Finally, we are down to the supposedly top 10 Sega Saturn games. At least, this is the top 10 according to the Retro Sanctuary list I have been using all this time. Since I already played enough Saturn games to make my own top 10 list, I cannot say that I agree with this selection, but that's going to be the subject of my own top 10 list.
To be fair to Retro Sanctuary's selection, the games here are important from a historical perspective regarding the console as a whole. There are two major Arcade ports of famous Sega games (Virtua Fighter 2 and Sega Rally), two games in the mythical Panzer Dragoon series, and the obligatory Japan only 2D games (a fighting game and a Shmup). Then there is NiGHTS Into Dreams, the biggest selling game on the console. Yet, the inclusion of three 3D games, all of which have significantly superior ports in other consoles, significantly devalues this list. Especially when you consider the fact that pushes Shining Force III from the top 10.
With that being said, here is a quick report on each game on this list.
10- Tomb Raider (1996):
It is no secret that Tomb Raider is one of the most important early 3D games. It introduced many elements that were then subsequently copied in other 3D games and is generally considered as a historically important game. It is also no secret that its sequels on the PS1 (which were not released on the Saturn) massively improved over the original in every way.
With that, we are left with only the first game. Yet, due to releasing earlier on the Saturn, the game had a weaker performance compared to the PS1 despite supposedly designed with port parity in mind.
These are two major reasons why I think an inferior port of a game that was clearly bested by its own sequels in the same generation shouldn't be considered as a top 10 Sega Saturn game.
9- PowerSlave (1996):
By all accounts, PowerSlave is a technical marvel on the Sega Saturn. It's a first-person game that works really well on the console. It's also a first-person game that worked better when ported to the PC and the PS1.
Again, I am left confused about why a non-exclusive game with superior ports elsewhere is considered among the top 10 Saturn games. This, of course, betrays the relative strength of the Saturn's library, but there are several games I would put ahead of it.
Also, the game plays terribly now, so there is that.
8- Radiant Silvergun (1998): Japan-Only
Despite being published only in Japan, Radiant Silvergun had such a stellar reputation that it was widely ported West and even covered in official review outlets. This reputation is why I ended up reviewing the game, making it my only import review.
Of course, this meant that I didn't get much from the game's story, which was more involved than your usual Shump. However, this game is not legendary in the genre due to its story, but due to its excellent gameplay. Giving you access to all weapons at once, the game is more concerned with the player mastering these weapons than begging for drops. This is needed against the increasingly difficult and intense bosses, which are a hallmark of Treasure's gaming design.
As a genre outsider, I think that the accessibility features are what differentiates this game from others. It has several difficulty options, and the weapon upgrades as you play, making the game easier and beatable even if you exhaust all your continues. While I am sure that my appreciation for the game is to a lesser degree than genre fans, I actually can identify how it is a top tier Shmup, and a top game for the Saturn as a result.
7- Resident Evil (1997):
Everything I said about Tomb Raider is equally valid here. After all, the first Resident Evil game itself was superseded by its remake on the GameCube.
However, when talking about the Saturn port of the game, it is actually a bit better than the PS1 version (and it released a year later). It came with slightly touched-up graphics, but also with some extra modes and monsters as well.
Regardless, the game was subsequently improved-upon in every way with Resident Evil 2 which was not released for the console.
6- Street Fighter Alpha 3 (1999): Japan Only
Street Fighter Alpha 3 is arguably the best fighting game released on the Saturn. Surely, it is the game with the best graphics and animations, as well as being one of the best ports of a widely admired fighting game. Unfortunately and rather predictably, the game was never ported west (by 1999, the Saturn was already dead in the states).
Still, I don't think the late date had anything to do with it. In fact, none of the other 2D fighting games covered in the Retro Sanctuary list were ported West despite being the best console versions available. As such, the console didn't fulfill its potential as the go-to fighting game console, even if that title would have gone to the Neo Geo in the end.
In an alternate universe where Sega made sense as a company, NiGHTS would have been released alongside a Sonic game, complimenting its sales and propelling the Saturn in its early years. However, that wasn't the case, and NiGHTS was left shouldering the burden of selling Sega's console in the absences of its most iconic mascot.
Both critically and sales-wise, the game succeeded, becoming the highest-selling game on the system and one of its best-reviewed games. Personally, I didn't care much for the game and I think it failed at convincing Sonic fans to get into the Saturn.
