The 29 Best Games on Sega Saturn

Sega Saturn console

The 29 Best Games on Sega Saturn

Arriving in its native Japan as the first 5th-generation console on November 22, 1994 (a full month ahead of the launch of the Sony PlayStation), the Sega Saturn is an interesting piece of hardware. Long considered Sega’s most costly mistake thanks to the system’s launch in North America with virtually no promotion, the Saturn would go on to become the company’s best-selling home console in Japan despite its relative lack of success in the West. The Saturn’s dual-CPU and eight processors (along with a cartridge slot to expand the console’s working RAM) would allow it to be the de facto home for near arcade-perfect ports where systems like the PlayStation and Nintendo 64 struggled to maintain parity with coin-op games. As a result, some of the best games on the Sega Saturn are only available on the hardware, and many are Japanese-exclusive titles that never made their way stateside.

29. Dynamite Deka/Die Hard Arcade

Die Hard Arcade box art and gameplay
  • Release Date — April 8, 1997
  • Publisher/Developer — Sega/Sega AM1, Sega Technical Institute
  • Review Aggregate Score — 81% (Generally Favorable)

Releasing in the West as Die Hard Arcade, Sega’s Dynamite Deka (the first game in its “Dynamite Detective” arcade series) is one of the greatest beat ’em ups the company ever produced. Dynamite Deka/Die Hard Arcade is a frantic and over-the-top 2D/3D beat ’em up with only a passing connection to the Die Hard films starring Bruce Willis, but its gameplay is exactly what fans of the genre had come to expect. This Saturn port of the arcade hit is near-perfect and also happens to be the first beat ’em up to use 3D polygonal graphics, making it an important stepping stone to later 3D beat ’em ups like Fighting Force, Gekido, and its own sequel Dynamite Cop.

28. NiGHTS Into Dreams

NiGHTS box art and gameplay
  • Release Date — July 5, 1996
  • Publisher/Developer — Sega/Sonic Team
  • Review Aggregate Score — 89% (Generally Favorable)

Sonic Team would produce several titles for the Sega Saturn despite not ever delivering a 3D Sonic the Hedgehog game, and one of the most important is NiGHTS Into Dreams. This visually vibrant score-attack game lives and dies by its incredible movement mechanics and use of the Saturn’s 3D analog controller, developed specifically for use with NiGHTS before becoming compatible with other titles on the hardware. While the general gameplay of NiGHTS boils down to simply flying around and threading loops to earn points with the occasional boss fight, its impressive 3D visuals, excellent soundtrack, and satisfying mechanics make it one of the Saturn’s best platformers.

27. Powerslave

Powerslave box art and gameplay
  • Release Date — September 19, 1996
  • Publisher/Developer — Playmates Interactive Entertainment, BMG/Lobotomy Software
  • Review Aggregate Score — 73% (Mixed or Average)

The excellent first-person shooter Powerslave would eventually arrive on the PlayStation and PC, but its original release was on the Sega Saturn. While Powerslave does stick closely to the established FPS formula of the era (especially with its resemblance to the works of id Software like Doom and Quake), its introduction of Metroidvania elements (such as ability-gated progression and backtracking across interconnected environments) sets it apart as an innovative title. That, and its ancient Egyptian setting, atmosphere, and enemy designs give it a unique identity among first-person shooters.

26. Assault Suit Leynos 2

Assault Suit Leynos 2 box art and gameplay
  • Release Date — February 21, 1997
  • Publisher/Developer — Masaya/NCS
  • Review Aggregate Score — 75% (Generally Favorable)

A Japanese-exclusive run n’ gun title for the Saturn, Assault Suit Leynos2 is the direct follow-up to the Genesis/Mega Drive classic Assault Suit Leynos, which would receive its own spin-off on the SNES in the excellent Cybernator/Assault Suits Valken. Assault Suit Leynos 2 continues the weighty movement and precision shooting action of its Genesis/Mega Drive predecessor, but the inclusion of 50 different weapons and options to boost, dash, and directionally shield the player’s mecha make each encounter far more strategic than just your average “spray and pray”. Further, the game’s visuals and dynamic camera zoom give it a sense of scale that few other shooters on the Saturn have.

