The Ultimate SEGA Saturn Guide Part II: The 20 must-have Saturn games
The SGEA Saturn has a varied library of games, and it’s surprisingly great – especially if you’re including the many Japan-only titles (which I am) that are well worth importing. There’s so much choice that a top twenty was the absolute minimum I could refine my favourites down to, and today I’ll be detailing these games and explaining why I’d consider them to be the must-have games for any Saturn owner.
***Note: This article is a follow up to The Ultimate SEGA Saturn Guide Part I: Introduction to the Saturn, which mainly covers the console – whilst this post mainly covers the games. In particular that article details the process of playing import games, many of which are mentioned here.***
NiGHTS was in many ways SEGA’s flagship game for the Saturn, and it’s an excellent title that has aged surprisingly well. Hailing from a time when the conventions of 3D gaming hadn’t been fully established, it largely functions as a 2D title existing in a 3D space. Because of this it’s not as revolutionary as some of the era’s other 3D games, but the mechanics weren’t superseded as 3D gaming evolved – meaning it’s still great fun today.
The Saturn had few 3D games that could really compete with some of the more impressive titles released for the PlayStation and Nintendo 64, but Burning Rangers was actually pretty awesome. The game has a strong mix of exploration and action, and involves the player commanding a giant robot and putting out fires. There’s a particularly interesting feature that lets you request voiced navigational prompts, which makes for an interesting change from the map-reading skills most games require for orientation.
The Saturn may have lacked a major Sonic release, with Sonic X-treme being notoriously cancelled, but Sonic Jam is without a doubt the next best thing. It combines the four Mega Drive/Genesis games on one disc and replicates the originals whilst adding enhanced elements. Most importantly the games were rebuilt for the Saturn hardware and weren’t rushed emulation ports. This allowed for new features, and there’s also the option to simulate the lock-on technology from Sonic & Knuckles and link the game with others from the collection. Then there’s a basic 3D area that plays like a rudimentary level from Sonic Adventure for the Dreamcast. In total it’s a pretty sweet compilation.
Shining Force III draws comparison to Camelot’s Golden Sun – a slightly less obscure game they released a few years later for the GameBoy Advance. In fact all of Camelot’s games have a similar feel, and even some of the golf ones have comparable RPG elements. Shining Force was their original series, and it really excels as one of the Saturn’s nicest looking 2D games. Of course it also helps that it’s got exceptionally fun and addictive turn based strategy mechanics that make it a deep and engrossing game. Today it’s one of the Saturn’s rarest and most expensive titles.
The game that started the bullet hell genre – Batsugun is now a near legendary title, with the developers at Toaplan going on to found both CAVE and Raizing. The game itself is an exceptional example of its genre, showcasing its mechanics in an intense and pure form. On the Saturn it looks stunning, and this is still the only platform outside the arcades it has been released on.
The SEGA Saturn version of Daytona is not a perfect port of the arcade game. In fact its blocky graphics are so far removed from the original that the game really takes on an identity of its own. Still, Daytona USA on Saturn stands out as an awesomely retro take on the arcade classic. The Championship Edition includes an additional two tracks, making it the best of the Saturn versions.
The Saturn has a notably impressive library of fighting games, and Darkstalkers 3 is one of many. It stands out as a personal favourite thanks to its vampire theme, creative characters and dark atmosphere. By using the 4mb RAM expansion it does an excellent job in reproducing the original arcade game, and plays great thanks to the Saturn’s six button controller.
One of the Saturn’s best RPGs, Albert Odyssey didn’t get a release in Europe, and as the Japanese version is, well, in Japanese. Meanwhile the North American game is now a rare classic. Whilst difficult to come by, and the difference in price between the English language and Japanese language versions is jarring, it’s an excellent RPG if you can afford it. Originally planned for the Super Nintendo, it now looks like a refined SNES game with an excellent 2D art direction.
CAVE’s DoDonPachi is perhaps the greatest series in shmup history, and both the original original – DonPachi – and sequel DoDonPachi can be found on the Saturn. Of these it’s game #2 that really shines thanks to more balanced and refined mechanics. You fly a spaceship, shoot everything in your path and try and dodge literally thousands of enemy bullets. It’s simple fun, insanely hard and completely awesome – as is every DoDonPachi game that’s been released since.
If you’re looking for a fighting game that’s strikingly different, then look no further than Sunsoft’s Waku Waku 7. The game has awesome anime characters, bright visuals and an over-the-top effects. It’s super fun to play, and another great arcade game that feels right at home on the Saturn.
Treasure’s ‘fighting RPG’ is still one of my favourite games on the Saturn thanks to a competent implementation of both side-scrolling beat ’em up and role playing mechanics. Guardian Heroes also has a great soundtrack, awesome art style, and interesting story with branching paths. Overall it’s another underrated classic that retained a low profile thanks to its exclusivity on the Saturn. There was eventually a sequel on the GameBoy Advance, and a remake for the Xbox Live Arcade, but nothing quite beats the original.
