Most of us might be unfamiliar with the Sega Saturn, as the ‘90s to early ‘00s gaming consoles of choice for most middle-class households in the Philippines were probably the Super Famicom (better known as the SNES) or the PlayStation 1. This is why most of us don’t know that a lot of the classics we attribute to the SNES and PlayStation 1 also gained their popularity through their Sega Saturn ports.
Released in November 1994 in Japan, and May 1995 in North America, the Sega Saturn was a promising competitor to Nintendo until the cancellation of a Saturn-exclusive Sonic game, which brought down the sales of the Sega Saturn ultimately causing it to be considered a flop. Despite the lack of breakthrough exclusives for the Saturn, the console found some success in having ports for SNES, PS1, and arcade console games, with the Saturn ports sometimes even proving to be superior to the original games’ consoles.
While Sega has since shifted their focus from consoles to creating their top-notch games, the Saturn remains in gaming history as the little console that could(‘ve). With excellent ports and 3D graphics that could have rivaled the PS1, who knows what consoles we’d be playing today if the Saturn had better luck with its development.
In celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Sega Saturn’s worldwide release, let’s take a look at five games you didn’t know you could play on a Sega Saturn.
These days some might say that the Persona games make up a big part of Sega and Atlus’s bread and butter, and they wouldn’t be wrong. The Persona boom took off with the release of Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3, and it has since never stopped, what with the current popularity of Persona 5 and its spin-offs. But the mother of all Persona games is the Shin Megami Tensei series, and new Persona fans might be unaware of the original games as the “Shin Megami Tensei” title was removed from the 5th Persona game.
Before the Persona games, there was Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers, a Shin Megami Tensei game that found critical and commercial success through its release on the Sega Saturn and PS1. In Devil Summoners, you explore dungeons in first-person view, solving puzzles and engaging in turn-based combat. You also get to summon demons that you’ve collected throughout the dungeons, as well as fuse these demons to create stronger demons. Sound familiar? Of course it does–it’s exactly like the Persona games.
Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers was released as a Saturn exclusive in 1997, but it was later ported to the PS1 in 1999, and the 3DS in 2012. The Saturn paved the way for the SMT games as we know them today, and it’s not a stretch to say that we might not be playing Persona 5 Royal if it hadn’t been for Soul Hackers’ early success as a Saturn exclusive. Everyone say thank you, Sega Saturn.
If you owned a PS1 or a PS2, or if you were a frequent customer at your local arcade in the early aughts, chances are you’ve played one or more of the Marvel vs. Capcom games. Whether it was Marvel Super Heroes vs. Street Fighter, X-Men vs. Street Fighter, or the mainline MvC games, any gamer born in the ‘90s or earlier must have had some experience with the MvC series.
But did you know that the MvC games started on the Sega Saturn? Back in the mid-’90s, Capcom had acquired a license to produce fighting games with Marvel characters, and the first two games in which they did so were Marvel Super Heroes and X-Men: Children of the Atom. It was after Marvel Super Heroes that Capcom decided to create a crossover series featuring not only Marvel characters, but Capcom characters too.
Due to the success of the early MvC games in arcades, ports of the games were created for the Sega Saturn around 1996 to 1998. While the games were also ported to the PS1 later on, many consider the Saturn ports to be superior, as their controls and small technicalities (like hitboxes and frame rate) proved to be more accurate to the arcade version than the PS1 ports. Fighting game tournaments which include the early MvC games make use of the Saturn ports rather than the PlayStation ports. That’s right: if you want to play MvC like the pros, you’re gonna need a Sega Saturn.
Unlike the above games, Resident Evil for the Sega Saturn is actually a port from the original PS1 version. The Sega Saturn port featured slightly better graphics, and a Saturn-exclusive, unlockable “battle mode” in which the player must traverse through rooms with a set of chosen weapons, and defeat every monster in each room to receive a final grade for their performance. The battle mode features two new enemies unique to the Saturn port: a zombie version of Wesker, and a golden Tyrant.
The Resident Evil Saturn port also features several enemy re-skins, visual touch-ups on the environments, and exclusive outfits for Jill and Chris. And if you want a little more gore in your RE experience, the Japanese version of the Saturn port features bloodier animations, both in the player character’s death/game over screen and in zombie decapitation animations during gameplay.
With all the exclusive content included in the Saturn port of Resident Evil, it’s become somewhat of a rarity, and if you’ve got a copy of it, you could fetch about 100 to 300 USD for it on eBay, though if I were you, it would be a great piece of Saturn history to hold on to.
If you wanted to play an official release of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night right now, your best bet might be the mobile version available on Android and iOS. It’s a classic game that’s been ported and re-released in just about every platform, but did you know it also had a Japanese-only release for the Sega Saturn?
The Saturn port of SotN was quite notorious upon its release, as the game featured some key differences from the PS1 version. In the Saturn port, there were areas in the map unused in the PS1 version that you could travel to by inputting specific controls to make the game glitch. This allowed players to explore cut content in the original game, and it was one of the earliest examples of gamers trying to break a game so they can see behind the scenes. You could also gain access to unused music and a novelty weapon called the Alucard Spear in the Saturn port.
While IGA (also known as Koji Igarashi), the creator of Castlevania went on to denounce the Saturn port of SotN due to its bugs and design differences from the original game, the Saturn port is also a rarity in the retro gaming community, and a copy today would cost 150 to 200 USD even in poor condition. It just goes to show that even the mishaps that happen with the Sega Saturn can appreciate in value because of the console’s cult-classic status.
Grandia is an absolute classic of a JRPG, and if you’ve played it before, chances are you played it on a PS1. Its original release, however, was for the Sega Saturn, and the PS1 port simply followed two years later. The Saturn version was released as a Japan-only game, and it received critical praise locally, earning high scores from video game publications and drawing comparisons to Final Fantasy VII, although Grandia was often said to be better than FFVII.
When it was released on PS1 in 1999, Grandia became available to the Western world, and it was met with the same praise internationally as its local Saturn release. The PS1, despite its technological inferiorities to the Sega Saturn, maintained all the detail and charm of the original version, and in 1999 it was also seen as a direct competitor to Final Fantasy VIII.
Grandia had a stellar soundtrack, beautiful environments, and engaging gameplay, and it’s a mystery as to why it never got as big as the Final Fantasy series when the original stood just as tall as any Mako Tower or Leviathan. If you’re itching to experience Grandia now, you can get the remastered version for PC on Steam, and while the remaster makes use of the PlayStation version’s code, it still has its original Saturn version DNA intact.
Of course, this wouldn’t be an article on the Sega Saturn if we didn’t end it with a Segata Sanshiro clip. But it’s 2020, Sega is approaching its 60th anniversary alongside the Saturn’s 25th, and there’s a new Sega mascot in town: Sega Shiro, Sanshiro’s very own son.
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