25. Vandal Hearts

Vandal Hearts box art and gameplay
  • Release Date — November 27, 1997
  • Publisher/Developer — Konami/Konami
  • Review Aggregate Score — 75% (Generally Favorable)

One of the few games on this list to release on both the Saturn and the PlayStation, Vandal Hearts‘ Saturn version is actually quite different from its counterpart on Sony’s hardware. While the Saturn version of Vandal Hearts is still the same excellent tactical RPG that PlayStation fans got to experience, Saturn owners were treated to extra maps, more tracks on the OST, and other additions that make the Saturn version the definitive Vandal Hearts experience. Vandal Hearts may have been unfairly compared to Shining Force III at the time of its release, but it still holds up today as one of the best TRPG/SRPG titles on the Saturn.

24. Magic Knight Rayearth

Magic Knight Rayearth box art and gameplay
  • Release Date — August 25, 1995
  • Publisher/Developer — Sega, Working Designs/Sega
  • Review Aggregate Score — 70% (Mixed or Average)

One of the earliest and most impressive ARPGs on the Sega Saturn, Magic Knight Rayearth more than earns its place as a cult-favorite title on the console. Aside from its tie-in to the anime and manga of the same name, Magic Knight Rayearth features some of the more impressive presentation of any ARPG of the era, and its gameplay only serves to further support its place as a fan-favorite title on the console. Being able to switch between the three characters and utilize a “rock, paper, scissors”-style dynamic among them in encounters makes combat more engaging than in most other ARPGs, and the RPG mechanics are streamlined enough as to put the focus on the action and storytelling.

23. Virtua Cop 2

Virtua Cop 2 box art and gameplay
  • Release Date — November 30, 1996
  • Publisher/Developer — Sega/Sega AM2
  • Review Aggregate Score — 84% (Generally Favorable)

Both the Sega Saturn and the Sony PlayStation were home to several amazing light gun games, with the PlayStation getting most of Namco’s excellent arcade cabinets ported to the console and the Saturn naturally receiving all of the first-party Sega titles. The best among them is undoubtedly Virtua Cop 2, which beats out both its predecessor and House of the Dead to be the greatest light gun game on the Saturn and perhaps the best light gun game of the entire 5th generation. Aside from the dramatic improvements to its audio and visuals that the sequel makes over the original, Virtua Cop 2 nails its balance and places fun at a premium while still maintaining a healthy, but fair, challenge.

22. Bulk Slash

Bulk Slash box art and gameplay
  • Release Date — July 11, 1997
  • Publisher/Developer — Hudson Soft/CAProduction
  • Review Aggregate Score — 72% (Mixed or Average)

In terms of its visuals and presentation, Bulk Slash is one of the most impressive games on the Sega Saturn. This full-3D shooter allows players to transform between on-foot mech sections and flying combat around massive 3D cityscape environments, and its lack of any noticeable slowdown only serves to enhance its satisfying shmup gameplay. Though it’s similar in many ways to Sega’s own Virtual-On, Bulk Slash ekes out a win as the best 3D mech shooter on the Saturn thanks to its technical fidelity.

21. Hyper Duel

Hyper Duel box art and gameplay
  • Release Date — November 22, 1996
  • Publisher/Developer — Technosoft/Technosoft
  • Review Aggregate Score — 63% (Mixed or Average)

Most Saturn collectors know Hyper Duel for being one of the more expensive titles to track down a physical copy of, and its gameplay goes a long way in justifying its cost. Hyper Duel is a phenomenal hybrid shmup that sees players regularly transform between a faster, more agile ship and a harder-hitting but slower mech. Like other Technosoft shmups, Hyper Duel is an excellent entry into the genre that fully understands the core fundamentals and makes great use of its transformation mechanic to keep players on their toes.

