Hello everyone, and welcome to the second of my fun-filled lists involving older Sega systems! If you haven't seen my first list which explores my favorite Sega Genesis games, then you can click here to read it, but keep in mind that just because certain entries aren't listed there doesn't mean that I necessarily think that those absent games are bad; everyone is entitled to their own favorite selections and those just happened to be mine. Anyway, today's list explores some memorable exclusives on the Sega CD, which was an ambitious add-on device made for the Sega Genesis system. Despite being an expansion though, the add-on managed to sell about 2.7 million units, and over 200 games were released with additional homebrew titles (such as Mighty Mighty Missile and Star Strike) slowly continuing to raise that number. Some technical features added to the base system from the Sega CD included internal memory saves, almost doubled processing speeds, and disc sizes that could store over 320 times as much data as a traditional Sega Genesis cartridge. The larger game formats also allowed for things like pre-rendered cutscenes, CD-quality music, and bigger resource libraries.
A common stereotype is that the large majority of Sega CD games were outdated full motion video games, such as the cheesy Night Trap and the bizarre shooter Midnight Raiders, but this isn't true; those games were actually a minority of titles released for the device. The add-on also had many unique shooters such as Robo Aleste, arcade game adaptations such as Starblade, memorable adventure games like Snatcher and The Space Adventure, and amongst various other genres, strong role-playing support including Shining Force CD and Vay. Some deluxe versions of prior games were also made, with additional content being included in Eternal Champions: Challenge from the Dark Side, Earthworm Jim: Special Edition, and Final Fight CD amongst other memorable examples.
Before I get started with the list, I just want to lay down some notable rules:
A lot of the Sega CD's most popular games are incredibly expensive online due to a combination of limited release stock and positive reception. While I tried to play a decent number of games for this list, some games that are too expensive for me might not make appearances since I haven't played them, even though they might be great games. You can see a partial list of those excluded titles up above.
This list was originally going to include Ecco: The Tides of Time since I love the gameplay from the Sega Genesis game and also appreciate the new enhancements in the Sega CD version. The differences in the re-release include a CD-quality soundtrack which adds a stronger atmosphere to the game, and also some fantastically-presented full motion video cutscenes which re-enact the events of the first Ecco the Dolphin while still preserving the game's themes of isolated loneliness, wacky mystery, and unsettling exploration. I'm not including the game on this list in order to avoid repetition, and I wanted to talk about some other games instead. Consider Ecco: The Tides of Time as being my true number two spot if you're really curious.
Now with those two rules out of the way, let's begin with entry number 5!
From a distance, Sol-Feace might not look particularly innovative when you consider the overabundance of arcade shooters made during the 16-bit era, but at the end of the day, it's just a very fun game. What first makes Sol-Feace stand out is the appreciated way that the game utilizes the Sega CD hardware to enhance its presentation over many other Sega Genesis titles: colorful animated scenes provide charm between segments of gameplay, the processing is faster and provides smoother control, and the CD-quality soundtrack is filled with instrumental techno tracks that overlay a seriously enthusiastic and blissful mood onto the gameplay. It's the minor details that show effort in Sol-Feace's developmental presentation, such as map objects sometimes appearing in front of the player, subtle changes in ship appearance with the slightest re-aiming of projectile launchers, and some really flexible movements with some of the jointed enemies. Settings are also decently diverse, tending to incorporate lots of machinery as well as planet-based locations such as fire-based environments. Space as a video game setting may have been done to death already, and the game's story doesn't particularly stick to me as being that memorable, but there's a charming enough presentation here.
It's subtle, but minor background details like distant stars and planets really add to a game's presentation.
It's the gameplay of Sol-Feace that stands out to me, particularly with its enemy design and fluid controls. In addition to some speed options, you also have specific control over the directions of your ship's three cannons; these are aimed based on specific player movements and are also reflected in the visuals. For instance, you can shoot at enemies diagonally above you while also firing lasers directly in front of you, and items can also upgrade your ship to include things like missiles. The weapon types aren't quite as varied as games like Bio-Hazard Battle, but the way you control targeting interests me and adds more importance to ship movement besides just dodging bullets. Speaking of which, Sol-Feace is a pretty difficult game, but much of the fun comes from anticipating enemies' body shapes, and reacting to the ways that they can navigate their sometimes multi-jointed structures around, to dodge them. Bosses are pretty fun too, and the Sega CD hardware allows for some more intense on-screen attacks without notable slowdown. And fun fact: the game was actually popular enough to lead to a downgraded version being later released for the Sega Genesis known as Sol-Deace.
Sol-Feace is a really fun arcade shooter, albeit one that might not have been too innovative, but Silpheed manages to have a more impressive visual style in my opinion which enhances the gameplay. For starters, the game has the player moving the ship into the screen instead of constantly having the same sprite size, which creates an impressive illusion of three-dimensional space to work with. There's an extra perceived depth of gameplay due to this, as enemy patterns can come from different angles and the action feels more involved. Additionally, the space environment itself supplements the gameplay by sometimes having obstacles like asteroid fields take up large amounts of the screen; this is coupled with a welcome use of voice acting that helps the player with their mission, something which you didn't really see on the Sega Genesis that often. Introduction sequences also are very well-drawn, using elaborate polygonal animations that actually are created with the native hardware as opposed to full-motion video, although subtle full-motion video (which can also show distant objects like planets) is used for in-stage backgrounds. The music is additionally cheerful, not to mention pretty memorable, and it switches mood during more intense moments like boss fights.
