In the late ’90s, SEGA was on the ropes. They utterly failed during the 32-bit console wars with the bonehead move of launching two simultaneous systems, the 32X and the Saturn, making them look like greedy bastards and losing consumer confidence. They had one more shot to get back on top as they had one more console up their sleeve. That system was the SEGA Dreamcast.
The SEGA Dreamcast ultimately failed.
It wasn’t for lack of trying. SEGA was really smart in developing the Dreamcast. They chose to use low cost components for the system so that they can make a powerful system but sell them at a low cost. It was the first system that you can connect to the Internet out of the box with its bundled 56K dial-up modem. SEGA also put out a huge marketing blitz in Western territories to try to get their new system in every gamer’s home. Even with all of that, the Dreamcast was the final nail in SEGA’s coffin when it came to the console biz.
Why am I talking about the SEGA Dreamcast now, roughly twenty years since the system’s launch? It’s because I had a Dreamcast… and I’m damn happy I got one!
Well, I didn’t actually get my SEGA Dreamcast two decades ago. I purchased mine a year after its launch. Yes, I said “purchased” it, with my own money! I got mine in December of the year 2000 as my “Christmas gift to myself.” It was the first real video game console I bought and it was something I actually saved up for. Granted, prices of the Dreamcast were already starting to dip by that time as it was the same year that the Sony PlayStation 2, the best selling video game console of all time, mind you. In retrospect, I guess the lower price point was a factor why I chose the Dreamcast over the PlayStation 2. But the main reason why I wanted to get a Dreamcast was there were some specific games on the system that I just had to get!
Before I do talk about the games, which is where the bulk of my memories are when it comes to they system, I do have to comment on the Dreamcast console itself. The system itself wasn’t all that aesthetically special. It was, for all intents and purposes, just a plastic case that housed all the electronic gizmos and doodads that allowed you to play video games. But there were some things that still stood out to me.
For one, the Dreamcast felt sturdy as hell! I remember when I first took the system out of the box and commenting to myself that it felt like a really solid piece of technology. The case may just be a hunk of molded plastic but it felt like a hunk of molded plastic that was built to last! The Power and Open buttons felt substantial and just felt good to press down. I also have to mention that I still have fond memories of the little arrow shaped light on the front of the system to indicate the Dreamcast is powered up. There was many a night when I would turn off the lights and play a few hour of Resident Evil – Code: Veronica with the lights off with the only illumination coming from the TV screen and that power indicator. Good times.
Another thing I remember fondly about the Dreamcast is its controller. When you first look at it, the Dreamcast’s controller looks… ugly. It looks like a kid designed it and, from its appearance, you would think that it’s uncomfortable. But that’s far from the truth as the Dreamcast controller feels really good when you hold it! There are curved rounded handles under it that allows you to grip it comfortably. The buttons are also really good, especially the trigger buttons. SEGA engineered both analog triggers to have a lot of leeway to move, making it very easy to exactly determine how much pressure you’re putting on them. The only real issue I have is the cord’s placement as it juts out from the bottom of the controller instead of the top.
Then again, they really couldn’t put it on the top because of the SEGA Dreamcast’s controller’s best feature, the Visual Memory Unit, or the VMU. The VMU is basically a souped up version of the PlayStation’s memory card as, not only does it save your game data, it also had a nifty little screen on it that would display things like your character’s life or item you have. This is really good for games like the aforementioned Code: Veronica since you don’t have to go into your inventory to see how much life you have. But the best thing about the VMU is that it’s kind of like a little mini-game system! Some games, like Sonic Adventure, allows you to download games into the VMU and play them on the go! Okay, the games themselves weren’t anything great but they were something incredibly unique even by today’s standards!
Oddly enough, while Sonic Adventure was decidedly the SEGA Dreamcast flagship game for the system, it wasn’t something I really played for long periods of time. In fact, I think I only finished the first couple of worlds before I put the disc in its case and never opened it again. It may seem sacrilege but I didn’t get the Dreamcast to play a Sonic game. I got the Dreamcast to play other games.
One of those games was Resident Evil – Code: Veronica. Resident Evil was one of my favorite game series of all time and I played the first three entries of the series as they came out on the PlayStation. So, when it was announced that the next game, Code: Veronica, was going to only be on SEGA’s new system and not on the PlayStation 2, that pretty much clinched it for me: I was getting a Dreamcast! Honestly, I find it weird that there has been a lot of talk of Resident Evil 3 getting the remaster treatment yet not many people are clamoring for Code: Veronica getting the same thing! I’m not sure if I’m in the minority here but I think that Code: Veronica is one of the best games in the series! I guess it’s one of the sillier Resident Evil games but that’s what made it so much fun as well!
