System Spotlight: Cartridges Galore!
You know, it’s one thing when a system comes out and you find an expansion port on it. Ah, can’t you remember the one you found on the bottom of every Nintendo system you’ve ever had? Or the one that Sony had on their earlier PSX models, only to toss it out because ingenious Hong Kong engineers got to it first? Well, the Saturn not only had a sleek-ass CD drive and a slot for a VCD card in its system, but it also had a top-side and somewhat aesthetically obtrusive cartridge slot. But you know what separates the Saturn from the rest of the pack? No, kids, other than bad marketing. Well before the system went to the commercial wayside, Sega outright exhausted that sucker by giving the system no less than three official carts; 2 of which never made it to US soil.
The first one is an official back-up memory card. Although having internal memory was nice, the engineers at Sega R&D probably found out that a CR2032 watch battery wasn’t the most economical or efficient method of carrying over saved games from one year to the next. So the geniuses there decided to make a ROM cart that would archive your saved games so you didn’t have to lose your NiGHTS or Panzer Dragoon saves to an abyss. Good stuff, if you can locate it.
The second two carts were RAM expansions that came in 1 and 4 MEG flavors, which unfortunately never saw the light of day in the USA. When it came to arcade ports, these were the saving grace of the system. While the Playstation suffered from horrendous load times and missing animations, companies were able to make use of the expansion packs to deliver an uncompromised port of their arcade games. SNK used the 1 MEG cart to bring us near arcade perfect ports of Metal Slug as well as Samurai Shodwn games 3-4. Capcom also made use of the 1 MEG cart on Marvel Super Heroes, but it was the 4 MEG cart that brought classics like X-Men VS Street Fighter and Street Fighter Zero (that’s Alpha to us Westerners) 3, as well as the dubious Final Fight Revenge.
So you might be wondering “OK, Fred. I’d love to play all of these great RAM cart games, but I’ve only got this dinky No-Stateside-Love American Saturn. How can I play these awesome Japanese ports?” Fret not, my friends, for salvation comes in cartridge forum as well: the Action Replay 4 in 1. Not only will it assist in playing single-disc Japanese games, but it’ll give you all the RAM to run the greats, as well as the back-up room to save it. You can pick it up through the link given, but you can probably find it just as easily elsewhere for perhaps even a cheaper price.
So then tell me: who says good things can’t come in cartridge form?
– Frederick Badlissi
It’s funny. Whenever I make mention of the Oasis series most gamers either look at me cross-eyed forming into a blank stupor or immediately begin gushing more than a bus load of priests at a Little League Game. Not unique enough to gain “hardcore” status like a Dragon Force and not “obscure” enough to obtain cult status like a Segagaga, it’s largely unrecognized in the gameplaying community. Which is a bleeding shame; because of the few who do actually know what the deal is, most have nothing but fanatical love for it. To put it as a simile, Legend of Oasis is to the Saturn as A Link To The Past is to the SNES.
Starting life on Sega Genesis with Beyond Oasis and improving in near every way for the Sega Saturn prequel, Legend of Oasis is among the best 2D Action RPGs for the Saturn. Set roughly 1000 years before Beyond Oasis, the game revolves around an ongoing battle to obtain two arm bands which possess untold power: the Silver Armlet of good wielded by our hero, Leon, and the Gold Armlet containing the power of evil held by his nemesis, Agito.
Best described as Zelda meets Rygar meets Street Fighter, Legend of Oasis falls somewhat flat with a weak story and bland musical composition. But the rest of the game’s shining attributes make plenty o’ penance for its sins. The graphics? Simply gorgeous. Even by today’s standards Legend Of Oasis has some of the best hand-drawn 2D visuals seen inside the genre. Our hero, the Arabian decked-out Leon, is imaginatively designed and superbly animated. The game dishes out environments with colorful visuals, lush and full of life ranging from jungles to mountaintops to ruins. All amid nearly no load time. And complimenting the beautiful scenery is gameplay focused on tried-and-true Action-RPG conventions but with some refreshing twists.
