Friday, July 15, 2016

The Dreamcast Made Me - Part 1

The Sega Dreamcast may not have sold like gangbusters during its short run on the market, but the console itself, the game library and the community built up around it had a strong impact on me in my teenage years and resulted in me making lifelong friends. In this multi-part series I will talk about all of those things. Part 1 focuses on getting the console, where I was with Sega at the time and a particular game I got alongside the console that blew me away.

At some point during my childhood, my siblings and I were somehow able to convince our parents that they should give us our Christmas gifts on the night of Christmas Eve as opposed to Christmas morning. When we were younger, they would have us go to bed and after “Santa” delivered the gifts they’d rush in to wake us up. Over time the Santa preparation time was phased out, but we still ended up always getting our gifts on Christmas Eve. I know it isn’t how most families handle the holiday, but it got us our gifts earlier so we didn’t really care.

Christmas Eve 2000 wasn’t different from the usual. My younger siblings and I waited in our rooms after we arrived home from my grandparent’s house as we had in years prior. Eventually, our mother stormed into the hallway and shouted that Santa had arrived. We jumped out of bed and rushed to the living room to see what was waiting for us.

The big gift for me this year was something I had little experience with, but something I had kept my eye on; the Sega Dreamcast. Released a little over a year prior, I was finally able to play a Dreamcast on my own terms. The only experience I had with the console before this time was at the home of one of my friends where I only really played WWF Attitude and Sonic Adventure.

On the whole, I had kinda fallen off the wagon regarding Sega’s output in general in the late 1990s. I had completely missed out on the Saturn and opted out of buying things like the 32x and the Sega CD. The hype surrounding the Sony PlayStation was unavoidable and somewhere in the middle of the decade my Sega fandom got lost.

That wasn’t always the case, though. During the peak of the great 16 bit console wars between the Sega Genesis and the Super Nintendo, you couldn’t have found a more passionate Sega fan than me. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed Nintendo output well enough, but I would have defended Sega to the grave. The bullshit about blast processing totally worked on my gullible young self. I never played games like Super Metroid, Final Fantasy VI or Earthbound until a years after the SNES had been phased out. Give me Streets of Rage 2, Sonic the Hedgehog 2, Gunstar Heroes or Wonder Boy in Monster World and I was in heaven. Even today, I will argue that the Genesis versions of Animaniacs and Aladdin are significantly better than their Super NES counterparts.

I don’t know how my adoration for Sega fell off a cliff like it did. Maybe the confusion/cost associated with Genesis upgrades threw me off, maybe it was the poor launch strategy of the Sega Saturn, who knows. The shiny object known as the PlayStation fell before me and captured my attention for the rest of the decade.

Returning to Christmas, in addition to receiving the Dreamcast itself, I was given one game to go along with it. It was a game I had never heard of before titled Shenmue. When it was given to me, my dad told me that he knew I liked RPG-style games and he thought I would enjoy that. Going into this game 100% blind, I had absolutely no idea the impact it would have on me.

Shenmue became one of my favorite games in relatively short order. The Yu Suzuki epic was unlike anything I had ever played up until that point. A fully-explorable and highly detailed town, toy machines filled with collectables, purchasable audio cassette tapes, a world of NPCs with a daily schedule, different weather depending on the year, playable arcade and Sega Saturn games within the game, caramel candy bars that I wanted to eat IRL for some reason, etc. This game triggered something in me that I don’t think ever had prior. The world felt more fully-realized than anything I ever experienced up until that point. The game featured combat, but it was secondary to the adventure-style mechanics that made up the bulk of the game. Hell, the stilted voice acting added to the experience. It was a magical game that I’ll never forget.

That wraps up Part 1. In part 2 I will talk about how the Dreamcast expanded my horizons in regard to the types of games I enjoyed & probably other things. See you then!

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