Where would the internet be without “top ten” listicles? I shudder to think. Sure it is not the highest form of literature, but it does make it easier to arrange your thoughts and makes it easy for readers to follow along. I figured the best way to show my love for the much-maligned Sega Saturn, and its awesome games would be once again to use the format that launched a million game sites.
I have already covered the 5 best Game Gear games and the 10 best Dreamcast games. I do want to cover the rest of Sega’s consoles in the future. The Saturn was eclipsed by the PlayStation, and while Sony released a lot of beloved titles, the Saturn has its share of cult hits.
Without further ado, here are the 10 best Sega Saturn games:
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10) Saturn Bomberman (developed by Hudson soft, published by Hudson Soft for JP in 1996 and Sega for EU and NA in 1997)
You know Hudson Soft’s cute antennae wiggling red white and blue overlord of explosives. He has made an appearance on nearly every console since the character’s creation, and while I do not like to think about the ill-fated Xbox version, the one on the Saturn is great. It has a story mode with great little interludes between stages, and a battle mode that allows you to play with up to 10 players (if you have two multitaps).
While getting ten friends to show up in one place is about as easy as herding cats, it is a ton of fun if you can swing it. It does not diverge from the usual Bomberman formula, but it does add Dinosaurs, and who does not like Dinosaurs? The graphics hold up to this day, and the soundtrack is just as bouncy and fun as you remember it.
9) Guardian Heroes (developed by Treasure, published by Sega in 1996)
Guardian Heroes is a side-scrolling “beat ‘em up” style game that helped push forward the RPG style of Brawler. You play one of four characters and as you go through each stage, you gain experience to use at the end of each stage to level up various attributes. In addition to the obvious RPG elements, there are also branching narrative paths which leads to multiple playthroughs and something new to see each time you play.
While the graphics are not spectacular, they are vibrant and interesting, and the dialogue can be delightfully campy (though your mileage may vary). Brawlers are great fun on their own, but when you add branching narrative paths, and the chance to min/max your favorite character, you have got a recipe for a great classic game that has tons of replayability.
8) Sega Worldwide Soccer ‘97 (developed by Team Aquila, published by Sega in 1996)
Before EA and Konami cornered the soccer market on consoles, Sega had the Worldwide Soccer franchise. Sega Worldwide Soccer ‘97 is one of the highest-rated sports games of that year and introduced to the genre a host of features that would not be implemented by the Fifa franchise or the PES franchise for years to come.
Since the licenses for the various football clubs were not owned by Sega, it is a bit more of an “off-brand” version, but as a result you could fully customize the name of your team members, and it had a create-your-own-character option, so you could make your very own “footballsona” OC do not steal.
Much like everything that Sega produced, it was ahead of its time, tragically early to a party that would not start for another decade. Still, if you can grab a copy you can see why it was so highly rated, and critically acclaimed at the time yourself.
7) Radiant Silvergun (developed by Treasure, published by ESP in 1998)
Radiant Silvergun is a vertical scrolling shooter and is one of the most well-regarded in its genre, not only for the Saturn but also in arcade devotee circles. It managed to wrest attention away from fighter cabinets in the 90s and anyone who hung out in arcades at the time knows what a feat that was. Treasure’s shooter was unique in its mechanics.
Unlike most shooters that only had a single fire and bomb or “ultimate” attack, Radiant Silvergun had three normal attacks that could be combined into another three more powerful attacks, as well as a sword that could absorb some types of enemy fire and charge it up for another special attack.
Combine that with tightly designed levels and a match-three type scoring system, and you have got the ingredients of every great classic game. A simple design, amazing depth, and great presentation.
6) Dragon Force (developed by J-Force and Sega, published by Sega; JP and NA 1996, EU 1997)
Dragon Force is a strategy game that does not get enough love. This strategy game boasts an amazing integration of gameplay and story. You choose between eight monarchs who all have their separate stories. Gameplay consists mostly of sending your generals out to capture territory and new generals for your army, while attempting to overthrow the kingdoms of your rival monarchs.
After each in-game week, you will do the RPG and administrative duties of your empire by trying to recruit more generals, reward them to increase their effectiveness in battle, convince them you may have captured to join your cause, fortify your defensive positions and save the game. If you want a strategy RPG with a ton of replayability and a killer story, definitely give this one a look.
5) Nights Into Dreams (developed by Sonic Team, published by Sega in 1996)
This was the game that sold a lot of people on the Saturn as a system. The commercials for the game were captivating. The art style and graphics still hold up, and the gameplay is straight forward. You progress through timed stages where you collect enough points to continue on to the next.
The whole point is to just fly around grabbing stuff and enjoying the visual presentation and the music in the game. It is one of the best projects to ever be created by Sonic Team, and their design philosophy is always on display. Enjoy the power of flight in a dreamland. Save it from evil and explore the mental landscape inspired by Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud.
4) Virtua Fighter 2 (developed and published by Sega; JP and NA 1995, EU 1996)
Virtua Fighter 2 is not just a fun 3d fighter. It was way ahead of the curve when it came to its competition in the mid-90s. It was one of the first fighting games to rely on motion capture for its models. It ran at a buttery smooth 60 fps, something that modern console hardware struggles to do. It boasted a fun roster of colorful characters with move sets based around real-world martial arts. The fighting engine itself was one of the deepest and most varied while still maintaining balance, and arguably the best graphics around for 3d fighters at the time.
