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The Best Sega Saturn Games You’ve Never Played

Tech & Science

In the world of Sega, naming a console after a giant planet with rings was a way for them to underscore the awesomeness of having literally doubled the Genesis/Main Drive’s 16-bit capacity to 32.

However, this only made the eventual failure of the Sega Saturn just as horrendous. Sure, the system may have done well in Japan, but not in North America. There, the Saturn faced many obstacles, all of which would later prove to be too much for the short-lived console to handle, leading to its inevitable discontinuation in 1998.

First, the Saturn’s hardware design was panned for being complex. Critics weren’t pleased, either, by the limited third-party support.

Next, the Saturn was released four months early (May 1995), slicing the overall marketing campaign.

Then, along came the Nintendo 64 in late 1996, garnering worldwide praise at the expense of the Saturn.

Probably the biggest blow was that Sega failed to release what was then designated as Sonic X-treme, which is incandescently stupid, seeing as Sonic the Hedgehog is Sega’s spearheading character.

Due to these horrific failures, many people never bothered with the Saturn and thusly never played any of its corresponding games. And those who did bother to buy one, ended up giving up on it early on, especially when there were things like PlayStation and Nintendo 64 to play.

While many of the Saturn’s games were duds, there were, however, some really awesome releases. But seeing as no one really paid attention to the system, no one played them, hence our list. These are 15 of the best ones that, unfortunately, no one ever played.

Game on!

15. Sonic R

Yup. Of course, we had to include a Sonic game on here! (We couldn’t go with Sonic 3D Blast because that was ported from the Genesis, nor could we pick Sonic Jam because it was basically just a compilation of classic Sonic games.)

Regardless, Sonic R isn’t an “Oh my god, another Sonic game!” type of release. It’s strictly racing, hence why it’s number 15. That said, many of its stages are based on the classic zones from the staples we all know and love like Chemical Plan Zone from Sonic 2. It’s exciting seeing such beloved two-dimensional areas rendered in a three-dimensional playing field.

While “just anther racer,” Sonic R was a pretty unique one as far (or as fast) as racing games go. Yes, it was a lot like Mario Kart (a big plus in our book), but much of the gameplay placed a great deal of emphasis on jumping, even exploration, adding a certain dynamic that even Kart never utilized.

Plus, one of the extra gaming modes had a great concept, and it wasn’t another battle-type option, either. Called Tag 4 Characters, the point of the game was to chase … and catch … four other characters in order to win.

14. Nights into Dreams

Anything that’s created by the Sonic Team should be taken seriously, or, at least, demands just a smidge of your attention. This is especially the case in this particular case, seeing as Nights into Dreams originated during the development stages of Sonic the Hedgehog 2, the holy grail of the Sonic franchise.

But there are other reasons why you should’ve played Nights into Dreams. One, it found inspiration from the profoundly weird and disturbing ruminations of Sigmund Freud. Two, it came with its own controller, the Saturn 3D, which featured an analog stick and triggers so as to ease the complexity of moving within the three-dimensional plane in which your character explored.

With so much awesomeness literally in your hands, you may be asking why this game is so low on our list. It’s because Nights into Dreams was incredibly successful. Here are some of its accolades: it made 15th place, out of 100, in Computer and Video Games’ January 2000 readers’ poll, of which Mario 64 ranked at 14th; 94th in IGN’s Top 100 Games list in 2007; third place in 1UP’s Top Ten Cult Classics round up; 25th in Next Generation Magazine’s 100 Greatest Games of All-Time feature; and it made best Sega Saturn game in GamesRadar’s 2014 write up.

Even the synopsis is intriguing: you controlled Nights, an exiled Nightmaren, who flew around through the dreams of playable characters Claris and Elliot, who’d entered Nightopia, a world wherein all dreams take place.

The fact that Claris and Elliot were in Nightopia was a problem, though, because Wizeman the Wicked, who you can probably discern by the name is evil … or wicked … was collecting the hope, growth, intelligence and purity of those who’d entered there to help him take over Nightopia.

So, seeing as Claris and Elliot were both in Nightopia, their emotions were stolen. And you had to get them back.

