System Spotlight: Internal Memory
OK.. You’re launching one of the first consoles on a completely new game medium. Veteran gamers have all grown accustomed to battery back-ups on their cartridges, a luxury which CD-format games cannot manage. The main option is some form of external “memory card”, which can be inserted into the system. However, you’re Sega, and you want your system to make the changeover from cartridge to CD as painless as possible. So you create a console that has built-in memory, thus providing players with an immediate means of saving their games. Not for your unfaithful, the anguished wails of gamers who bought your rival’s machine, played their only game for hours on end, only to realize that they’d lose all their progress because they hadn’t been told they needed to buy a memory card as well.
The Saturn’s internal memory was a masterstroke. Not only did gamers have in-built space for saved games (all those Guardian Heroes unlockable characters will be sticking around), but the memory also allowed the system to have an Internal Clock, complete with date. What, you may ask, is the significance of that? Well, aside from being quite a nice feature if you spent your entire time in front of your Saturn (as many did), certain games came with Super-Secret Unlockables that would only become active on certain dates. An example of this is NiGHTS into Dreams, where by playing it on the right day (or cheating and changing your System Date), you could unlock special holiday related features for the game.
Whilst the Internal Memory lacked the immediate portability of the Playstation’s memory card (a factor later rectified by the RAM cart), its inclusion as part of the package was yet another example of Sega coming up with technological innovations that nobody else had even cared to consider.
Back in the mid-1990’s, gaming franchises “crossing over” was still a relatively new practice. SNK practically pioneered the genre with the King of Fighters series. Capcom jumped on the bandwagon with their first of many, many crossover games: X-Men VS Street Fighter. So, far be it from Sega to be left out. At the end of 1996 in Japan and not long after in North America, Sega released a gigantic 3D-fighting collection for their home console entitled Fighters Megamix. Fighters Megamix contained a whopping 32 characters to choose from, which was almost unheard of for a 3D fighter at this time. You started out with the all-star studded casts of Virtua Fighter 2 and Fighting Vipers together for the first time, giving you a total of 22 characters. Each one came in with most or all of their original moves, and the Fighting Vipers characters still retained their body armor. You unlocked the extra ten by going through the “1P Mode”, which was quite an innovative take on the traditional “Arcade” modes found in most fighting games. The mode is split into “courses” where you fight a different order of fighters in each one. Clearing a course would unlock a new character for you, and the roster was HILARIOUS! You got the Virtua Fighter Kids versions of Akira and Sarah. You got Bark and Bean from Sonic the Fighters. You got Rent-A Hero! You got a GIANT BEAN called Deku! You got Siba, a dropped character from the original Virtua Fighter. You could play as the DAYTONA USA RACING CAR! The roster may have been off balance, but COME ON! You could RUN OVER PEOPLE to the tune of “Rolling Start”!!! Since the majority of the game revolved around Virtua Fighter and Fighting Vipers, there was also the option where you could choose between the “physics” of the two games. Choosing VF physics allows more ground-based fighting, with more focus on technique. The FV physics gives you more control over aerial moves, including air recoveries. If you were a fan of Sega’s 3D fighters so many years ago, you had this game. Pure and simple. EXCELLENT compilation.