Leon has a variety of moves at his disposal due to a combo intensive combat system. Combing special attacks with specific sequenced button inputs almost feels more akin to a well crafted 2D fighter rather than just a mindless hack n’ slash. Add to that the option to wield 4 different weapons, each of which drastically changing your style, attacks and abilities, and then being able to enchant each of those weapons with various magical powers to fit the situation, and you’re provided with some of the most varied and satisfying action one can undergo whilst killing legions of rats, bats, soldiers, and zombies.
But we’re still only scratching the surface. The true crown jewel of this series’ gameplay centers on the summoning of Spirits known as Elementals. That Silver Armlet Leon possesses? It allows the wearer to project his life-force into inanimate objects and summon six different beings of semi-phenomenal cosmic power, all based on “elements” (Earth, Water, Fire, Sound, Air, and Darkness). From this premise we derive the most imaginative and hard-core puzzles you’ll ever see in a 2D Action RPG. The trick is summoning the right Elemental for the right job and as the game progresses figuring out which one is suited for what task becomes increasingly more complex. Heck, even figuring out how to summon the Spirit becomes a puzzle in of itself. It could be as simple as say… summoning Dytto, the Water Elemental, to unblock a passageway by extinguishing the flames in front of a door. Or it can be as crazy as summoning Dytto again from a water-based enemy, using her power to freeze that enemy, using the ice to summon Shade who creates a spirit ball of Darkness to empower your Bow and allows you to destroy an evil thorn-beast then revealing an Electric Switch that, once you summon Airl from a neighboring Air Fountain, can be activated by shooting at it with Airl’s Electric Ball in order to drop a chest from the ceiling containing some much needed items. Yeah… head spinning? It’s this level of problem solving that tests the player’s logic skills and imagination to the brink on insanity. That tiny droplet of water dripping down the side of that wall, it’s not just scenery; it’s a way for you tap into Dytto’s healing powers. That metal door ahead is more than just an obstacle blocking your path – it’s also a means to summon the Sound Spirit, Brass. You’ve got to pay attention, kids. Almost everything in the game has some sort of purpose to it, whether you utilize it or not.
The learning curve thankfully is quite balanced but the longer you play the harder and more ingenious the puzzles become. Make no mistake you WILL get stuck. But that’s part of the charm. Part of what makes the experience all the more rewarding. You feel like you’ve actually accomplished something after completing a level in this game, because you truly earned it. That’s worth the price of admission right there. Keep in mind however that I like a good challenge. I like finally having a game that my casual gaming wife can’t blaze through as easily as I can. It shows that it was made for true gamers rather the occasional pickup and play players.
But no, for all my apparent love for the game Legend of Oasis isn’t an all-time classic. Yes, I compared it in genre to The Legend Of Zelda but it doesn’t reach that level of flawlessness, getting every single element down perfectly. There’s some lackluster music (especially considering Yuzo Koshiro, composer of the excellent Shinobi and Streets of Rage soundtracks, was involved), a mediocre story and many will consider your adventure to be over far too quickly. But know that what it does get right, it gets right in Spades and in some ways no other franchise in the genre has. What we have here is a wonderful 2D Action RPG romp that has been sorely underrated. With enthralling action, oodles of gameplay variety, drop dead gorgeous visuals, all combined with the most engrossing and challenging puzzle elements you’ll have ever seen it’s definitely worth your time to track down if you’re a fan of the genre.
