Twenty years on, Sega Dreamcast was and is one of the greatest consoles ever created. In late 1999 there was a real electricity surrounding the system, its games, and most of all, its potential. It was a welcome change and true relief to Sega and its most ardent fans. We all could just feel it in our collective bones that Dreamcast was going to flourish and kick PlayStation 2’s jagged ass. And how could it not succeed? Who wasn’t going to like Dreamcast? It felt like deliverance from the throes of primitive polygonal hell with those horrid low-res pixely textures and molasses-slow frame rates. And not only that, it felt truly “next-gen” — a term I deplore — with its beefy 56K modem for online play, miles of packed-in phone line, high resolution 480i/p output, innovative use of memory cards, gorgeous graphics and most importantly, excellent, influential games.
Dreamcast delivered to critics and gamers who were forgiving of Sega’s foibles, but it wasn’t meant to be. Dreamcast was a commercial failure while its main competition, PlayStation 2, would go on to become the most successful console ever in terms of units sold. Sega announced plans to discontinue Dreamcast on January 31st, 2001, after a bruising few months competing with Sony’s latest offering. Sega also declared it would be “platform agnostic” and develop games for the competition. Some of those titles were ports of Dreamcast games like Crazy Taxi, Sonic Adventure 2, Shenmue 2 and Rez, while others such as Gunvalkyrie started development on Dreamcast but was significantly altered for its eventual home on Xbox.
During this period Sega also created sequels to Saturn and Dreamcast games including Crazy Taxi 3, Jet Set Radio Future and Panzer Dragoon Orta, and original titles such as Billy Hatcher. Sega may have been out of hardware, but it initially retained a lot of the talent that made Dreamcast worth playing and Sega worth following. Remember, as a Sega fan you would now need to own three systems and a handheld to play its games instead of one (GameCube, Xbox and Game Boy Advance would be released later in the year). During those first few post-Dreamcast years it was worth it, but serious issues would undermine that case and eventually destroy classic Sega.
Those issues primarily being lower than expected sales and talent bleed. Many games just weren’t selling in high enough quantities, and game development costs continued to climb. This put an already weak Sega in an untenable position which would help lead to an acquisition in 2004 by Sammy, a company best known for its Pachinko products at that time. A company can survive and thrive after a takeover, but Sega was also losing its development talent, and that was the real killer as the quality of its software output really started to suffer. Simply put, when Sega’s talent left it died. The talent was Sega as much as all those wonderful games and systems were. Yu Suzuki was Sega. Yuji Naka was Sega. Tetsuya Mizuguchi was Sega, etc. You get the point. That loss of talent coupled with a severe lack of quality in many of its games after this period — let’s say around late 2003 or 2004 — was the end. And I don’t particularly blame management for cutting corners either. Why put forth the effort and expense when the mainstream had moved on to beating and robbing virtual hookers in overrated games?
Every once in a while i see a render of what a possible Dreamcast 2 might look like or a well-meaning, but ultimately ignorant gamer babbling that Sega should get back into producing hardware since they’d totally beat the competition now. No. They. Wouldn’t. There will be no sequel and it’s an incredibly dumb idea for Sega to re-enter the console race for a multitude of reasons, some of which are detailed above. Modern Sega couldn’t have possibly supported Dreamcast as well as classic Sega had with so many amazing games. Modern Sega lacks the talent and quality control to be a serious player in the industry, which is reflected in its inconsistent and ultimately shoddy output. For every Sonic Mania or Virtua Fighter 5 Final Showdown there are 20 games that should have never been released or at least should be patched or reworked. I want modern Sega to be strong and influential as much as the next Sega fan and to truly return to form, but that’s about as likely as Dreamcast 2. Classic Sega’s soul stopped burning a long time ago, but at least we have decades of excellent games that they left behind.
Copyright © 2019 Rob Faraldi. All rights reserved.