Today marks the 21st birthday of the Sega Saturn in North America. Insert obligatory “time flies” and “wow where does the time go?” comments here. I have a long and fond history with Sega’s 32-bit beast. It’s my second favorite system of all time (you can probably guess which system is #1 in my heart) and I credit the Sega Saturn as the first system that truly made me a diehard gamer-collector. Being that we toast to the Sega Saturn’s 21st today, I can’t think of a better time than now to share with you how I fell in love with the Saturn, and what it meant to me over the years. This is… my Sega Saturn saga.
A QUICK NOTE BEFORE WE PROCEED
If it weren’t for the Saturn, I probably wouldn’t be into video games today. Although I grew up loving the NES, Genesis and Super Nintendo, it wasn’t until my time with the Sega Saturn that I came to appreciate games on a ‘deeper’ level. Of course, age maturation factored in, too. Unknowingly, the Saturn turned out to be my first voyage into “diehard” gaming pastures. It all started innocently enough before morphing into a savage monster. Sit back a while, young lad, and listen to the tale of the elders.
FLASHBACK TO 1998
My brother and I had a PlayStation in the late ’90s. Sure, I played and liked it reasonably, but my passion for gaming was slowly and surely slipping away around 1998. By the tail end of that year I was barely playing video games at all. The PlayStation did not appeal to me in the way the NES, Genesis or SNES had. I was on the brink of losing interest in gaming altogether.
That’s when fate decided to step in.
At that time my bro was going through his e-fed fad. An e-fed is a group of folks who role play their own wrestling persona and the booker pits the wrestlers against one another, with the victor being decided by who wrote the better promo. The e-fed community was buzzing at that time about a wrestling game available only on the Japanese Saturn… FIRE PRO WRESTLING: SIX MEN SCRAMBLE.
Just like in the old days when my bro made me do all the dirty work renting his video games, he ordered me to find a Saturn for cheap. Of course, his motivation was Fire Pro. But I had my own: WORLD HEROES PERFECT. I remember seeing the little preview in an EGM issue a couple years back, thinking how cool it would be to own a copy but because it was a Saturn game, and an import no less, I thought I never would. But what was once seemingly a far-fetched fantasy was quickly morphing into reality!
Here’s the EGM issue I can thank, or blame, for that unconscious desire to one day, somehow, own a copy of World Heroes Perfect. My bro subscribed to EGM in ’96 and I remember seeing Perfect featured in a quick half-page preview in the back of the August ’96 issue. I was indifferent toward the Saturn at the time, and my bro, who made all the game system purchasing decisions, was totally anti-Saturn. So I knew I could pretty much kiss any realistic thought of owning Perfect goodbye. Still, when you’re 13, there’s a certain robust shimmer of hope that nobody can ever deny you, and that includes older brothers who are in charge of, well, everything.
For years the thought and hopes of owning this import title laid dormant in my mind. Until, that is, one frosty winter evening of 1998. My bro literally charged at me and commanded me to go find a Saturn on the cheap. At that precise moment of shock it hit me… I can finally soon play, and own, World Heroes Perfect! *maniacal laughter*
Really, were it not for Fire Pro and my brother’s burning desire to own a copy back in the winter of ’98, I probably wouldn’t be into games today. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing, or a bad thing!
We each had our own reasons to get a Saturn. And thus, the search was on!
HOOK ME UP, BRO
On a cold December night of 1998, my dad drove me to a local import store that promised to find any game in Japan your heart desired for the low deposit price of $14.99. I fondly remember rushing in that tiny, long strip of a mom and pop store, shoving the EGM issue in the guy’s face and saying, almost out of breath, “Put me down for this game!”
“World… Heroes… Perfect-uh,” the clerk said in a thick Japanese accent. “What’s that?”
My jaw dropped ten meters. This fool never heard of these games before?! “Very old Street Fighter II wannabe,” I told him, pointing to the half-page preview. “Can you find it for me?”
“Hmmm,” he pondered, scratching his chin. “I am sure so. Our search and locate skills are the best. I just need one thing from you.”
“Fourteen ninety-nine,” he said, a small grin crossing his face as he held out his hand.
I glanced over at my dad and just like the good old days, once again like he had done so many times before, he whipped out his wallet and made the magic happen.
I watched intensely as the clerk jotted down my information — name, number, title of wanted game, all that — before asking him excitedly and optimistically, “So, when can I expect to pick it up?”
There was a momentary pause. “Oh, well, there’s a, uhhh, slight chance we might not be able to find it…” his voice trailed off.
So much for best search and locate skills eh?
“But don’t worry,” he assured. “We usually have success. If not, you get your full fifteen dollars back.”
While my dad paid, I stared at the Sonic Adventure demo running in the corner. It drew a hearty crowd, but I found myself only thinking of one game that fine evening. While everyone and their brother were eagerly huddled by the Japanese Dreamcast console, with its late ’90s newfangled technology, I was just barely getting started on the Saturn!
