Review by edgarleo
"The first true tragedy of the gaming world"
To begin, I originally received my Saturn in the December of 1997 during the ''Three Free Games'' promotion. I knew that Virtua Fighter 2, Daytona USA and Virtua Cop were great games, so I wasn't too upset that I didn't get a playstation, which was what I wanted. I can honestly say that the Saturn is a much better system overall than the PSX and I am definitely glad of the choice (I did eventually get a PSX for the rpgs I missed). To date, I own over 75 Saturn games, most of which were purchased for under $10. An incredible number of gems were released for the doomed system, and it is truly unfortunate the the PSX destroyed it as it did. I will explain my thoughts on the Saturn through three parts: The hardware itself, the games, and a summary.
HARDWARE (some information taken from the Sega Saturn Instruction Manual)
VDP 1 32-bit video display processor (foreground)
VDP 2 32-bit background and scroll plane video display processor (background)
The Saturn has some...problems graphically. First of all, Sega decided to go with dual processors (one bg, one foreground). Some say an extra processor was added late in development to better compete with the PSX's 3d powers, but I cannot be sure. Anyway, the configuration is great for 2d games, which the Saturn excels at, but 3d was much more difficult. In order to have the processors interact precisely, games had to be made with extraordinary care. This constituted coding in Assembly instead of the C series, much easier programming languages. Unfortunately, most companies didn't bother to program in assembly, so its 3d power was never fully realized (Virtua Fighter 2 is an excellent example of a Saturn game created in assembly).
Yamaha FH1 24-bit digital processor @ 22.6 MHz
Motorola 68EC000 sound processor @ 11.3 MHz
The Saturn has excellent sound. Games often combine regular synthesized music with CD-audio for great results. Many games even have its music available as CD-audio, so it could be listened to on regular CD players as well.
IMO, the Saturn also has the best extras of any system to date (except for possibly the Xbox). To begin, it has built-in memory backup in the system. That amount is fine for most anything aside from rpgs/sports games. To save more, you need the customary back up cart. I find the Saturn's carts to be excellent. They are plugged into the top-back of system, making saving almost instant. Unfortunately, with this setup, memory cards need to stay on while the power is on.
The Saturn has a great GUI when it starts up. The rendered Saturn logo at start-up looks great, and the audio player is the best on any system yet. It has the regular options, a NICE (!!!) looking screen saver/rhythm balls, and many other options. They include surround options, pitch modulations and much more. Also, the Saturn can play CD+G, CD+EG (mainly used for karaoke) and Video CDs (only with add-on).
Ahh...the games. That's all that really matters anyway. The Japanese Saturn users definitely had an advantage over the U.S. users, but let's just get to the details...
The Saturn was introduced and Sega quickly ported quite a few arcade games including Virtua Fighter, Daytona USA and Virtua Cop. Each of those games were huge arcade hits and the Saturn started out well in its battle against the new and powerful Sony competitor. And throughout its lifetime, the Saturn had quite a few great games. Unfortunately, people began to ignore them once Sony had gobbled up enough 3rd party developers. In fact, this seemed to be especially evident with Final Fantasy 7. FF7 brought a whole new generation into rpgs and of course, it was on the Playstation. After the FF7 explosion, many other developers turned psx-only (bar Capcom and a few others). So this left Sega to create almost all of the big games themselves. It's what they do, but one developer can only do so much. But this is getting too close to the final section, so let's get to the games. Below is a summary of many different genres and how the Saturn fared in each.
Action/Adventure: Well, we never did receive a genuine new Sonic on the Saturn. That was very painful. But we did get some other great action games. At the start, the Saturn was filled with quirky action titles such as Gex and Bug. While not terrible, they were nothing to buy the system over (well, maybe Astal was). Then we began to see games such as NiGHTS: Into Dreams, Croc, Legend of Oasis and Sonic Jam. The action/adventure games had a very slow start, but eventually churned out its own gems. But overall, the N64 had far too many 3D platformers to allow the Saturn to compete here (The PSX also had more, but most of them were actually quite bad).
Fighting Games: Oh yes. The Saturn was created to be the ultimate 2D machine, after all. The Saturn plays 2D like a dream and Capcom took full advantage of that. They brought nearly all of their Street Fighter/Marvel hits to the Saturn and the results were beautiful. In Japan, SNK was also quite involved in the affair and both companies also took advantage of extra RAM carts to allow for smoother animation and more characters on the screen at once. If you compare any Saturn 2D fighter to the same one on the PSX, you will marvel at how small the PSX characters are and how much things are toned down. As for 3D fighters, the Saturn is also amazing. Virtua Fighter 2 shows the true power of the Saturn in the hands of people who know how to code for it. And it was made relatively early in the Saturn's life as well. And I still believe that VF2 is the best of the series. Sega also made Fighters Megamix, which threw the VF and Fighting Vipers together with a few guests to duel it out. FM, although actually having worse graphics than VF2, was more fun to play with tons of extras and characters to unlock.
