This month marks the 9 year anniversary of Sega’s swan song to the console race. Join us as we look back at the history of Sega Dreamcast and celebrate the games that we feel prove why the console should have lived on well beyond its years.
A Retrospectus of The Final Days of Sega As A Hardware Producer.
Imagine if you released the first videogame console with a built-in modem. Imagine if you released a game console that put no restriction on online play, not forcing the purchase of any add-ons, services, or subscriptions. Imagine if you created a gaming machine that took memory cards that doubled as GameBoy-like mini-PDAs. Imagine if you had the strongest quality-wise launch line-up for a gaming console debatably of all-time, including staggering support from Capcom, two of the greatest fighters ever made, the first football series to give Madden a run for its money in years, and the true debut of a Sonic the Hedgehog full 3-D platformer.
Now imagine if you screwed all that up.
Yes, you’d be imagining the Sega Dreamcast. One of the most tragic stories in gaming history this side of the Neo Geo Pocket Color. Why’s that? Because despite having the most powerful machine on the market, despite having titles that for the first time made people question whether they were looking at the ingame engine versus a FMV, despite being the first to lead the charge in the online console gaming revolution, and despite executing some of the most original and innovative ideas for a videogame console ever… the system was labeled as a failure and DOA from the second it was released on 9/9/99.
And it was shameful. One of the most shameful things the gameplaying community ever did. That’s right. I’m blaming YOU. My monkey blames you. I blame you. You, you, you. You all dismissed the Dreamcast before the system even had a chance to prove itself. A few weeks before the thing launched Sony threw out a few pics of some flashy titles for the PS2 and that’s all it took. Sony knew all they had to do was have shiny new games with nice graphics and crap gameplay, and as long as it had chicks in it casual gamers would eat it up. Sega hoped the usual niche audience would help propel it through the garbage Sony was allowing to be produced for their first generation of titles and it just didn’t happen. The brand loyalty was too strong. It actually transcended good games! It was something inexcusable for the gamers of the world to allow transpire.
But it’s true; Sega’s hands weren’t exactly spotless. Alex Lucard and I were talking about this just the other day as to the real reason the system died off. You see, I was ready to solely blame the apathy of gamers for the premature death of the system, but Sega made some major missteps here of their own that sped things along. And wow, were they doozies. They initially targeted the system at hardcore gamers without providing the games that hardcore Sega fans actually wanted, i.e. Shining Force, Panzer Dragoon, Golden Axe, a “REAL” Phantasy Star, NiGHTS, and a Sakura Taisen in ENGLISH even though the Official Dreamcast Magazine literally begged for it.
Bad enough on its own, but then there were the billions wasted in R&D money. As a matter of fact, Lucard had a friend who worked on the US translation of Sakura Wars for the Dreamcast. And it was done. Ready to go. All in English. With voice actors all lined up and everything. And at the last second, Sega changed its mind. CHANGED IT’S MIND, people. Same thing happened with NiGHTS. Everyone pleaded for it. So they gave it a shot. Yuji Naka even admitted in the first issue of ODCM that he was developing one. I’ve actually seen an early screenshot of the thing! And then it got dropped part way through because Yuji got cold feet. I’m not kidding. And still it gets worse. Sega poured tons of cash into research on whether consumers really wanted another edition of Shining Force. You see, Camelot wanted to mend fences and make it with Sega. But Sega said no. Shining Force 4, a hair length away. And Sega said no. Even after finding out from all that R&D that Shining Force + Camelot = $$$$$, common sense must have been on vacation that decade because they STILL said no!! Three bonafide system sellers, US Sakura Taisen, NiGHTS and Shining Force 4 not only passed on, but wasting ludicrous amounts of money in the process. It was insane. Yet they kept topping themselves.
Finally, in one of the biggest blunders in gaming history Sega announced they were killing the system off a WEEK after the DC had its best sales in terms of hardware and software ever. Even beating Sony. A WEEK after! I could see the conversation at Sega’s headquarters now.
Sega Exec #1: Holy crap! We actually outsold the PS2 in hardware and software sales last week! If we stick with this, we might actually come out of this successful!
Sega Exec #2: Uh oh. You know what that means.
Sega Exec #1: Yup.
Sega Exec #2: Pull the plug.
And if it didn’t go down like that, it should have. It makes just as much sense regardless.
Oh lord, and for the sake of space, I won’t even go into how Sega’s past console blunders contributed to the mayhem.