Silpheed mixes pre-rendered backgrounds and native sprites in a way that actually optimizes the gameplay.
Besides the impressive visual presentation, there's also a lot of attention to customization and control variety in Silpheed. Weapons can be unlocked and selected between missions, and you can also utilize different attacks for different sides of the ship; an example would be having a wave-like pattern come from the left side of the ship while ordinarily firing forward with the right side. Secondary weapons can also be earned which have to be carefully managed with a refillable levels gauge. And instead of having zero defenses and lives, Silpheed uses a shield system which acts as a health bar, and collected items can refill this along with providing other bonuses like points and temporary invincibility. One last cool thing to mention is how the gameplay changes as your health decreases; before dying by one final enemy collision, your ship will lose shields, suffer a decrease in weapon range, and ultimately suffer movement slowdown one by one. These minor changes add more consequences to taking damage and vary up the player's combat approaches; I really like this variety.
3. Rise of the Dragon
Remember Sierra Entertainment, the old game developing company that made lots of wacky adventure games such as King's Quest, Space Quest, and Police Quest? They were also involved with this noir-styled game named Rise of the Dragon, a future-based cyber-punk thriller which follows the world's most badass detective known as Blade Hunter as he seeks to stop drug shenanigans, the Chinese Mafia, and eventually an insane doomsday prophecy involving the Bahumat demon. The premise sounds silly, but the narrative itself is actually quite dark, kicking off with a mayor's daughter suffering a deadly genetic mutation before the action soon transitions to some extremely dangerous undercover activities. Blade Hunter is a private ex-cop detective who isn't afraid to get his hands dirty, and the plot is actually pretty interesting to follow, something which is assisted by some surprisingly well-done voice acting. There are many options in dialog trees which have immediate consequences, clues can be picked up and used with other characters to access new locations, and there are even some basic action sequences tossed in that involve gunplay. The crime drama and sci-fi elements also mix nicely, additionally switching between sarcastic humor and biological horror in a well-balanced way.
How you interact with people, and even what you carry around, can have immediate consequences.
Rise of the Dragon makes use of a time system, but it offers a lot of wiggle room and gives you enough time to explore a futuristic Los Angeles. Certain buildings are open during the day, some conversations are better-suited during specific moments, and some actions like having the police department examine evidence require you to plan out your schedule for things like scientific experimentation. The time system never feels arbitrary or unfair, and since traveling to different locations also factors into the clock, I actually find it fun to try and find the fastest way to beat the game and handle multiple leads at once. Every item in the game can not only be used, but also examined, and the character conversations add tension since your answers in them can have immediate consequences to the gameplay. The conversations feel engaging, the characters are fun and memorable, and there are also various game over situations that can occur in addition to alternate endings; this adds more overall depth to the gameplay exploration. The only major issue that I have with Rise of the Dragon is something that bothers me with almost every Sierra adventure game: it's possible to accidentally create unwinnable situations. But Rise of the Dragon does offer multiple save files and usually hints you in advance about those situations, so it's not a game breaker. Ultimately though, Rise of the Dragon is a great game to play for fans of classic point and click titles, for people looking for a fun crime drama, or even just people who enjoy solving intense puzzles. Also, here's a fun fact: Blade Hunter and Liquid Snake share the same voice actor.
2. Sonic CD
I know that this might be a predictable choice to have on this list, what with this being one of the few Sega CD games that most people cite as helping the device's sales, but having played Sonic CD tens of times and still enjoying it, I can't really justify putting this any lower on the list. The Sonic the Hedgehog franchise has primarily been popular for several key things: fast yet manageable speed control, memorable visual and audio charm, and well-crafted level design that not only complements the controls but also provides lots of path-branching which strongly enhances the overall replayability. Sonic CD keeps up the tradition of having unique stage designs, but it accentuates the exploration potential by adding a whole fourth dimension to the gameplay via its time travel mechanic. Rewarded through a careful speed build-up, moving through time allows the player to essentially explore up to four different versions of each zone, each version which has unique visual styles, genre-matching audio, and slightly different layout differences from one another. Past levels have more natural landscapes that rely less on machinery, and players are encouraged to seek out Robotnik's contraptions in order to alter the future time periods; the good and bad futures on the other hand are typically shorter but have differing atmospheres and reliances on mechanical devices for their level structure. There are small differences in positioning, enemies are absent in the good future, and interactive objects often have separate effects in different time periods. Sonic CD takes the path exploration from previous Sonic the Hedgehog games and extends it by adding the added dimension of time to it, and that's impressive to me. And if you don't want to seek out Robotnik's machines in the past, then you can still plan out some exciting speed-running strategies.
If you're strong, you can try, you can reach the other side of the rainbow!
