Top 10 Sega Saturn Games [Best Recommendations]

Between 1994 and 1995, Sega released their official console during the 32-bit era, the Saturn. While most of you American and European readers probably think of the Saturn as a forgotten footnote or that it wasn’t that great of a console, it was actually a tremendous success in Japan. As for why it didn’t do well in the US, a lot of it had to do with Sega of America rushing its launch and its initial price tag of $400 (about $640 in 2017 dollars)! In fact, the rushed launch actually ruined Sega’s relationships with some retailers.

Consequently, a good majority of Sega Saturn's titles remained exclusive to Japan. Even when the Saturn couldn’t find success outside of Japan, it doesn’t negate the fact that it still had a library of quality games. So what are some of these games you may ask? Read our list to find out!

10. Virtua Cop 2

  • Publisher: Sega
  • Developer: Sega AM2
  • Release Date: Nov 22, 1996 (JP), Nov 30, 1996 (US)

Do you miss old school arcade shooters? If so, Virtua Cop 2 is certainly the game to try out. The game is easy to pick up, but hard to master. While PC first-person shooters give you the option to move your character around, arcade first person shooters will move for you and all you gotta do is point and shoot. Though you have the option to play with the controller, where’s the fun in that? The light gun is a must!

As the title suggests, you assume the role of a police officer and you’re tasked with stopping terrorists. Not only do you have to take them out, but you also have to avoid shooting hostages. If in an event you shoot one, your life bar goes down as if you got shot yourself! The level layout is very intricate and gives players a strong sense of awareness. The training mode gives you a realistic training experience with target practice to hone up your skills and reaction times.


9. Dungeons & Dragons Collection

  • Publisher: Capcom
  • Developer: Capcom
  • Release Date: Mar 4, 1999

It is highly likely most of you Western readers are familiar with the tabletop RPG, but Capcom has adapted it as a beat ‘em up with anime inspired designs. The Saturn release is a double feature of the two arcade releases, of Tower of Doom and Shadow over Mystara. In this game, you have the option of playing as a cleric, fighter, dwarf, thief, magician, and elf. Each character has their own distinct abilities that could be helpful in combat or to the group while playing two-players.

This beat ‘em up also uses some loose elements from fighting games such as button input to use a special move, and brings in the Vancian magic system from the original game RPG game in place of MP. The good news is, you really don’t need to be familiar with the original game to enjoy this one. While it does borrow some qualities from it, it has so many distinctions to the point it can be enjoyed for what it is.


8. Nekketsu Oyako

  • Publisher: Technosoft
  • Developer: Technosoft
  • Release Date: Jul 21, 1995

We all know the stories of the hero saving the girl from a gang are rather cliché in the world of beat ‘em ups, but they just don’t seem to get old. In Nekketsu Oyako, the selectable characters are a father, his daughter, and his son, and they go out to save the mother of the family. And typical of the genre, each character brings distinct qualities. The father is power oriented, the daughter relies on speed, and the son is the balance. The designs are very anime influenced and bring out a 90s flavor with the fashion and hairstyles. And if you like old school beat ‘em ups, this more or less plays like just any other but offers its own novelties.

For example, you get to fight inside a whale! What is also interesting is that beer happens to be a health item and if in the event you play as the son or daughter, they are unable to use them to power up! So if you want a fun beat ‘em up with a distinct art style and some humor, this is a strong recommendation.


7. Magic Knight Rayearth

  • Publisher: Sega (Japan), Working Deigns (US)
  • Developer: Sega
  • Release Date: Aug 25, 1995 (Japan), Nov 30, 1998 (US)

If some of you have watched the Magic Knight Rayearth anime, you probably think it would make a great RPG. In fact, there is one for the Saturn! The plot of the game largely follows that of the first season but introduces some different characters and locations not seen in the anime or manga for something new. If you have ever played the Secret of Mana, then that’s what you largely get with the Saturn release of Magic Knight Rayearth when you play the roles of Hikaru, Umi, and Fuu. In this game, they stick to their specialty weapons such as a broadsword for Hikaru, a rapier for Umi, and a bow and arrow for Fuu to bring a distinct balance to their attacks.

Sometime before the anime release of Magic Knight Rayearth in the US, the Saturn game would become the final Saturn game to be released in the US. Even though it was released in 1998, it was actually a first generation game in Japan. However, due to loss of data during a hard drive crash back in 1996, the US version had to be made from scratch again which is why it was delayed for so long. The English acting in the game is superior to the anime’s dub and has a great English cover for the original song, Yuzurenai Negai. If you prefer Japanese, the voice cast from the anime resume their roles in this game, too. If you’re a fan of the anime, we promise you’re going to love this.


