Sega Saturn: The Beginner’s Guide

See the other entries in the Retro Gaming 101 Series

The RetroGaming 101 series is aimed at gamers who are just starting out in the classic gaming scene or are curious about an older console that they don’t know much about yet. Those of you that are especially knowledgeable about the featured console, I encourage you to add any information that you think would be beneficial into the comments section. If you are new to the featured console, and still have questions, you can also use the comments section and I will do my best to help you out.

This guide was originally published back in 2007, but I have expanded and updated it to get it up date and to the standards of our newer guides!

Historical Impact

  • After Sega’s giant success with the Genesis/Megadrive, the company want to get a jump on the 32-bit generation and beat newcomer Sony to the market.
  • The Saturn was Sega’s third home video game console released in North America and was sold between 1995 and 1998.
  • The Saturn ran into a number of issues leading up to its launch such as a betrayed fanbase (Sega CD and 32x failures), a surprise early launch date, and a high price of $400 USD (about $525 in today’s money).
  • The Saturn’s 3D processor was added on as an afterthought to help it compete with the Playstation. Not only was it not quite as powerful as the PS1’s, but having two main processors in the Saturn made it much more challenging for game developers. This ultimately resulted in most games going to the Playstation.
  • The Saturn’s “3D Controller” (bundled with NiGHTs Into Dreams) is one of the first controllers with an analog stick. There is some debate as to whether it was designed before the Nintendo 64 controller.  (see more info in the Accessories section below)
  • The Saturn may have been a commercial failure, but it remained a cherished console by its diehard fans.
  • The Saturn’s lifespan was cut especially short because of the upcoming Sega Dreamcast — Sega’s final console release and a fresh start on taking a lot of the concepts they tried to implement with the Saturn to a new level.
  • There are a number of Dreamcast games that made their start in development as Saturn games.  Shenmue is the highest-profile example (It even featured a Sega Saturn console within the game’s world).  There is even video footage of a development-phase version of Shenmue running on Saturn  hardware.
  • More Sega Saturn History from Wikipedia
  • You may also wish to read Games That Defined The Sega Saturn

The Lid of the Model 2 Saturn


  • The Saturn has one of the best 2D processors in 2D gaming.
  • The console was blessed with many excellent old-school games such as 2D fighters, shooters, and platformers. Most of these 2D games that received Playstation ports were inferior in a number of ways.
  • The Saturn also had a number of quirky and engaging games from Sega’s development houses that were never ported to other consoles. For the best examples, see The Best Sega Saturn Games For Today.
  • The Saturn’s second-generation gamepad is still touted as one of the best controllers ever for old-school games. It is essential a more polished version of the six-button Genesis controller. It has a solid directional pad, a six button layout (great for fighters), along with trigger buttons and a comfortable fit.
  • The Saturn also had an optional 1MB/4MB RAM Expansion cartridge that gave it more graphical capabilities over the Playstation. It allowed near-perfect ports of many of the hottest arcade titles while the Playstation had to cut out frames of animation and certain gameplay elements to be able to handle the game. (See list of games that support additional video RAM)
  • With the Multi-Tap add-on, the Saturn can support up to 10 players on games like Saturn Bomberman. See the Saturn Multiplayer libary for additional titles
  • The Saturn is one of the most well-built and durable game consoles of all time.

A Model 1 Saturn by RealRedRaider


  • As with the Playstation, load times can be rather long on the Saturn (however they are improved over the Sega CD and Neo-Geo CD).
  • The Saturn had a small amount of game save memory. The memory is also lost when the internal battery dies. External memory cartridges are rare and have been relatively expensive.
  • The 3D processing is not quite as impressive as later Playstaton games. However, some titles such as Virtua Fighter 2 and Dead or Alive are quite impressive considering the limitations of the system.
  • Many third-party developers such as Electronic Arts left the Saturn platform early so many of the major titles went to the Playstation.
  • The Saturn library is especially lacking in the RPG genre. There are only a few top-notch titles such as Shining Force III, Dragon Force, and some favorites from Working Designs.


