Turn Based #9 – To Sleep, Perchance to Dreamcast

Professor Icepick: For many, Sega’s Dreamcast was a perfect swansong to their legacy as one of the major console manufacturers in the video game industry. Heralded by many as one of the best consoles of all-time, it boasts a small library with an impressive concentration of beloved games. When Sega gave up the ghost and decided to go third-party, it impacted a lot of gaming fans: I personally took a long sabbatical from modern gaming shortly after the Dreamcast bowed out, simply because I didn’t see anything worthwhile on the horizon in the mainstream. But does the Dreamcast truly live up to its reputation or is it just an overrated hunk of junk and nothing more than an overpriced doorstop? Today, in this installment of Turn Based, SNES Master KI and I will be discussing the final Sega platform and its worth from a strictly modern viewpoint.

Dreamcast-Console-Set

Goodbyes hurt the most, when the story was not finished…

If you haven’t guessed yet, I will be arguing in favor of my beloved Dreamcast. KI and I have had many discussions on this topic in the past, so I think I know what his primary avenue of attack will be: bringing up the fact that many of the Dreamcast’s killer apps — particularly ones that were exclusive during the Dreamcast’s short lifespan — have been ported to various other platforms since. Simply to nip this line of reasoning in the bud, I’ll just remind him that if he decides to go down this avenue, then several platforms (especially those among his favorites) are similarly exempt from greatness and worse yet, that would make the personal computer the greatest gaming platform of all-time by a wide margin: truly a bitter pill for him to swallow.

With that out of the way, I’ll start by pointing out that the Dreamcast’s library was impressive for its time. There are few other platforms that truly embody the concept of “quality over quantity” when it comes to Dreamcast games. Best of all, the Dreamcast acted as a bridge between the fifth and sixth generations — offering the definitive versions of several PS1 and N64 games by taking advantage of the Dreamcast’s substantially improved hardware.

SNES Master KI: There’s a difference between ports from Dreamcast and ports from most other systems: they were done in the same generation. In our last Turn Based, you made it clear that GameCube games which later wound up on PlayStation 2 were not exclusives. I’m perfectly willing to count games like Jet Grind Radio and Soul Calibur (that eventually made it to 7th or 8th gen systems, right?) as Dreamcast exclusives. But Sonic Adventure 1 and 2, Grandia 2, Skies of Arcadia, Resident Evil Code Veronica, Crazy Taxi, Phantasy Star Online, Chu Chu Rocket? Those all came to other sixth generation systems, and those are just the prominent ones I knew off the top of my head. Dreamcast really did get hit harder by losing exclusives in its own generation than other systems, and it doesn’t help that many of the games it managed to retain got sequels on other sixth generation systems (the aforementioned Jet Grind Radio and Soul Calibur).

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I love this game, but hard to count it as a Dreamcast asset when every single sixth generation system got it, even GBA.

Regardless, I never really intended to make that the crux of my argument. My argument isn’t that the Dreamcast is a bad system, or even an average system. It’s that it isn’t a holy grail of perfection as many ordained it after its death. It had a great run, but the only truly exceptional part was launch day in North America, which was almost a year after the Japanese launch, giving it a big advantage in getting games ready. I’ll leave PlayStation 2 out of this since that’s showing up in this series later, but I think there are other systems which sold less than they deserve which at least match Dreamcast, including GameCube and Saturn.

Icepick: I suppose the most important thing to determine is what we’re considering here: are we keeping our sights locked on the reception to the Dreamcast in North America exclusively or worldwide?

KI: Well, this is more about retrospective, so I don’t think it makes a huge difference. Aside from the launch lineup quality, I’m not aware of any gaping discrepancies between the North American reception of Dreamcast and other regions. I would probably say worldwide if I had to choose, but like I said, I’m not sure where that makes a big difference.

Icepick: I only bring it up because you brought up the Sega Saturn as a potential contender for the Dreamcast’s reputation. If we’re talking about its Japanese library, then I’d be willing to agree. But its library in North America was horrifically truncated by various terrible decisions. And while the Gamecube wasn’t specifically neutered in America, there are some noticeable gaps in its Western libraries as well.

KI: Well, with Saturn it gets kind of complicated. Shining Force 3 Parts 2 and 3? Unplayable for the average westerner. X-Men vs Street Fighter or Radiant Silvergun? Aside from price, not much of an issue. If we’re making a precise standard, I’d say any game you can reasonably play only reading/speaking English counts.

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Japanese language proficiency optional.

Icepick: Fair enough.