So the hard fast truth is idiots killed the Dreamcast. But it was two different sets of idiots. The first set being legions of mindless mainstream gamers that ignored the tons of great gaming experiences readily available, in lieu of waiting over a year for a recycled Tekken and some jaggies. Fans abandoned the Dreamcast before the thing even launched, in many cases not giving the games any sort of chance all in the name of brand loyalty. But fan brand loyalty was only part of what killed the system, as the second band of idiots was those at Sega. It all comes down to corporate decisions and marketing. And it breaks my heart to say it about my absolute favorite gaming company in existence, but they had about as much sense in that department as a monkey trying to hook up a Neo Geo. Instead of making the games people actually wanted, they wasted gob loads of R&D money and went down the route that’s always killed them up until then. Innovation. And while that’s great from a nobility, evolutionary, and even in many cases gaming standpoint, too much of it is bad from a business standpoint. Sega took chances no one else was willing to even consider doing to improve the industry. And they got their asses kicked for it. By their competition and by said idiot gamers in set one alike.
Yet regardless of all its problems, the Sega Dreamcast, taken by itself away from all the gamer ignorance and marketing blunders, is one awesome system. Sporting a virtual paradise for importers, the first ports to be considered better than arcade perfect, innovative titles covering a broad spectrum of genres, and a 2D and 3D fighting fan’s wet dream. When one looks at the games that ARE available for the system and nothing else, it goes from looking like Delta Burke in a spandex tight wet suit to Halle Berry butt naked in a pool of cherry flavored Jell-O. And that’s how we look at the system. That’s why at random we hook it up for some Chu Chu Rocket marathons, or some Bangai-O loving, or a game of Street Fighter III: Double Impact, or the latest import. Because no matter how non-mainstream or under-appreciated they were, the games ARE amazingly fun. And when you turn on the machine and the controller is in your hand and the sensory data in your brain releases the same chemical that makes you addicted to cocaine, that’s the most important thing. That’s what gaming is SUPPOSED to be about. So that’s why we’re presenting to you these games. These games that aren’t all necessarily killer apps. These games that aren’t all necessarily blockbuster sellers. These games that won’t necessarily sound brand name like familiar (although many will). But we present to you these games that are fun. Great, at times classic to extraordinary, but bottom line fun. Games that we feel will peek your interest for a system that the majority of the gameplaying community passed by so many years ago, whatever the reason. So come with the Kliq on a journey, down memory lane for some and down educational lane for others, as we look at part of what killed the system in the first place but at the same time what was the sole reason why the Dreamcast should have lived on well beyond its years.
|JET GRIND RADIO
Street punks. Graffiti. Rival gangs. A pirated radio station. Anti-governmentism. And Overdrive Magnetic-Motor Skating Shoes. Yup… it’s a SEGA game alright. Sporting a hot urban industrial soundtrack and impressive 3D cel-shaded graphics before they became overused and cliche’, Jet Grind Radio (Jet Set Radio overseas) was one original game. The premise is one of rebellion, as the Tokyo government is trying to silence all forms of artistic expression within the city’s youth. You command a band of young hoodlums that protests in the most non-M rated illegal way possible. Massive amounts of graffiti. Controlling one of up to 10 uniquely designed roller blading characters in a bustling 3D interactive urban jungle, your mission is to protect your territory from other rival skater gang members, recruit more rebels to your cause, stick it to the man at all costs, and paint the town… literally. And the tricks and aerial stunts you pull off doing so in the process are what make gameplay so addictive. Plus designing your own logos to spray paint right into the game adds even more to the coolness factor. JGR is one of a kind. It’s fast, it’s fun, and it’s definitely funky.
Dreamcast: Sega’s Last Scream
SKIES OF ARCADIA
While it’s true the Dreamcast largely died off because of fanboyism and stupid gamers like myself, there was also a problem with hype. Some games were hyped a lot, and some very little. There are some games that only got press from word of mouth, and that’s how many of them became popular. Though made by Overworks, makers of such classics like Sakura Taisen (programmed the DC versions) and Phantasy Star IV, Skies of Arcadia was underhyped, especially considering the fact that this game is one of the greatest RPGs ever.