20. Soukyugurentai

Soukyugurentai box art and gameplay
  • Release Date — February 7, 1997
  • Publisher/Developer — Electronic Arts Victor/Raizing
  • Review Aggregate Score — 76% (Generally Favorable)

Raizing’s Soukyugurentai (otherwise known as Terra Diver) is a phenomenal 2D/3D shmup with a lock-on mechanic not all that dissimilar from Layer Section/Ray Force. That said, Raizing truly raises the bar over Layer Section and its sequel by giving Soukyugurentai some of the best visuals and audio in the genre and delivering a game that is generally higher quality than its other “lock-on shmup” competitors. The Saturn port of the title is exclusive to Japan, making it one of several shmups that Western console owners never got their hands on and yet another sought-after physical disc by collectors akin to Hyper Duel.

19. Virtua Fighter 2

Virtua Fighter 2 box art and gameplay
  • Release Date — November 30, 1995
  • Publisher/Developer — Sega/Sega AM2
  • Review Aggregate Score — 93% (Universal Acclaim)

The Saturn port of Sega’s major arcade hit Virtua Fighter 2 is notorious for being one of the best ports on the console, achieving almost full parity with its coin-op release. The visuals and performance of the Saturn version of Virtua Fighter 2 are almost indistinguishable from its arcade counterpart, making the title one of the greatest 3D fighters on the console. Aside from its technical state, though, Virtua Fighter 2 is a phenomenal full-3D fighter with complex mechanics that elevated the genre as a whole and inspired a slew of imitators and competitors.

18. Batsugun

Batsugun box art and gameplay
  • Release Date — October 25, 1996
  • Publisher/Developer — Banpresto/Toaplan, Gazelle
  • Review Aggregate Score — 67% (Mixed or Average)

Both the final game from legendary shmup developer Toaplan and one of the Saturn’s best arcade ports, Batsugun is a must-have for the Saturn library. Not only is it one of the best shmups on the console, the Saturn version of Batsugun happens to contain the exclusive “Special Ver.” that changes several elements of the core experience and features a more accessible difficulty ramp over the Arcade Ver. Regardless of its extra modes, though, Batsugun is an excellent blending of shmup gameplay and RPG-style progression and one of the first “bullet-hell”-style danmaku shmups.

17. DoDonPachi

Dodonpachi box art and gameplay
  • Release Date — September 18, 1997
  • Publisher/Developer — Atlus/Cave
  • Review Aggregate Score — 76% (Generally Favorable)

After working on Batsugun as the company’s swansong, several of the key developers from Toaplan would leave to form their own studio, Cave. Cave would follow up Batsugun with the excellent DonPachi (which also has its own Saturn port), but its that game’s true sequel DoDonPachi that stands as one of the greatest shmups on the Saturn and one of the most important titles in establishing the conventions of modern-day “bullet-hell” shmups. DoDonPachi is not for the faint of heart and a truly tough game, but its Saturn port does have a special version of the arcade experience that is more beginner-friendly and acts as a great jumping-on point for the genre.

16. X-Men vs. Street Fighter

X-Men vs. Street Fighter box art and gameplay
  • Release Date — November 27, 1997
  • Publisher/Developer — Capcom/Capcom
  • Review Aggregate Score — 86% (Generally Favorable)

Before players would get the excellent Marvel vs. Capcom port to the Sega Dreamcast, the Sega Saturn was home to some of the best conversions of Capcom’s legendary arcade cabinets. One of the best is X-Men vs. Street Fighter, which ekes out a win over the similar Marvel Super Heroes vs. Street Fighter thanks to its iconic roster and utilization of the Saturn’s 4MB RAM expansion. X-Men vs. Street Fighter looks great and runs phenomenally on the Sega Saturn, only to be outdone by another Capcom 2D fighter arriving at the end of the console’s lifespan.