Regardless, the Dreamcast had many exclusives that remain to this day that are clear to anyone who does more than the standard surface-level overview of the platform. There’s Project Justice, the sequel to Capcom’s cult 3D fighting classic Rival Schools; Dynamite Cop, the direct sequel to Sega’s own Die Hard Arcade; Zombie Revenge, a 3D beat-em-up taking place in the House of the Dead universe and the only existing home release of Virtua Fighter 3, labelled “Virtua Fighter 3tb” due to the addition of a team battle mode.

There are also several games that, while no longer “pure exclusives”, are still synonymous with the Dreamcast. Capcom’s Power Stone duology, the second Crazy Taxi, the original home release of Ikaruga (a Japanese exclusive, but no less accessible to Westerners) and the original Shenmue are all synonymous with the Dreamcast to this day and beloved by many.

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On an unrelated note, I also miss Capcom’s Fighters Edge brand.

KI: Shenmue 2 at least was also on the original Xbox, and unless there was a significant difference between the original home version of Ikaruga and the GameCube version, that wasn’t exclusive either. I don’t think public perception of what system a game is associated with can be used to count the games as exclusives.

I never said Dreamcast had no exclusives, I said that its stockpile was decimated during its generation, to a much greater degree than any other system I can think of. But even if you give it every timed exclusive, I don’t see why it should be put into the holy pantheon of consoles ahead of other underappreciated systems like Saturn, GameCube, and Wii U. I’m not saying Dreamcast was by any means a bad system, just that I think people have given it a sacred status based on its timing (being Sega’s last console) more than its library.

Icepick: Perhaps, but adoration is never determined by logic. The Dreamcast was clearly Sega’s last shot at remaining a first-party developer and they clearly gave it their all. It’s almost like a folk tale: the end of Sega’s glory days were predicated by one valiant last stand against the young upstart, Sony, only to be literally obliterated when their shiny new gamebox launched in North America, forcing them to throw in the towel. That’s where a lot of the love for the Dreamcast comes from: its death was poetic. Even if Sega had made the perfect move throughout the Dreamcast’s lifespan, there was no guarantee that they would be able to survive as a console manufacturer.

You’re right when you say that the Dreamcast’s high status stems from its untimely demise (and that its company went down alongside it), but that is an important thing to keep in mind. The tragedy of Sega and its Dreamcast’s shared ending only serves to amplify the latter’s beloved library, granted it a legendary status among the pantheon of dead consoles.

KI: Well, I think we’ve come to an impasse. My main argument is that I don’t think it’s fair to rank the console above others with libraries of similar quality just because it was historically significant. After the 10th time I hear “don’t say Wii U is another Dreamcast, Dreamcast is SO MUCH BETTER!!!” it’s hard not to get some kind of resentment towards Dreamcast’s sacred status. There’s also a bit of “well where the hell were you when the system was alive?” going on, Dreamcast didn’t sell badly, but if everyone who praises it now had bought one when it was alive I feel like it probably could have hung in there.

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No, it isn’t sacrilege to compare this to Dreamcast in both sales and game quality.

I guess in general, I think deifying consoles for untimely deaths is a bad practice because it doesn’t help the console itself and causes the next system to join the too good for this Sonyful Earth club to get even more negativity while it’s alive. Similarly to how I think giving Super Mario Bros. a good but not great score today is a better testament to its quality than giving it an automatic 10/10 Best Game Ever label because of its significance, I think we should let Dreamcast’s game library in the face of a sadly short life speak for itself instead of deifying it for being Sega’s last hurrah.

Icepick: The thing is, the Dreamcast’s legacy persists to this day. Compared to other discontinued systems, the Dreamcast has a thriving indie scene, producing both ports of existing titles and original games at an impressive rate, even to this day. Games like Neo XYX, Gunlord and 4X4 Jam prove that the Dreamcast still has life in it to this day. Few platforms manage to have any thriving homebrew scene and the Dreamcast is clearly the most advanced platform with any significant support. Some have even speculated that the Dreamcast may technically live on in perpetuity through its dedicated fanbase. That has to count for something, doesn’t it?

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Also available on the Neo Geo!

But what do you think? Is the Dreamcast overrated or is its legendary status wholly earned? Does the loss of an exclusive neuter a platform’s library? Is the fan support of the Dreamcast to this day a labor of love or a misguided waste of time and resources? Feel free to sound off in the comments below and weigh in on Sega’s final platform. And stay tuned, because we have something extra special planned for our tenth article in this series next month: a topic I’ve anticipated so long, it feels like I’ve been waiting to write since 1999.

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