A Blast from the Past: Dreamcast

We here at COE love all kinds of video games, old and new.  Obviously the demand for reviews on new games is the typical order of the day, but many fans (including us) love to reminisce about classic pieces of hardware and software.  So if any of you guys have anything to share about this article, feel free to comment.  The order for today?  The Dreamcast.

It’s mind-blowing to think that the Dreamcast is over a decade old now.  The system was released on September 9th, 1999, in one of the most successful commercial launches of all time.  It was a huge change for SEGA, and it marked a renaissance in gaming—well, according to some.  It certainly was a breath of fresh air compared to what SEGA had been doing most of the 90’s.  The Genesis was a runaway hit with tons of fantastic games, but SEGA simply made too many fumbles in the years that followed.  The add-ons to the Genesis, the SEGA CD and the SEGA 32X, ended up hurting SEGA’s credibility.  To be fair, both add-ons did bring some great games and experiences to the table that were woefully under appreciated for the time, like Snatcher and Lunar: Silver Star Story.  They just didn’t catch on commercially, and it ended up hurting SEGA.  During the mid 90s was the next round of console contenders, meaning SEGA was up against Nintendo’s N64 and Sony’s PlayStation.  SEGA tried hard, but the Saturn just didn’t catch on nearly as well as the competition.  It had some amazing games, like NiGHTs Into Dreams and Panzer Dragoon, but it wasn’t a hit.  Many people attributed the Saturn’s losses to its rushed launch, the lack of a true Sonic the Hedgehog game, and the rise of the PlayStation.  Around 1997, SEGA was dying and gamers were moving on.

The Dreamcast was set to change all that.

The Dreamcast has a die-hard fan base that persists to this day, especially with the homebrew and modding scene.  As soon as the system came out, people were excited about it.  It’s easy to see why!  The system was incredibly ahead of its time, with some great features.  Let’s take a look at the technical side: It was the first 128-bit game system, with a graphics chip made by NEC capable of rendering 3 million polygons per second.  The games were on GD-ROM discs, which had more storage capacity than standard CDs and could hold about 1.2 GB of data.  The graphics capabilities of the Dreamcast easily surpassed anything of the time, blowing gamers away with stuff like Soul Calibur.  The system had many perfect ports of arcade hits and was a pioneer in console online gaming, as it included a built-in 56K modem and Internet support.  The system also had an interesting update of the traditional memory card, with its VMU (Visual Memory Unit) devices.  They were essentially memory cards that had small screens and buttons, which can be used to play mini-games.

Sadly, the Dreamcast’s problems began right out of the gate with the announcement of the PlayStation 2.  SEGA had to hurry, and they recognized that with the PS2 launch still a way off and the Dreamcast already prepared for launch, they had to go all out.  Peter Moore entered the company around this time and helped make the system launch so successful.  500,000 Dreamcast consoles were sold within weeks of launch.  Over a million systems were in homes by the end of the year.  The PS2 launched later in the year 2000, and by that time, 2 million Dreamcast systems were in US homes.  DVD playback, superior graphics, loads of third-party support, and PlayStation 1 backwards compatibility all worked in the PS2’s favor but the Dreamcast did have a few advantages of its own.  When the PS2 launched in the US, hardware shortages made the system harder to come by, the Dreamcast was far less expensive, and the PS2’s launch titles were all generally unimpressive.  But unfortunately, the Dreamcast’s successes couldn’t continue, and SEGA announced that it would discontinue the system.  Making matters worse, Nintendo’s GameCube was on the way and Microsoft announced the Xbox.  Still, SEGA didn’t forget gamers: the broadband adaptor came out to improve online play and there were lots of killer titles.

Here are 10 games worth checking out for the system.

Easily one of the system’s best RPGs, Skies of Arcadia was an impressive achievement for Overworks.  You may recognize the studio’s handiwork on the PS3, Valkyria Chronicles.  The game had amazing production value, music, and graphics for the time.  It also had a great battle system and filled the void for turn-based RPGs on the Dreamcast.  The story was about high-flying fantasy adventure, with pirates sailing around a world with floating islands.  The game’s theme of adventure and optimism greatly contrasted the more moody and depressing stories in the more popular RPGs of the time.  Players could even use the Dreamcast’s VMU to search for treasure in the game.

Who couldn’t see this one coming?  This game is now finally available for download on next-gen consoles, but the Dreamcast was the first console to first deliver the arcade perfect representation of this fighting masterpiece.  With a roster of over 50 characters, insane moves, and lots of game modes to play, there is simply no way to dislike this game.  It was simply one of the must-play games for the Dreamcast.