15. Princess Crown

Princess Crown box art and gameplay
  • Release Date — December 11, 1997
  • Publisher/Developer — Atlus/Atlus
  • Review Aggregate Score — 83% (Generally Favorable)

One of the earliest games to come from future Vanillaware founder after his departure from Capcom, George Kamitani’s Princess Crown can essentially be thought of as a spiritual predecessor to the excellent Dragon’s Crown. Both titles are side-scrolling ARPGs with hack n’ slash combat and lush 2D visuals, and all the hallmarks of future Vanillaware titles are on full display in the excellent Princess Crown. Though it’s technically a side-scrolling beat ’em up, Princess Crown‘s robust RPG systems and fantasy setting blur the lines between it being a traditional side-scrolling brawler and an action RPG.

14. Dragon Force

Dragon Force box art and gameplay
  • Release Date — March 29, 1996
  • Publisher/Developer — Sega, Working Designs/Sega, J-Force
  • Review Aggregate Score — 90% (Universal Acclaim)

While the excellent sequel would remain exclusive to Japan, the original Dragon Force would arrive on the Saturn in both Japan and the West to become one of the greatest TRPG/SRPG titles on the console. Like Ogre Battle before it, Dragon Force focuses on large-scale warfare, giving players control over entire armies rather than groups of units or singular heroes. As a result, Dragon Force delivers encounters that are decidedly more epic than many of its competitors. However, the massive 200-person battles are just one of the title’s strong suits, as the story and RPG mechanics at play in between fights are just as engrossing.

13. Policenauts

Policenauts box art and gameplay
  • Release Date — September 13, 1996
  • Publisher/Developer — Konami/Konami
  • Review Aggregate Score — 81% (Generally Favorable)

One of the few “visual novel”-style games on the Saturn and a high-point of creator Hideo Kojima’s career, Policenauts is an exemplary game that deserves to be played by fans of science fiction, anime, or Kojima himself. Many of the themes that repeatedly show up throughout Kojima’s works (as well as in some of the auteur’s favorite films) are on full display in Policenauts‘ excellent plot, and the point-and-click-style adventure gameplay allows the narrative and characters of the title to take center stage. Policenauts does feature some combat encounters (which players can experience with a light gun), but it’s the storytelling and character development that elevate the game to being one of the best on the Saturn.

12. Street Fighter Zero 3

Street Fighter Zero 3 box art and gameplay
  • Release Date — April 30, 1999
  • Publisher/Developer — Capcom/Capcom
  • Review Aggregate Score — 86% (Generally Favorable)

The best 2D fighter on the Saturn by a large margin, Street Fighter Zero 3 (otherwise known as Street Fighter Alpha 3) is a technical marvel. Aided by the Saturn’s 4MB RAM expansion cartridge (which also would provide significant boosts to other Capcom fighters on the console like Vampire Savior or X-Men vs. Street Fighter), Street Fighter Zero 3 looks incredible and maintains a consistently fast and fluid framerate, making it one of the best arcade ports on the hardware. Interestingly, the Saturn version of Street Fighter Zero 3 would arrive exclusive to Japan after the Dreamcast port of the title, and many would argue that the Saturn version is superior.

11. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night box art and gameplay
  • Release Date — June 25, 1998
  • Publisher/Developer — Konami/Konami Computer Entertainment Tokyo
  • Review Aggregate Score — N/A

So much has been said about the importance and impact of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night that it doesn’t bear repeating here, but the Sega Saturn version of Konami’s 5th-generation masterpiece is perhaps the definitive version of the title. Arriving more than a full year after the original PlayStation release of Symphony of the Night, the Japanese-exclusive Saturn port (known as Akumajō Dracula X: Nocturne in the Moonlight) contains several bonuses not seen in the original release. Among these are entirely new areas of the map, the ability to play as Maria, and an additional in-game equipment slot for quick-use healing items and potions.