– Bebito Jackson
If the Saturn would come to be known as anything outside of the fact that it brought a huge amount of badass games in droves, then it would be the fact that a sizable chunk of said badass games came from the house that Andy Bogard and Galford built: SNK. Via the extra 1 MEG ram cart and some programming ingenuity on the part of SNK, Metal Slug offers Saturn owners the joy of experiencing this classic in the comfort of their own homes without having to shell out the price of 5 Geo Metros. Metal Slug, for the uninitiated, can best be described as one of the seminal arcade titles of the early 90s that plays in the same vein of the older Contra titles. Offering cartoony backdrops inspired by WWII, players take the roles of either Marco Rossi or Tarma Roving as they fight everyone from Governator knock-offs to mummies who see it fit to forcibly share their dated fashion sense with the player. With the addition of an extra MEG to the Saturn’s memory, SNK was able to faithfully reproduce one of its non-fighting game classics pound for pound, as everything from the original arcade release has made it into this cart- from the lush and colorful levels to it’s wholly original “fusion-esque” soundtrack. Sure, there may be load times, but during the load times, you’re entertained by a monkey that juggles grenades!!! How can you feel ill towards that? Not only this, but you also get an exclusive mode called “Combat School” in which an anime gal winks at you incessantly until you press buttons entering things like your name, birth date, and other things. And when the day is done, how can you say “no” to it? Metal Slug has juggling monkies, winking anime chicks, a Governator knock-off for a boss, and a fusion soundtrack that would even make an NPR DJ turn their head in disbelief. And the best part of it all? On the collector’s market, it only costs about 2 percent of what the AES version goes for. What are you waiting for?
What is it about this game that makes me love it so? That makes me consider it the best import RPG ever? Is it the steampunk aspect? It very well could be! There is something about the concept of steam as the primary fuel source for technological advances that gets my imagination flowing.
Is it the time frame? Sakura Taisen takes place in the 1920’s. Japan has an actual military force. And in America, the twenties were a roaring feel good time with flappers, coca-cola and Prohibition running wild. At least in OUR 1920’s. The world that Sakura Taisen takes place in is a little bit different thanks to steampunk. Let’s just say they are a little more advanced than we were back in that era.
Is it the mechs? We all know I loves me the giant robots. Whether it’s Autobots, Veritechs, or the giant robot from Saber Rider and the Star Sherrifs, I like robots. And the mechs in Sakura Taisen appeal to me far more than those in Front Mission or Vanguard Bandits. Why? Because of the Six ladies that make up the Royal Floral Assault Unit. Or as I will refer to them from here on, the Hanagumi.
So is it the Hanagumi? Six great ladies, each with distinct personalities, looks, and mechs? There is Shinguji Sakura the main girl, little Iris Chateaubriand, Kanzaki Sumire who is my personal favorite, Maria Tachibana who is blonde and deadly, Ri Kohran the bookish nerdy girl, and Kirishima Kanna who is the powerhouse roid using Nicole Bass of the team. All six characters are wonderful to get to know as the game goes on, and you can end up with any of them for six distinct endings, each one a blast to sit back and watch. And because I realize most of you will never play the game, or go out and try the anime series based on the games (which you really shouldn’t as it’s not very good to begin with and is rather a letdown compared to the games), Bebito has uploaded shots of each of the girls for you to look at to see what the actual characters in Sakura Taisen look like. Yes, if I have to stoop to including shots of each girl in order to get some excitement in this game generated by Americans, I’m willing to do it. Because even without the animated eye candy, the game is incredible to play. Trust me on this? (Bebito’s Note: You can check out the Sakura girls HERE.)
Is it the dating sim part of the game? Well yes, partly. I think dating sims are hilarious. I find the questions asked and the answers one must give to be a great source of amusement and wish there was more than just Thousand Arms in English, because Thousand Arms is a dating sim at its simplest and most basic. In Sakura Wars, the dating Sim goes far beyond simple Q&A. In battles for example, Ohgami can protect a girl in battle from damage and gain a point towards their love bond, or whatever you’d like to call it. Consider it taking a bullet so you can cock and load your own love gun later that evening. Giggidygiggidygiggidy!
It is Ohgami? He has to be my favorite main male character out of every RPG ever. He’s a pervert. He’s not very bright. He’s got hair like he was an Asian version of the rapper Kid from Kid N Play. And yet he gets the ladies like he was well… me. ;-)
Ohgami is a great character through and through. He’s not just comic relief. He’s not just cornball antics. He’s not just a great military tactician and mincing pedophile (if you go after Iris, you sick f*cks!). He’s a very well rounded character… that just happens to trip and catch him self by placing his hands on boobies a little too often.
