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The Sega Saturn is an oddball in Sega's console history, failing to secure a large market share in Western territories, but doing phenomenally well in Japan. Its success in Japan led to over 1000 Saturn games being released, most of which were exclusive to the Japanese market. It is estimated that more than half of the library was not released in Western regions.
The Saturn, PlayStation and Nintendo 64 were famous for revolutionary 3D software. However, the Saturn's awkward hardware setup meant that it didn't get as many 3D games as the PlayStation. Nevertheless, the Saturn is considered to be far superior than its rivals at 2D games, making it the console of choice for 2D shoot-'em-ups and RPGs - both successful genres in Japan. Like previous generations, Sega were able to harvest ports of their arcade releases, notably Sega Model 2 games. The Sega Titan Video arcade system is modelled on the Saturn, and it is common to see ports to both systems.
In Japan, a budget line of games were produced under the Satakore brand.
Between November 1994 and December 2000, roughly 1100 video games were released for the Sega Saturn. Though not typically viewed as such in the West, from a development and publishing perspective, this makes the Saturn the most popular video game console produced by Sega, peaking at roughly 360 titles per year in 1996 and 1997.
While not arguably engineered as such, the Saturn was sold to Western developers and consumers as a video game console designed with real-time 3D games in mind - a noticeable generational leap over the 16-bit Sega Mega Drive and Super NES. In Japan, no such expectations were applied to the system, so content varies considerably between software intended for Japan, and those for the West. The Saturn is one of the first consoles to highlight an East-West divide in its library, as the vast majority of titles were exclusive to Japan, with many catering solely to Japanese audiences.
The prospects of 3D gaming meant that the Saturn is home to many different genres. Sega spent much of its time converting its Sega Model 2 arcade library to the platform, leading to a number of arcade-style 3D fighting (Virtua Fighter, Last Bronx) and racing games (Daytona USA, Sega Rally Championship) to stand as major first-party releases, as welll as light-gun shooters in the form of Virtua Cop and The House of the Dead. Some home-grown titles such as Panzer Dragoon borrow elements from arcade games, further playing into the narrative that Sega were major players in the arcade scene.
However, more immersive 3D games were rare on the Saturn, owing not only to Sega's renewed focus on arcade conversions, but hardware limitations. The Saturn is not as well equipped to deal with 3D gaming as its rival, the PlayStation, so many Saturn-exclusive titles can be seen as souped-up 2D titles, starting with Clockwork Knight and Bug!, and perhaps peaking with the likes of NiGHTS into Dreams and Pandemonium! in 1996/1997. The same was initially true of the PlayStation, but the release of Metal Gear Solid in 1998 combined competition from the Nintendo 64 and sequels to franchises such as Tomb Raider led to many more elaborate 3D titles were where never seen on Sega's console.
As 3D games became ever more complex, Sega changed tack entirely and began creating RPGs. Panzer Dragoon Saga and Shining Force III, possibly inspired by the unexpected success of Final Fantasy VII on the PlayStation, are now highly sought after titles, and alongside the likes of the superior Saturn version of Grandia, made the Saturn an attractive system for this style previously-neglected style of video game (in the West at least - Japan was never quite as enthralled with 3D titles as North America and Europe were).
In more recent years, the Saturn has become synonomous with accurate ports of 2D arcade games, such as Capcom's selection of fighting games, and many 2D scrolling shoot-'em-up titles. Powerful 2D rendering hardware makes the Saturn a better fit for these styles of games than the PlayStation, though many of these titles were derided by the gaming press in the mid-90s for being too similar to "last generation" Mega Drive releases.
In Japan, the console became a hotbed for adventure games and dating simulators, which again were usually rendered in two dimensions.
As with other consoles, Sega devised a set of software development guidelines to be adhered to when developing games for the system. In addition to ensuring that all games support (or at least don't break when using) the official line of controllers and care with copyrights and trademarks, several other "required compliance items" were enforced (in addition to recommended compliance items, and other less important items):
- Title screens must contain the term "PRESS START BUTTON" (not "PUSH").
- Title screen logos must appear for at least two seconds.
- There must always be an option to switch between stereo and mono audio, unless the game only supports the former
- The internal clock cannot be changed from within games.
- Controller button inputs should be configurable
- +++ should be a software reset and can occur anywhere save for "memory device operations". Option settings must be retained. The reset should return the user to the title screen, unless he/she is already on the title sceen, in which case it should go back to the Saturn BIOS.
- Important heads-up display information must be be rendered "two cells" from the left and right hand sides of the screen, and "one cell" from the top and bottom, to account for differences in consumer monitors and televisions.
