When people think of Japanese Saturn games, they quite rightly call to mind classics such as Capcom’s 4MB-enhanced beat ‘em ups, shmups like Battle Garrega and Radiant Silvergun, and the sequels the West wanted but never got (I hate to bring up old wounds, but I must mention Dragon Force 2 and the remaining Shining Force 3 scenarios). The Saturn had far more Japanese games than just these cult classics though and while the quality naturally varies from game to game there’s still plenty of interesting titles waiting to be played, often for $10USD or less.
Take Real Sound: Kaze no Regret for example – there are literally no graphics at all in this game (and only minimal optional stills in the Dreamcast remake), the reason being that it was designed to be a game that could be enjoyed just as well by blind gamers as it could able-sighted ones. The game is an interactive sound drama and plays out much like a visual novel with the player making decisions at key points.
If that’s a bit too esoteric how about Black/Matrix, an SRPG series by Flight Plan (creators of the Summon Night series and DS SRPG Shining Force Feather) that started on the Saturn and spawned two remakes (Dreamcast and PS1), a direct sequel (PS2), a prequel (GBA), and later a remake of that prequel (PS1) – yet these games are hardly discussed anywhere! What’s especially enticing about this game to a curious import gamer is that it’s rather linear meaning more time can be spent enjoying the battles rather than scouring FAQs for the NPC you should have spoken to in the last town but completely missed.
Japanese Saturn fans even got all-new exclusive sequels to quintessentially Western games too: Dungeon Master Nexus is the final game in FTL’s classic dungeon crawling RPG series and finally brought the series into true 3D while still retaining many familiar features from the previous games. Alex and his lock picks, Screamers, the rune system… just about everything’s present and correct, and the dungeon is as challenging as ever.
Even ports of more typical games are worth looking at – the Saturn versions of Tactics Ogre and Ogre Battle have additional voice acting not found in any other version and while Suikoden was released over two years after the Playstation original Konami made up for it somewhat by giving the game a bit of a tweak and touch up, arguably making it the superior version of the two.
The best part is that these titles are barely even the tip of the iceberg – never heard of Linkle Liver Story? It’s an ARPG by Nextech, the creators of Ragnacenty (AKA Soliel, AKA Crusader of Centy). Soukara no Tsubasa: Gotha World uses a unique “Personal Time System” to give turn based combat a real time twist in a Porco-Rosso-with-fantasy-leanings setting. Sakura Taisen – a series so successful that the cast have filled the Budokan twice with their stage shows – and yet only the final one out of the five main titles (and about fifteen spinoffs, excluding ports and remakes) has been released outside Japan. Gamers not comfortable with the language barrier have plenty to look at too – bonkers shmup Game Tengoku, puzzler Puyo Puyo 3, Bomberman Fight!, the Virtual On-like Steeldom… the list goes on and on.
Being objective, these games are not the absolute greatest titles to grace the system nor are they lost treasures that will silently increase in price until only the most dedicated of collectors own them – but they are quirky and fun games that will entertain and amuse those curious or brave enough to give them a go, and certainly deserve better than to be consistently passed over for more familiar titles. So next time you’re browsing the web for imports, why not give something new a try?