Shenmue was the Dreamcast’s magnum opus.  The game itself has a lengthy history, but for the sake of keeping this brief, I’ll summarize.  The game had a $70 million budget and began development on the ill-fated Saturn system.  The game later moved to the Dreamcast and was one of the most ambitious games to date.  Characters had voice work, almost everything could be explored, and even the weather will change.  The gameplay was an amalgamation of different styles, and it was one of the first games to implement quick-time events.  This was years before God of War was even an idea.  This is the crown jewel of adventure games in the Dreamcast’s library.

The Dreamcast library was filled with arcade perfect games, and that means a whole lot more than just fighting games.  SEGA’s flagship light-gun game, House of the Dead, also made the transition to the Dreamcast.  This game was just crazy fun to play on the Dreamcast.  The story and action reeks of cheese, but it makes the experience all the more enjoyable.  The Dreamcast also featured the more offbeat Typing of the Dead, which made players defeat zombies by typing on a keyboard rather than pull the trigger.

The Resident Evil series was huge in the 90s.  Capcom churned out three truly impressive games in the main series on the PlayStation.  These were later adapted onto other systems, including the Dreamcast.  However, SEGA fans got a pleasant surprise with an original Resident Evil game in the form of Code Veronica.  Remember, this was the first Resident Evil game to debut on a non-Sony platform, so for the time, it was cool.  Instead of relying of pre-rendered environments and limited movement like the previous games, Code Veronica was more of an action game.  The game was heralded was a true sequel to the second game in the series, but it was not a numbered entry.  The Dreamcast version of the game met with extremely favorable review at the time.

Third Strike is the definitive version of Street Fighter III. The game is a stark contrast to the crazier, over-the-top Marvel vs. Capcom 2.  While MvC2 focused more on extreme offense and crazy combos, SFIII was more about careful balancing and mastering the intricacies of combat.  The parry system was new to the scene, making the game more in-depth than any game in the series before it.  This game was exclusive to the Dreamcast at the time, meaning gamers who wanted a perfect arcade experience had to get onboard SEGA’s system.  It introduced a cool roster of interesting new characters for veterans Ryu and Ken to face off against, and Third Strike fixed the mistake the old versions made by adding Chun-Li back in.

Phantasy Star, during the years of the Master System and Genesis, was a turn-based RPG that squared off against the likes of Final FantasyPSO on the Dreamcast though, was a completely new experience.  This was the first game to popularize and streamline the MMORPG experience on a console.  The gameplay was designed around a simple hack n’ slash system, but complemented with the ability to customize characters, meet up with people online, and go on quests.  This game had an obsessive fan base despite re-releases on the GameCube and Xbox.  PSO had a surprising amount of depth, with tons of weapons and items to find.  Because of the Dreamcast’s built-in 56K modem (and the later-released broadband adaptor), SEGA’s system was the only place to play a game like PSO.

Soul Calibur wowed gamers with its graphics.  Just look at it.  It’s impressive even today, and it’s available on Xbox Live.  The Dreamcast version of the game was probably one of the few games to be considered BETTER than the arcade version.  There was so much to do in the game.  In addition to a large roster of characters, it had tons of game modes and extras to choose from.  The gameplay style changed somewhat from the original Soul Blade, but Namco arguably perfected the formula it created.  Soul Calibur met with amazing reception, netting perfect scores from many people upon release.  This was also one of the launch titles of the system.  There is a good reason why many people called (and sometimes still do call) Soul Calibur the greatest fighting game of all time.

The first Grandia game was set to be SEGA’s answer to Final Fantasy VII. The game was great, but it failed to meet such lofty heights.  In fact, Grandia wasn’t even released on the Saturn in the US…it was later available on the PlayStation.  However, SEGA fans got another surprise from Game Arts with Grandia II, arguably the best RPG on the Dreamcast along with Skies of Arcadia.  The game had an interesting battle system that combined turn-based and real-time elements, which made it a personal favorite for many RPG fans.  The music, characters, and story were and still are top notch.

Of course, how can you overlook Sonic’s foray into 3D?  Some fans may prefer Sonic Adventure 2 for its frantic action, new characters, and improved story, but the original Sonic Adventure brought the series into 3D and really showed what the Dreamcast was capable of.  Sonic Adventure launched with the Dreamcast and was a SEGA fan’s dream come true.  While the later entries into the Sonic series have admittedly become tired, Adventure was amazing for its time.  Even today, it’s still highly playable and is an enjoyable ride from beginning to end.  It managed to capitalize the feel of Sonic’s speed in the third dimension, all the while changing the gameplay from a linear level-based game to an open-ended adventure.

2 thoughts on “A Blast from the Past: Dreamcast”

  1. Powerstone game i played the most on this systeme i that memory unit you put in the control you could bring with you and play snakes on it lol

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