That night as my dad and I walked out of the small import shop sandwiched between a bakery and knick-knack store, I remember soaking in the energy of the night. In less than one month hopefully, I will finally be playing me some World Heroes Perfect! For the first time ever… BOO-YAH!
Only a month or two at the most, right? Right…
PUTTING THE FUN INTO FUNCOLAND
In January 1999, my dad and I entered a FUNCOLAND. Moments later, we walked out with a used Saturn for the low price of $39.99. Cradling the box against my chest as though it were Frankenstein’s heart, I walked out of the store feeling a jolt of adrenaline rushing through every fiber of my body. I just bought a Saturn. A whole new gaming world to explore… hell yeah!
THE HUNT CONTINUES
Meanwhile, no sign of either Perfect or Fire Pro. My bro sent our newly acquired Saturn off to NCSX for the modification job. Weeks later, my dad and I stopped by the import shop to inquire about the status of WHP. The clerk apologized, saying his men could not locate a copy over in Japan. Oh, the high walking in hoping for the best, and the low of having your bubble burst with a ten ton hammer of denial. Hey, at least my dad got back his $14.99, eh?
Then came the beautiful glow of that little thing known as… the internet. I posted on a SEGA newsgroup stating my desire to buy World Heroes Perfect. I received a response from a guy named “Azaziel” or something other. He was willing to sell his complete copy for $25. It was the very first video game internet transaction of my life (of what would end up totaling 1,000+…)
It all started with a newsgroup dealing… no feedback, no pics. I wasn’t so shrewd back then as I am now [HA! -Ed.], so I didn’t bother asking for those things you see. Really, I relied solely on my gut. Total blind faith. Something told me this would end well. Hell, I even sent cash through the mail. A crisp 20 and a fiver inside a VHS cover. Hey, I was 15 and dumb, OK?
A week later, World Heroes Perfect arrived in the mail. I’ll never forget that day. What a high seeing the package sitting pretty in my mailbox! Unfortunately, when NCSX sent our Saturn back there was an error that prevented us from playing World Heroes Perfect. Before my bro could ever send the Saturn back for repairs, there was a slight… snafu…
WHERE’S A HERO WHEN YA NEED ONE?
That same month we were robbed. It’s horrifying to come home only to find your back window smashed, muddy footprints all over the carpet and the house a former shell of its past glory. The computer, my mom’s jewelry, and all our game systems, including the Saturn — were gone. All the cabinets were left open… like the scene out of POLTERGEIST! I scrambled onto a chair to check if the thieves found World Heroes Perfect or not. It was the only game I kept in a special separate section. Remarkably, there the game sat, on the middle shelf, atop a small red dictionary. All our games were stolen. Except for one. The lone consolation prize in what was a horrific day. I realized then and there, it had to be fate. The tables turned, and now it was *me* who wanted the Saturn most of all, rather than my brother. If this terrible experience taught me anything, besides the fact that being robbed sucks the big one, it was that nothing could get in the way between me and my mission of at long last playing World Heroes Perfect. Damnit, by hook or crook, pardon the pun, I was going to play the bloody game.
FuncoLand didn’t get in another Saturn until May 1999. When they did, I jumped on it. My bro once again sent the system to NCSX for modification. OK… round 2, here we go!
Meanwhile, I browsed through the game’s color manual several (dozen) times in anticipation. Hey, I waited this long. A few more weeks won’t hurt…
A PERFECT DAY
On a calm May day in 1999, after the UPS man dropped off our modded Saturn on our porch, all systems were go. Damn I’ll never forget the excitement rushing through my body as the Saturn logo fired up for the very first time. Not to mention those cheesy but memorable ADK tunes blaring in my living room, like it was 1993 all over again! The long wait was at last over. Vindication was finally mine.
Later that summer I frantically searched online for a copy of Fighter’s History Dynamite. I loved Fighter’s History (arcade, SNES) back in the day, so when I discovered the ‘sequel’ had hit the Sega Saturn, I was all over that like a fat boy on cake. Like Perfect, it proved hard to find but I searched high and low, determined to track down a copy.
Note: The text in that picture was originally written in May of 2008. Today, May 11, 2016, it’s close to 17 (!) years now.
It took a while to finally arrive, but arrive in fashion it did. Tearing the envelope open, a card fell out… I made THEIR day? More like they had made mine!