6. Sakura Taisen

  • Publisher: Sega
  • Developer: Overworks
  • Release Date: Sept 27, 1996

While Sega’s internationally better-known RPGs are Phantasy Star and Valkyria Chronicles, in Japan, Sakura Taisen was one of the Saturn’s biggest hits. If you have seen the anime, it takes influence from this game such as the character designs by Kosuke Fujishima, its steampunk qualities, its rich voice cast, and most of all, its very bombastic theme song. So if you have seen it, everything is going to be pretty familiar when you play! Just like the anime, this game focuses on the adventures of the all-female Teikoku Kagekidan, and you assume the role of their leader, Ichiro Ogami. The concept takes influences from a real life all-female theater troupe, Takarazuka, based out of Hyogo prefecture in Japan. Not only are they performers, they are also operating as an Imperial military unit.

The original game is three genres in one with elements of old school tactical RPGs, dating sims, and visual novels. During down time as Ogami, you have the chance to interact with the characters and build your relationships with them. When talking, you are presented with choices with how you talk to them and they may respond in different ways depending on their personalities. The RPG elements are more like your typical Japanese RPGs, but the battles will be expressed through mechs that are more gear oriented as opposed to being mechanically oriented to reflect its time period of taking place in an alternate 1920s. So if you want a game with a unique setting and a great cast of characters, check out Sakura Taisen whether you’ve seen the anime or not.


5. Burning Rangers

  • Publisher: Sega
  • Developer: Sonic Team
  • Release Date: Feb 26, 1998 (Japan), May 31, 1998 (US)

Another cult title that is a great addition to any top Saturn list is Burning Rangers. While your typical hero game is just taking out bad guys, this game takes a different approach by helping people in its futuristic setting. The Burning Rangers title plays homage to super sentai, shows that are adapted as Power Rangers in the US. The stages appropriately use darker lighting to convey damage by the fires and to create a sense of tension. The nature of the game itself is very much in tune with how novel Sega games were back in the day by experimenting with many innovative genres. Similar to collecting rings in Sonic, in Burning Rangers, you collect crystals and their function is pretty much the same. They work as a life bar. If you get hit by fire, you lose your crystals. If you get hit without any crystals in your possession, you die.

One of the most unique features of this game that could be a hit or miss to some players is that opposed to using a map to navigate the level, the player relies on voice support from their comms team who will direct the player where to go. The English acting has been subjected to criticism by some reviews, but the Japanese version manages to cast some top anime seiyuu such as Hikaru Midorikawa (the voice of Heero Yuy from Gundam Wing), Yuko Miyamura (the voice of Asuka in Evangelion), and Tomokazu Seki (voice of Duo Maxwell from Gundam Wing). The artistic design is appropriately reflective of the anime of the 1990s with its sharper edges and use of citrus colors with the costumes. Last, we cannot deny its rather catchy opening theme (which works in both English and Japanese) that feels like you’re watching a conceptual anime.


4. Nights into Dreams

  • Publisher: Sega
  • Developer: Sonic Team
  • Release Date: Jul 5, 1996 (Japan), Aug 31, 1996 (US)

Though it was a pity Yuji Naka wasn’t able to give the Saturn a pure Sonic game, he still leaves a wonderful legacy with Nights into Dreams. Through our main characters Elliot and Claris, the player enters the world of Nightopia, the world of dreams where they must battle the evil Wizeman. The game makes excellent use of high-resolution graphics with detailed environments that represent forests, jungles, canyons and anything that is limited to the imagination. Due to the coloring of the characters being red, blue, and purple, they easily stand out in a world of green making the game easy for anybody to navigate. When the player assumes the role of Nights, you become free as a bird and you must collect various orbs in order to complete the level.

The game’s flight mode makes full use of the Saturn 3D controller, which includes a thumb stick on the upper-left for a full 360 freedom. As Nights, the player can make the character do various acrobatics and get certain objects when approaching at the right angle and momentum. The game is a great balance of a fantasy world mixed with some realistic laws of physics that make the player think how to achieve a certain objective. Last, its energetic soundtrack finds ways of being tribal with its instrumentals to reflect its jungle environments, but have some electronic beats to symbolize we are playing a game.