13. Panzer Dragoon II Zwei

Everyone is undoubtedly either aware of the first installment of Panzer Dragoon or played the living heck out of it, just based on the fact that you’re, uh, riding a dragon, a giant lizard friend that … fires lasers. Yes, lasers. Not flames. Lasers. Sure, the rider has a gun, but who wants to use that when your dragon can fire freakin’ lasers!?

Plus, this game was pretty well known, at least after it was made available on the PlayStation II (and everybody had one of those babies).

We can’t give all the credit to PlayStation, though. Even in Sega Saturn standards, the game did quite well. Heck, Electronic Gaming Monthly designated the release as Game of the Month in July of 1995. They also named it Best Saturn Game of 1995 in their 1996 Buyers’ Guide.

But we’re talking about Panzer Dragoon II Zwei, not Panzer Dragoon (Eins?). Despite Zwei being considerably more in-depth than its predecessor—a deepness measured by the numerous amounts of alternative routes you and your dragon could take and by the fact that your laser-firing dragon could now evolve, a contingency based on your performance—it was a Sega Saturn exclusive and, therefore, fewer people could play it.

Zwei did, however, almost make it onto the PC, but that rendition never saw the light of day. Perhaps it was due to the fact that the title of the game included a German word, thus scaring the crap out of everyone from buying it.

12. Virtua Cop

If you were a product of the ’90s, then chances were exceedingly high that you at least saw that incredibly badass arcade with the two vertical metal slabs at its base and the two strangely colored guns (a very bright blue one and an equally as bright pink one). Yup, Time Crisis.

Well, this game, Virtua Cop, made Time Crisis possible.

So why wouldn’t you have played it back in the day? Because gameplay was supported by the Virtua Gun and Saturn Mouse. This was bad for two reasons. One, it was highly unlikely that your parents would buy them for you because that’s extra money and, two, after the horror that was the Zapper for the NES, who could trust another console-originating gun? So, if you couldn’t have the Virtua Gun or Saturn Mouse, why would you play it at all?

11. Die Hard Arcade

Yup. You read that correctly. This is a game based off the critically acclaimed Die Hard film (before it became a franchise).

In it, you could choose between John McClane or Kris Thompsen (but truth be told, who would choose Kris when you could kick butt as McClane, especially when the nomenclature of said game included the words “Die” and “Hard,” in that exact order?). During gameplay, you’d not only control McClane within a three-dimensional rendered environment, but beat the crap out of enemies using his fists, feet, various weapons as well as any household items you could find, even brooms and, yes, pepper shakers.

Unless you had a Sega Saturn, the only way in which you could play this game was at your local arcade (where the game originated, hence the “Arcade” portion of the title) or if you lived in Japan and waited for almost a decade before it was ported to the PlayStation 2.

Die Hard Arcade was, surprisingly (or maybe not surprisingly) Sega’s most successful US-based arcade game, but seeing as what the others ones were, that’s not saying much.

10. Mystaria: The Realms of Lore

What made Mystaria (Blazing Heroes in North America) so captivating was twofold: one was the incredibly high number of characters you could control individually (the maximum being 12) in one turn and the another being how your characters moved and interacted (via a grid-like system) with the world around them.

Let’s explain the latter. After selecting a character, grids would appear on the landscape, showing you where your character could (or could not) go, kinda like Chess on steroids. If a certain object lay within a character’s collection of grids, then you could go to it and perform whatever your character could perform with said object. If an enemy lay within those grids, then you could attack.

Once you finished moving all your characters, then the enemy would move in the same manner.

While this definitely made the game stand out from the plethora of turn-based RPGs out there, what shed, even more, light on this game was the way in which your characters advanced skill-wise. Rather than collecting points after leveling up and distributing them to whatever skills or abilities you saw fit, you could only “level up” a specific attack by actually utilizing said attack in battle. So if you kicked a lot, then your kicks got better, not your punches nor your spells. Makes sense.

Regardless of how different the game may have been, there were many grievances that undoubtedly scared off potential buyers back in the day. Some said there was too much gameplay, not enough cut scenes (Maximum), not enough story (Sega Saturn Magazine) and excessive battle times (Electronic Gaming Monthly).

9. Guardian Heroes

No, it doesn’t count if you played Guardian Heroes on the Xbox Live Arcade. You had to have played it on the Sega Saturn.

There are three reasons why this game was so fun.

