Between Guardian Heroes, Radiant Silvergun, and Nights into Dreams HD on Xbox Live Arcade, fans of the Sega Saturn now have access to some of the most memorable 32-bit games of all time at the touch of a button. Well, probably a couple of buttons, but it’s a lot easier than actually digging out your Saturn. Plus, all three games come with improved graphics and expanded features, such as Achievements and online leaderboards.
The Sega Saturn had a plethora of unusual games that were great then and would be a welcome change of pace in the current cookie-cutter, sequel-crazy industry, where even Call of Duty is cloning Call of Duty. The following are some of Gamesbeat’s top choices, along with some honorable mentions that were excellent games on their own but are probably best remembered and not resurrected.
Keep in mind that these are mostly platform-exclusive originals, so you won’t find any Street Fighter titles on the list, for example.
#1 Dragon Force (1996)
Before Atlus and NIS ruled the niche RPG scene, American publisher Working Designs provided localizations of some of the greatest 32-bit games ever made. Sega's Dragon Force was one of many standout titles but gets the nod on this list for its unique approach to fantasy warfare.
Perhaps if a Dragon Force HD performed well enough, U.S. players could finally get their hands on a localization of the Japan-only sequel.
#2 Burning Rangers (1998)
Sonic Team must have needed a breather from Sonic the Hedgehog because they did not create a single game for the mascot during the admittedly short lifespan of the Sega Saturn. Instead, they turned their efforts towards original titles such as Nights into Dreams and Burning Rangers, two of the more original games of all time.
Nights into Dreams is the clear star of the two, but Burning Rangers pushed the Saturn's hardware capabilities beyond what many thought it was capable of. It also let players do something other than kill or stomp their way to victory.
#3 The Legend of Oasis (1996)
The sequel to Beyond Oasis for the Sega Genesis, The Legend of Oasis was memorable for its action-RPG gameplay and especially its gorgeous, colorful sprites. The Sega Saturn was king of 2D visuals, and The Legend of Oasis took full advantage of that.
Though marred by frustrating platforming at times, The Legend of Oasis and its beautiful graphics would make for a great retina-display iOS game.
#4 Bug! (1995)
With Sonic on a bit of a hiatus during the Saturn years, Sega brought in fresh faces to vie for the mascot's throne temporarily. Realtime Associates' Bug! was up to the task and made a name for itself with gravity-defying 3D stages. The main character, a bug named Bug, could walk up walls or even on ceilings. It was pretty cool, and nothing like that had ever been done before in gaming.
The sequel, Bug Too!, was more of the same, but I remember it lacking that special something the original had. With sidekicks that tried too hard, like Maggot Dog and Super Fly, it felt like more of a quick cash grab than a game that really explored the full gameplay possibilities.
#5 Clockwork Knight 2 (1995)
Unlike Bug!, Sega's Clockwork Knight series benefited greatly from its sequel. The first game almost captured the spirit of Castle of Illusion, but the second entry really amped up the 2.5D gameplay, set pieces, and features. It was polished, wildly imaginative, and lots of fun, and I know I'm not alone in wanting to see Sir Tongara de Pepperouchau III ride again.
#6 Panzer Dragoon (1995)
You knew it was coming, but that doesn't make Panzer Dragoon any less of a masterpiece. These days, like with real-time strategies, gamers seem to have an automatic disdain for rail-based shooters, but that's probably because -- aside from Rez -- most of them are mindlessly repetitive and dull. Panzer Dragoon (and the accompanying musical score) delivered not only constant excitement, but also a sense of wonder and beauty that even games released today struggle to match.
Panzer Dragoon (PS2)
To give a sense of what a Panzer Dragoon HD remake might look like, the screen above is of the PlayStation 2 port. Compare it to the previous Panzer Dragoon image or the top image on this article to see the drastic improvement.
PD2 – Saturn
#7 Panzer Dragoon II Zwei (1996)
Panzer Dragoon's sequel cranked up everything that made the original great, along with a few new added features and bonuses to keep you coming back for more (such as multiple path choices in each level and a morphing dragon).
While a rerelease of the Panzer Dragoon titles is up in the air, fans can get its spiritual successor later this year when Crimson Dragon hits XBLA. It's developed by series director Yukio Futatsugi. Unfortunately, the Kinect is required to play it, which will undoubtedly eliminate some of that nostalgic feel.
PDS – Saturn
Honorable mention: Panzer Dragoon Saga (1998)
While Panzer Dragoon Saga is still one of the most sought-after and hyped games on the Sega Saturn, it wouldn't make for a good HD release. Although Team Andromeda lost the original source files, rendering any hope of a rerelease pointless anyway, Panzer Dragoon Saga looked abysmal even by 32-bit standards.
Across the entire Panzer Dragoon trilogy, the developers used the same number of polygons to create increasingly ambitious scenes. Panzer Dragoon Saga's polygons and pixels got spread a little too thin (as you can tell from the screenshot). No amount of smoothing is going to fix that.
But the mashup of Panzer Dragoon's signature gameplay and new turn-based RPG elements was what made Saga so great. Instead of them trying to resurrect the original, I'd rather see a Panzer Dragoon Saga 2, with all-new visuals, a new story, and the next evolution of the unique gameplay.
Honorable mention: Magic Knight Rayearth (1998)
The anime-inspired Magic Knight Rayearth was memorable for a handful of reasons, not the least of which being that it was the last Sega Saturn game released in the United States ... like, ever.
GamesBeat reader "revelated" describes it best:
"Magic Knight Rayearth, which also was the very last Sega Saturn game released stateside, was an absolute gem. Hard to find at the time but simply amazing for what it was. It's like taking Zelda, tripling Link, giving each one a different weapon, making them females and tossing in loads of anime cutscenes...."
Honorable mention: Virtua Fighter Kids (1996)
Virtua Fighter Kids was a cutesy stab at the fairly serious and hardcore Virtua Fighter series. There's nothing wrong with bringing the original fat-headed fighter back as an HD remake, but I think with the expanded Virtua Fighter roster released over the last 15 years, it's probably time for a VF Kids 2.
Shining Force III
Honorable mention: Shining Force III (1998)
There's no arguing that Shining Force III was a great RPG ... back in 1998. However, Western players only ever got one-third of the complete story, as Scenarios 2 and 3 were released exclusively in Japan. That could make for a really cool neo-nostalgic playthrough -- imagine if there were 10 stages for Nights into Dreams that always existed but you couldn't play them until now.
On the flip side, like Panzer Dragoon Saga, Shining Force III would not benefit much from an HD rerelease. The battle animations, especially, are too archaic, and the style of game itself has been done better many times over since the nineties.
Rather, a full reimagining on the scale of Double Dragon Neon might be the way to go. But that's a different feature entirely. ... :)
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