3. Fighters Megamix

  • Publisher: Sega
  • Developer: Sega AM2
  • Release Date: Dec 21, 1996 (Japan) Apr 30, 1997 (US)

Just a couple of years before Nintendo released Super Smash Bros, Sega released its own fighting game with a mix of its own franchise characters, Fighters Megamix. Though the game largely consists of characters from Virtua Fighter 2 and Fighting Vipers, it includes characters from other Sega games like Sonic Fighters, the car from Daytona USA, Janet from Virtua Cop, Rent-A-Hero, and AM2’s palm tree logo. Though the featured Virtua Fighter 2 characters retain their models from that game, their move sets and controls are taken from Virtua Fighter 3. Also, the armor-breaking feature from Fighting Vipers is brought over to retain its novelty.

In addition, Janet from Virtua Cop is a substitute for Aoi from Virtua Fighter 3 who uses her fighting style, aikido, and retains her moves. Thankfully, the game manages to balance the gimmicks between all games. Due to all the unlockable characters, the game has tremendous replay value and has a deep but rewarding learning curve. And we can’t overlook that its soundtrack is rather catchy and actually uses a few instrumental tracks that may sound familiar to Shenmue fans.


2. X-Men vs. Street Fighter

  • Publisher: Capcom
  • Developer: Capcom
  • Release Date: Nov 27, 1997

X-Men vs. Street Fighter, the first of Capcom’s versus series with Marvel Comics did get a home release on the PlayStation 1 outside of Japan, but it had a lagging frame rate, load times that could cure insomnia, and NO TAG TEAM PLAY!! However, the Japan exclusive Saturn release gives players the perfect arcade experience thanks to the 4MB RAM cartridge. Not only do you get a great frame rate and tag team, loading times are non-existent! X-Men vs. Street Fighter is essentially Street Fighter Alpha vs. X-Men Children of the Atom but tends to borrow more from X-Men Children of the Atom with its super high jumps and it's easier to pull off super combos. In fact, Saturn’s controller is very friendly with six-button fighters in comparison to Dreamcast and PlayStation.

In addition to its high-octane tag team action, you can also do double team super combos. The game just perfectly shows that the characters of Street Fighter and X-Men could not only duke it out but co-exist. For its time, it was a very novel experience and as the franchise progressed, it helped pave way for other crossovers. So if you want the OG of crossover fighters, this is it!


1. Panzer Dragoon Saga (Azel Panzer Dragoon RPG)

  • Publisher: Sega
  • Developer: Team Andromeda
  • Release Date: Jan 29, 1998 (Japan), April 30, 1998 (US)

Making its debut as a rail shooter, Panzer Dragoon’s biggest legacy is its RPG, Saga. While the previous games were just moving a dragon around and shooting down enemies like your typical rail shooter, in Saga, you can explore the towns on foot or use the dragon like the airships in the Final Fantasy games.

The battle system uses an excellent balance of traditional RPG elements of hit points and technique points, and the targeting system of rail shooters. Its use of time gauges (depending on how much they have been filled) allows players to use certain attacks that can cause a certain amount of damage. One gauge attacks allow you to use a generic gun attack while a two gauge lets you use lasers. While old-school RPGs had characters remain stationary during the battles until their gauges are filled for the player to give a command, Panzer Dragoon Saga would be one of the first of its kind to allow free movement in the middle of battle.

As a series staple, the game speaks its own unique language, which is also seen in the likes of Shadow of the Colossus. Though the game was met with positive reception, the failure of Saturn outside of Japan only made this game a cult hit to the point that its English releases can go as high as $300 on Internet auctions.


Final Thoughts

In addition to our list, we would like to make some very honorable mentions to Die Hard Arcade, Sega Rally, Daytona USA, Cyberbots, and Virtual On. Would a cheaper price tag and a reasonable planned launch have made the Saturn a success outside of Japan? We cannot say for sure, but it does leave the Saturn with a complicated place in history. While a good majority of Saturn’s higher quality games were exclusive to Japan, playing import games for the console is pretty easy. All you need is a converter to put into the cartridge slot and you can play some of the best games it has to offer.

While some of these games may be hard to find on the net, they are easy to pick up if you ever visit Akihabara. If you ever have the chance to visit and you’re interested in retro gaming, the Saturn and its Japanese library are probably right for you.

Justin

Writer

Author: Justin "ParaParaJMo" Moriarty

Hello, I am originally from the states and have lived in Japan since 2009. Though I watched Robotech and Voltron as a child, I officially became an anime fan in 1994 through Dragon Ball Z during a trip to the Philippines. In addition to anime, I also love tokusatsu, video games, music, and martial arts. よろしくお願いします

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