Last Updated on June 3, 2023
Over 20 years ago, Sega Xbox games made it very easy to choose which console to buy.
When Sega announced on January 23rd 2001 that they were pulling out of the hardware market and becoming a third-party developer, they sent skittles of fandom flying, and each to their own the fans wondered which other machine would gobble the properties they wanted most.
Sony would get an exclusive for Virtua Fighter 4. A good move for them that also allowed Sega to get some sneaky revenge on Sony ruining everything by making the conversion look rough and knowing it would sell anyway. They were already learning that if you can’t beat them…
Nintendo got their podgers on an absolute gem with a new property, Super Monkey Ball, a game that felt wholesale at home on the GameCube. But I never had that machine so I can go no further with the monkey business or any other of the blessings that Sega poured over Nintendo. I think in one of them you would shepherd an egg around.
It was all about the Sega Xbox games
I can’t remember because I went big and bought an Xbox instead. A simple choice as Microsoft had apparently bought exclusivity for a whole vanguard of Sega properties. The hype went that the console was practically the Dreamcast 2. If it had been released in Japan first I would have got it on import.
I think in the end the hype was a mixed bag but those early few Sega games for the Xbox had a sense of otherness about them, even at the time. They were completed while much of Sega had been scattered to the far winds and stand today as relics indeed. I’m not talking about Blinx, of course. No one asked for or anticipated that game. Onwards.
We’ll kick off with Panzer Dragoon Orta because at the time the last I had seen of Panzer, it was falling out of a luminous sky with the final sunset of the Saturn in the form of Panzer Dragoon Saga. Then there was found a new dragon and with it some big boots to fill, if dragons are partial to boots. Probably more likely to be a sturdy pair of riggers. I can’t imagine how they would deal with laces, but enough. We don’t go mocking a King until Feast of Fools and Panzer Dragoon was kingly indeed. It is quite possible that those first three Saturn Panzer games were the most beloved Saturn titles across all regions. Technically it was a showcase for the machine and absolutely authoritative in art direction. As I said, some big riggers to fill.
Orta came through well. Like a dragon indeed. I knew by the time I bought it that this was a rails shooter like the first two and not the limited adventure game of Panzer Dragoon Saga. That was fine as the joy of this game was always in the connected fullness of the atmosphere. Those spectacular post-apocalyptic landscapes and the retro-futurism of the technology upon it, the balanced way your dragon moved through it all while you blew everything to pieces because you were the good guy (now gal).
Botherer of dragons
Panzer Dragoon Orta might have apparently lost a few programmers from the originals but it had kept its sense of place. And how; things had upscaled with the jump in console generations and Orta really wore its tasteful new coat of paint very well, the team using the extra power to add little spices to the mix. This game looked as tasteful and rich as a good mulled wine and played just as well too. It was classic Sega; double thumbs up. I think I shall have to return to Panzer Dragoon here again just to macerate in the art design. There is a stirring in me for this, but for another time perhaps; for now let’s get on with an oddity. Not Blinx though. Not today.
Gun Valkyrie. I so very badly wanted this game to be everything that I imagined it could be; the steampunk 1906 aesthetic and limited jet-pack shooting, alien worlds and peculiar technology. You could think we were back in Panzer land but for the occasional drum’n’bass-infused soundtrack and controls that were a little more on the complicated side. Not unreasonable you understand, but you had to submit to them. I am reminded of playing Virtual On with the Saturn controller, or driving a JCB. Every button is used and every button is important. If you can get the order correct you are laughing (especially regards the JCB).
Once I was broken into it I got reasonably skilful at piloting the character around and above the Halo-light outer maps and voluminous inner corridors. I never got the sense that it had quite the grace of mechanical design that it was going for, but my goodness it was having a go. It was pure arcade adventure and the pros at Gun Valkyrie can pirouette that cyber Victorian glamour girl (no one played as the guy) around with abandon. Shocking enemy designs though. Big, bright creatures, again like Halo, only not. But still a great effort of establishing a new property and an immediate deep cut title for the machine as a whole. Now let’s go out in style.
Minor manic style
When Jet Set Radio arrived in 2000 it was the last word in millennial cool and came on right out of the gate as a brand unto itself, having more attitude and maturity than Sonic and being funkier with sights and sounds than PaRappa the Rapper. Jet Set Radio didn’t have a single character identity to spool around, but it had an enormous identity of place and when the bell tolled on the Dreamcast it made sense to me that Microsoft would want a piece of that identity. And Sega gave it to them wholesale.
Now, to tell you the truth I never got to the centre of Jet Set Radio Future myself. I never completed it to begin with much less found my place within it. It was some cool beans though and nailed a sense of accessibility with an increasing need for you to get good at the mechanics and literally grind to the far heights of its living cartoon cityscape. But my brain wasn’t wired for it and I could never get a decent sense of the weight from the characters. Worse still for both Sega and Microsoft than my feelings, Jet Set Radio Future never really caught on anywhere despite all that style.
It is in fact likely that other games from developers closely related to Sega hit bigger than Sega did with Microsoft. I am thinking of Tecmo, who had up to this point used Sega’s Model 2 and Naomi arcade hardware for their fist-and-tits epic, Dead or Alive, and who were now exclusively running Dead or Alive 3 on Xbox. It looked the business and set the series up as the premier fighting game for the console. You gotta have one.
The other benefits went to Bizarre Creations whose Project Gotham Racing took the bones of their earlier Sega-financed Metropolis Street Racer and tuned it up to become the classiest racing series on Xbox for some time to come. Both these developers were considered to be within the fan family that the lustful were looking for when Sega went out of the reservation. And the Xbox felt like family to those raised on Sega.
Not a direct member perhaps but at least a second cousin. And 20 years later, they’re still working together.
John is a writer and gardener. He comes with various 90’s Sega attachments and is the author of The Meifod Claw and other works. His favorite tree is a copper beech and he would like his coffee black without sugar, thank you.