I think the game had some unique ideas executed well, but that it ultimately was lacking in content and wasn't equal to Sonic in neither style nor substance.
4- Panzer Dragoon II: Zwei (1996):
The Sega Saturn's answer to Nintendo's Starfox 64; Panzer Dragoon II is the second Rail Shooter game in its franchise and a much-improved sequel at that. Taking place in a mysterious world infested with biotechnological monsters, the game has a haunting visual atmosphere that is still effective today despite its aged graphics. Thankfully, the game's visuals are accompanied by an excellent unique soundtrack.
Gameplay-wise, the game is more involved than your usual arcade Rail Shooters, tasking the player with keeping track of four quadrants as well as giving the player more movement options. As such, the game doesn't suffer for lacking a Rail gun and is fun to play with any regular controller.
Just like the first game was recently remade for modern consoles, this sequel also has a planned remake and I am excited about it.
3- Sega Rally Championship (1995):
Here is a game that announced the Saturn to the world, it is an almost arcade-perfect port of the Sega Rally arcade sensation. It looks great (and it didn't age badly at all) and controls better. There is a satisfying feeling to the driving that envokes the dirt and struggle of Rally racing. Unfortunately, I think Sega took the wrong lessons regarding its success.
Sega thought the success of Sega Rally Championship was purely due to it being a very faithful arcade port, not the fact that it was an early game showcasing the system's power, but also one that should promise more substantive sequels in the future. After all, the game has only two cars and three tracks. No matter how good the racing is, that's a very limited content for a full-priced game.
Yet, Sega continued to port their arcade games with minimal alterations and limited content.
2- Virtua Fighter 2 (1995):
The Virtua Fighter and Tekken franchises are the pillars of 3D fighters, with former created by Sega for its Arcades and consoles and the latter finding its home on Arcades and the PS1. Initially, the advantage in both graphics and gameplay was with Virtua Fighter, as can be seen with Virtua Fighter 2.
By nearly all metrics, Virtua Fighter 2 looked and played better than anything Tekken related, even on the Saturn where the Arcade version was amazingly ported. Comparing the two franchises, Virtua Fighter focuses more on fighting game fundamentals than the flashier and combo heavy Tekken series, and that worked well before the 3D technology advanced enough.
However, one thing the Tekken series did from the onset was to have a story for all of their colorful characters, expanding the appeal of the fighting genre beyond the competitive players. This continued with every sequel until the release of Tekken 3 simply surpassed anything Sega made.
Simply put, while Virtua Fighter 2 and Sega were content with having a strong fighting game for genre fans, one without even a training mode, Tekken continued to expand the genre and have more character development and single-player content. I think it is telling that supposedly the best fighting game on the Saturn is so stuck in the past while the best fighting game on the PS1 was making a new standard for the future.
1- Panzer Dragoon Saga (1998):
With their first two Panzer Dragoon games, Team Andromeda crafted a unique and mysterious world that unfortunately could not be satisfactorily expanded upon in Rail Shooter games. Yet, the need to expand upon that world was obviously so great that the next game in the series became an RPG.
As such, one of the most mysterious and critically lauded RPGs was made.
Panzer Dragoon Saga is a hugely ambitious game despite being short for an RPG and contained in its story and location. It is probably one of the first games that aimed to be a "cinematic" experience. The story is revealed in so many CGI and in-engine cutscenes that the game occupied four CDs, All dialogue was voiced, including simple conversations with NPCs. And, if you look closely at each scene, you see how the team managed to convey nuance and emotion through actual and realistic "acting".
Within that ambitious experiment, there was a well-crafted world with interesting lore and characters. Also, there was an amazing turn-based battle system based completely on the rider and his dragon, and in that way, it was a perfect tribute to the first two games. Even though I may prefer Shining Force III over Panzer Dragoon Saga, there is no question that this is the Saturn's best game. From a historical perspective, it outdoes any game released at that time in terms of production, and it plays great even now.
This is exactly the kind of game Sega should have focused on if they wanted to compete in the console space. Something that couldn't be emulated in the Arcade floor, but something that unraveled its mysteries in your home, amazing you wth what video games can offer beyond chasing a high score.
This report is a consolidated review of the top 100 list by Retro Sanctuary. It features the reviews I made for the list but also has a brief paragraph about each game on the list that I didn't review. For games without an official review, the opinions I express are purely based on some little playing time and general research about the game and its reception at the time.