The overall worlds are also pretty fun, although a few later levels can feel a little less varied at times. Despite that, there's plenty of speed to find in many of these zones, and the added processing speeds couple nicely with some wacky level design; Palmtree Panic uses some pseudo-3D effects and has open skies, Collision Chaos has fun pinball-like navigation which rewards careful precision, and Stardust Speedway feels like running and flipping through a rapidly-branching racetrack. Boss fights are very creative as well, including a fight to reach the top of a pinball table, an underwater battle where Robotnik's shields are also Sonic's only sources of air, and an exciting race against Sonic's metal equivalent amongst others. The bonus levels are also intense and provide an impressive sense of 3D movement despite being iffy with the depth perception at times. Lastly, I have to give a shout-out to the game's very catchy soundtrack. I really like how the music (of which I personally prefer the European/Japanese versions) complements the time periods; past versions of stages use natural instrumentals that also have a calmer and more prehistoric feel, bad futures of stages have distorted or robotic songs with metal aspects, and good futures are generally cheerful and enthusiastic. Overall, although it's not my favorite in the franchise, I really like this game; it's incredibly fun and adds a lot of exploration to the series.
1. Lunar: The Silver Star
Lunar: The Silver Star is a role-playing game created by Working Designs, and it's definitely one of my favorite games from that genre. Almost everything about this game is excellently designed, including its entertaining narrative. The story starts out as a simple adventure for some kids to make money off of a dragon's jewel, and it gradually evolves into something much larger that includes dragon prophecy and magic guild corruption, all while having many characters that cycle in and out of the player's party at different points in the adventure. While there are some serious moments in the narrative for sure, the game's writing also adds a lot of humor as well, which includes some cultural references, occasional sexual innuendo, funny sarcasm, childhood ignorance, relationship mess-ups, and other fun jokes at times. Starting characters include the magician-wannabe Alex, the hilariously witty flying cat Nall, the positive-spirited music singer Luna, and the greedy yet sometimes scared Ramus, and many other characters are gradually introduced throughout the story with detailed personalities that range from reserved to self-arrogant to notably light-hearted. Working Designs also paces the plot well, and the characters avoid coming off as generic. Another impressive thing is how virtually every town character has multiple things to say, and these conversations evolve over the course of the game.
I absolutely love this game's art style, and that's not even including the beautiful animated scenes.
Besides that, the visuals are also gorgeous and have coloring that compares well with older Final Fantasy games; over-world landscapes are carefully drawn, the enemies and characters have lots of variety, the combat is dynamic, and pretty animated sequences draw out characters and add voicing to serious moments. Many of the areas are kind of mesmerizing at times, and the game has a comfortable mood to all of the adventuring. With places including flying academies, inhabited lighthouses, traditional towns, hellish fire caves, and icy caverns amongst various others, the world is a generally fun place to explore; some areas also encourage re-visiting and branch off into smaller areas holding treasures. And besides the visuals, the game's soundtrack is also excellent, with the tracks having various instrumentals and bringing life to the environments which they play in. Intense horned pieces intensify boss battles, dungeon music usually provides creepy ambiance and overlays a level of mystery, and the opening theme song to the game is very enthusiastic and filled with smooth lyrics.
Incorporating field movement into the turn-based combat adds a lot of depth to the very fun system.
Lunar: The Silver Star also has a pretty unique battle system, which I could sort of describe as involving a hybridization of turn-based attacks and movement management. Attacks and spells are selected in turns like you would expect, and you can select primary targets for physical attacks, but the character's stats also give them a number of spaces which they can move around; enemies and party characters can travel in eight different directions in the battles, and with this also comes evade, flee, and auto-attack options as well. You want to avoid having a character be surrounded by six deadly plants for instance, and you might also want to distance your mages further away from the enemies to more effectively cast spells. It's an engaging system, and my only major complaint with it is that spells in this game aren't first explained until you experiment with them on your own. Besides the mystery with some items, it's well-crafted, and even the over-world has a lot of depth to it; dungeons as I mentioned earlier break off into multiple directions, some story events can be tackled in a non-linear order, and Working Designs added a welcome feature that moves your characters closer to a nearby opening if you start walking into a wall. There's a lot that I like about Lunar: The Silver Star, and there's a pretty good reason that this game was the Sega CD's best-selling title in Japan for sure: it's an excellent game overall.
Thanks for reading my list! Feel free to list your own favorite Sega CD games!
Thanks a lot for making it through the end of this list! If one of your favorite Sega CD games didn't make the cut, then there's still a chance that I like the game; it just might not have been one of my personal favorites. I also know there are lots of expensive gems for the add-on that go above the hundred-dollar mark, but I don't really have the finances to purchase every single one of those titles, and I didn't want to list any games that I haven't personally played. But nonetheless, I think that the Sega CD was pretty overlooked, and while it might have had some gimmicky titles like the full motion video entries, you can actually find plenty of memorable exclusives that cover various genres as well. And the games I listed here aren't the only good games on the Sega CD; if you have any that you want to talk about, then please feel free to leave your own list in the comments down below! I hope that you enjoyed reading my selections, and I look forward to seeing any of yours!