In the mid-‘90s console scene, everyone knew that importing games from Japan was where the real action was at; because of the prohibitive cost of publishing games in the US, tons of great games stayed in Japan, apparently because they were just too awesome to find audiences outside of its borders. With the advent of the Dreamcast, however, some of the import furor died down; as Sega and its licensees threw everything they had at the proverbial wall to see what would stick, tons of games that would normally have never seen the light of day in the US or Europe were made available everywhere.
What we’re driving at is that, while there was still a thriving import scene for the Dreamcast, it wasn’t quite as widespread as it was on other consoles, because fans knew that most of the best games would show up on their shores eventually. Even during that golden age, however, there were plenty of gems that never (officially) made it out of Japan, and that most of us missed out on. Here are some of the best:
A bittersweet, self-referential RPG made specifically for Sega’s die-hard fans, Segagaga put players at the head of Sega in a world where all of the company’s characters were real. Starring two teenagers tasked with guiding Sega to greatness against the rival DOGMA corporation, the game was part over-the-top fangasm, part parody of Sega’s losing battle against the PlayStation.
Image from Hardcore Gaming 101
Released in March of 2001, just after the announcement that the Dreamcast was officially dead, Segagaga became a sort of eulogy for the system and a sad reminder of its ultimate loss against the PlayStation juggernaut. As of this writing, however, there’s a glimmer of hope for would-be Segagaga fans, as a long-delayed fan-translation project has been confirmed as still in the works.
While Fighting Vipers 2 was released in Europe, it never made it to North America. Probably that had something to do with the fact that the game looked stiff, dated and terrible, even by Dreamcast standards.
Even with substandard visuals, though, FV2 still had a certain undeniable charm, especially if you were a fan of the first game on Sega’s Saturn. Essentially an edgier, teenage offshoot of Virtua Fighter focused around breakaway armor and walled arenas, FV2 offered fast action, a simple-yet-deep fighting system and two new characters, one of which carried a BMX bike strapped to his back. Also, if you knew what you were doing, FV2 also offered the chance to completely humiliate your opponents by smashing them through the arena walls. It wasn’t a fatality, but it was almost as good.
One of the Dreamcast’s more obscure titles, L.O.L. is a puzzle-centric action-RPG that looks a bit like Spore and focuses around evolving a creature to better be able to deal with the world around it. You do this by helping other creatures past obstacles, which in turn helps you as they give you new evolutionary traits. It’s a little strange and looks wonderfully bizarre, and this excellent review from Consolevania explains it better than we ever could:
A favorite among the import set, Zero Gunner 2 was a beautiful shoot ‘em-up (SHMUP) with a twist: because you were piloting one of three models of helicopter gunship, you could rotate your chopper left or right to lock on to out-of-reach enemies, making this a tiny bit less formulaic than your standard SHMUP.
Your chopper could also gradually upgrade itself as you collected power-ups from exploded enemies, eventually becoming an unstoppable fountain of destruction – something that came in useful against the game’s seemingly endless supply of transforming giant-robot bosses. And if that made things too easy, then Zero Gunner 2 featured a whopping nine difficulty levels to choose from, accommodating everyone from casual whiners to hardened experts.
Some of you might not be aware of this, but in Japan, the Dreamcast isn’t entirely dead. Sure, Sega ceased production of the console eight years ago, and yes, games aren’t produced for it on a regular basis, but every once in a while, a developer catering to the hardcore community of fans and hangers-on will produce something cool. That was the case with Under Defeat, a World War II-themed shooter that hit the system in March 2006, five full years after its demise.
While at first glance just another entry in the Dreamcast’s library of beautiful (but largely interchangeable) SHMUPs, Under Defeat is notable for three reasons. The first is that you can change the resolution of the game – and its orientation on your TV – by pulling the R trigger. The second is that, like in Zero Gunner 2, you can rotate your attack chopper to face all comers. And the third is that – while it’s set in an alternate-universe version of World War II – the game puts you on the German side of the conflict, complete with German dialogue for the heroes and English for the enemies. That’s not necessarily bad, but it would have made bringing Under Defeat to the US an especially ballsy move.
Plodding and weird, Super Hero Retsuden was nonetheless a treasure trove for fans of bizarre Japanese adventure TV shows of the ‘60s and ‘70s – or just their strange trappings. Playing like a brawler crossed with a strategy RPG, Retsuden starred superdeformed versions of Japanese icons like Masked Rider and Kikaider, who then waddled around on large grids and stiffly did battle with alien goons.
As boring as that might sound, the game’s intentional goofiness and awesomely cheesy ‘60s soundtrack made it surprisingly fun, and the action was broad enough that you could easily infer what was going on with or without actual Japanese language skills.
One of the stranger titles to come out of a company best known for ultra-hardcore 2D fighting and action games, Cool Cool Toon was a cute, cartoony 3D synchronized-dance game that revolved around an unusual control scheme, requiring players to use the analog stick and buttons in tandem to keep up with the music.
Granted, it wasn’t the best of its kind, not even on the Dreamcast. But given how receptive Dreamcast owners were to the system’s flood of wonderfully bizarre games, it probably would have found a niche without too much effort.
Another game that hit the market well after the Dreamcast’s demise, 2003’s Border Down is different from the other scrolling shooters on this list in that it’s horizontal, rather than vertical. But like a lot of the Dreamcast’s best SHMUPs, it featured a cool gimmick to reward skill with different colored “borders,” each representing a different stage length and level of difficulty, which can change on the fly depending on how you do.
While you can choose to start playing on any of the borders, dying will cause a “border down,” which defies conventional wisdom by shifting the action to the next-hardest difficulty level. That means there’s a lot of pressure to avoid dying; the longer you can stay alive, the easier it is to stay alive longer.
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