I was going to post the second entry in the role-playing game series today, but then I looked down at the corner of my monitor and noticed today’s date — 9/9/16, which makes today the seventeenth anniversary of the Sega Dreamcast’s launch.
As the official record shows, I’ve had historical affection for Sega and its various franchises. I bought a Master System long before I purchased an NES and blew the bulk of my high school graduation party bounty on a Genesis console and a copy of Phantasy Star II. Maura’s 1996 Christmas gift of a Saturn console marked the beginning of my “serious videogaming” phase.
The Saturn’s run in North America was a clusterfuck of missed opportunities and severe disappointments. Despite this, the strength of Sega’s core brand — expressed through titles like Panzer Dragoon Saga, Guardian Heroes, Burning Rangers, and Virtual On — still managed to shine strong enough for me to jump onto the Dreamcast’s hype train. It also helped that Capcom — in the full flower of its Turn of the Millennium renaissance — had pledged to sweeten the deal with its pledged support for the console.
I was so revved up for Dreamcast’s release that I committed to a launch day pre-order of the system, something I have not done before or since. A thirty buck deposit reserved me the core system and a copy of Capcom’s 3D brawler Power Stone, along with a free t-shirt that would end up being part of Maura’s sleepwear for the better part of a decade. (No coyness intended there. She just uses geeky promo tees as pajama tops.)
As it happened, the other big gaming event of September 1999 — the long-awaited release of Final Fantasy IX — happened to fall on the day before the Dreamcast’s gimmicky “9/9/99″ launch date.
When I went to pick up my copy that evening, I ran into my old high school buddy Damian. He’d buffed up a bit and found other ways to overcompensate since I’d last seen him, but he was still the geek I knew during my teen years. After he finished explaining his work as a stereo salesman and champion LARP’er in suitably epic terms, I asked if he was picking up a Dreamcast the following morning.
“Oh, fuck, no. Sega burned me bad enough with the Saturn. Oh, man, I wish you could see the goblin king costume I put together for my last session. Hey, are you in the market for a 12 CD changer?”
The reasons we’d gone our separate ways had never been clearer.
The Big Day turned out to be a complete cock-up. The store’s shipments got screwed up, which meant the horde of early (morning) adopters left with just the core system and a unconvincingly delivered promise that the “games should arrive by this afternoon…maybe.”
I had to work, which meant eight hours of juggling my professional responsibilities with the lingering anxiety that I dropped all the cash on a console with nothing to play on it. An evening return trip to the mall did net me my copy of Powerstone, rung up by an assistant manager who had aged twenty years over the course of the previous twelve hours.
The hits kept on coming, though, as the online shop where I had pre-ordered the other two launch games I desired — Soul Calibur and Blue Stinger — was so overwhelmed by demand and logistic problems that the owner shuttered the place and went to ground. He did have the decency not to charge anyone for their pre-orders, but it still added to the frustrations piling up around Sega’s Last, Best Hope.
Despite those initial irritating setbacks, the Dreamcast really did live up to my expectations. Though it never got as much play as my import-modded PS One, its library of titles include some of my all time favorite games. Tech Romancer, Skies of Arcadia, Grandia 2, Marvel vs. Capcom 2, Project Justice, Crazy Taxi, Jet Set Radio, Phantasy Star Online — all of them evoke the freewheeling ephemeral weirdness of my post-college/pre-9/11 days. All that’s missing is a room-temperature bottle of Code Red on my bedroom windowsill and Daft Punk’s Discovery spinning in my CD boom box.
That sense of temporal specificity I associate with the system was further reinforced by Sega’s decision to discontinue Dreamcast support only eighteen months after its North American release.
I’ll concede that much to Damian. He certainly called that one.
My Dreamcast ended up getting overshadowed by my headlong plunge into the world of PC gaming and emulation. Whatever time wasn’t getting monopolized by Baldur’s Gate 2 would be spent sifting through a massive library of retrogaming artifacts and oddities. (Apart from the Final Fantasy and Grand Theft Auto games, my console playing hours dropped steeply between 2000 and 2008. That’s when Mass Effect, Fallout 3, and upgrade fatigue led me to embrace the shoddily engineered simplicity of an Xbox 360.)
Every so often, I’ll dig out my Dreamcast and a stack of my old favorite games in an attempt to revisit those bygone days. The mood never lasts past an hour or so, enough time to remember how awkward the frisbee-like controller was to use and how shitty the composite cable resolution looks on my HDTV.
Each time I tell myself that I’m going to spring for a S-video converter to fix the issue, but that’s about as likely at this stage as my ever organizing that “Eurodance – Untagged” folder that has been carried over across a succession of external hard drives since the summer of 2001.