You know, all though most of us laughed and laughed when Acclaim died, I actually felt a little sad; after all they published some games I really enjoyed. D being one of them. D helped create a bond between everyone on my dorm floor my Freshman year of college at the U of MN. Every night at 10pm for the first 2-3 weeks of school, we gathered in the TV lounge, I brought out my Saturn and we played D, with each night a different person taking the controls until finally the game was beat. D is tied with Lunacy for the best point and click game ever. Better than any of the Mysts. Better than Dejavu. Better than Shadowgate or Echo Night. Name a game in this genre, D beats them all, even if it is just for the memories I have of it. You play as Laura, the daughter of a famous and wealthy doctor. Sadly one day your dad goes wacko and kills a ton of patients and co-workers in a Los Angeles hospital, and has taken others for hostages. Worried about your father and trying to stop the loss of life, Laura sneaks into the hospital and finds herself in another world. A world inside the mind of her father. A labyrinth filled with puzzles and riddles to solve. What really adds to the atmosphere of this game is the two hour time limit you have to beat it in. You can’t pause it, and if you don’t finish it in time, the game ends and Laura dies. That simple. I far preferred this (and so did many others) to the more action oriented horror games coming out at this time like Silent Hill and Resident Evil, because there was an actual urgency to the game. You had a time limit, where in these other would be ‘creepy games that really aren’t creepy at all,’ you could save, pause, go eat lunch and come back. D didn’t give you that option. When you put the disc in and turned your Saturn on, you made a commitment. And that really helped in the enjoyment of it. That and it didn’t have the god awful controls of SH or RE. Yuck. Point and click games, like 2D shooters, are very much a niche genre and an acquired taste, but I’ve yet to find a person who when they have tasted D, haven’t wanted to see the game to its completion. If you have a Saturn (Or even a PS1), you can pick up this game for cheap, and play one of the most under-rated games on either system. (Although the Saturn’s version is superior in terms of both sound and graphical quality). I won’t ruin for you what D stands for, but I will tell you in all my years as a gamer, I’ve never found a game that I’ve had more fun playing with a group of people that this one.
It always seemed to me that some of the best titles the Saturn ever saw came out at the end of its life span, usually in such limited numbers that no one really got the chance to play them. Japanese releases aside, American gamers who were sharp-eyed and on the lookout managed to snag what were not only some of the greatest games for the system, but some of the greatest games ever created. While I’m sure plenty of writers here have expounded on more than a few of the titles from the Saturn’s dying days, a lot of those titles maintain large cult followings and have well spread reputations of greatness. I, however, would like to educate you on a title that, unless you were a hardcore Sega fan, you probably missed out on, and might well have never even heard of. That title (assuming you missed the introductory title at the top of the article for some reason or another) is Burning Rangers.
Burning Rangers was one of the last titles released for the dying Saturn, and as a result was released in heavily limited numbers, so even if you WERE a Saturn owner, there was a good chance you might never even have seen this game. It was a product of Sonic Team, who many gamers will know for their incredibly awesome products, both past and future; NIGHTS, Phantasy Star Online, and other awesome titles were created by this nigh legendary development team. Combining over the top action-adventure elements with some seriously stylish presentation and an interesting concept, Burning Rangers is well respected amongst the hardcore gamer community, and with good reason. While the game might be limited in some respects, some genuinely fun and entertaining gameplay combined with an awesome anime style presentation and nigh infinite replay value make this, easily, one of the best games the Saturn has to offer.
The concept of Burning Rangers is certainly different enough: you as the player are a member of the Burning Rangers, futuristic fire-fighters for lack of a better description, who are tasked with going about and putting out fires in locations that normal fire-fighting equipment wouldn’t be sufficient. Instead of hoses, fire extinguishers, and fire axes, the Burning Rangers are given space-age power suits, jet packs, and power blasters with which they are to combat fires. This might seem like overkill until you realize that the fires you’re tasked to put out take place in abnormal locations… power reactors, underwater research facilities, and space stations are your place of work, and each is more hazardous than the last. Thankfully, aside from the tools of the trade, you’re also quite nimble, and capable of all sorts of dodging and acrobatics to ensure survival. And you’ll need them, as well as quick reflexes; fires can shoot out of anywhere, at any time, and as time passes, fire spreads and becomes worse until you escape… or the location becomes a towering inferno, with you still in it. Oh, and don’t think you’re just saving your OWN ass, nonono… you’re also tasked to save all sorts of innocent people who were trapped when the fire broke out, as that’s the heroic thing to do.
From the get-go, you’re given the choice of two Rangers to play as: Shou Amabane and Tillis. Other members of the Burning Rangers force can be played as through the use of passwords, but Shou and Tillis are the two initial characters, and each has their own unique storyline, which immediately boosts replay quite a bit. The story is divided into four separate stages, each with their own unique objectives and characters, as well as their own unique challenges. After going through a brief tutorial, you get to the meat of the game proper: running around in burning buildings. Every stage you encounter, for obvious reasons, is in some degree of burning to the ground (relatively speaking), and it’s your job to save as many trapped victims as you can before the stage goes up.
