Back in its heyday, the Sega Saturn had a reasonable amount of popularity in the U.S., although not enough to overcome the powerful Sony PlayStation. That said, the system actually had a bigger following in Japan, and, as a result, saw more releases than we got here in the States.
This led to an interesting import boom for the console, with people paying nearly a hundred dollars a pop to bring the games to their system. Of course, that also meant modding it in some way, either by installing a switch that could allow for playing of both U.S. and Japanese games, or a cartridge that plugged into the top slot, overriding the region coding for the system to allow the games to be played.
It was an interesting process, but a hardcore few certainly were up for it, and as a result, got a hold of many great import games. Nowadays, importing isn't as "hardcore," since most systems support region coding and don't allow for workarounds. Still, for this week's Old Made New, we couldn't help but look at the Sega Saturn importing scene, and the titles that made the biggest waves with it.
Treasure was one of the bigger developers to emerge from the 90's, breaking away from Konami and forming a studio that would create such cult classics as Gunstar Heroes and Guardian Heroes. On the Saturn, it maintained an even greater legacy with the release of the "shmup" Radiant Silvergun. This challenging shooter puts a variety of power-ups at your fingertips and, with enough energy generated, also lets you destroy ships with a large virtual sword attack.
The game has become a cult legend for many years, drawing as much as $250 on eBay in some cases. Microsoft, not one to turn down an opportunity to appeal to an overseas market, worked with Treasure to bring the game to Xbox Live Arcade. While that version was better received, namely due to its way cheaper price tag, many still consider the Saturn version a holy grail of sorts. After all, that's where its legacy began.
Capcom, getting it done
Capcom fully supported the Saturn with a number of great fighting games, including Street Fighter Collection, Street Fighter Alpha 2 and Night Warriors: Darkstalkers Revenge, which many consider to be the best fighting game for the console. However, overseas, the company took its support a step further with a number of new releases.
The five-game Capcom Generations collection, for example, brought the 19XX trilogy to the system, along with the Ghouls 'n Ghosts games, variations of Street Fighter II, and other odd games. It also released the Dungeons and Dragons Collection, at a time when there was no other way to play Capcom's classic brawlers in a home console. (Thankfully, they've since found a digital release in Chronicles of Mystara for Xbox Live and PlayStation Network.)
Perhaps the biggest shock was how much better the company's Versus fighting games performed on the system, thanks to the addition of a supplementary 4 MB card that plugged into the top cartridge slot. Unlike the shoddy PlayStation versions of the games, X-Men vs. Street Fighter and Marvel Superheroes vs. Street Fighter ran impressively on the system, including the player swap-out feature and two-player support. Devoted fans considered these versions, and for good reason. Unfortunately, Capcom couldn't find a sufficient enough workaround to make the 4 MB cartridge work in our market, so a U.S. release just didn't happen.
An ultimate Castlevania: Symphony of the Night?
One of the PlayStation's best received games, Konami's Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, eventually made its way to the Sega Saturn overseas, but with some improvements that made it more like a director's cut. These included two new levels, as well as some visual tweaks to make the game a little smoother than its PlayStation counterpart.
Unfortunately, Konami had very little faith in the Saturn at the time when it came to the U.S. market, so it opted not to bring the game to the U.S. or Canada. That led to a few dedicated fans to import the game, even without translation, to see what all it had to offer. Sadly, the company hasn't considered releasing this "director's cut" since, although the original game is available on both Xbox Live and PlayStation Network for a rather cheap price.
Other odds and ends
Aside from major publishers providing games for the Saturn in Japan, others also played a part in expanding the library overseas as well. Taito released Elevator Action Returns, a much more serious take on the classic shooting and elevator-hopping action game from the 80's; Sega produced a Phantasy Star Collection that faithfully lived up to the lexicon of the series, but proved too complex to translate to bring to the U.S. market (something Working Designs probably would've jumped on, considering its work on the system's final release, Magic Knight Rayearth); sequels like Gun Griffon II and Dragon Force II gave Japanese fans something to look forward to, even if Sega of America had moved on; and the import market saw a number of role-playing releases, including a Samurai Shodown themed RPG, as well as Grandia (with a Prelude thrown in) and Devil Summoner. Granted, these were only imported by the nutcases who had no problem translating Japanese for hours on end.
So what happened?
In the end, the PlayStation proved too tough for Sega to bear, and the Saturn eventually faded from market, despite a last-effort push with games like House of the Dead and the much-heralded Panzer Dragoon Saga. However, it wasn't a sad ending, as Sega came back hard in 1999 with the release of the Dreamcast, its most impressive console to date. That system received far better support, even without certain publishers on board (like Electronic Arts), and would craft its own legacy as well.
Alas, that's another Old Made New for another day…