There are many things in terms of gaming I regret when looking back. Buying Leisure Suit Larry: Magna Cum Laude on the Xbox, not picking up Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain and Alex Kidd in Miracle World for cheap when I had the chance, and waiting so long to purchase Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. My biggest regret, however, is waiting so long to purchase a Sega Saturn. The Saturn was the second last of the retro consoles I bought (it was followed by the Dreamcast) and was one of the consoles I bought in London while I lived there. I have talked about the Sega Saturn in previous posts but I wanted to dedicate a full blog post to this. Often with regrets, money tends to play into it. We may not be able to afford it at the time and when we go back to it, its either gone or the price has gone up. Hunting for retro games tends to be a mixture of the two, especially with how the market has gone recently. The Saturn is sort of a mix of these but also my own complacency.
Released in Europe in the summer of 1995, the Saturn was Sega’s follow up to their massively popular Mega Drive. Using CDs as its medium, it also had a slot in the back for memory and for an expansion pack. Many games would use this expansion bay to improve their quality, although not all would travel outside of Japan. Sega were the first of the big three to launch their fifth-generation console but the PlayStation wasn’t too far off, launching in September 1995. The history of the Saturn is forever linked with that of the PlayStation (and to the later Nintendo 64), not just through being direct competition but through their marketing and software approach. Most will quote Sega’s decision to sell the Saturn right after their E3 presentation, leaving retailers in the dark. This was also the E3 where the infamous “$299” occurred. While both would have an impact on the Saturn’s western life, for me there was a lot more to it. My story doesn’t begin in 1995, but rather, in 1997. It’s the summer and my friends are discussing what to get for Christmas. Its an odd discussion, I know, but kids are odd. Video games are starting to become more meaningful to me and, as such, I’m raving about the new Nintendo 64. I love Super Mario Kart and I’m excited to see what the next generation version has to offer. My friends are discussing the PlayStation. They’ve seen the games on the shelves and the adverts on television. They’re talking about the carnage of Destruction Derby, the adventures of Lara Croft in Tomb Raider and the horror of Resident Evil. One system is absent, the Sega Saturn. With how much we all loved the Mega Drive, its odd we’re not mentioning its successor. At the time, we really didn’t care but looking back now, it poses the question of why. The Saturn had been on store shelves for nearly two years at this point and yet, not a murmur. The local shops in Wexford don’t have Saturn games, in fact their space is taken up with PlayStation and Nintendo 64 games. The second hand book store I would eventually buy a lot of games from is the same, only really having PlayStation and Nintendo 64 games. Was it just a Wexford thing? In Dublin, my local rental stores never had anything for the Sega Saturn, either to rent or to buy. There was one store, though, a GAME in the Square shopping centre. I can’t remember exactly when it was but I do remember going into it one day my parents were shopping and seeing a stack of Saturn boxes on display with Sonic R on the multiple screens. I wanted one then but soon after it faded and, well, that was it.
I eventually went with the PlayStation. I don’t regret my choice, in fact, it is my favourite console of all time and I don’t know if I’d love gaming as much as I do now without it. For a long time, it was my only fifth-generation console as we didn’t have a lot of money. It had a great selection of games to rent and second-hand games were aplenty. I would eventually get a Nintendo 64 a bit later but never really amassed a lot of games for it. I was still delighted by what I had though. By this time, the Saturn had disappeared off store shelves so it once again never crossed my mind. One thing to remember is that the market is a lot smaller in Ireland than in other countries, such as the UK, and our options were incredibly limited. Even shops dedicated to selling just video games were small and their shelf space would often be optimised to push the latest big release. This is why the PlayStation games significantly outnumbered everything else. Even when the sixth-generation launched, it wasn’t uncommon to see PlayStation games next to PlayStation 2 games, while the Nintendo 64 was fazed out. It wasn’t until the PlayStation 2 days that would actually see a physical Sega Saturn console. At this time, they were going for cheap if you could find one and my cousin had managed to get one from a friend. He got a few games with it but he didn’t seem enthused by it. To be fair, neither did I. I didn’t really care enough to actually try it and so we continued with the PlayStation 2. My love of Sega wasn’t really gone as when the Dreamcast was launched, I would rent it constantly to play Sonic Adventure. I loved that machine but decided to stick with Sony as I had adored the first PlayStation. None-the-less, it was one that was on my hitlist for years, yet, the Saturn wasn’t. I think I had made up my mind that I didn’t really need it. As a result, when I started to rebuild my retro collection, I just skipped it. I don’t remember the R.A.G.E. in Dublin having the console at the time and their selection of Saturn games wasn’t immense. It was the usual Sega Rally and Virtua Fighter stuff. Don’t get me wrong, they’re great games but I just wanted to focus on the NES and SNES at the time.
Fast forward to 2015. I’m standing at an ATM somewhere in London. I don’t have a clue where but the ATM has just charged me £2 to use it. Soaking, I head up to meet some guy selling games. A friend in work wanted to buy some games from a guy and since I lived a lot closer, I said I’d go. The guy is also selling a Saturn and since it’s cheap, I said I might as well buy it off him. You know, just to say I have it. I finally meet him and hand over the cash. In exchange he hands me a plastic bag, soaking from the rain. Inside is a few games for the Xbox 360 and the Saturn as well as two controllers and the console itself. We part ways and I start heading back to the flat. I get home, excited to try my new toy. Hook it up and I stick on Sega Rally Championship. Then it hits me. The memories of playing it in the arcade come flooding back. I love it. The graphics remind me of the time when 3D was starting to take hold, a time I loved. I then try International Victory Goal and Victory Boxing. While I don’t enjoy them as much, they’re still good. I decide to start tracking down more games. The local games shop has Virtua Fighter, a must for the system. They also have Resident Evil, the one entry in the series I don’t own. I wonder why I waited so bloody long to get this. I also discover games that were never released in Europe, like Policenauts, and purchase reproductions of them. I also pick up some rarer games like Dark Saviour and Shining Force III for relatively cheap. Sadly, it began to become clear that some of the best games on the system are the priciest. I make plans to purchase Panzer Dragoon Saga. I say I’ll wait until my bonus, like I did with Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and it can be my big present to myself. This falls through as I move back to Ireland and lose access to the majority of the UK market. This is where my regret comes in. By waiting so long, I had missed out on one of the finest consoles ever made and, by extension, some of the best games ever made. By moving back home, I have also reduced my access to the games. Retro games here can be hard found but the Saturn is another level all together. I’ve still managed to find such gems as Die Hard Arcade and Guardian Heroes but I feel the two big ones I want, Panzer Dragoon Saga and Burning Rangers, may have escaped my grasp. The other issue is that I often bolster my collection with cheaper retro games. My PlayStation and PlayStation 2 collection have continued to grow since moving home but the Saturn has come to near standstill. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll fly back to the UK and tour the gaming shops, snapping up any Saturn games I can find.