10. Shining Force III

Shining Force III box art and gameplay
  • Release Date — December 11, 1997
  • Publisher/Developer — Sega/Camelot Software Planning, Sonic! Software Planning
  • Review Aggregate Score — 85% (Generally Favorable)

Sega’s legendary TRPG/SRPG series would eventually make a triumphant return on the Saturn with Shining Force III, picking up where the franchise had left off with the excellent second entry on the Genesis/Mega Drive. However, American players would only receive the first of the three “Episodes” the title is split into, resulting in the full Shining Force III experience being exclusive to Japan. Across its 3 different Episodes, Shining Force III is more of the RPG exploration and town visiting interspersed with engaging tactical battles that fans had come to expect, but its upgraded visuals and 2D/3D perspective definitively separate the series’ third entry from its predecessors.

9. Sonic Jam

Sonic Jam box art and gameplay
  • Release Date — June 20, 1997
  • Publisher/Developer — Sega/Sonic Team
  • Review Aggregate Score — 77% (Generally Favorable)

Even though Sonic Team would fail to deliver a genuine 3D Sonic the Hedgehog game on the Saturn (in favor of working on Sonic Adventure for the launch of the Dreamcast), the developer would still release one of the system’s best compilations in Sonic Jam. Sonic Jam includes all three mainline Sonic the Hedgehog games along with Sonic & Knuckles and even allows players to play as Knuckles in Sonic the Hedgehog 2. Unlike future compilations, Sonic Jam features genuine ports of all the titles it includes instead of relying on emulation, and its “Sonic World” mode is a fun full-3D distraction that showcases what a Saturn-era 3D Sonic title might have been like.

8. Burning Rangers

Burning Rangers box art and gameplay
  • Release Date — February 26, 1998
  • Publisher/Developer — Sega/Sonic Team
  • Review Aggregate Score — 75% (Generally Favorable)

Speaking of Sonic Team, the developer’s best title on the Saturn is one that would arrive late in its lifespan but be well worth the wait. Burning Rangers is truly a one-of-a-kind action-adventure game in which players take on the role of a group of futuristic firefighters known as the titular Burning Rangers. By exploring full-3D environments, extinguishing flames, and collecting crystals to rescue civilians trapped in the blaze, players get to live out an anime-style approximation of being a firefighter, all brought to life through some impressive visuals that pushed the Saturn’s hardware to its limit.

7. Battle Garegga

Battle Garegga box art and gameplay
  • Release Date — February 26, 1998
  • Publisher/Developer — Electronic Arts/Raizing, Eighting
  • Review Aggregate Score — 80% (Generally Favorable)

Not only is Battle Garegga one of the greatest shmups of all time, but its Saturn port is perhaps the greatest home release of the title. Like the Saturn ports of Batsugun and DoDonPachi, Battle Garegga‘s Japan-exclusive home release on Sega’s 32-bit console is an incredibly faithful port that almost perfectly translates the arcade experience into players’ living rooms. Though it does suffer from some slowdown during the more hectic sections of stages, the Saturn version features a slew of extra options aimed at leveling out the notoriously tough difficulty of the arcade original.

6. Guardian Heroes

Guardian Heroes box art and gameplay
  • Release Date — January 26, 1996
  • Publisher/Developer — Sega/Treasure
  • Review Aggregate Score — 84% (Generally Favorable)

Sega’s partnership with developer Treasure would produce some amazing games for both the Genesis/Mega Drive and the Sega Saturn, with Guardian Heroes being right near the top as one of the best. A hybrid between side-scrolling beat ’em up and RPG, Guardian Heroes switches up the traditional genre mold by allowing players to routinely swap between three layers of the environment, being able to fight enemies in the foreground, middle-ground, and background at the press of a button. As you might expect, this creates some unique opportunities for strategization and positioning that make every fight in Guardian Heroes an enjoyable perspective-shifting bout, all backed up by some excellent visuals and presentation.