Is it the music? Most certainly. Some of the best music ever in a video game. The theme song is incredibly catchy and is on a CD in my Pokemobile VW. I hear the main theme from this game about every other day, and I know the lyrics both in Japanese and in English. I love all the music from this game, but what hooked me on Sakura Taisen most of all was the opening demo when the game starts and watching it. Due to the nature of the plot of Sakura Taisen, music and voice acting are integral to the game. I can’t put enough emphasis on this. Only Sakura Taisen and the Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete go to this level in terms of music being intertwined with gameplay. To play Sakura Wars without the music would be robbing your senses of a whole other level of the game. Don’t cheat yourself.
Is it the voice acting? God yes. Even if you don’t speak a lick of Japanese, just the intonation of each actress and actor makes the meaning behind the words quite clear. These people put their heart and soul into making the characters real and entertaining and Sumire has a laugh that rivals Naga the Serpent from Slayers. This is by far the best voice acting I’ve ever heard on an import game. And it’s just another reason why I am crazy about Sakura Taisen.
Is it the graphics? Let’s leave it at this. The cinema scenes on the Sega Saturn are better than most of what I’ve seen on the PS2. And that’s not me being a Sega fan boy. Or me being a Sony hater. That’s me saying “Holy crap. The PS2 Sakura game, which is a direct port of the SS game, has the best animation out of any game on the PS2 bar none. And yet, the Saturn cut scenes from the original game can hold its own against the remake.” THAT is how good the graphics are.
Plus superdeformed Sakura characters are adorable when they show up.
Is it the game play? Tactical RPG goodness. How could it not be? Each character has their own unique attacks and although there are only 7 characters total, well it’s still more than in any Final Fantasy Tactics game, and the gameplay is seamless. And in the gameplay the dating sim aspects come back into play, because how each girl feels about you correlates directly with how good your characters are in battle. So make Ohgami a pimp daddy!
Is it the mini games? Well, the mini games are cute. But I don’t need them. Still, they are a lot of fun and worth checking out. Each girl has their own mini game. Sakura’s involves floor sweeping, Sumire’s is swimming like the old NES track N Field 2 game. Maria’s game involves cooking, Iris has a slot machine esque “dress the little girl” game that again reeks of pedophilia if you put her in the slutty bunny outfit. Kohran has a card game, and Kanna has a “Who are my real parents” game. Kohran and Kanna I suggest avoiding unless you know Japanese, but Sakura and Sumire are the easiest for English only speakers.
Is it the bromides? Well, cartoon characters don’t turn me on. But they’re pretty to look at, I’ll grant you that.
It’s all of these things and more. Somehow Sakura Taisen managed to take all of these aspects and create a video game that is truly better as a whole than in its separate pieces. Much like the aforementioned Voltron, or even Devestator. Who win between those two, eh?
This game was what really truly made me appreciate how far my Japanese has come along. A game that I was able to enjoy almost at the same level a native speaker could. There is a reason this series is right up there with Sonic in terms of popularity for Sega franchises in Japan. And hell, there’s even more nick-knacks for Sakura Taisen then there is for the Hedgehog franchise. I will never be able to understand why this series hasn’t made it to the States yet. It was supposed to have made it for the Dreamcast, but that got axed. It was supposed to be in the US by the beginning of 2004 at the LATEST. But it’s not here. It probably NEVER will be here. The only answer I can come up with is that once again Sega of America has proven themselves to be total idiots in terms of marketing strategy. Sakura Taisen in English would draw major bucks. Here’s hoping now that Sammy owns them, that they’ll kick Sega’s butt in gear and start forcing them to release an English copy of Sakura Wars that has all the same love and care that went into the original Japanese version.
Go import the game for your Saturn for ten bucks on Ebay. Watch the opening demo and listen to the song, and trust me… you’ll be hooked. Even if you can’t speak a lick of Japanese, the fact this game plays out exactly like an Anime series will be enough to keep you coming back for more.