The first is based on what the developers of Guardian Heroes referred to it as: “a fighting RPG.” Um. Yes, please! Sega came up with the term because you not only beat the crap out of enemies in a side-scrolling world but could upgrade your character based on points you received at the end of every level.

The second was that you could alter the storyline based on what you did, the most interesting variables revolving around what the developers termed as the Karma meter (we’ll let you extrapolate what that feature entailed on your own).

As for the third: it was a side-scroller that took place in a medieval-like setting, and those are always awesome. Plus, outside of strict RPGs, they’re a rare commodity.

8. Dragon Force

We don’t know what made this game so utterly fantastic more. Was it that, when battling, you got to watch two armies charge and slay one another in real time, not from an aerial view like in the original World of Warcraft games but from the side … at eye level … embellishing the all-out pandemonium that inevitably ensues in battle? Or was it that these warring people were Anime-style characters, punching and kicking at each other like Dragon Ball Z warriors?

Nonetheless, the view was really intense and was amplified by the real-time fighting,  the only pause in gameplay being when you were given the option to have your soldiers advance (which is an all-out charge), retreat, regroup, disperse (whereby your soldiers would run off in the background, fully utilizing the three-dimensional field), standby or perform melee combat (complete with the DBZ punches and kicks).

Another plus: the movement of the camera was highly dynamic. For example, at the start of a battle, each enemy would be separated by a large battlefield (the size of which was so enormous that the only way in which you could see the enemy was by the camera panning to the left or right). After choosing to have your men advance (which was on the other side and off screen), the camera would then follow your soldiers running by panning along with them, as the enemy fired upon them from somewhere off-screen. The only time you’d be able to see your foe would be after your men ran across the field of battle onto their side.

The craziness of the camera movements was only augmented by the speed in which the view would dart back and forth from the soldiers fighting to either your general or the opposing side’s general. If it were your general’s turn, you could choose what type of spell or attack you’d want him to perform. And then the camera would pan accordingly, keeping the attack on screen.

Wow!

7. Shining Wisdom

There are many reasons as to why Shining Wisdom may have never made it to every person’s Sega Saturn console. The variable that undoubtedly carries the most weight is that it was originally meant for the Mega Drive and was changed to the Sega Saturn at the last minute, which greatly affected its graphics (in a bad way).

Another reason is because the gameplay in Shining Wisdom greatly diverged from its predecessors. Before this release, Shining games relied heavily on a turned-based system and this one was more of an action-adventure type of game, akin to The Legend of Zelda.

This makes the game’s obscurity all the more troubling. The gaming world is overly saturated with turn-based RPGs already, so anything else is always highly welcome, especially games like Zelda (owners of the Nintendo Switch would undoubtedly agree). On top of that, this particular effort featured a unique form of gameplay, of which solely manifested in a unique system of attacks that could be altered based on items and orbs acquired in the game. Wait, what?

6. Battle Monsters

Before and even after Sega Saturn, versus fighting games have always been pretty much the same. Even Mortal Kombat isn’t really even that innovative, character-wise, the only real “wow” factor being its over-the-top fatalities, providing us with a gratuitous amount of blood and gore. But even that’s starting to lose its appeal.

The problem is that most of the fighters in these games are humanoid. Sure, one character might have a sword, another may have been blessed with massive tits. And, sure, another guy might be able to shoot lightning or conjure up some other elemental attack. But that’s it.

Battle Monsters, on the other hand, stepped it up by offering a host of diverse creatures. Even the “human” fighters were still unique, such as the two clown-like cavemen, Chili and Pepper, who’d attack by throwing each other at their opponents and Headless Harn, a massive warrior that utilized his severed head to attack his foe, which explains his name. Even the “hero” of the game was badass, a barbarian, gladiator dude named Makaryudo who wasn’t armed with a regular shield, but one with claws that could shoot arrows.

Stand out monsters included the rib-throwing skeleton warrior, Fangore, who evaded attacks by falling apart before reassembling himself; the bird-like creature Skythe, which could summon hellfire by utilizing his medallion; and a Medusa-esque character named Naga who was actually infinitely more awesome than Medusa herself, seeing as Naga could transform into a cluster of snakes.

And this isn’t even mentioning the Big 4 unplayable characters.

Unfortunately, people like what they know, and they knew Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat, so no one paid attention to this monster of a game.