And boy does the stage go up. As you play, you’ll note the increasing “Danger Limit”, which basically monitors how you’re doing about putting out fires. If you dawdle around or don’t put fires out fast enough, the meter increases, and every time it hits an increment of 20%, COOKOUT TIME. You need to keep moving as fast as possible to put out fires and KEEP putting out fires, or you’ll be as good as dead.
You’re not just fighting fires, though, or at least, not ORDINARY fires. In addition to your standard stationary fires (which come in all sorts of different colors, which looks pretty neat), you’ll find yourself facing down fires that shoot fireballs at you, large spheres of flame that pelt you with fireballs of their own, and environmental hazards like flaming gas pipes and walls that go boom. You’ll also encounter the odd maintenance mech that, for one reason or another, desires your swift and painful demise. Fortunately, you’re well equipped to take on these hazards; aside from being a world-class gymnast, you’re armed with an extinguisher gun, which can be charged to unleash big damage, though you don’t get crystals for that kind of overkill.
Oh, yeah, there are crystals. I’m not typing out the name of them, so let’s simply say they’re “crystals”, yes? Anyway, the crystals can be found by taking out fires, or they could just be lying around the stage at random. Crystals served two purposes: get hit, and they scatter like Sonic’s rings, which keeps you from dying; or, find trapped victims, and the crystals could teleport them to safety. The teleporting of victims was an interesting dynamic, but having the crystals for protection was the more important part; without any crystals, if you took a hit, you were as good as dead.
Okay, okay, enough about the gameplay. So what makes the game legendary? Part of it’s in the presentation. While the game was limited in depth, the game OOZES personality from every pore, from level and character design to the designs of the bosses (who were pretty freaky, including a giant living plant and a pissed off AI construct that attacks you with all sorts of nasty surprises); each was unique, and each was quite cool. The storyline was also solid, and while it wasn’t the best of the best, was well-related through cutscenes and bits of dialogue in the various missions. Other Rangers were also (supposedly) performing other tasks in the levels, and the back and forth chatter helped the game to really come alive.
The other part was the nearly limitless replay value the game managed to pack in. Every mission, you’d be tasked (as I said) with saving the bacon of those unfortunate enough to not call out of work prior to the sudden meltdown of their surroundings. Well, when you saved certain people (including members of Sonic Team, oddly enough), they’d send you E-mails with passwords built in. By typing in those passwords, you could go to the same stages you’d played prior, only they’d feature entirely different layouts. Fires and victims would be in entirely different areas, and doors that were locked would now be open, and vice-versa. And then there were the scores you’d earn for your performance, there for you to try and top each time you jumped into a stage thus giving you even more reason to come back for more.
And hey, there was even a shooter mini-game built in that you could unlock! Come on, how can you not love a game that tries so hard to appeal to so many game sects at once?
Burning Rangers ultimately ended up mostly forgotten by all but the most hardcore (even if Sega never forgot about it; play Phantasy Star Online and witness the bonus “fire extinguishing” mission that plays the Burning Rangers theme while you play). That, unfortunately, is a shame; between the over-the-top design, the heavy anime style and influence, and the genuinely fun gameplay, this is a game that’s DYING for a sequel that may never come. Saturn owners who’ve had a chance to play BR, however, know exactly what all the hype is all about, and no matter how many games that come out from Sega we may NOT like, we can always look back, remember this, and know that at one point, we were all on the same page.
It doesn’t get much better than that, folks.
– Mark B.