GameWorld was a small chain of Texas-based game stores. I’m pretty sure they’re long defunct by now. I ran into a few gamers online over the years who worked for them and had some pretty interesting tales too…
I still remember the moment vividly when the game arrived. It was an early summer afternoon, 4th of July, 1999, ironically exactly two years on the dot since the Saturn port’s release (4th of July, 1997). At around 1 the UPS man knocked on my door. I popped the game in my Saturn and nearly cried tears of joy as adrenaline overtook my every being. I now owned two Saturn games and not just any two, but two dear childhood favorites whose sequels I had yet to play. Almost too good to be true, and for me, a slice of gaming heaven. Would you believe that for the next two years, I lived off just World Heroes Perfect and Fighter’s History Dynamite? True story. That either makes me nuts or just plain freakin’ sad. Probably both.
An appropriate release date in a pretty obvious way, but also a surprising one in another way. It’s fitting for a game with DYNAMITE to be released on the 4th of July. And how ironic that it arrived on the 4th of July — two years after its release. It’s scary how these unplanned things happen. [Tell me and the wifey about it! -Ed.]. The surprising thing about this release though is that the arcade came out in early-mid ’94, so why even bother porting over such an “old” game by 4th of July, 1997? And it’s not like this game lit up the arcade scene back in 1994! It remains something of a mystery. But hey, I surely wasn’t complaining! I was just happy to own both World Heroes Perfect and Fighter’s History Dynamite. Two games from two of my most beloved series growing up… all mine to play at any time I want… it was almost too good to be true!
WELCOME TO PLANET SEGA SATURN
My gaming life, so to speak, all changed in January 2001. For two years, I lived off Perfect and Dynamite. I probably played one or the other once a week or so. I never really thought of expanding my Saturn horizons, as odd as that may seem. I was, pardon the pun, perfectly content with World Heroes Perfect and Fighter’s History Dynamite. I’m set for life, right?
That all changed one night in January of 2001.
At my buddy’s house to study for a HUGE physics exam, I saw a Saturn lying on the ground. I nearly fell over. Remember, the PlayStation was all the rage back then, and by 2001 the Saturn was a long, LONG afterthought.
“Hey — you’re the first person I know who has one too,” I said, pointing to his Saturn. I tried to sound as casual as I could about it. After all, it wasn’t too cool to be pro-Saturn in the year 2001. Still, I probably didn’t do a very good job of that, as it WAS quite cool to see someone else owning a Saturn in the year 2001.
“Oh yeah? I haven’t touched the thing in years.”
What’s this? I noticed Street Fighter Alpha 2 and Bust-A-Move 2 beside the system, both games looking pretty in their big bulky cases… seeing them triggered something inside of me that I thought was long dead. Suddenly, I felt very excited about games again… beyond just the two fighting games I had at that point.
“I still play my Saturn,” I managed to bravely admit. “Though it’s been a while.” It was true. It had been months since I played Perfect or Dynamite. Love them as I did, two years is a long time to play JUST two games.
“If you want some of the games, go ahead. Take some. It’s cool.”
I nearly fell over. “I can’t do that, man.”
“No, go for it. Really. I don’t play them anymore. Plus I never even bought any of them to begin with.”
“I can’t, really, but thanks…”
“… I’ll just take these two,” I said quickly as the moment overtook me. I lured Street Fighter Alpha 2 and Bust-A-Move 2 out of the pile. I remember seeing BUG! but not giving a damn whatsoever about it. I just wanted some Street Fighter and BAM 2 action!
The rest of the study session I found it difficult to focus on atoms or Murphy’s Law, and who could blame me. The moment of truth arrived when I came home and fired the games up, one by one. I cheered for every successful Dragon Punch, and I cringed for every “NO! I AIMED THE FREAKIN’ BUBBLE THERE, NOT THERE!” moment.
Street Fighter Alpha 2 in particular blew me away. It played so smoothly and had just the right amount of style and substance. Playing Bust-A-Move 2 was like being back at an arcade hall, plopping a quarter into a simple but delightful puzzler to tide me over until the lines for the latest fighting game died down a bit… ahh, good times.
It was an unbelievable arcade-like experience I had that fine evening. It made me think about what other gems this system has to offer…
As they say, the rest is history.
FUNCOLAND STRIKES AGAIN, NOT BACK
Back in the mid ’90s there used to be a chain of stores across the land known as FuncoLand. It sold mostly used games. You could play games there, and many systems were featured. You could trade in games. Many gamers have varying opinions and memories of FuncoLand, but it’s mostly always been pretty good to me, so I can’t complain too much. My theory was simple: Bring $20, browse for 10 minutes to see if there’s anything worth grabbing, and then get the hell out.
The very next month, February 2001, I was driving to Uncle Jimmy’s house to visit him and my cousin David when I saw FuncoLand’s big bright, colorful, neon sign calling out to me in the dark of the night. I remember being awed by their large luminous sign and being ecstatic about what Sega Saturn gems I might find inside. There I saw World Series Baseball II for just $3.99 and Galactic Attack for $4.99, both disc only. I didn’t hesitate to pluck both of them.