The story is simple, yet effective. You play the role of a Blue Rogue named Vyse and his spunky sidekick, Aika, in their adventures through the skies of Arcadia. Blue Rogues are air pirates, but they are good and only rob from the evil Empire of Valua, whose Empress is hell-bent on conquering the world. On a routine boarding of a Valuan flagship, they earn the ire of the effeminate Admiral Alfonso, and rescue a mysterious girl named Fina. The journey thus begins taking them all over the world in hopes of preventing Valua from gaining the power of the Gigas, giant robots that can cause massive destruction.
There are quite a few elements in this game that were unique and made it extremely fun. Even if the random battles were pretty standard, there are ship battles where you’ll be pitting your own ship against an enemy’s opposing vessel, which uses a lot of strategy. The game also had Pinta’s Quest, which is one of the best uses for Sega’s VMU system. It is essentially a minigame you can play on the VMU that allows you to earn items in the actual game. Next there are the many discoveries that can be found all over the world, as well as the crewmembers you can recruit for your ship. Speaking of which, this is the only game I can recall where you don’t actually walk around on land, since the world is a series of many islands, and you start out with a ship to take you where you want to go (and your ship changes several times over the course of the game).
With such a unique gameplay experience, and good (if not great) story and graphics, it’s no wonder that so many people love this game. It’s my personal favorite on the Dreamcast, and is better than a lot of games that are being made today. It was even popular enough for them to port it to the Gamecube, adding new features in the process, and there has been a lot of talk of a sequel. So if I had to suggest a single game for the owner of a new Dreamcast, I’d definitely suggest this one.
Driving games used to infuriate me. I was never any good at Pole Position. I dropped countless quarters into OutRun. I could never finish the course in Race Drivin’. But then the Heavens opened up, and on a glorious Thanksgiving Day I was shown the light of Crazy Taxi. This was driving, as I had never played before. This was fun. It wasn’t enough that the gameplay, while simple, was maddeningly addictive; or that the graphical world you inhabited had shape and personality. The sound drew you in and held you there. The music selection of Bad Religion and The Offspring fit the game perfectly. The banter between the passenger and the drivers was simple, but inspired. I came to discover that it also emulated the arcade version perfectly. Something I had not seen done before. Alas, that perfect emulation is gone. It’s still worth picking up for whatever of the big three consoles you have, but know that it’s not the original Crazy Taxi. If nothing else, B.D. Joe’s voice has changed, and every time I put the game in my PS2, that fact serves to remind me that I let a good console die.
|SWORD OF BERSERK: GUT’S RAGE
Bloodier than Alexander Lucard’s teeth after sucking the life from some poor fool’s soul, Sword of Beserk: Gut’s Rage takes the cake for the most over the top violent game on Dreamcast. Based off the heroic fantasy manga and anime by Kentaro Miura, Beserk has quite the backstory to it before you even press START. The main character is an almost unbeatable mercenary named Guts (Gattsu) who’s armed with the legendary Dragon Slayer, a mighty sword of retribution that would make spiky haired heroes working for Squaresoft blush in inadequacy. Almost his equal in the battlefield is his love interest, Casca. Well, used to almost be his equal that is. Gattsu and Casca are the sole survivors of a band of highly trained and feared mercenaries called the Hawks. Sadly, the Hawks were slaughtered by a supernatural warrior clan, known only as “God Hand’. Oh well. Those things happen. But apparently Casca has a weak stomach, as after that final epic battle her sanity was traumatically scarred by the carnage she witnessed to the point of no return (ok, the violent raping may have hurt things too). Now Guts roams the land searching for his destiny and a cure for his beloved Casca. This is where the game starts you off, and the story you experience within it is just as sick and insane as the one I transcribed for your characters before it. Sure this game is all about slashing through truckload after truckload of anybody and everybody who gets in your way with your huge penis-compensating sword (which is pretty darn fun in itself). But the story. Whoo. The story is what draws you in and keeps you hooked, more so then any hack n’ slash before it. Eidos did a wonderful job with the translation, and the voice acting is so point on that lip movements actually match the words without the dialogue sounding the least bit generic. Yes. What ultimately comes down to a straight beat em’ up with only around 10-15 hours of gameplay to enjoy is all so well done, and so compelling on a narrative level that it ends up being one of the better of it’s kind and one heck of a fun ride while it lasts. Definitely worth tracking down this rarity.
Dreamcast: Sega’s Last Scream
Wow. I finally get to talk about Sakura Taisen? I can break the ‘No Imports’ rule set down many moons ago? God I love this feature.