Most of what can be said for the Saturn version of Daytona is also true for its port of SEGA Rally. But in this title the controls are notably smooth, making the game exceptionally fun to play. However with only three tracks it’s a short but sweet experience, although its low price makes SEGA Rally a cheap arcade game that deserves a place in every Saturn collection.
Although only two levels long, Christmas NiGHTS is still the best Christmas game ever made. It was originally a promo release, and in this regard it’s a surprisingly substantial title that mixes NiGHTS mechanics with new content. Most importantly it delivers a wonderfully festive experience that captures the atmosphere of the holiday perfectly. There’s even additional Christmas features if you play the game on December 25th.
The list of exceptional 3D games for the Saturn is relatively short, and as a result it’s the same names that usually come up when you’re looking for classics. Bulk Slash is the one title that’s never mentioned as much as it should be – and its polished mechanics, sharp controls and impressive graphics define it as one of the system’s most accomplished 3D titles. You control a large robot that can transform, and take on a variety of action oriented missions. There’s also a dating sim element, although as the game wasn’t released outside of Japan this component requires an understanding of the language to enjoy.
Alongside CAVE there was Raizing, who’s vertical scrolling shoot’em ups were equal assaults on the senses. There was Terra Diver, Kingdom Grand Prix and of course Battle Garegga – which stands out as their most refined classic on the Saturn. This was the first game in Shinobu Yagawa’s ‘Bat Trilogy’ (named because each of the games – Battle Garegga, Armed Police Batrider, and Battle Bakraid – have the word ‘Bat’ in them) but the later two have tragically never been released outside the arcade.
The original Panzer Dragoon was more focused in showing off the capabilities of the console rather than delivering a mechanically complex and detailed experience. Such games are still made today, although Panzer Dragoon remains surprisingly fun to play thanks to its simplicity. You fly a dragon and shoot stuff – the music still’s great and the graphics, whilst not as nice as impressive as they once were, have their own retro charm. Its sequel, Panzer Dragoon II: Zwei is also worth checking out, and offers both new levels and slightly refined mechanics.
Street Fighter Alpha 3. X-Men: Children of the Atom. Marvel Super Heroes. The Saturn had it all, and if you like fighting games then these are all titles you’ll want to look into. But I’ve saved this spot for my own favourite; X-Men vs. Street Fighter. It’s got an awesome tag team feature and an varied selection of characters from – you guessed it – both the X-men and Street Fighter universes. The game also saw a less-impressive port on the PlayStation, that’s lacking both graphically and mechanically due to RAM limitation. In comparison the Saturn version does justice to the arcade classic.
Not to be confused with the power-metal band, Dragon Force for Sega Saturn is a unique and slightly obscure real time strategy game. The fact that the game was localised is still a bit of a miracle (and Working Designs can also be thanked for bringing Albert Odyssey and Shining Wisdom to the Saturn) and now (you’ve guessed it) Dragon Force is another rare and expensive game you can’t play, at least in English, on any other console.
Treasure make awesome action games. This is a sentiment usually echoed in these lists I write, where their games are frequently mentioned. On the Saturn we have one of their finest titles; Radiant Silvergun, and another of the best shumpus ever made. The game does away with a conventional power up system, instead kitting your ship out with six different weapons from the beginning. This adds a new level of strategy to the genre, and subsequently a new method of challenging the player. The game’s spiritual successor, Ikaruga for the Nintendo GameCube, also comes recommended.
Panzer Dragoon Saga is a legendary and notorious game. Being released so late in the console’s lifespan it sold fairly poorly – and despite strong reviews it was too late to save the failing system. Over fifteen years later it’s an incredibly rare title, and finding the game in good condition is particularly hard as it combines two of the Saturn’s flimsy boxes with an outer cardboard sleeve and a total of four disks. It’s also widely regarded as the console’s best game, which naturally adds to its collectability. Now it’s well known for two reasons – one for being really good, and two for being really, really expensive.
Before Vanillaware was founded many of its members developed Princess Crown. Because of this it feels like a Vanillaware game in disguise, and is both mechanically and stylistically similar to Odin Sphere, Muramasa: The Demon Blade, and Dragon Crown (which even has a similar name). There is however a downside – Princess Crown was only released in Japan and is subsequently entirely in Japanese. Because of this I’m hesitant to recommend it, although for those who don’t speak the language there is an online translation that can be used if you don’t mind the inconvenience of reading along with the game (available here).
This isn’t the only game you should also be adding to your collection if you’re fluent in Japanese, but Princess Crown stands out for not being released in any other format. Games such as Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Lunar 2, YU-NO, Policenauts and Langrisser IV are five classics in particular that all come highly recommended, but whilst on Saturn they were Japanese exclusives they can be played in English on other platforms.*
*Mainly PlayStation 1, Langrisser IV and Policenautsis have been fan-translated. YU-NO has been translated and compiled for Windows PC.