Another huge reason I got the Dreamcast was the strange amount of fighting games it had in its library. It was the first system to get any version of Street Fighter III. But, as much as I love Street Fighter, that was one of the fighting games I played the least of. A game that I played a lot of was Power Stone. It was an 3D arena style fighting game and complete mayhem, especially when playing against a human opponent. This was always a blast to play whenever my cousins would come over for the holidays and we would play round after round of Power Stone. It was incredibly fun because, basically, we were all on a level playing field. Even if I owned the system, I never really played it seriously and treated it like a party game, which it probably was.
Garou: Mark of the Wolves, the final installment in the Fatal Fury series, also came out on the Dreamcast and I loved this game to bits, even though the final boss, Kain R. Heinlein, suffered from SNK Boss Syndrome, making him a cheating bastard who’s almost impossible to beat fairly. There are many more fighting games like Soul Calibur and Project Justice that I loved playing on the Dreamcast but it’s best to move on for now. Basically, even though the Dreamcast had a odd looking controller that didn’t look suited for fighting games, it sure had a lot of them!
Probably the best three games I had on the Dreamcast were Shenmue I and II as well as Skies of Arcadia. Shenmue I and II will always have a nostalgic place in my heart as it was a weird but unique game for its time. It was probably my first time to experience an open world/sandbox game. Remember, this was a time before the concept of open world/sandbox type games were a thing. Shenmue was the pioneer of the concept. Shenmue II was the better game because it had Japanese voice acting, the area was much bigger and the gameplay was much more refined. I even learned what “left” and “right” was in Japanese because I moved so many boxes in that one Shenmue II minigame! It’s still ingrained in my memory!
The SEGA Dreamcast wasn’t known for their number of RPGs but they had one of the best ones: Skies of Arcadia. The game had most of the traditional elements of your typical JRPG, with fantastical worlds, trope-y but memorable people, leveling up your character and going through a convoluted web of a plot with numerous twists and turns. But what made Skies of Arcadia different was the inclusion of ship-to-ship battles! These battles involved a lot of strategy and advanced planning, making each ship battle tense boss battles in their own right! Hey, SEGA, I’m still waiting for a sequel to Skies of Arcadia!
While both Shenmue games and Skies of Arcadia are the best Dreamcast games I had, they aren’t technically my favorite. Ultimately, my favorite Dreamcast game is Hanagumi Taisen 2. It’s a spin-off of the Sakura Wars series but, instead of the gals fighting in giant mechs… it’s a Columns ripoff. This was during a time when I wanted to get anything that was connected to Sakura Wars and, sadly, this was the only game I could find. I couldn’t find an actual Sakura Wars game but I got this weird, cheap looking game.
Why would Hanagumi Taisen 2, which is just a Columns styled game that doesn’t even tax the Dreamcast at the least be my favorite game? Well, it all comes down to playing with my cousins once again. Like Power Stone, Hanagumi Taisen 2 was just a blast to play competitively! We also didn’t understand a lick of Japanese so we had to figure things out, like what do all the menus say and what character is good at what. We astonishingly figured a lot of things out, such as, if I remember correctly, pairing Kanna Kirishima (the tomboyish strong girl) with the Fire speciality, would unleash a powerful attack, making it a race to see who would pick her first! It may not be the most complex game in my Dreamcast library but it was certainly the game that I have the most memories of.
So, what happened to my SEGA Dreamcast? Ultimately, I did move on and get a PlayStation 2 and even an Xbox and Gamecube. Since it was getting increasingly more difficult to actually find Dreamcast games here in the Philippines, I had to let go of it a good five years after I purchased it. Well, I didn’t exactly let it go. I basically lent it to my cousin as it was still in perfect working condition (I told you the Dreamcast was a sturdy machine!). She doesn’t remember where she put it anymore. It’s kind of disheartening if you think about it. The Dreamcast was a system that gave me so many great memories and I really wish I didn’t give it away. I’ll bet, if I kept it, I would still be able to power it up and play it to this day.
The Dreamcast was SEGA’s last hurrah in the video game console world. Some do consider it to be a failure but not to me. With all my fond memories I had with the console, how could I even think that? I’m betting I’m not the only one who still have pleasant dreams of the Dreamcast to this day.
Did you ever play on the SEGA Dreamcast? What did you think of it? Let me know in the comments section below!