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Awesome Saturn Exclusives: RPGs

Silver Linings #4

Hello, and welcome back to Silver Linings, where I find the positives in maligned pop culture.

I didn't get a chance to play the Sega Saturn growing up.  By the time I was old enough to buy my own games, the Saturn was already being phased out. It's botched early launch, high price point that didn't lower until it was just about dead, and Bernie Stolar's poor handling of Sega killed it in only two years in America. I didn't get my first real exposure to the Saturn until I hooked up with my current squeeze (we've been together now for 11 years, thank you very much). 

I finally got to try out some stuff on the Saturn and find it to be a very underrated console. Sure, it's 3D power was below what the PlayStation and Nintendo 64 could do, but its 2D capabilities blew away the competition. It's also home to a number of amazing games that can't be found on any other console. There were so many worthy of attention that I decided I couldn't restrict myself to one list. 

This is the first of several lists devoted to awesome Saturn exclusives, and today I'm looking at RPGs. While the PlayStation had the Final Fantasy and Wild Arms series leading one of the best RPG line-ups in history, the Saturn had their homegrown and Working Designs masterpieces. Here are eight epic quests that can ONLY be undertaken on the Saturn.

Albert Odyssey: Legend of Eldean

This is the closest the Saturn got to a traditional Final Fantasy game.  While it doesn't have Final Fantasy 7's 3D visuals that blew people away at the time, Albert Odyssey's artwork is amazing even now. The plot follows a guy named Pike out to find a cure for his adoptive sister who was turned to stone. It may be typical for RPGs of the time, but it's very well-written and even tugs on the heartstrings more than a few times. The battle engine is familiar to anyone who played a Final Fantasy game and works wonderfully. For fans of traditional turn-based RPGs, Albert Odyssey deserves your time.

Dragon Force

Strategy RPGs have some the best replay value, particularly those that have multiple playable nations with their own stories. The PlayStation had great examples like the criminally-underrated Brigandine, but the best example of the genre is the Saturn exclusive Dragon Force. My significant other's favorite game of all time, Dragon Force puts players in an epic war for control of the land of Legendra. There are eight generals to choose from, providing hundreds of hours of gameplay. The big showstoppers are the real-time battles with armies of up to A HUNDRED TROOPS EACH! This is the closest any game had ever come to recreating the epic battles of Braveheart and Lord of the Rings.

Legend of Oasis

After the success Nintendo had with The Legend of Zelda, Sega made multiple attempts to establish their own action-RPG franchise. The Oasis games were the closest they came to succeeding. Beyond Oasis was a stellar Genesis entry that can be found on a bunch of Genesis compilations, and the follow-up Legend of Oasis 1-ups the original is almost every way. The dungeons are well-crafted, the animation is amazingly fluid, and the use of fighting game mechanics for the weapons' special attacks was an ingenious way of keeping the combat fresh. Come on, Sega! This one deserves a re-release, too!

Magic Knight Rayearth

Based on the manga of the same name, Magic Knight Rayearth was the last Saturn game released in America and a great one to go out on. Another Zelda-like action-RPG, this one has some unique mechanics. All three of the girls from the manga Hiraku, Umi, and Fuu are available and get tagged in and out for fighting and solving puzzles. The translation is some of Working Design's best, and the visuals are some of the most gorgeous on the Saturn. While it couldn't save the Saturn, it was a wonderful last hurrah for the system.

Panzer Dragoon Saga

Here it is... the Holy Grail for Saturn collectors. Released in very limited numbers in America, Panzer Dragoon Saga is one of the most sought-after games in history. The cheapest copies in English run for a minimum of $500. It's so heavily sought not just because it's rare but because it's one of the greatest RPGs ever made. Taking the dragon-flying and shooting mechanics of the first two Panzer Dragoon games and adapting them to a turn-based RPG combat system worked beautifully. The story reminds me a lot of The Secret of Nimh with its sense of wonder combined with a very bleak tone. The visuals really show off what the Saturn could do in capable hands. Please, Sega, re-release this one.  Everyone deserves a chance to play it.

Shining Force 3

The Shining Force series is my all-time favorite tactical-RPG series. Even though, as I previously mentioned, Shining Force CD is my favorite in the series, the only Saturn entry is a close second. Yes, I know the American release lacks the additional scenarios the Japanese got. I don't care; the first scenario is epic enough to stand on its own. A plot of an evil force trying to drive kingdoms apart is nothing new, but it's told with epic relish here. Like the other Shining Force games, the combat is easy to grasp, the difficulty curve is perfectly balanced to avoid boring level-grinding, and the lack of Game Overs makes this one of the most approachable RPGs out there. It even looks good even now.

Shining the Holy Ark

I miss the old Phantasy Star games, the turn-based entries Sega did before putting the franchise online. Fortunately, the style of the first four Phantasy Star games got adapted to fantasy with Shining the Holy Ark.  Telling the tale of mercenaries that stumble into a quest to prevent the revival of a thousand-year-old evil kingdom, the story is the most epic the Shining franchise ever had. The dungeon-crawling is very atmospheric for the time, and the combat is perfectly-built. Even though Camelot put much of this stuff in the Golden Sun games on the Game Boy Advance, Shining the Holy Ark is still the best dungeon-crawler they ever designed.

Shining Wisdom

The Shining franchise dipped their toes in every RPG sub-genre, and here they dip into Zelda's pool. Critics at the time attacked how out-dated the game looked and sounded when it was released; it was developed for the Genesis but put on the Saturn at the last minute. I don't care; the game is still fun. The sword combat is tight, and there are plenty of toys to play with as well. The story works well and is pretty funny at several points.  This is the closest any Sega console had to a true Zelda game and should be appreciated on that basis.

Like I said, there were so many outstanding Saturn exclusives that I couldn't limit them to a single Top 10 list. Stay tuned for my picks for great Saturn exclusives from other genres, and let me know if there are other Saturn exclusive RPGs I missed! Game on!

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