- Game pausing must be done with . The text "PAUSE" must appear to differentiate the pause state from a crash, and music must stop (but continue from the same place when unpaused). during gameplay
- Users must not be able to skip credits sequences. Once the credits are done, the game must return to the intial company logo screens.
- Single CD-ROM games must return to the BIOS menu if the disc drive is opened.
Both the Saturn and PlayStation debuted in Japan in November 1994, and their introduction in Western markets across 1995 caused many developers and publishers to abandon rival video game systems released in the preceeding years.
3DO conversions (or "sequels") were common during the first two years of the system's life in the US and Europe, with Electronic Arts (The Need for Speed, Road Rash), Crystal Dynamics (Gex, Titan Wars) and even Studio 3DO itself (StarFighter 3000, Battlesport) switching focus to Sega's machine. While The 3DO Company was adamant that it could compete with the incoming Japanese systems, its high retail price and relatively weaker specifications led to a sharp decline in interest after the Saturn's launch.
A few Atari Jaguar games were brought to the console, including Rayman and Tempest 2000, though most Jaguar-exclusive games were not brought to other platforms. In Japan, a limited array of games were brought from the Super NES to the Saturn. However, due to the Saturn's lack of a 256x224 video mode, it was more common to see SNES ports reach the PlayStation instead, as fewer art assets would need to be re-drawn.
While there are some notable exceptions (such as Tomb Raider), it was more common to see PlayStation games being ported to the Saturn, rather than the other way around. While many publishers were keen to support both platforms, they were not committed to launching both versions of a game on the same date, so Saturn copies would often arrive months later in slightly different forms. Battle Arena Toshinden Remix is often considered to be the first example of a once-PlayStation-exclusive game arriving on the Saturn, with a downgrade in visual quality being supplemented with extra in-game content.
Games such as Wipeout helped further the Saturn's cause as a competitive 3D games machine, but usually suffer from lower frame rates and graphical fidelity. 2D games, by contrast, often perform better on the Saturn.
While never quite as accurate in their Saturn guises, SNK brought many of its Neo-Geo titles to Sega's console, likely as the Neo-Geo was never able to attain more than the niché market it had carved out for itself in the home. Loading times in games are far greater than their Neo-Geo cartridge counterparts, but are typically faster than the disc-based Neo-Geo CD and were sold for far less at retail.
By the time third-party Nintendo 64 games were starting to reach the market, the Saturn was not considered a viable platform for 3D titles, meaning very few N64 games were even considered for a Saturn conversion.
Prior to the mainstream adoption of of 3D accelerator cards, many PC DOS and Windows games reached the Saturn, including genres not typically associated with consoles, such as real-time strategy (Command & Conquer) and management simulation games (Theme Park, SimCity 2000). While perhaps more cost-effective in 1995, Saturn versions of these games generally under-perform their PC counterparts, running in lower screen resolutions and not always supporting the preferred mouse and keyboard control schemes.
One of the major benefits of moving to disc-based media was cost - a disc being significantly cheaper to manufacture than the ROM cartridges seen in the Mega Drive and its rivals. However despite widespread reports of this benefit in the media, the end consumer did not see significant price reductions for video games in the mid-1990s.
Saturn games were priced at roughly the same as their PlayStation counterparts in most regions of the world - less than some of the larger Mega Drive and Super NES games which appeared between 1994 and 1996 (particularly those with added processors or battery-powered save systems), but more than earlier 16-bit cartridges from the turn of the decade. In the West, pricing was roughly on par with the older Mega-CD range, though this was more expensive in Japan.
Typical prices for new Saturn games were ¥5,000-¥7,000 in Japan, $50-$60 USD in the US and £40-£50 in the United Kingdom (though plenty of exceptions exist in all regions for smaller titles, compilations and multi-disc titles). In all regions this works out as roughly $10 USD less than the average Mega Drive game, though a big chunk of that cost was down to the manufacturing process of cartridges.
Japan launched its own Satakore budget label which brought selected games down to ¥2,800.
Japanese Saturn software usually came packaged in standard jewel cases, much like music CDs. They also came with spinecards - three-fold pieces of light cardboard that hug the spine of the jewel case (which have become ery valuable for collectors who wish to claim a game is "complete"). The spinecard also indicates that the CD is for use with a Sega Saturn console - specifically Japanese NTSC systems. There were also jewel case quad CD cases, and a variant of the single case which was slightly thicker and hard to replace.
Game manuals were included with the cover seen through the front of the jewel case. The left side of the manual will usually have a bar similar in design to the spinecard. The Japanese SEGA rating, if there is one, will be included on the manual front (usually on one of the corners). There is also the insert on the back which may feature artwork or screenshots from the game. A black bar on the bottom of the insert contains information much like the spinecard, licensing information, et cetera.