Shooters: In saying shooters here, I'm incorporating three different kinds: The first person shooter, the rail shooter and the shoot-em-up. The first person shooters really didn't have any great impact. The Saturn only had a couple Saturn-only FPSs, the best of which was Powerslave (which I've never played). Sega did make some great rail shooters however (I'm going to include Panzer Dragoon in here as well, although it isn't quite a rail shooter). The Saturn rail shooters began with Sega's port of Virtua Cop. I'm still not quite sure why, but VC was great fun to play over and over, especially with the Stunner accessory. Both VC and its sequel, VC2 were fun to play long after you've memorized all of the enemy locations. And of course, who could ignore Panzer Dragoon? In the PD games, you control a dragon and fly around blasting things. But PD has much more for it than just blasting things. It has a great lock-on feature, beautiful music, vibrant graphics, it's own in-game language and dragon evolution. PD1 started the series, Zwei greatly improved the shooter and Saga is an amazing and unique RPG. The Saturn also has many great shoot-em-ups, but most are import only and I haven't had the chance to play them (Radiant Silvergun especially draws an extreme amount of praise). Unfortunately, I also have to be subjective here and tell of the terrible Saturn shooters also. Some, like Maximum Force, Corpse Killer and Revolution X are just terrible. They're possibly the three worst rail shooters I've ever played. But I did find entertainment in Revolution X though. You just can't deny Steven Tyler screaming at the top of his lungs for no apparent reason.
Rpg/Strategy: To the public, it seems like the Saturn was blown out in terms of rpgs, but that isn't really the case. Even though Square chose to develop for the psx, the Saturn had some wonderful rpgs to share (although many stayed in Japan). Early, Sega came out with Mystaria/Blazing Heroes (a sequel also came out in Japan/Europe). That is a grossly underrated strategy game. Sega also released Shining the Holy Arc early, which is a dungeon crawler that I'm not too fond of. Both of those games had an interesting graphic technique. The backgrounds were done with polygons, but the characters were made with 3d-looking sprites. I'm not sure exactly what they did, but that may have well been the precursor to cel-shading. Anyway, soon after in Japan, Gamearts released the Lunar remakes and Grandia in Japan. Both were brought over, but downsized for the psx. In Japan, there were versions of Lunar which could use a separate mpeg cartridge to allow for amazing fmvs. Of course, they never made it over here on the Saturn. Working Designs (who did port tons of great Saturn games) brought Lunar over to the PSX and Sony brought over Grandia. Grandia was kind of the Saturn's answer to FF7. I have to say that it's worthy of that title because the game is amazing. The battle system is a combination of real-time and turn-based, with lots of special attacks to add to the mix. And it perfectly showcased the power of the multiple graphics processors for the 3d background and the 2d sprites. Eventually Working Designs also ported Sega's own Dragon Force, one of the most entertaining strategy games ever, and its sequel were released (in Japan only). Sega also released Shining Force III, its trademark strategy franchise. It is actually broken up into three scenarios, only one of which was released in the US. One must play all three to fully get the experience, but I'm happy that we got any after Grandia wasn't ported. Also, although the graphics were amazing in all of them, scenario 3 got a facelift and had some of the best graphics on the system. And of course, I have to include Panzer Dragoon Saga. Personally, I haven't played it because of the large price tag, but PDS is a completely unique rpg experience. It only has ~10 hours of gameplay, but it includes tons of fmvs and voices for ambiance and a great PD battle system. It goes for $100+ on ebay. I'd say that the Saturn is almost as good as the PSX in terms of rpgs.
Sports: The Saturn sports games are a mixed bag. Earlier in the system, the games were terrible with long load times and horrendous gameplay (see Quarterback Club, early NHL games, early NFL games, Big Hurt Baseball, Bases Loaded, etc...). But near the end of its life, Sega and the third parties finally realized how to make good sports games for the Saturn. Madden 98 was quality, World Series Baseball 98 was amazing and drew me in as no baseball game had previously done, Worldwide Soccer turned into a worthwhile franchise, the later NHL games improved greatly, and NBA Action 98 destroyed Live 98. I Apparently Sega realized that less load times + interesting gameplay = the perfect combination for sports games. I suppose I should include racing games in here also. Daytona USA and Daytona: CC were both quality arcade racing-style games, especially with the steering wheel accessory. Need For Speed is the best port I've seen of it and Sonic R brought days of enjoyment with its interesting physics and engrossing music. Overall, I consider the Saturn sports games to come out as victor in the 32-bit era.
Other: The Saturn easily has better puzzle games than its competitors and also has many odd clique games like FMV games, simulation, and more.
Poor Saturn. It never got the chance it deserved. The fact that it was released earlier than the other systems only hurt things (especially with the initial $400 price tag). As the PSX and N64 reported to have full 3D capabilities, the Saturn had to be changed to better incorporate handling of polygons. Unfortunately, 3D was added as an afterthought, so it didn't work out too well. The Saturn always suffered with transparencies and had lower possible polygon counts than either of its two competitors. The method of drawing the polygons is different also. Saturn's 3d still cannot be emulated with hardware and many developers had hard times making beautiful games.
Also, it seems that Sega gave more to the countries where it was successful. Some of the Saturn imports are just incredible and it's unbelievable that they weren't ported. It is THE penultimate import system. I'm not quite sure how it exactly fared in Japan, but it was better than in the US. Fortunately with the Dreamcast, it seems that Sega took more risks and brought more games over (even with guaranteed debts). We still never got a domestic DC ShenmueII though.
Gah. Now I'm just ranting. So in summary, the Saturn is an amazing system, especially for the import buyers, but it was simply outclassed in the systems war. I will give the system a 9/10 overall because it is by far the best system I presently own and I think it will be near impossible to beat with how things are going (but if one does, that 10 is waiting).
Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 01/28/03, Updated 01/28/03
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