|AJPW FEATURING VIRTUA FIGHTER
The Saturn has two of my three favorite wrestling games of all time. The first is Fire Pro Wrestling: Six Man Scramble. But the game that edges it out in terms of enjoyability? All Japan Pro Wrestling Featuring Virtua Fighter. Aside from a Nintendo WWF title where you could play as “You,” AJPW vs VF was the first game to combine real wrestlers with fictional characters. And the result was amazing. I will admit I stuck mainly to the All Japan roster, but it was fun to watch Dr. Death vs Wolf or Stan Hansen vs McWild. Although the roster is quite small by today’s standards (only ten), it was high quality all the way. Japanese stars like Giant Baba, Jun Akiyama, Kawada, Kobashi, Taue and Misawa (Hase is in the game, but you have to unlock him) were combined with Gaijins like Steve Williams, Gary Albright, Johnny Ace, and Stan Hansen. My favorites were of course Doc and” The Lariat.” Gameplay was simply amazing and far ahead of its time. The A button was the strike button, the B button was the grapple button and the C was the pick up/throw command. You could also appeal to the crowd through the shoulder buttons. There were a few things to consider. Certain moves could only be attempted after you had worn down your opponent for a while. Your first move of the game will not be a Dangerous Exploder for example. Also Crowd Appealing actually meant something in this game, as the more the crowd was behind you, the harder it was for you to be pinned. It was a nice touch and something the WWE games of today have emulated. Each character in the game had over a dozen combos or chain wrestling that you could do. It was the most realistic a game had been to that point as before AJ it was “grapple, move. Grapple move.” Combine this with the fact that EVERY MOVE IN THE GAME could be reversed, including the ability to reverse a reversal, you had some amazing displays of both technical and brawling wrestling going on. AJPW vs. VF is still hands down the most exciting wrestling game to watch and the one that feels most like an old school Japanese wrestling match. But most importantly, AJPW vs VF featured the bone-breaking concept. Yes, you can break bones in this game if you are too stiff to a certain area. Talk about something we all wish THQ would be smart enough to implement. There are six areas of the body than can be broken: The neck, the back, both arms and both legs. When you collect enough damage to a limb, the bone snaps. And it gets shown. But here’s where it gets good! So a limb is broken? The match CONTINUES. Well, until a second bone is broken, then the referee will halt the match and declare the battered and broken limbed wrestler finally unfit to continue. Finally AJPW vs VF featured the first Create a Wrestler Mode I can remember. And best of all, your stats and abilities were not assigned or merely customized by distributing points, but by answering questions about your character ranging from their athletic background (15 choices!). It’s amazingly enjoyable to go through this process and sometimes funny. AJPW vs Virtua Fighter was so far ahead of its time, it’s interesting to see that even games from this generation of consoles still don’t stand up to it. So many new ideas and innovations occurred in this game that still affect and influence the genre to this day. It’s amazingly cheap to pick up on Ebay, and aficionados of the genre owe it to themselves to experience this.
|SHINING OF THE HOLY ARK
Here is my second personal favorite RPG for Sega Saturn, right after Panzer Dragoon Saga. Developed by Sonic Software Planning, the good folks we know today as Camelot, Shining of the Holy Ark brings gamers back to the first person dungeon crawling roots of Sega’s Shining franchise rousing up fond memories of the first RPG I’ve ever played: Shining In The Darkness for Sega Genesis. What a delightful dose of warm n’ fuzzy nostalgia it was popping this game into my Saturn. It’s like a souped-up, 3D, darker version of the game that made young Bebito a RPG addict in the first place. Without spoiling too much, you start the game as a young mercenary by the name of Arthur. The King of Enrich has sent you, your cleric friend Melody, and your boss Forte to hunt down a rouge thief named Rodi who is hiding away in a mine. All is going well on the butt-kicking front for your party until a freak accident cave-in brings nearly everyone to the brink of death. During the confusion Forte becomes possessed by an evil spirit and abandons your party. Arthur wakes up to find that the cave-in was really caused by a crashing Ship and that the passengers, three entities only known as “Spirits”, emerge from the wreckage in as bad a shape as your party. In order for everyone to survive the “Spirits” merge with Melody, Arthur, and Rodi. This increases everyone’s powers, and has the advantage of making the heroes unable to die as long as the three remain together. Thus, now having their destinies explicably linked, the stage is set for a long and captivating story involving friendship, betrayal, finding Forte, discovering secrets of the past, and hunting down a newly introduced evil to the series that would carry on to later games, namely the Vandals. Worth the price of admission alone, the story here is excellent and one of the best in the Shining