The Sega Dreamcast: Console War Memoirs

Dreamcast

Recently, Famitsu had an interview with Sega Creative Producer Yosuke Okunari. The subject of the Genesis Mini and the Game Gear Micro was brought up. No definite plans have been made, but Okunari has mentioned Sega is exploring the idea of releasing another one. One of the consoles that he mentioned the possibility of was the Sega Dreamcast.

It is kind of amazing that this twenty-year-old console, Sega’s swan song, still engenders such a passion among its fanbase (myself included). Which is impressive, considering it did not wind up being the come-from-behind success that Sega had hoped for in the late ’90s. Among console collectors and gaming historians, the Dreamcast is widely considered to have the most consistently good library out there.

The Sega Dreamcast (Source)

BIRTH OF A DREAM

In the late ’90s, I still did not own a home console. Usually, when I played console games, it was at my neighbor’s house, or at other friends. Nintendo 64 was the brand new thing, and a few were dipping their toe into the PlayStation pool. What’s more, a greater portion of my friends were getting consoles for the first time; it was no longer just one or two lucky people with a home console, but a large portion of my friends.

Except during the fifth generation of consoles, Sega was surprisingly absent for me. In stark contrast to the 16-bit days, when a lot of the gamers I knew were on the Sega bandwagon, pretty much no one had gotten a Sega Saturn. I did not see advertisements for it anywhere. I really did not even see games sold for it. For me, for all intents and purposes, the Sega Saturn did not exist in my hometown.

From preschool up through the second grade, a lot of my gaming experiences were on the Sega Genesis. Sega was such a big part of my gaming experiences growing up. Then they vanished in the face of that PlayStation thing and the magic box that was the Nintendo 64. What happened? Had Sega just vanished from the face of gaming?

Then suddenly, I got word of their return. When I was in the Fifth Grade, my neighbor had started subscribing to a whole bunch of different gaming magazines: Nintendo Power, the Official PlayStation Magazine, and GamePro. When I was flipping through one of his issues of GamePro, I noticed a one-page ad. Sonic Adventure, coming in 1999! Due to my excitement, I flipped through the pages to find out what was on the horizon: a new Sega Console, and it was going to be 128-bit. At this point, I did not understand much about technology, but my Fifth-Grade brain could process that 128 was certainly a bigger number than 64. This clearly would change the face of gaming forever. Right?

Sonic Adventure (Source)

When I shared this gaming news with all my friends, I received a metaphorical pat on the head and, “That’s nice, Jared.” None of my friends, not even the ones who were into Sega a few years before, really cared the about the Dreamcast’s release. Even when we were given a writing assignment involving a magazine article talking about video games, absolutely none of my friends felt any hype for this thing. But I was certain that when it came out, it would prove them wrong. It would wind up being the biggest, most successful game console ever!

Reality Ensues

Of course, the fact that absolutely none of my friends cared about the existence of the Dreamcast really should have been a sign to me as to how well it would do. Still, I remained convinced that, even if my friends were not grabbing one initially, they would turn around when they heard how good it was.

Unlike the Saturn, I do remember seeing the Dreamcast being sold at several stores. There were not just games for sale either, but also toys. And since I had no prospect of actually getting a Dreamcast, I figured I could at least check out the toys, to see if I could get a grasp of what was going on.

I remember looking at the Sonic toys and thinking something felt horribly off about all of them. Sonic and his friends had gotten a redesign. It felt way more anime-inspired than I remembered Sonic being. Likewise, what little snippets I heard about the plot of Sonic Adventure felt very strange to me. When the sequel came out a while later, and Shadow the Hedgehog was introduced, and Tails was riding around in some sort of robot. I concluded that this wasn’t the same Sonic that I had played throughout elementary school.

Sega Turns to Anime

Skies of Arcadia (Source)

Skies of Arcadia and Grandia II were the main games I noticed on TV. I had no prospect of getting a Dreamcast, but I was curious to see what games were coming out for it. Again, these games felt like they were inspired by anime. In the US, anime has not hit the mainstream market yet. So to a kid who was living in the rural American South, this was a little jarring, and suspicious. Had Sega really changed that much? What happened to things like Streets of Rage, The Ooze, Comix Zone?

If you are familiar with Sega’s history, you may know the answer to that. Throughout the days of the Genesis, Sega’s President, Hayao Nakayama, was bent on making Sega a big success in America. As such, he gave Sega of America’s President, Tom Kalinske, a lot of influence in how the company was going to run all over the world. This resulted in changes to Sonic’s original design, and various games coming from the US-based parts of Sega, and western Sega party developers. This played a big part in Sega’s success in the west during the Genesis years.

Unfortunately, this had ruffled a lot of feathers in Sega of Japan. Towards the end of Genesis’ run, when things started to go wrong with the 32X and the Sega CD, Sega of Japan wrestled back a lot of influence from Sega of America. A lot of those western-based first and second-party teams closed up shop during the Saturn years. Therefore, you got a lot more influence from the Japanese parts of the company in terms of design and plot.

Crazy Taxi (Source)

Of course, I did not know any of this at the time. My perception was pretty much, “Man, Sega’s gone weird.” But they did have other games on the Dreamcast as well. The two I remember seeing were Soul Caliber and especially Crazy Taxi, which were both arcade ports. There were also versions of Street Fighter Alpha and Marvel vs Capcom which were considered the best versions of those games. Basically, my Dreamcast first impressions were dull. At that point, it didn’t appeal to me.

It did not appeal to any of my friends either. Most of them had gotten the N64 and were content to stick with that for a while. I eventually got the PS1 very late in that console’s lifespan, before upgrading to the PS2. During High School, most of my friend group hopped on the Xbox bandwagon. And Sega’s little box of dreams stayed on shelves, forgotten. The Dreamcast section gradually had its price cut down and got smaller and sadder, until eventually it was just a bargain bin. A sad end to one of the titans in console history.

Dreams Die Hard

The ironic thing is, I feel like I would have wound up enjoying the Dreamcast more than I did the PS2. While I certainly did enjoy my PS2, I did not get a lot of games for it. The ones I got were fun, but not many of them blew me away.

Shenmue (Source)

In contrast, when I got the Dreamcast, many years after it had been discontinued, I was consistently blown away by the games. Sonic Adventure, while far from perfect, is an absolute joy to play, and there is a reason many fans wish that Sega would go back to that formula. Grandia II and Skies of Arcadia are, not only some of my favourite games for the system, but are also among my favourite games of all time. And Yu Suzuki’s Shenmue wound up being hugely influential on games even today. And those arcade ports are considered some of the most perfect ports of arcade games to ever be made. Even today, when people talk about having Marvel vs. Capcom 2 tournaments, the version they tend to prefer is the Dreamcast version.

The Dreamcast was intentionally built to be easy to design for. As a result of this, the Dreamcast still has a lively homebrew community. Games like Pier Solar, Volgarr the Viking, and ReDux getting versions on the Dreamcast. And even more, games are on the horizon.

During its original release, the Sega Dreamcast did not get a lot of attention from me or my friends. It was not enough to keep Sega in the console market. But I do so wish that we had gone for it. I do feel that we would have been blown away then like I am today. It has an excellent library of games and it deserved more love. Perhaps in upcoming years, a mini Dreamcast will give Sega’s grand dream a second shot at life.

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