Prior to its release in 2000, there wasn’t really anything like Jet Grind Radio (aka Jet Set Radio) – and, aside from its sequel/remakes on the Xbox and Game Boy Advance, there hasn’t been anything like it since. One of the first series to use cel-shaded graphics, it combined gravity-defying in-line skate tricks with graffiti tags, catchy licensed soundtracks and lighthearted gang warfare to create something anarchically silly and uniquely Japanese.
Above: Also, being chased by riot cops was a pretty new thing in those days
It was also hugely, ridiculously fun, and its semi-free-roaming vision of a near-future Tokyo (or “Tokyo-to”) was a blast to explore. Grinding on rails and using the momentum to skate up the side of a wall before somersaulting to a high platform was uniquely satisfying, especially when you could lay down a huge, elaborate tag once you were up there. The idiot cops and aggressive rival gang members were fun to mess with, and collecting a stable of new skaters – each with different abilities – was addictive, even for those who only ever used nominal protagonist Beat.
Above: To be fair, Beat was a pretty cool guy
Sadly, the first game flopped on Dreamcast, even after being marked down to $10 months later. That didn’t stop Sega from trying, though, and in 2002, it brought JGR’s slicker, more streamlined sequel, Jet Set Radio Future, to the Xbox. The visuals looked prettier, the skaters were easier to control and the environments were a lot more elaborate, but Xbox owners turned out to be just as disinterested as Dreamcast owners. JSRF flopped hard, and not even including it as a pack-in game with the Xbox could get people interested in the franchise.
Sega gave Jet Set one last shot in 2004, rolling out an excellent GBA remake of Jet Grind Radio – and since then, the series has been silent. A couple of the characters have made cameos in other Sega games, but after Sega reportedly shot down a Wii sequel proposal from developer Headstrong in 2008, it seems the series is dead and gone. It’s possible Sega’s secretly been working on its own sequel for three years, but that’s unlikely – and also a shame, because we’d love to see what current-gen systems could do with its cartoony, stunt-friendly version of Tokyo. (Just maybe not on Wii. It doesn’t need to fail catastrophically for a fourth time.)
1 – Panzer Dragoon
We have a history of bringing up Okami as often as possible, but if we had to pick a second game (or series, in this case) to champion on a daily basis it would be Panzer Dragoon. It began as an on-rails shooter that helped launch the Saturn, then blossomed into an amazingly imaginative RPG that, despite its awesomeness, helped bury the Saturn. Regardless of the gameplay approach, this setting and concept absolutely deserve to survive; riding on the back of a dragon while huge monsters swarm around a breathtaking world that stretches to the horizon… yeah, we’d play that in HD.
Above: Ugly in stills, but it’s so much more in motion
It made a brief return on the original Xbox, which took a step away from the RPG aspects that made Panzer Dragoon Saga such an alluring prospect. Oh, the Xbox sequel (Orta) was plenty gorgeous, but after sampling Saga’s sweeping story and enhanced battle system, cramming the experience back into a shooting gallery tube was kind of heartbreaking. To bring this inventive series back, we’d want a full-fledged action-RPG sequel that picks up where Saga’s famously botched ending left off. Maybe even drum up interest by releasing an HD update of the Saturn version?
We realize it may be hard to understand why we’re so taken with not just the robust Panzer Dragoon Saga, but also the first two fly-straight-and-shoot games. There’s just something about the way the design, gameplay and music all come together to create something better than its rudimentary polygons; in our eyes, Dragoon is a rare case of someone other than Miyamoto capturing the “Nintendo magic” that makes its games so endearing and enduring. Gaming is a less interesting scene without this series, so if any of Sega’s long lost, mishandled franchises get a second (third, fourth) chance at life, please let it be this one.
It was pretty hard to pick just seven Sega franchises worth resurrecting, as it excluded many beloved titles. Here are just some of the Sega greats that barely missed the cut. Did we miss your favorite?
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