Dreamcastin'

In case you didn't know, I like videogames. In fact, I own a lot of them, much to my girlfriend's chagrin. For some reason, I picked up the classic game collecting bug during grad school and have been perusing pawn-shops and eBay ever since[1].

Nowadays, completing a single game takes me an inordinate amount of time: in case you had any doubts, new babies are NOT conducive to videogaming. Nevertheless, I still get to put in a half-an-hour here and there, and I've been using it to pursue a bit of a Sega Dreamcast kick.

The DC is a slick-looking console. However, the single analog stick on the controller was a massive mistake that frequently interferes with gameplay. Original image.

The Dreamcast (DC) is somewhat famous for having been unceremoniously killed off after only two years on the market (1999-2001). Books could be (and have been) written about Sega's missteps during the late 90s. In summary, a series of bungled product launches and stiff competition from new well-monied entrant in the console market (Sony and Microsoft), led to Sega exiting the hardware business. Despite the DC having sold only a few million units, it still enjoys a large and avid fan base. In fact, because the system shipped without copy-protection, people are actually still making new games for it.

This also means that you can just download DC disc images, burn them to CD-ROM, and play them to your heart's content. This seriously harmed the retail value of original DC games. and few titles sell for more than $20-$30. In comparison, some popular games on the DC's predecessor, the Saturn, can list for upwards of $200 on eBay (e.g., Panzer Dragoon Saga [2], or Shining Force III).

As both the Dreamcast itself and its games are cheap, I've been able to dive into this apparently under-appreciated gem. While I've played a few good games on the system so far, I don't quite understand where all of the rabid love is coming from.

Full disclosure: I've never been a huge Sega fan. While I think that there have been some great Sega-exclusive games, such as Phantasy Star and Shining Force, I always felt that Sega's heart was in arcades. Too many of the games on their systems either were, or felt like home ports of short, difficult arcade games. This seems to have been true of the DC as well, which feels anachronistic given that contemporary, more popular consoles had largely shed-themselves of arcade-style games. 

'Berserk' is an adjective, shouldn't it have been 'Berserker'? [4] Original image

For instance, I recently played through Sword of the Berserk: Guts' Rage, a beat-em-up with very little depth and about one hour of gameplay tied to about the same length of mostly non-interactive cinematics. When considering that much more ambitious games like Vagrant Story and The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask came out in the same year, paying full price for such a shallow experience seems gratuitous.

So far, I have found at least one hidden gem: Record of Lodoss War is quite a good Diablo-clone with a weapon-forging system that was quite ahead of its time. Unfortunately, as most of the consensus 'great' DC games were ported to other systems (e.g., Resident Evil: Code Veronica, Skies of Arcadia, Grandia II[3], Ikaruga, Rez, etc.) I haven't found a lot to recommend the console.

Regardless, as a collector's item, it's been both interesting and informative to check out this branch of gaming history. And, despite not having my mind blown quite yet, I'm still checking eBay and thrift stores in the hopes of finding some more gems. 

[1] As a kid, I was mostly a PC gamer, and the majority of my game-gets were from those bargain-bin collections that bundled a number of older titles. I missed out on a lot of console games and have found a surprising amount of enjoyment in going back to revisit old titles. Many still hold up quite well.

[2] Can I just point out that the link that I posted to Panzer Dragoon Saga had a list price of $550 and suggested that you finance your purchase through PayPal? I love my games, but my single-game price limit is much, much lower than the cost of a new PC.

[3] In all fairness, the Grandia II PS2 port is probably the buggiest piece of garbage that I've ever seen. Graphical glitches led to many visuals not appearing on screen at all, and cinematics played at a snail's pace.

[4] Yes, I'm aware that Berserk is popular Japanese manga, but still.