5. CrimeWave

Who doesn’t want to drive around a three-dimensional landscape in a cop car blowing up bad guys? And by “blowing up,” we don’t mean after you’ve rammed into them and utilized tire treads, even though you can do these things and more in CrimeWave. The vehicles you were behind the wheels of were armed with machine guns, grenades and, yes, rocket launchers.

While all this sounds cool, we weren’t being wholly straight with you. You weren’t necessarily in a cop car, seeing as you weren’t a cop. In the game, police no longer existed. The crime was now controlled by bounty hunters.

What made this game even more entertaining was that it wasn’t a straight-down aerial shot of your car wreaking havoc over a flat surface. The camera was, while still up above, down at an angle (called isometric), taking a few extra steps beyond the two-dimensional plane into a partially three-dimensional one.

And did we mention you battled tanks?

4. Three Dirty Dwarves

There were so many things about this game that made it such a damn shame that no one ever played it. First off, the story line was incredibly creative. A group of kids were playing Dungeons & Dragons (which, by default, makes this intrinsically awesome) but something went horribly, horribly wrong. They were kidnapped.

So where do these three dirty dwarves come from? They were summoned by the group of kidnapped kids.

Huh!

Dungeons & Dragons played more of a role: manifesting in the form of rolling (role spelled with two l’s) whereby rolling dice were your filthy dwarves’ power ups.

Plus, each dwarf—Greg, Taconic and Carthog—were not only dirty but had their own very distinguishable way of fighting: one used a shotgun, the other a baseball bat and baseballs and the last, a bowling ball and bowling pins.

Additionally still, the enemies you faced were equally as special: one was an animated house with moving arms that threw various things at you.

3. Clockwork Knight

Back in the day, Clockwork Knight wasn’t perceived as that “intense” of a game, graphic-wise, especially with a gaming system that was considered to be a next-generation console. As a reviewer from Maximum said: “Everything you can do in Clockwork Knight, you’ve probably done before in a 16-bit title.”

Basically, Clockwork Knight was too much like Donkey Kong Country due to the artistic execution of its characters. While two-dimensional, they were fleshed-out in a way that made them look three-dimensional, an outlook that was exemplified by the world in which they “lived”: a full-blown three-dimensional landscape wherein all bosses, too, were three-dimensional.

When Clockwork Knight was released, critics wanted their half-two-dimensional, half-three-dimensional characters to lose the two-dimensional portion of their appearance and they also wanted those complete three-dimensional characters to explore the full extent of the three-dimensional landscape.

But, now that kind of a game just adds to the white noise. The gaming world is so inundated with three-dimensional graphics that it’s no longer special. Now, a game that has the qualities of Donkey Kong Country would be gobbled up for breakfast.

2. SteamGear Mash

We’re still scratching our “digital” heads as to why SteamGear Mash never made it outside of Japan.

The concept was similar to that of Metroid (ever heard of that?) except your character could move around 360 degrees in a three-dimensional world.

Sure, Skeleton Krew, on the Mega Drive, utilized this setup first, but SteamGear Mash embellished it by injecting just the right amount of cuteness into it.

Your character was not only cute but pretty neat: he was an agile, compact ‘lil’ robot dude with some steampunk attributes (he had a chimney-like object protruding from the back of its head that released little bouts of steam). Plus, he was armed with a gun that shot out a rapid barrage of blue spheres that, upon impact, erupted into a multi-colored explosion of colors.

1. Bulk Slash

If you’re a fan of 1980-90s anime mecha shows, stop doing all other stuff on the internet right now. Focus on this article. No multitasking. You’re going to want to read this.

All of this awesomeness we mentioned earlier (anime, mecha, 1980-90s) was in this game. However, the anime stuff wasn’t just confined to character headshots when he or she spoke during gameplay (like in Fox 64).

The game’s cinematic footage was completely composed of actual scenes from what could’ve been an amazing anime series, making it some sort of exclusive repository of never-before-seen anime footage.

But, wait, there’s more!

During gameplay, your mecha was completely immersed in a highly engaging three-dimensional world. And, throughout the game, you could collect a grand arsenal of attacks that were quite colorful and engaging in how dynamically they destroyed your enemies.

Oh, and did we mention that your character wasn’t just a mecha running around? Your robot was basically a transformer because you could transform into a fighter jet, too.

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