Controller 1 Standard Controller (First Gen)
Just like the with the Sega Genesis before it (and the Xbox that followed later), the Sega Saturn went through two major controller revisions.  The original Saturn controller wasn’t necessarily bad, but it was a bit chunky.  The designers seemed to want to make it more of an art piece for a their pricey new console.

Shop For Sega Saturn Controller on eBay
Shop For Sega Saturn Controller (First Gen) on

Controller 2 Standard Controller (Second Gen)
The second revision of the Saturn controller was a bit more like the 6-button Genesis controller with its lean, slimmer body, but with the shoulder buttons added.    In the end, this second-generation Saturn controller is one of the favorite gamepads of all time among die-hard retro gamers.  Assuming you don’t need an analog thumbstick, this controller is the peak of quality for a six-button layout controller – great for fighters if you don’t have the budget for a joystick.
A more modern example of this controller’s popularity is the USB remakes put out by Sega for the PS3 and PC that quickly sold out (and the cheaper replicas showing up on eBay).

Shop For Sega Saturn Controller on eBay
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3D Controller 3D Controller
The summer of 1996 brought gamers both the Nintendo 64 (in Japan – fall release in the US) and the release of a hot new property on the Saturn: NiGHTS into Dreams.   Much like the new N64 controller, NiGHTS made use of an analog joystick on the controller.   Since the standard Saturn controller wasn’t equipped with one, the game launched with the “3D Controller” bundled with it.  The circular shape seems a bit odd when compared with its peers, but it was a fine controller.  If you look at the layout, you can see that it is essentially the foundation for the Sega Dreamcast controller (just change the shape a bit, get rid of two of the face buttons and add a VMU slot)

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Virtua Stick Virtua Stick
The Sega Saturn is one of the best consoles for 2D fighters and Sega was one of the few companies to make first-party 6-button arcade-style joyticks.  And while it was a step up from its console predecessors like the NES Advantage and the Genesis arcade stick, the Virtua Stick isn’t quite up to the standards from the modern products from Hori.    Even though it does not have arcade-quality components, it does the job for non-competitive gaming – a nice step up from a standard controller.

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Shop For Sega Saturn Virtua Stick Controller on

Virtua Stick Pro Virtua Stick Pro
This beauty is a Japanese exclusive and is a step up from the standard Virtua Stick in many ways.   The hardware is much more in line with the arcades.   The joystick mechanism is from Seimitsu and the buttons are more in line with what you would expect from a Hori or Agetec stick.   It also features two sets of controls that are set up just like an arcade cabinet.  It does plug into both controller ports on the Saturn, but you can’t get a better fighting setup for your Saturn.  This controller is still a great collectors item today, so be prepared to pay some nice cash for one.

Shop For Sega Saturn Virtua Stick Pro Controller on eBay

Twin Sticks Twin Stick
These controllers are specifically design for the game Virtual On, which is basically a fast-paced 3D area fighting game featuring mechs.  (Watch a video of the game to get a better idea)   The controller makes it much more of an arcade-like experience and makes quite a huge difference in the game.   Those that enjoy the series typically invest in the controller.  They make for a nice collector’s piece as well.   If you get a Saturn-to-Dreamcast adapter, you can also use them for the Dreamcast Virtual On game as well.

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Shop For Sega Saturn Twin Stick Controller on

Virtua Gun Virtua Gun / Stunner
Because of a decreased interest in light gun game and the Columbine shooting the Saturn was the last major console to have a first-party light gun.   The Virtua Gun was sold separately, but also as a bundle with Virtua Cop.   If you’d like to learn how to upgrade the gun to a full-arcade quality, gun check out this guide.

Shop For Sega Saturn Virtua Gun Controller on eBay
Shop For Sega Saturn Virtua Gun Controller on

Steering Wheel Racing Wheel
Just like with the fighting sticks, Sega took the extra effort to come out with a first-party steering wheel.  And like the Virtua Stick, it isn’t the highest quality, but it gets the job done and looks slick and consistent with the Saturn’s great design aesthetic.