This is a must for any 3d fighting game enthusiast to play. If you like deep strategy in your fighters, Virtua Fighter 2 has it in spades with counter moves and throw counters. Win by ring out or by beat down, or have the second player rage quit because you keep countering their attacks, then countering their throws. It is also one of the most successful arcade ports ever produced by Sega. It is so authentic you can almost smell that weird Greek Gyro stand in your local mall food court while playing.
3) Grandia (developed by Game Art, published by ESP in 1997)
Grandia is one of the most well-known RPGs of all time. Its innovative turn-based battle system and excellent story put it in the lists of many game enthusiasts. The reason that the Saturn version stands out is the full realization of the polygonal world maps working alongside the 2d sprites. The Saturn version is the most gorgeous version of the game that was released.
Sega was really ahead of the curve when it came to 3d graphics technology at the time, and they pushed that feature heavily in their games throughout their hardware producing lifespan. And now that there is a project to localize this version, there is literally no reason to avoid playing Grandia, if you love old school JRPGs. The soundtrack is great, the story is compelling and the characters are fun to watch on their adventure.
The world that it is set in is fascinating and well fleshed out, and the battle system is easy to understand but fun to master. Nothing feels better than seeing a row of enemy turns get reset every time you attack. I would just like to imagine the monsters cursing up a storm, when they wind up to do a big attack, only to get shut down.
2) Sega Rally Championship (developed and published by Sega in 1995)
Now if you want to talk about a game that drove a genre ahead by leaps and bounds (pun intended), look no further than Sega Rally Championship. It was the first of its kind to showcase a physics engine that could show a difference in track composition. It was also the first rally-style racing game ever released.
Gran Turismo and Forza would not have the type of track variation that they do now without this game being produced. Other than being the grandpappy of all Rallycross games, it is also a blast to play. It has a kind of Outrun format in that it is a long race through three distinct tracks with a possible fourth, if you place first by the end of the third. If you are a fan of racing games, you probably already know how great Sega was at making them, and this entry in their catalog is no exception.
Before we get on with the number one Sega Saturn game, there are some that did not quite make the list. Here are the honorable mentions:
Wipeout 2097 (developed and published by Psygnosis in 1997)
Wipeout 2097 is set four decades after the original Wipeout and as such, the races are faster and the weapons are more bombastic. There is a great sense of speed in this iteration, and the controls have been tightened up considerably. All in all, it is a fun arcade-style racer with a lot of personality, and the designs of the craft you pilot are cool to look at.
X-Men Vs Street Fighter (developed and published by Capcom in 1997)
One of many crossover fighting games to come from Capcom, and the progenitor of the amazing Marvel Vs Capcom games. The Saturn version is as close to the arcade version without having to devote a ton of space to a cabinet. It has got tag-team system and all the moves you love from X-Men Children of the Atom and Street Fighter moves exaggerated to the extreme.
Shining the Holy Ark (developed by Sonic! Software Planning, published by Sega; JP 1996, NA and EU 1997)
Shining the Holy Ark was a slight departure for the Shining franchise. This certainly is not a bad thing, it just makes the game a bit of an odd duck when considering its other entries. This particular entry in the franchise brings back fond memories of games like Dungeon Master and other first-person RPGs that work on a grid system.
Unlike those older games Shining the Holy Ark is turn-based, and uses an interesting “pixie” system that lets you get the drop on enemies, as they attack. After you befriend a pixie, you can pick them at the beginning of a fight, and if you pick the correct one depending on where the enemy attacks you, you will deal damage to them, and increase your xp and money gain for defeating them. The other innovation is tech-driven. The towns and dungeons you explore are all rendered in 3d.
1) Panzer Dragoon Saga (developed by Team Andromeda, published by Sega in 1998)
It is no small wonder that this game is at the top of the list. It is one of the highest-rated Saturn games and is even claimed to be one of the greatest games of all time. It was originally lauded for its stellar graphics, story, and combat. The graphics were bleeding edge at the time. Its main competition was Final Fantasy VII, and Panzer Dragoon Saga blows that game out of the water as far as graphics go.
The next reason for critical acclaim was the story. It is a JRPG so you can expect a plot full of twists and turns and fakeouts. The setting is a blend of high fantasy and science fiction. It is a cross-pollination that only the Japanese can seem to pull off flawlessly. The battle system is the biggest departure for the series as the Panzer Dragoon series was more of a rail shooter, but in this iteration, it takes the RPG elements to the forefront with random encounters and exploration.
The combat is mostly turn-based this time around and it rewards players who pay attention to the enemy position and how many battle gauges you have charged. It all hangs together so well it is not crazy to see why it is so highly lauded.
Well, I hope you enjoyed this list, retro folks. All the games, including the honorable mentions, are worth checking out whether you are new to gaming or if you remember watching commercials for these games on TV when you were a kid. Hopefully, this has inspired you to dust off your old Saturn, pick up one from your local game store, or pick up the remasters on current generation consoles.
Even though the Saturn was a casualty in the console wars, it deserves to be remembered for the contributions it made to the industry and the great games that it made possible.
Till next retro list!
As usual, if you want to share your opinion, the comment section is at your disposal. 🙂