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Oh, how we loved Dreamcast. After years of staring at blurry N64 and horrifically ugly PSone games, the smooth, clean look of Sega’s white knight truly began the buzz phrase “next-gen graphics,” and the bundled modem kick-started online console gaming with hits like Phantasy Star Online, Daytona and NFL 2K1. But it wasn’t meant to last. A variety of circumstance ultimately led to the Dreamcast’s early end, chief among them (in our eyes) the overall timing of the launch.
Released on 9/9/99 in the US, Dreamcast had one major obstacle to overcome, a little something called Final Fantasy VIII. Realize the challenge posed by this one title – it’s the first Final Fantasy since VII, the game that changed the entire genre and brought PlayStation its first major victory against the N64. The hype was out of control, even higher than Sega’s brand-new hardware that blew away anything PSone or N64 were capable of handling. Despite the inferior specs, this one game successfully distracted gamers and fended off an entire hardware launch in the US.
There’s also the matter of PlayStation 2. Sega, in an attempt to be first to market (as it did with Genesis and Saturn), pushed Dreamcast out the door nearly two years ahead of the PS2 in Japan. This means that while Dreamcast looked far better than N64 or PSone, it couldn’t stand up against PS2, Xbox or GameCube, three systems that had plenty of extra time to one-up Sega’s early-to-the-party machine. By the time PS2 launched in 2000, the vast majority of gamers moved on immediately, leaving Dreamcast (and Sega) with a dwindling audience and few exclusive titles to keep existing owners interested.
To put it plainly, Sega jumped the gun, gave its opponents too much time to react, then pitted the US launch against one of the industry’s most anticipated games of the decade. All this while the average US gamer waited for the backwards compatible and DVD playing PlayStation 2, which went on to sell nearly 150 million units, far and away the most entrenched console of all time. Dreamcast, which quietly disappeared from the US in 2001, petered out just over 10 million.
What might have saved the machine? Well, another year in development couldn’t have hurt, making it a true competitor to PS2 instead of a better-than-Saturn half-step. With that extra time, plus a closer release date, perhaps in 2000 instead of 1999, Dreamcast might have made it through – provided Sega solved the myriad other issues plaguing the system. At least the ongoing fan community is strong, right?
Sorry if it sounds so doom and gloom, Sega. Let’s end on a high note and recommend its Valkyria Chronicles, a gorgeous RPG/shooter hybrid that’s almost certainly going to be lost in the hustle and bustle of the fall 2008 season.
Hear more about this article in TalkRadar.
Nov 10, 2008
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