universe full of twists, turns, and surprises that the player won’t see soon coming. But it’s not just the story that makes SotHA great. Again, gameplay is similar to Shining In the Darkness in that everything is first person but now there are far more locations to explore, from the creepy labyrinthine forests and dungeons to the fully 3D towns. Random turn-based battles are frequent, but also engaging causing the player to fight strategically especially during some truly tough boss encounters. The graphics are phenomenal rivaling the system’s very best. Eye-catching anime inspired character art is traditional to the franchise but with a darker, more mature edge. A well meshed and beautiful blend of 2D sprites with impressive 3D environments proves that when in the right hands the third-dimension is something the Saturn can handle with ease. And the music. Dear lord, the music. Tremendous. This is the best musical score I’ve heard for any RPG of this or any generation of gaming. Even as of today, SotHA’s battle theme resonates inside my mind’s ear (partly because there were sooo many random battles and partly because it was just extraordinary). Brilliant in near every way, without a doubt this game stands as the very best Shining release for the Saturn in North America. But now I know you’re saying, “Whoa, Bebito! Hold on. The best? What about Shining Force III?” Well, it’s a funny thing. You see, Bernie Stolar was smoking from the crack pipe of happiness regularly back then, which is fine if that’s your thing, except that he was in control of Sega Of America and made the insane decision under an alleged drug induced stupor that the remaining two Scenarios of the Shining Force III Trilogy would never see the light of day in North America. Thus, the would-be-epic lost a lot of its luster over in the States (and the UK) simply due to being incomplete. So kiddies, if all you speak and read is English… then I give my whole hearted recommendation to Shining of the Holy Ark, yes, even over the mighty SFIII. Please, I beseech you. Buy it. Play it. Love it. And afterwards, between this and Panzer Dragoon Saga, you’ll understand why the Saturn was renowned as a paradise for RPG gamers.
SHINING FORCE III TRILOGY
Is it possible for us to do a feature without me talking about Shining Force? I think not.
The Shining Force trilogy, III as the name indicates takes place through three different games that share the same storyline. The first Disc, Scenario A, has you play as Synbios from the Republic of Apsinia. There has been a long conflict between Aspinia and the nation they succeeded from, The Empire of Destonia. Destonia has taken the holy land of Barrand from Aspinia, and both Countries have sent their leaders and troops to a neutral territory, the floating City of Saraband, to negotiate a peace treaty.
While here, Synbios and his fellow Aspinians witness a strange event. Their leader, Bertam, King of Aspinia, attacks and kidnaps the Emperor Domaric of Destonia, and appears allied with a legion of oddly garbed monks. After they retreat back to their encampment, Symbios and his allies encounter Bertram, who has know idea what they are talking about. Some third party has framed Bertram and Aspinia!
The majority of Shining Force III, Scenario A involves figuring out who is behind this plot, and why. Through the course of the game, your Shining Force will cross paths with Midion and his Force. Midion is the son of Emperor Domaric and although he and his allies think of you first as an enemy, both sides form a mutual respect in the face of a mutual adversary.
The problem with Scenario A is that it is the only one translated into English. The game ends so awkwardly, even if you knew nothing about Shining Force you could tell something was obviously cut out and that there is no way a game should end that… oddly. And of course technically, two-thirds of the game was in fact, for those of Japanese origin only.
The ending I’m talking about is an amazingly lackluster final battle where your team is divided into two parts. One half of your team has to survive a giant unkillable robot, while the others try to open the floodgates to a dam. It’s a good concept, but far too easy and there’s no sense that this is the final battle until… the end scene rolls. And you are left there puzzled as heck. Especially as the game ends with the Emperor you just rescued vowing to invade and destroy Aspinia.
This is where Scenario B comes in. With this game, you play as Midion and the Empire’s Shining Force. You see a lot of the same events, but from the Empire’s side. It’s a great touch. Scenario B is the most expensive of them all to find, and ironically it’s the one I like least. The Empire’s characters just aren’t as captivating or interesting, and the story isn’t as compelling.
There are parts of Scenario B that deviate quite a lot from Scenario A, but certain battles will seem more than a bit familiar. Scenario B does flesh out the enemy a little more and the end battle is a little more satisfying, but again, it ends abruptly with no true resolution.
It’s Scenario C that is the big one story wise as everything FINALLY makes sense. In Scenario C, you play as Julian, a character who has temporary cameos in both Scenarios A and B until he meets “accidents” that take him out of your party.