The Japanese packaging was adopted in smaller Asian markets such as South Korea and China.
The US used much larger jewel cases identical to the US Sega Mega-CD jewel cases, since many of these were in fact leftover Sega CD jewel cases. The US case has a white spine containing a 30 degree stripe pattern in gray, with white outlined lettering displaying the words "Sega Saturn". Oddly some US packaging seems to have taken a step backwards in terms of aesthetics - with minimal front artwork almost akin to the Sega Master System.
There are many flaws with the US packaging:
- Their sheer size made them more vulnerable to cracking.
- The mechanism that keeps the cover closed wears out quickly if the cover is opened and closed too much
- There is too much empty space inside the case. If the CD ever came off the case's spindle on its own (caused by rough handling of the case), the CD ends up being tossed around the inside of the case, causing either scratches on the disc, or in worst-case scenarios, the disc being shattered if the case is handled roughly.
Unlike the North American PlayStation which originally opted for similar-sized boxes in its early years, Sega never switched to the compact jewel case design, although many of its pack-in titles were distributed in cardboard sleeves to save costs.
European cases come in two variants, both designed and engineered by Sega. One has a strong plastic design similar to the cases used with the Mega Drive and Master System (but taller, thinner and slightly more secure). The other feels far cheaper, being literally two pieces of plastic held together by a cardboard cover. Though the former was more preferred by the consumer, the latter was more common as it was cheaper to produce, and was the only option until 1997 when the switch was made.
Both European cases has a solid black spine, with white lettering displaying the words "Sega Saturn". The manual slides in the case just like a normal jewel case and there is a back insert with information about the game. Like the American cases they are still too big and can lead to discs moving about and becoming scratched, though this may be to compensate for large multi-language manuals.
Some European boxes were wrapped in a transparent plastic shell after manufacture for extra security.
Brazilian games were packaged in cardboard boxes similar to Mega-CD titles in the region, with a CD sleeve inside to keep the disc secure.
- Main article: List of unreleased Saturn games.
There are many unreleased Sega Saturn games, particularly from Western developers, who, despite being enthusiastic about the Saturn when it launched, started abandoning projects en masse in 1997 as it became clear that the rival PlayStation was proving to be the more popular machine. Initially many third-party publishers chose to target "32-bit" machines, being deliberately vague while developers became accustomed to the hardware; it became more and more common across 1995 and 1996 to once-Saturn bound games become exclusive to the PlayStation, and in some cases, the Nintendo 64.
Other than infamous Sega projects such as Sonic X-treme, most cancelled Saturn games would be released on other platforms, usually the PlayStation and/or PC while a few projects, such as Shenmue moved to the Sega Dreamcast. Perhaps the most notable unreleased game was the widely anticipated Virtua Fighter 3, although another big game, Tomb Raider II left the Saturn due to an exclusivity contract with Sony.
- List of Saturn games
- List of Saturn games in Japan
- List of Saturn games in the United States
- List of Saturn games in the United Kingdom
- List of Saturn games in France
- List of Saturn games in Germany
- List of Saturn games in Spain
- List of Saturn games in Australia
- List of Saturn games in Brazil
- List of Saturn games in South Korea
- Clockwork Knight
- Daytona USA
- Panzer Dragoon
- Pebble Beach Golf Links
- Worldwide Soccer: Sega International Victory Goal Edition
- Virtua Fighter (pack-in)
- Clockwork Knight
- Daytona USA
- Panzer Dragoon
- Virtua Fighter
- Worldwide Soccer: Sega International Victory Goal Edition
- Sega Saturn Software Development Standards SOA Version 2.0, Doc #ST-151-R4-020197, page 14
- Sega Saturn Software Development Standards SOA Version 2.0, Doc #ST-151-R4-020197, page 18
- Sega Saturn Software Development Standards SOA Version 2.0, Doc #ST-151-R4-020197, page 44
- Sega Saturn Software Development Standards SOA Version 2.0, Doc #ST-151-R4-020197, page 19
- Sega Saturn Software Development Standards SOA Version 2.0, Doc #ST-151-R4-020197, page 20
- Sega Saturn Software Development Standards SOA Version 2.0, Doc #ST-151-R4-020197, page 43
- Sega Saturn Software Development Standards SOA Version 2.0, Doc #ST-151-R4-020197, page 45
- Sega Saturn Software Development Standards SOA Version 2.0, Doc #ST-151-R4-020197, page 46
- Sega Saturn Software Development Standards SOA Version 2.0, Doc #ST-151-R4-020197, page 48
- Press release: 1995-05-19: Sega Saturn launch takes consumers and retailers by storm
- SuperGamePower, "Outubro 1995" (BR; 1995-xx-xx), page 10