GameSpite Journal 12: Rethinking Sega CD

Did you know that this week marks the 20th anniversary of the Sega CD? Hi! You’re old. To celebrate our mortality, I’ll be posting all of GameSpite Journal 12‘s Sega CD content over the coming days. Oh, don’t sulk. I’ll publish some other stuff, too.

And as a reminder, the coupon code FANS will net you 20% off GSJ12 on the Blurb store for the next week or so. It’s also good for anything else you pick up from Blurb, but I figure you’d want to cuddle close to the Sega CD given the importance of this moment in time.

Critics and historians often point to the Sega CD, as with so many other add-ons of the day, as a failure. It fragmented the market, they claim. It was needlessly expensive and few developers justified their use of the format, they chide. Maybe so.

But you also see a tendency, in hindsight, for people to conflate the Sega CD with the 32X. Yes, both were pricey add-ons to a popular console, but there’s an important distinction between the two: One was a disastrous insult to fans, while the other was actually a pretty nice addition to a great machine.

The Sega CD harbored a twofold purpose. First, it expanded the storage capacity of Genesis games well beyond the limitations of cartridges, and for a lower cost. Sure, Lunar 2: Eternal Blue (on CD) cost $60-$70 at launch, but Phantasy Star IV (on cartridge) cost $90-$100. Secondly, it more subtly augmented the Genesis’ technical capabilities, offering a richer color palette and hardware effects comparable to the Super NES’s dedicated modes. In short, it was designed to allow the Genesis to leapfrog a console that arrived two years after its own launch.

Sega clearly put a lot of consideration into the Sega CD, quickly redesigning both the base console and the add-on to better work in tandem; the front-loading, stacked design of the initial Sega CD gave way to a side-by-side design with a less fragile top-loading disc mechanism. The Sega CD also gave Sega the excuse to create the CD-X, one of the greatest game consoles ever designed: A compact, integrated, Discman-sized device capable of playing both Genesis and Sega CD games.

Given its niche status as an add-on, both Sega and its third parties put forward an impressive effort to support the system. The system offered fantastic original titles like Cosmic Fantasy II, Keio Flying Squadron, and Switch (aka Panic). Ports were in healthy supply, too, including the then-definitive version of Hideo Kojima’s Snatcher, a compilation of the portable Shining Forces, and a proper conversion of Final Fight that put the butchered Super NES mess to shame. And let’s not forget Sonic CD, easily one of the finest entries in the long-running franchise. Or Popful Mail, which was not so much a port as a different version of a game, but was in any case brilliant all around.

Sure, the Sega CD suffered from filler content, awful FMV titles, and lazy ports whose “CD enhancements” consisted of badly compressed public access-quality video or a Redbook butt-rock soundtrack. But what system doesn’t have its share of forgettable material? The value of a console isn’t in how many bad games it offers but in the quality of and strength of its good games. The Sega CD’s library features plenty of greats: Games that deserve to be remembered. And for that fact alone, the add-on should be treated as an essential component of any Genesis fan’s set-up.

Article by Jeremy Parish

GameSpite Journal 12Gear Up | Game Gear

12 thoughts on “GameSpite Journal 12: Rethinking Sega CD

  1. I’m starting to warm up to the early CD-based game systems, although I’m of the opinion that the TurboDuo is the better of the two machines. Sure, it was basically just a TurboGrafx-16 with a CD drive and a buttload of extra RAM, but developers made better use of that hardware than they had the Sega CD. The TurboDuo’s library was considerably leaner, with more actual *games* and far fewer barely disguised movies and other weird multimedia novelties. I adore the color-saturated graphics too, which is something you didn’t see that much of on the Sega CD.

  2. The Sega CD makes you wonder what it would have been like if 3D hadn’t taken over in the PS1 era. Imagine if the size available kept getting bigger and bigger, but all people could use was SNES/Genesis-level sprites. That would be a great alt-history universe to live in.

  3. Much like with the TurboDuo, the SEGA CD was a system with games I thought looked pretty cool but didn’t actually get to play in their prime because my home was a Nintendo one. But the key difference is that the TurboDuo actually saw some of its games rereleased on Virtual Console, particularly notable ones like Lords of Thunder and Ys Books I & II and even Japan-only stuff like Rondo of Blood.

    The SEGA CD…Outside of emulation or getting lucky on the used game and console aftermarket, about the closest you can get to it now is Sonic CD. The Lunars (mainly Lunar 1) have had remakes, but I’d think there’s still a lot merit to playing them in SEGA CD format. Popful Mail, I expect we won’t see again unless Falcom gets an itch to remake it.

    And Snatcher…It already ended up edited for content in its PlayStation remake in Japan, and given how content control is more strict with the CERO rating system and that the SEGA CD release was only for US and Europe, I doubt it’ll see another remake or a digital rerelease.

    …Great, now I’m depressed. =(

  4. Redbook audio butt-rock soundtracks can be good though! I will cite Twisted Metal 2’s music, which… hmm… I like it, but I don’t know if it’s really -good- or not. The first Twisted Metal used Redbook audio as well but I remember the music being strange and not so rock-y (but I do recall liking it as well).

  5. Carl: Indeed, I wonder that myself. It feels like a “lost generation” of potential to me after seeing the likes of Sonic CD, Lunar, and Castlevania: Rondo of Blood.

    One thing which made the SEGA CDX neat was that, if I’m not mistaken, it acted as a portable CD player as well, didn’t it?

    Finally, I just want to say that I have one of the SEGA CD boot mode themes as my ringtone for when I receive text messages.

  6. I think my Sega CD is starting to flake out. I hope I can get a bit more use out of it before it croaks. I miss having the SCD versions of the Lunar series, I prefer them to the PlayStation editions.

    Nice summary of the system and notable games, but I did notice one error. Cosmic Fantasy II was a Turbo CD game.

  7. And also the best lyrics for a video game song: “I know I’m gonna revive, when I am on the road…”. Search those lyrics, find the song on youtube and get ready to cry of pure excitement. It’s 80’s anime in video game form.

  8. I came to this party so late… obtaining a Sega CD when the Dreamcast released. But hey, the lack of piracy protection meant that I could enjoy quite a few games that I never would have otherwise, including the sublime Lunar 2.

    Also, fond memories of whacking the top of the system when Lunar: The Silver Star wouldn’t load the audio track after battle and would hang up. This was apparently an issue with all the Model 2s.

  9. You know, I have a strange suspicion I posted that before… probably with the Lunar: Silver Star post a while back. I’m apparently like the message board comment of that old man that keeps telling the same stories. Blah.

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