Now that I completed my Sega Saturn reviews series (reviewing around 30 games and playing over 50 games), I am ready to make my own Top 10 games list. My top 10 is widely different than Retro Sanctuary's list, with only three games being in both lists.
Generally, I consider any console that has 10 great games to be one worth owning. Based on my reviews of many Saturn games, I actually struggled to compile a top 10 list for the console, not for an abundance of options. Still, this list contains 10 games that are worth playing even today.
Ironically, my list doesn't probably reflect the kinds of games the Saturn is most famous for since I am not a big fan of the content-light Arcade ports that Segapsuhed the hardest for the console. Also, since many of the Saturn's "best" games were never ported West, this list may actually miss some games that would otherwise get in.
The list is presented in alphabetical order, but Panzer Dragoon Saga and Shining Force III are shoulders above the rest, with only Dragon Force coming close and Radiant Silvergun probably being the best for fans of Shmups.
Originally planned as a sequel for the well-regarded Landstalker Genesis game, Dark Savior became something that is much different. More an Isometric Platformer than an Action-Adventure game, this is a truly unique experience. The thing that makes this game unique is how the story diverges based on the opening "level". The game starts with you onboard a ship transporting a dangerous entity to a prison island, and things quickly go south. The dangerous entity escapes, and depending on how fast you reach the Captain's cabin, the story diverges in four different ways.
Boiling down this game to a few elements wouldn't do it justice. The platforming is clunky, and even after getting used to it, it is not very enjoyable. The combat is rough around the edges, and there isn't a lot of variety. Also, the game's plot, while fun, is not very unique. However, the sum of its parts is actually an addictive game where the different stories are all worth playing.
Also, it has some good graphics, with sprite work that utilizes the Saturn's best qualities and some unique and effective art design. Musically, the soundtrack is a blast, with one of the game's tracks, the "Seabandits" theme, being my favorite.
Honestly, this is one game that I enjoyed but could not properly explain exactly why.
As you may have gathered from the rather lengthy genre description, this is a game that defies categorization, as it is nearly entirely unique in the combination of things it does. Basically, you control one of six nations, each vying for total control. As the leader, you recruit generals and mobilize troops in what appears to be a real-time grand strategy game. However, once two forces collide, the action goes into a real-time tactical decision-making battle, as each force moves while you can pause the action to change tactics or deploy special moves. All of this is tied through a progression mode and story that is closer to RPGs than traditional strategy games.
Adding to this unique and addicting gameplay loops is an honestly amazing presentation. Taking advantage of the console's 2D capabilities, all generals and soldiers are represented by well-detailed sprites, which looks great when you have 200 hundred of them battling each other while an anime special move cleaves through the battlefield.
When I reviewed the game I noted how I started my review series to discover gems like these, and how ironic that this is a gem I knew about when I saw my distant cousins play it as a kid, but I never knew its name or even the console they were playing at the time. You can be sure that I won't be forgetting about this game any time soon
While it is unfortunate that I didn't find many gems like Dragon Force in the Saturn's library, that only makes the game shine brighter today.
The best thing I can say about Guardian Heroes is that I greatly enjoyed it despite not being a fan of Beat 'em Ups. Being one of the first games in the genre that introduced light RPG elements and an adventure with multiple paths, this game is another feather in Treasure's bonnet in that era. Truly, I enjoyed it enough that I finished it several times.
However, the elephant in the room is whether this version of the game is worth playing at al?
Since the game was remastered on Xbox Live, there exists an undoubtedly better version of the game. One that resolves some of the issues in the base game while building upon its best traits. Normally, I wouldn't even review a game that was remastered or fully remade; the only reason that I made this review is that I didn't know the remaster existed. Yet, I ended up enjoying the game, and I hope it gives anyone reading the review a slight push to try the Xbox Live version. The reason I still decided to include the game in my Top 10 list is that there is simply no other game that can take its place.
Just like Dark Savior this game is another sequel to a well-regarded but little-known Genesis game. In fact, this is actually a prequel to the very good Beyond Oasis that explains some of the lore of that game. Not that the game contains much narrative or world-building depth.
A top-down Action Adventure game, there are some minor similarities to the adventure game of another blond hero. However, a key difference is the game is faster and more action-oriented. One unique element that supports both combat and puzzle-solving is the ability to conjure spirits from the elements in the environment.
When conjuring a spirit, that spirit is summoned as an ally that helps you in both combat and solving environmental puzzles. For instance, the fire spirit can light torches and burn ropes while the water spirit can extinguish fires and freeze lakes.