Right. Sakura Taisen. By far the greatest video game series ever made. Better than Persona. Better than Shining Force. Better even than Pokemon. Yes. I said it. Forgive me oh mighty Pikachu God that looks down from on high and blesses me. But Sakura Taisen is hands down the greatest video games series ever.
Let’s look at it. The series takes place at the turn of the 20th century. Yes! Historical fiction rules! Second, it’s steampunk, one of the coolest genres ever invented. Giant steam powered mechs beating the living hell out of Satan and his demon hordes that have entered our world in an attempt to destroy it. That right there is such a surreal concept you have to love it. Third, the spirit armor aka Ryoushi Kachuu are powered by girls with massive amounts of psychic energy. Yes, it turns out everyone they could find that had the appropriate power is a girl. Save yourself, but your character is a complete and total dolt and a sexual pervert to boot. And thus of course you are made the leader. The TeikokuKagekiDan (Royal Floral Assault Squadron) disguise themselves as an all woman theatre troupe who then enhance their psychic energy from the emotions they bring out in their audience and then turn around and blow demons back to hell.
And that’s the plot of the first two games. How could a person not fall in love with plot like that? Now Sakura Taisen 3 takes Ichiro to France. Now how smart is that? The king of incompetence goes to France, land of lechery. That’s a match made in hell. But I digress. There in France, he forms a new team of some pretty bizarre characters, ranging from an insane religious French woman whose accent keeps changing to a wanted felon from Transylvania who happens to be pyrokinetic. Do you SEE why I love these games people?
Oh and the villains are furries. DEMON furries. And you get to kill them. Right there, that makes SW3 more fun that the first 2 games. After all, ANYONE can kill demons. But demon furries? Especially when the one is a Rabbit Furrie obsessed with Scissorsman from Clock Tower (Or at least he’s drawn that way!).
But what is really nice, is that you can import data from either SW1 or 2 from the Dreamcast ports (The original, like all the greatest games are on the Saturn. Whoo boy. Don’t get myself and Bebito started there…) allowing you some kick ass secret stuff.
See, in each Sakura game you are not only killing stuff, but also playing a Dating Sim ala Bloody Bride or Thousand Arms (Also made by Red Company. GREATEST. DEVELOPER. EVER!) in which you answer questions in order to make girls fall in sweet sweet love with you. This affects not only the girls in combat, but also which ending you get as well.
Sakura Taisen also has battles in the vein of Tactical strategy RPGS. The games previous all took place on a VERY LARGE battle map. SW3 follows suit but gets rid of the grid system and replaces it with a big action bar. It really gives the series new life by adding a new way to do your tactical combat. Some SW fans to seem love it. Others seem to hate it. Me? I just loves me some Tactics games where you can rotate the screen and the angle you view the battlefield from. Hear that? Tactics games where you can rotate the screen!
But my favorite part of the game is how it is divided in over ten ‘episodes.’ Yes, the game plays like an anime. Each episode is fully animated (save battles) and really does make the game feel like you’re watching an anime marathon.
And best of all? Unlike the Saturn games, once you have beaten an episode, you can now go back and watch it whenever you want! KICK ASS! There are also 3 hidden episodes which are pretty cute.
You know I could keep going about all that was put into this game. The mini games. The cameos! The strange and random cleavage shots that should appeal to all you weirdo gamers obsessed with electronically created women. If you play the game and get to use the lips options, you’ll understand. But I won’t. Although I don’t enjoy the characters in SW3 as much as in the original 2, the many options and bonuses in this game are enough to make it the best of the trilogy.
Seriously people, Sakura Taisen is the greatest Tactical RPG series ever made. The plots. The Graphics. The insanity. If you are an RPG fan, an import fan, or a Dreamcast fan, you owe it to yourself to experience the greatness that is Sakura Taisen.
With a crapload of SW games in the works, and a PS2 version supposedly coming to the US (But how many times have we heard that?) you just may get the chance to finally play the games in English. (Bebito’s Note: Yeah, we all know how THAT turned out.) There’s also two different anime series available in this country so there is NO excuse not to enjoy the Sakura Wars series in some way.
And don’t even get me started on Sakura Wars 4 or the giant most excellent SW collection for the Dreamcast which I own because I am that insane for this series.
Write Red Company! Write Sega! Demand Sakura Wars in English! Threaten families, pets, and property if that is what it takes to get Sakura Wars in Region 1. Do it NOW!