Former LFG stalwart James Paton returns to tell us about what, in his view, was the pinnacle of gaming journalism – Sega Saturn Magazine…
A common theme throughout this series of articles has been the presence of Sonic Team, and once again they feature here. This surely highlights the incredibly talented and inventive studio that they once were, before losing several key members (including Yuji Naka), and succumbed to churning out near endless sub-standard Sonic the Hedgehog titles with neither a whit of quality control or indeed, effort. However, fourteen years ago, this was not the case, and after giving Sega a flagship Sonic title in the form of Sonic Adventure (his first and best 3D outing), and the brilliant puzzle game, Chu Chu Rocket, they served up another forward thinking piece of game design, with the incredible, Phantasy Star Online.
I have been writing a lot recently about the many creative and technical successes that Sega had throughout the tenure of their last two home consoles, and this-coupled with the recent discussion of the Mass Effect series-brought me towards the interesting, yet only recently celebrated option, of importing a save file into a game in order to impart some level of influence upon the overall story arc. I cannot state for certain when this was first implemented, or by whom, but as far as I am concerned, the first instance of its successful implementation occurred way back in 1998 in a criminally underrated, yet seminal RPG for the Sega Saturn. This feature, that was the impetus for my train of thought, is one of the key components that initially made Mass Effect such a wonderful concept, and the recipient of substantial critical acclaim. Spurred on by this, I naturally wanted to revisit this landmark RPG title, so that I might see how well it stands up today.
Typically, Burning Rangers (Sonic Team’s second effort for Sega’s Saturn console) has something of a Marmite effect, generally gamers either love it or loathe it, with very little middle ground to be seen. It is a game that probably would have benefitted immensely from a delay (though it was delayed often enough) to see it switch onto the Dreamcast hardware, its ambitions generally outweigh the technology that powers it, and so occasionally the game does falter, but on the whole it is a marvellous achievement, and yet another string in Sonic Team’s bow. Yet more than this, it was a rather forward thinking piece of design, with some brilliant features that have more than stood up to the test of time, which is why this often maligned masterpiece deserves another look.
According to the Oxford English dictionary, the definition of the term “dreamlike” is “having the qualities of a dream; unreal”, and quite literally, there is simply no better way to describe Nights into Dreams than in this fashion. Developed by Sonic Team under the stewardship of Yuji Naka and Naoto Ōshima, Nights was released on the Sega Saturn in 1996 to generally positive critical acclaim, and strong enough sales in Japan to see it climb to the top of the charts, but largely it has gone unnoticed and more often than not, it has usually been misunderstood. The saddest part of this being that Nights into Dreams is not only the finest game crafted by the once magnificent Sonic Team, but one of the most original and breathtakingly beautiful video games ever created.
The lifespans of the Sega Saturn and its successor, the Dreamcast, were both great periods of experimentation in gaming, notably from the in house teams at the Japanese giant themselves, with developers looking not to the overwhelming burden of sales figures for inspiration, but instead following their collective muse, wherever it may take them. The results, thankfully, where overwhelmingly positive, and their impacts, substantial. My intention is to look back at some of the more forward thinking titles to emerge from Sega during these highly creative years, beginning with UGA’s incredible, Rez.