Finally, it doesn't hurt that the game's graphics are really great examples of 32bit 2D sprites. This is a case where the game's decision not to follow the latest trends made sure that it aged very well.
Based on the Magical Girls anime of the same name, this is an Action-Adventure game in the mold of The Legend of Zelda. The gameplay is pretty good, even if it never approaches any level of greatness. Ironically, it is the game's adherence to the past that allowed to age gracefully and still play well today. While originally derided by some for not moving away from the 16bit graphics of the previous generations, that ensured that this game looks great now compared to early 3D graphics adopters like Bug! and Mystaria.
An interesting thing about this title is that it was one of the first games unveiled for the system but ended up being the last official game released in the west. That's because Sega, in their infinite wisdom, decided that 2D games would not sell well in the west. Instead, they banked on the Saturn's weakest points rather than its strengths. Also, they didn't think that a game featuring 3 little girls as the main characters would sell.
As such, this game deserves a spot in the list not only on its own merit, but also a signifier of Sega's disastrous Saturn strategy, and as an unfortunate reminder of the many quality games that never left Japan's shores.
It is entirely possible that Mega Man 8 is mostly known today for its very cheesy voice acting, which is cringe-worthy to the extreme. For fans of the series, this was considered a regressive step back compared to the new excellence of the Mega Man X series. However, if we take the game at its own merits, as an evolution of the classical formula, then it is a damn good game.
At its best, this game has all exciting action-gameplay the series is known for, with great levels and some excellent boss battles. While it does not have the fast action-packed gameplay of the X series, it is still a worthy Mega Man game besides them. Arguably, putting Mega Man X4 in this spot would be the better choice. However, this is a case where the Saturn version of Mega Man 8 is better than the PS1 version, and the PS1 version of X4 is better than the Saturn's. As such, I chose to put the better Mega Man port in the top 10 despite favoring X4 more as a game.
One thing that I think Mega Man 8 excels at is the awesome way it updates the looks of the classic Mega Man series. This is one seriously gorgeous game, and that's only better with the great soundtrack. Even if the voice acting is one of the worst ever performed.
Panzer Dragoon II Zwei (1996):
Panzer Dragoon II is the second Rail Shooter game in its franchise and a much-improved sequel at that, and at this point in the franchise's history, it was Sega's best answer to Nintendo's Starfox series. However, the developers clearly had more ambition to their game than just being a simple arcade Rail Shooter.
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 and unique soundtrack, which manages to convey the game's atmosphere in lieu of graphical fidelity. Also, the game does seriously look better in motion than screenshots may suggest.
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 plastic Rail gun accessory 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.
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. After playing the game, I can safely say that its reputation was earned.
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. There is no question that this is the Saturn's most remarkable 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.
The Saturn is known for its great collection of Shmups, which is ironic considering very few of them were actually ported west. Radiant Silvergun is probably the most famous of those games. 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.
Here is a masterpiece that shows both the best and the worst that the Saturn could offer. That sentiment may sound weird when you consider the fact that Shining Force III may be the best game in its illustrious franchise, and is by all objective measures a great game. Retaining the excellent TRPG tactical gameplay that made its predecessors on the Genesis such good games while evolving its story, this is a game that truly jumped to the next generation.
Yet, you can see the worst Sega strategies when you consider the initially huge ambition of Camelot Software when developing this game. Basically, the Shining Force III that Western audiences are familiar with is simply the first of three scenarios that were released in Japan. Each scenario covered the journey of one of the three heroes, showing the central conflict from their perspective. This didn't only allow for simply more of the same excellent gameplay, but also for a richer and more complex story to be developed around those multiple perspectives.
However, by the time Shining Force III came out, it appears that Sega of America was willing to cut their losses and simply port the first game West, leaving fans of the series with an incomplete ending. Honestly, I understand their decision at the time, as it was clear in 1998 that the Sega Saturn was failing miserably in the US and no game can save it.
Thankfully, the fan community has come together to translate the second and third scenarios, and their work is very well-done. Also, even if you are not interested in playing those translations, I do think that the first scenario does work well as a stand-alone game, even if the ending may feel a little bit abrupt.
So I ended up deviating greatly from Retro Sanctuary's list with my top 10 games. After all, my list was developed with no regard to historical importance at the time and is purely based on my impression of these games after playing them now. Honestly, I can say that all of these games are good games, with three or four of them being great games.
Other than that, I don't even have a list of honorable mentions since I struggle to bump the list up to 10 games in the first place. Maybe Rayman but that's it.
I know that a couple of Japan-only games would have made it on the list. Games such as Grandia and Lunar would have pushed the console further back in the day, but Sega was busy burning the legacy of the Genesis down.