the title screen offers two choices – a battle on a train or a battle near a waterfall – after which you’re whisked away to the relevant location for a bit of a scrap. The train battle is based on the final section of scenario 1’s memorable Railroad sequence, with you fighting towards the engine for a showdown with Shiraf. The waterfall battle takes place on a map that’s similar to the one where you fight Edward/Equal, although the only things the two actually share in common are the iconic waterfall and the bridge across the front of it.
Both battles give you a set team of Synbios, Dantares, Masquirin, Grace, Hayward and Obright at level 5, with enemy stats tweaked to fit your team’s capabilities. Synbios is missing his Return spell, and Grace has access to level 2 Hell Blast (Tornado) – something she never learns in the final game. All characters have one special attack already learned and they all have appropriate battle cries when these are activated, just as in the final. Winning either battle grants you a short bit of story dialogue and then takes you to a “Coming December 1997!” screen before taking you back to the main title.
Thanks to your small team and no option to head back to town to recover/re-equip your characters these battles come across almost as little challenge maps to long-time fans. They’re not actually all that tough (it’d be a crummy advert for your upcoming game if they were), but it’s a pleasant surprise to play a Shining Force battle without the usual safety nets in place.
Time to look at the final game in this set – ChunSoft’s Machi. I must admit I’ve never played this game before, even though it came 5th in Famitsu’s “Top 100 games as voted for by readers” back in 2006. As such this is all new to me and I can’t really comment on any differences between this and the final. Even so, this is definitely the largest of the the trial discs with nine scenarios to choose from and many, many, bad ends to find. I’m afraid I can’t tell you how far into each scenario the trial actually goes, because I haven’t been able to work my way past the bad ends I keep bumping in to. On the plus side that makes this the only demo new Saturn players wouldn’t have finished the same day they got their console home, and while a sound novel might not look exciting to most of us ChunSoft’s games were hugely popular, making this a perfectly sensible choice to showcase the quality and variety of games on the system.
To be honest I wasn’t sure what to expect here, as the package is essentially a glorified advert designed to keep players engaged with the console they just bought. But the variety of genres on offer and the unusual packaging help make it feel a bit special in a way these discs wouldn’t have done if they were unceremoniously shoved inside the console box in a plastic CD sleeve or taped to the front of a magazine. There’s really not much to fault here whether you’re looking at this as a product of its time or buying it today – it was a good giveaway back in 1996 and today it’s a fascinating slice of otherwise unseen Shining Force 3.
If you’d like to read more about slightly-different Saturn demos you might be interested in this look at the Burning Rangers and The House of the Dead Japanese demo discs - http://shinjuforest.blogspot.co.uk/2013/03/the-house-of-deadburning-rangers.html