Julian is the true hero of SF 3, although he is also the least heroic of the characters. Think of a sword carrying Batman and you have Julian. Obsessed with revenge and the destruction of a monster race known as the Vandals who killed his father 10 years before in Shining the Holy Ark (Yes, all Shining Games from this point back have PERFECT continuity. It’s merely one of the reasons why they are so amazing). The odd thing is that the Vandal who slew Julian’s father, Galm, is probably the most good of all the characters in the game. And yet in Scenario 3 you must defeat him.
Actually, Galm let’s them win and at the end of the game reveals he slew Julian’s father in order to give him the passion and strength to be the savior of the world, but hey, as far as you know, the reason d’etre for Julian’s existence was achieved halfway through the game.
Scenario 3 is by far the best as it has so many tie ins with the other Shining Force games. Holy Ark characters appear. Characters from the other Shining Force games are mentioned. The story in Scenario 3 more than makes up for the crapulence that is the plot in the other two games. You eventually get to control all three Shining Force teams (The Republic, the Empire, and Julian’s army) and can even get a third level promotion for the first and only time in a SF game.
In Scenario 3, you learn who is truly bad, who is truly good, and everything comes to a peaceful, wonderful conclusion. You get the most unique character races and classes out of any Shining Force game, and you truly feel once you have beaten this, that you have played a masterpiece. Finally Scenario A and B make sense.
Truthfully Shining Force 3 is a quartet of games, as to have everything make sense, one should play Shining the Holy Ark first. Scratch that, Shining Force 3 is actually a QUINTET. For you see my friends, there is a FOURTH disc to Shining Force 3. A CD that cost 150-200 dollars on Ebay. This game that I speak of is the Shining Force 3 Premium Disc and is quite easily the rarest Saturn game of them all. For in order to get it, you needed to buy all Three Saturn Shining Force games and send away a coupon to get it. This was the only way.
The Premium disc gives you some of the greatest fanboy moments possible. Not only do you get cheesy bonus things like 3D models and a sound test and interviews and making of clips, but you get extra battles pitting your Shining Force 3 teams against characters like Iom, Xeon, and god bless Camelot, Dark Sol himself. And in 3-D to boot. Seeing Dark Sol and the other main bosses from the other Shining games in 3-D is so awesome that only another diehard psychotic Shining Force fan could understand it.
But besides the story, what else makes Shining Force 3 so wonderful and worth buying all three parts instead of just Scenario A in English? The answer is the fact that all three games connect via your Saturn Ram cartridge. When you finish Scenario A, Scenario’s B and C will play MUCH differently in certain places depending on the actions you took in A. The same holds true for when you play B. It influences the storyline and characters you get in C. It’s a great idea and makes buying all three games worthwhile if you are a huge tactical combat fan, which Shining Force is still the measuring stick for all games within this genre. Why wouldn’t you want three games that interact with each other giving you a better battle system than you’ll find in any other series???
Characters also interact in Shining Force 3 in a way that really changes how you do Combat. When characters interact, by healing each other, attacking the same enemy, casting beneficial spells on each other, and so on, their Friendship meter raises. At a certain point, the classification of Friendship raises one level. This friendship meter created symbiotic effects between the characters when they are close enough to each other. It keeps you from playing kamikaze with certain characters and makes you play on the defensive to keep certain characters alive so you can keep their sweet sweet bonus effect up high.
I touched on the appeal of 3-D Shining Force earlier, and that probably surprises my long time readers that I would champion anything 3-D, but I have to say, the in game battles are incredible for the Saturn, which usually was not know for it’s 3-D games. However, long time traditionalist Shining Force fans will be happy to know, it’s only combat that is in 3D. The rest of the game is still in the standard 2-D format.
In all Shining Force 3 manages to be Sega’s final masterpiece for the Sega Saturn. It was their most impressive achievement to date, and also the hardest one for them to pull off. Only bringing over one of the three parts to this much sought after game was the beginning of the Sega Executive boneheaded moves we would see time and time again with the Dreamcast. It’s a shame that one of Sega and Camelot’s greatest creations could only truly be enjoyed at its fullest potential when you owned all three parts and that when played on their own, the games fell a little flat. But still, I guess that’s like Voltron. When in the form of five lions, the Robeast would kick Voltron’s Ass. But in giant Blazing Sword carrying robot form, Voltron rules all. It’s a shitty analogy, but it sums up Shining Force 3 quite well I think.
– Alex Lucard