Part of being a jerk on the internet is having unnecessarily heated arguments about irrelevant things with strangers. One of my go-to topics, mostly borne out of authentic emotion, is Sega and their current state. Unlike sane people who see the branding on a box of some Total War game, notice Yakuza doing well, or wonder why there are so many Sonic games and intuit Sega is a moderately successful company, I think they died almost twenty years ago.
There was a distinct Sega-ness that was removed from life support the day they were acquired by pachinko manufacturer Sammy in 2004. The end of the Dreamcast foreshadowed the demise of the company’s soul. Still, in the twilight period after they left the hardware business in 2001 and before the acquisition, the internal Sega development teams continued working on what I would deem Sega-y games: Billy Hatcher, GunValkyrie, Panzer Dragoon Orta, Jet Set Radio Future, and Shinobi. Risky, often niche games, the kind that elevated and killed the Dreamcast. The games they no longer make because though the brand name lives on, the heart of the company is long gone.
The memory of this bolder Sega is slowly disappearing. Like how I know and care little about Atari, younger people are moving in on my turf of apathy and stupid poetic justice is at work. Sega’s memory problem has at least as many tails as Tails. I already mentioned that old jokester Time and the age of people playing games, but there is also the inaccessibility of arcades. Even a 20-something loser who likes antique games is unlikely to spend much time with MAME emulating arcade games. And a significant chunk of Sega’s history is rooted in coin-ops. (Since the first draft of this piece, Sega sold all of their Japanese arcades. This makes my super rare photo of the Akihabara Sega arcade front very valuable indeed.)
The final nail in the memory coffin is the oft repeated yet accurate cliche that history is written by the victors, or in this case the victor’s fans. Aging gamers still bothering people with their opinions are likely to have been raised with Nintendo consoles, at least in North America and Japan. Finding people to bond with over Black Belt was always a challenge but now it’s almost as impossible as that boss who counters all your moves.
I hear you clamoring for some hard, solid evidence-proof of the world forgetting the old, good Sega. Objection. Case dismissed. The Retronauts podcast is a good example of geriatric gaming media that could keep the old man version of Sega fresh in the heads of the old men who listen to hear about old games ad nauseam. Instead, the hosts focus on what they played as children and young adults and having covered all of those games 17,000 episodes ago, now would rather dive into bizarre minutia, like the episode about The Noid, than have to play and devise something to say about a game new to them (eg. nearly all Sega games). They didn’t have Master Systems, Saturns, Dreamcasts, Picos, Power Base Converters, Sega Jets, Megadrives, Neptunes, Nomads, Vagabonds, 32Xs, Mark IIIs, Game Gears, Giga Drives, or Sega CDs and it is apparent. (Credit and thanks to Jeremy Parish for his Sega video series, however. Named using the Japanese term for side-story, appropriately enough.)
So that’s exhibit A. There are other prominent podcasts with hosts who wouldn’t know a Burning Ranger from a Clockwork Knight if they were on fire and the only way to extinguish it was to follow voice commands. IGN’s Gamescoop is a surprisingly pleasant listen, but the show’s resident guy with encyclopedic knowledge of games knows close to nothing about anything Sega made. He also enjoys insulting the company; suffice to say we would have already fought to the death if I didn’t find murdering people on the behalf of corporations to be slightly unseemly. Especially if they aren’t paying you.
Speaking of unseemly, I mean IGN, they recently updated their top 100 game list. A Japanese TV show of top or best or most popular, depending on where you read or hear about it and your ability to read, also came out recently, as discussed on the 8-4 Play podcast. The number of Sega games in these lists is a punch to my swollen-because-I’ve-been-crying-about-Sega face. Zero first party or console exclusives on the IGN list. And then there’s the Japanese list… which also has zero Sega games on it. No historic Suzuki arcade games? No 16 bit-era gems? Some shitty 3D Sonic couldn’t even crack either list?
The solution to this perceived problem is to learn to cope with some version of a past corporation not being fondly remembered sufficiently. Or I keep writing about Sega games and how the company is heading down the Konami path of one or two big franchises and then nothing at all, and how it will barely even matter because they’re a zombie anyway, a mere shadow of what they were, and everything good in this world happened in the past and if I spend enough money I can somehow be 8 again. Overruled.