5. Panzer Dragoon II Zwei

Panzer Dragoon II Zwei box art and gameplay
  • Release Date — March 22, 1996
  • Publisher/Developer — Sega/Sega (Team Andromeda)
  • Review Aggregate Score — 88% (Generally Favorable)

Though the original Panzer Dragoon is a hugely important game and an excellent on-rails shooter in its own right, its sequel Panzer Dragoon II Zwei reigns supreme as one of the best titles on the Sega Saturn. In addition to the shooting mechanics just being generally improved overall, Panzer Dragoon II Zwei has a greater emphasis on story and character development that gives weight to every one of the climactic Episodes players get to experience. Its place as a prequel to the original Panzer Dragoon also sees Panzer Dragoon II Zwei nicely set up the events of Panzer Dragoon Saga, making it feel like a mainline companion game to the series’ RPG spin-off.

4. Sega Rally Championship

Sega Rally Championship box art and gameplay
  • Release Date — December 29, 1995
  • Publisher/Developer — Sega/Sega AM3
  • Review Aggregate Score — 95% (Universal Acclaim)

Sega Rally Championship is a technical marvel that illustrates the true potential of the Saturn as a home arcade, faithfully translating the experience of playing one of Sega’s best racing cabinets with only a few caveats. Though it doesn’t feature the force feedback and rearview mirror of the coin-op release, the Saturn version of Sega Rally Championship looks and plays almost identically to its arcade counterpart, bringing one of AM3’s best cabinets into players’ living rooms for them to experience as often as they want without the need to pump quarters into the machine.

3. Radiant Silvergun

Radiant Silvergun box art and gameplay
  • Release Date — July 23, 1998
  • Publisher/Developer — Treasure, ESP/Treasure
  • Review Aggregate Score — 91% (Universal Acclaim)

Treasure’s best game on the Saturn (and perhaps its best game, period), Radiant Silvergun is a pivotal title in the shmup genre and its Saturn port is a technical marvel that still stands as the best home version of the title. Gameplay-wise, the Saturn version of Radiant Silvergun is the same as the arcade original, putting players through a challenging gauntlet of long stages and climactic boss fights made all the more strategic through the game’s light RPG systems and weapon selection. But with the gameplay as fresh and innovative as it was at the time of its release (and, truthfully, still is today), an arcade port of Radiant Silvergun without any extras is still enough to rank it as one of the Saturn’s best games.

2. Fighters Megamix

Fighters Megamix box art and gameplay
  • Release Date — December 21, 1996
  • Publisher/Developer — Sega/Sega AM2
  • Review Aggregate Score — 88% (Generally Favorable)

While some might prefer Virtua Fighter 2 and claim it as the Saturn’s best 3D fighter, the truth is that Fighters Megamix takes all the best parts of VF2 and combines them with the also excellent Fighting Vipers to create a “best of both worlds” scenario. Ultimately, what makes Fighters Megamix the superior title over vanilla Virtua Fighter 2 is its inclusion of the full rosters from both that game and Fighting Vipers (as well as boss characters) and additional fighters that humorously pay homage to other Sega franchises. Long before the release of Super Smash Bros., Fighters Megamix gathered a “hall of fame” of Sega characters and let them duke it out with accessible, yet complex, mechanics.

1. Panzer Dragoon Saga

Panzer Dragoon Saga box art and gameplay
  • Release Date — January 29, 1998
  • Publisher/Developer — Sega/Team Andromeda
  • Review Aggregate Score — 92% (Universal Acclaim)

The Sega Saturn’s best game, its best RPG, and one of the most important games of the 5th generation, Panzer Dragoon Saga is an incredibly important title. Aside from the fact that members of the development team died during its production, forever placing a certain gravity over the title, Panzer Dragoon Saga expands on the already compelling story from the mainline Panzer Dragoon games and delivers an exciting tale about lost civilizations and political intrigue that rivals the best Final Fantasy games. And, along with that excellent RPG-style exposition and storytelling, Panzer Dragoon Saga maintains the excellent flight combat of the mainline games and makes it more engaging through the implementation of character progression and customization. The Saturn would miss out on most of the generation’s great RPGs, but Panzer Dragoon Saga almost single-handedly makes up for it.

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