There was also Quake and Fighters Megamix for $9.99 each but I passed (disc only). The clerk gave me a bewildered look when he saw me bringing World Series Baseball II and Galactic Attack to the counter.
“You still playing the Saturn?”
“No… kinda just starting in a way,” I said with a little grin.
He looked at me like I was crazy. And maybe I was… but damnit, if I was crazy, I was gonna have a good time.
Now I had six games in my collection. My library tripled in two short weeks prior to the two years I owned only Perfect and Dynamite! I couldn’t wait to try out Galactic Attack and World Series Baseball II. The sense of thrill of adding more quality titles to the ole collection became an addiction in every respect of the word.
Leaving my newly acquired Saturn games in my glove compartment, I made my way to my uncle’s house. They had to make a run at the grocery store. Told me I could join them or stay back and surf the net.
I stayed back. On that chilly February night of 2001, I searched for info (read: reviews) on my two new Saturn acquisitions. I’ll never forget the moment that evening when I stumbled upon . . .
My God — hundreds of user reviews! US and Japanese game reviews. The freakin’ works! I was absolutely floored by what they had on offer. I read through all the World Series Baseball II and Galactic Attack reviews until my cousins came back. It thrilled me to read all the good things the reviewers had to say about those two games. Over the years, I frequently referred back to the reviews found on sega-saturn dot com, either before purchasing a game, or just after playing it. Usually it was the latter; reading what others thought of certain games and then comparing that to how I felt was all part of the fun of buying and playing all the Saturn games that I did… and MAN was it a lot of fun.
I’ve definitely read one too many JM Vargas and Dark Falcon reviews! Those guys effin’ rock. Wherever you two are out there in the vastness of cyberspace, I salute y’all. Goes to show you how voice in reviews can go a long way to leaving lasting impressions. Some odd 15 years later, I still remember JM Vargas and Dark Falcon fondly, as well as their friendly ribbing and in-review in-jokes tossed at one another. Good times. You felt as if you knew them. Perhaps the best compliment a writer can ever hope to receive.
My 15 minutes of fame came when I wrote a review for Sega-Saturn.com myself on February 23, 2001. Can you guess which game?
I was so moved by seeing all the Saturn reviews on the site that I knew I wanted to contribute some of my own. Besides, there was one review of Perfect already up and I felt the guy (fastguy, to be precise) did it wrong. I had to get my viewpoint out there. Looking back, I’m proud to have been a small part of that awesome site. I keep waiting for a successor, but year after year I always find myself disappointed. There may never be another Saturn fansite quite like it.
I also submitted one for Fighter’s History Dynamite the very next day as well (February 24, 2001). Those two reviews that I wrote were actually among the final four or so that was ever published by the site. Seeing my two reviews go up live that Saturday evening, I felt so excited and proud. The reviewing craze was born! Yes, before the days of YouTube, people used to write gaming reviews. Nuts, I know!
SO, WHATEVER HAPPENED TO FIRE PRO?
Ah, I’m glad you asked. Funnily enough, I never did buy a copy for my brother. And the reason was he no longer wanted it. His same wrestling e-fed group was now raving about the PlayStation version, Fire Pro G. My bro focused on that instead since he was always a PlayStation guy at heart. Go figure!
We played the shit outta Fire Pro G. I loved it as much as he did. AWESOME game. But I owe a lot to Six Men Scramble. Were it not for this game, I probably never would have pursued a Saturn, and I probably would have lost touch with video gaming altogether. Seriously. Yet because of this one game, I went on to have six WONDERFUL years with the Saturn. In 2003 I went ahead and bought a copy for myself. It only felt right.
In late ’98 X-Men vs. Street Fighter was ALL the rage. I remember it being talked about in hushed tones. There were really two Saturn imports making a ton of noise online at that time. This and…
I have not played Saturn World Heroes Perfect or Fighter’s History Dynamite for a good number of years now. Not because I don’t want to, but because there’s still so much SNES goodness I want to experience. But, I know there will come a day where that itch will come calling. And I shall answer and scratch. From two Saturn games owned, to eventually, around 350, I have had quite the experience with the Sega Saturn. It’s my second favorite system of all time, and it’s the reason why I’m here now, probably.
A part of me still can’t believe this twist of fate: I started out loving World Heroes and Fighter’s History in the arcade and later the SNES, but never got to play the last game in each series until 1999 with the Saturn. That was around the same time my brother and I donated our SNES to our cousin, David. Many years later, 2006 to be precise, I got back into the SNES, bought copies of the originals, and to this day still love playing any one of them. It feels like I’ve come full circle with this hobby in a way.
With the Sega Saturn turning 21 here in the States today, as FOB once sang, thanks for the memories. While I’ll never view the Saturn with quite the same awe as I did those six years from 1999-2005, it’ll always have a special spot in my gaming heart. Long live the Sega Saturn!