– Alex Lucard
After the success of X-Men VS Street Fighter on the Saturn, Capcom knew what they had to do: expand the cadre of Marvel properties, bring in an Alpha character or two, and give their Japanese audience an extra character in the embodiment of caffeine incarnate known as Norimaro. This, my friends, was the slick incarnation that was Marvel Super Heroes VS Street Fighter. Building upon what made the first game so great, Capcom decided to pump the engine full of steroids and bring back some of the more popular characters back from it’s earlier Marvel Super Heroes title. Instead of heads like Magneto and Gambit, gamers got to try their hands at guys like Blackheart and Omega Red. More familiar faces from the Street Fighter universe tagged along for the ride, as well as hidden characters that spanned the gamut from Satan’s son (Mephisto) to Evil Zangief! With the help of the 4 MEG RAM cart, the Saturn handled this game as effortlessly as it did X-Men VS Street Fighter, bringing every bit of the arcade experience home with no slowdown and load times as quick as George W Bush’s attention span. And like it’s predecessor, Marvel Super Heroes VS Street Fighter is on the more affordable side of the eBay gaming spectrum. Trust me- you can’t go wrong with Marvel Super Heroes VS Street Fighter. It’ll be the best 30-40 dollars you’ve spent since that CBS series DVD set you got for your grandmother.
World Heroes may not rank up there with fighting game greats like King of Fighters or Street Fighter, but screw you, I loved it anyways. The games originally appeared in arcades, running on the Neo Geo system; World Heroes was one of about 5,000 fighting games on the Neo Geo, and unlike the combo-heavy titles most gamers are familiar with, World Heroes‘ focus was brute force and constant use of throws. When I discovered that Perfect had been ported to the Saturn in Japan, I immediately had to import it. (Of course, I got my ass kicked severely, because I was used to the aforementioned combo-heavy games, and hadn’t played a World Heroes game in about a decade.) World Heroes Perfect on the Saturn is, no pun intended, arcade perfect. Aside from a few “loading” screens, everything runs at full speed. The graphics are crisp, the sound is fantastic…what more could you ask for in a fighter? Couple this with Sega’s Virtua Stick or the Eclipse joystick, and you’ve got a match made in heaven. Besides… how many other fighting games have giant football players out to kick some ass?
“Arcade Perfect.” There’s no phrase like it to the ears of any gamer that grew up in smoke-filled arcades during the late 80s through the 90s. Sure, it might be hard for the younger generation to grasp, but there was a time when you just had to accept that there would be a difference between what you played in the arcade and what you had on your home console. Like the missing voice clips on the NES version of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Arcade Game, or the (now arguably ironic) “clean presentation” of the King of Pop’s Genesis version of Moonwalker. Because while both attempted to recreate the magic of their expensive and bloated selves, ports like them succeeded in replicating the experience only halfway. It was much like post-WW1 Turkey, when Mustafa Keamal brought a forced westernization to the masses. While the facade of democracy and western ideals were there, the soul of the whole thing was missing.
But once in a blue moon the process of importation is done with such an extreme attention to detail and overall care, and the end result is an impeccable replication of the original. You simply stand in utter bewilderment, shaking your head and asking yourself “how was such a feat possible? How were they able to take what I knew and love, and recreate it so beautifully in such a different form?” Well, it really is something that only the greats can pull off. Just like System of a Down was able to take a horrible 80s Berlin single called “The Metro” and render it listenable, Capcom took a horribly expensive price tag for a X-Men VS Street Fighter cabinet, and made it affordable. Through the miracle of the 4MEG RAM cart, Capcom flawlessly repackaged it on the Sega Saturn with all the bells and whistles you know and love.
