The Sega Saturn lost the war for 32-bit console supremacy to the Sony PlayStation. This is a fact and no matter how much you love the Saturn today, this won’t change the reality that the Saturn was not a success in North America. Obviously a lack of commercial success does not mean that the Saturn wasn’t worthy of higher sales figures. It simply meant that a number of factors, some quantifiable, some less so, led to the Saturn being left in the dust by the PlayStation. The high quality games that exist for the Saturn, discovered by fans years after their release, were always available. No one was really looking for them at the time, unfortunately. Once a console starts to falter and word gets out that sales figures aren’t meeting expectations, concern among potential buyers that are straddling the fence become amplified. No one wants to spend hundreds of dollars on an investment only to discover all the great exclusives are being released on the competition’s console. Or even worse, you hear that the console you just bought will be discontinued after the company announces it is no longer their future after only 2 years on store shelves. No wonder Saturn sales figures were miniscule after 1996.
Revisionist history tells us that the Saturn still had great exclusives that gamers over the years have either discovered or always suspected were excellent. The problem for collectors over the past 5 years or so is that supply isn’t meeting the demand. North American Saturn games will often sell for >$100 complete and this doesn’t seem to be dropping anytime soon. Sega is a notable video game company that many of us in our 30s and 40s recall fondly even if we don’t have specific memories associated with this particular Sega console. Fortunately for those of us in North America, the Saturn didn’t experience the same disinterest and apathy in Japan. The Saturn was more successful in Japan than the Mega Drive/Genesis, which is an odd fact but helpful for those of us interested in finding cheaper gaming alternatives. Japanese Saturn titles, as a rule, are more affordable due to higher production & sales quantities so you can pick up some amazing exclusives or buy the Japanese versions of titles available for both regions.
The beauty of the Saturn is that you can easily unlock the region restrictions on your North American console simply by purchasing an Action Replay Cart. No modding necessary! I had been aware of this for quite some time but I hadn’t spent much of my collecting money on Saturn games until fairly recently. Once I decided to get more serious about buying Saturn games (about a half a dozen years too late unfortunately), the Action Replay Cart became a must own. Of course I needed to add a Japanese title or two to my collection once that all important Action Replay Cart was in my possession. I didn’t really want to add any of the Japanese versions of RPGs, as I knew that most RPGs will either have Japanese text or voices that progress the game’s plot or are used in menus/options so I went with a couple of action & shooters exclusive only in Japan. Radiant Silvergun and Metal Slug were two titles that kept coming up over and over when the question of what Japanese exclusives that are easy for an American with no knowledge of the Japanese language should procure. Luckily both games are readily available on eBay so contacted the land of the rising sun for some Saturn fun. I can also confirm the hype over those two titles is warranted. Radiant Silvergun and Metal Slug are amazing (and quite difficult) and worth the money spent. I also picked up a copy of the North American title, Pro Pinball as I’m a huge fan of both real & video game pinball and I’m always on the look out for fun pinball games. As for my pros and cons for the system, I don’t have much more to say beyond what I’ve already highlighted but here goes anyway.
- Great, if somewhat small, list of North American exclusives from a variety of genres (fighting, shooters, RPGs)
- Cheap and easy way to region unlock to play the amazing Japanese exclusives
- Stunner Gun and other controller peripherals are of high quality
- Large percentage of the great exclusives are quite expensive to purchase today
- Big, brittle plastic cases
- Original version of Saturn controller feels “off”
- Many polygon based games don’t hold up graphically speaking
Bottom line is that I like the Sega Saturn. I like it a lot, but the North American library just isn’t as deep as the PlayStation’s which makes the good and great exclusives that much more sought after. Which in turn drives up prices, which causes a bit of a collector’s panic when the thought of a game’s supply drying up, which ultimately drives up prices even more. This is definitely a negative for anyone new to the Saturn’s orbit but shouldn’t deter someone from picking one up as there are still quite a few must own and high quality yet affordable games. My recommendation is to buy yourself a Saturn, grab the cheap, fun games (Virtua Cop series, Virtua Fighter series, Nights into Dreams, Daytona, Sega Rally, World Series Baseball, etc.) & then either find alternate means for playing the expensive exclusives, buy them sparingly, or raid the Japanese library. With all these options available there is no reason to ignore the Sega Saturn in 2018 in the same manner it was ignored in 1995.