For those who may not know, the original X-Men VS Street Fighter was really something to write home about. Probably getting the idea from watching two Siamese fighting fish in the same bowl (one wearing a red bandana and another with adamantium claws), game designers decided to take select sprites from their prior X-Men: Children of the Atom game and place them alongside ones from previous Street Fighter games, thus putting them in the same game with a sped-up variant of the COTA engine. Players now not only chose a single character to play the best two out of three rounds, but now chose a whopping two characters that they could switch in and out on the fly! Sure, this might not sound so revolutionary to you if you’re not old enough to drink, but if that’s the case, then please go back to your copy of Tekken Tag. Remember, kids: at this time, you couldn’t just simply throw the term “arcade perfect” around. So when Capcom decided to bring X-Men VS Street Fighter to the home consoles, gamers wondered if it would be possible. I mean, would either the PSX or the Saturn be able to handle the fighting behemoth? Could we have our proverbial cake and eat it too?
Hell yeah we could. For as long as we were fed said cake on a Saturn, everyday was our birthday.
Surpassing all expectations, the entirety of the game ended up as polished on the Saturn as it was in the arcade. In a feat made possible by either God himself or God-like Japanese engineering, the Saturn’s standard control pad allowed for the friendliest accommodation of any 6-button Capcom fighter, and X-Men VS Street Fighter proved to fit like a glove. Given the added speed of the game’s engine, and the Saturn’s native “we love 2D” hardware, Capcom was able to transfer their signature “dial-a-carpal-tunnel-diagnosis” combo system while preserving every intricacy that lay therein; a bipartite endeavor facilitated by the Saturn’s button layout and hardware. But perhaps the most wondrous element of the Saturn port was that in order to bring the arcade experience home, Sega and Capcom gave you the added memory to do so. Thanks to X-Men VS Street Fighter, you now had another card you could plug into the system: the omnipotent 4 MEG RAM CART. You can bow now. I’ll wait.
When you boil it down, there’s a lot of crap happening in X-Men VS Street Fighter at any given moment. So when you’re playing two teams of Juggernaut & The Hulk, whose sprites are damn huge, against each other on a multi-level stage with the music on full blast, that’s an awful lot of data to process. X-Men VS Street Fighter played WITH NO SLOWDOWN WHATSOEVER. Load times? HA! While Playstation fanboys sat waiting to be broken from the slavery of the “Now Loading” screen, Saturn gamers had no such worry. A full match never took longer than 4 seconds to load. And character switching, you ask? You’ll only find it on the Saturn version. Playstation owners were left with only being able to pick characters for temporary assistance. Hell- there’s a reason why Capcom USA told EGM magazine not to mention the Saturn version in their review back in 1997, and the truth of the matter was simple: the Saturn version was superior to the Playstation version in every way, shape and form. And if you don’t believe me, then go back to playing Tekken Tag. X-Men VS Street Fighter = Arcade freakin’ perfect.
Like many Saturn gems, however, the marketing execs and mysterious head druids of Sega decided against releasing the game in the US, and inadvertently kept many Saturns on the shelves of mass merchants everywhere. Had they not refused to release it stateside, I’m confident that Sega could have made a killing and carved out more of a market-share away from the Playstation and Nintendo 64. To be quite honest, X-Men VS Street Fighter was the game that motivated me to pick up my Saturn above any other game out there, and I’m sure I’m not the only one.
I’ve enjoyed my copy for over the past 6 years, and if you’re a 2D fighting head, you should hunt it down like there’s no Dreamcast. Unlike Radiant Silvergun or Rez, you can find X-Men VS Street Fighter for an affordable price on eBay (anywhere from 10-30 dollars, depending on condition, completeness, etc). Just remember though- you’ll need to have a Saturn capable of playing Japanese games, AND the translucent blue 4 MEG RAM cart. For American Saturn owners who are weary of the region switch mod, I again highly recommend the Action Replay 4-in-1 Cart, as it offers the ability to play all single-disc imports as well as the ones that need the extra RAM, and also serves as a sort of memory card.
Without a doubt, X-Men VS Street Fighter is a worthy purchase for any Saturn gamer and a quintessential 2D fighter for any fan of the genre.
– Frederick Badlissi