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Shop For Sega Saturn Racing Wheel Controller on

Mission Stick Mission Stick
Wrapping up the lineup of first-party controllers that aim for bringing home an arcade experience is the Mission Stick.  The obvious reason for the stick is flight simulators, but it is actually a popular for other Saturn games like Panzer Dragoon, Stellar Assault, GunGriffon, Afterburner, or Space Harrier.

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Shop For Sega Saturn Mission Stick Controller on

Multi-Tap Multi-Tap
The are a handful of great games that support lots of extra players (Saturn Bomberman being a fan-favorite).  If you want to have more than two controllers hooked up to your Saturn, you can use one or two Multi-Taps to add up to 10 more controllers.  (each supports 6 controllers – however, Saturn Bomberman “only” supports 10 players)

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Netlink Modem Netlink Modem
The Dreamcast was the first console to popularize online gameplay on a console, but Sega tinkered with the concepts with the Saturn Netlink system.  It was only supported by a few games, but this modem was the foundation – a dialup modem that plugged into the expansion cart slot

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Netlink Mouse Netlink Mouse
Not required for much, but if you wanted to surf online on your Saturn, a Mouse comes in handy.   It can also be used on light gun shooters Virtua Cop, Virtua Cop 2, and The House of the Dead.

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Shop For Sega Saturn Netlink Mouse on

Netlink Keyboard Adapter Netlink Keyboard Adapter
And to go along with the mouse, you can also get this keyboard adapter.  Since this is the mid-90s we’re talking about, this is for a PS/2 connection instead of the USB that we are used to now.

Shop For Sega Saturn Netlink Keyboard Adapter on eBay
Shop For Sega Saturn Netlink Keyboard Adapter on

Floppy Drive Floppy Drive
Here’s a great PC-inspired add-on for you!  This rare Japanese periphial lets you save game data on a standard Floppy Disk.  You can copy standard game saves to it (but the Backup Memory cart below is a lot more practical) and some games such as the Japanese version of Panzer Dragoon Saga, Dazeamon 2’s shmup construction kit support it directly.

Shop For Sega Saturn Floppy Drive on eBay 

Backup Memory Backup Memory
There are a few different cartridge expansion options.  The official Backup Memory cartridge is only for storing game saves.  This is rather important if you are an RPG fan as the built-in Saturn storage is rather limited.

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Shop For Sega Saturn Backup Memory on

Video RAM Video RAM Expansion Cartridge
These cartridges were either included with certain Japanese imports that required them or sold separately from a third-party.    They gave the Saturn an extra boost of video memory (kinda like a video card upgrade for your computer without upgrading the GPU) that was required for some of the high-end arcade ports from Capcom or SNK (like X-Men vs Street Fighter, King of Fighters and Metal Slug)   The result were 2D arcade ports that blew the Playstation versions away.

Shop for Sega Saturn RAM Expansion Cartridge in the Racketboy Store
Shop For Sega Saturn Video RAM Expansion Cartridge on eBay

Action Replay Action Replay Cartridge
These third party cartridges offer the best of the features in one package – especially if you get the Action Replay 4M Plus model.  This model will boot imports (although you will need a modchip or swap trick to boot burned discs), has 4MB of video ram, has game save space and has some cheats built-in.

Shop for Sega Saturn Action Replay Cartridge in the Racketboy Store
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Video CD Card Video CD Card / Movie Card
This Japanese add-on is essentially a daughtercard that plug into the Saturn in the area where the battery door is in the back of the console.  It allows the Saturn to play Video CDs (VCD / White Book Standard) and also lets it play higher-quality full motion video in games (typically for cutscenes).  Lunar Complete is one game that best makes use if the VCD card.   The US version of Gungriffon (for the intro video) and the Japanese import, Sakura Taisen Hanagumi Tsushin utilizes it as well.

Shop For Sega Saturn Video CD Card on eBay

eBook Operator Electronic Book Operator & Photo CD Operators
These two software discs were released in Japan and Europe and let the Saturn view the two types of media they are named after.   The Electronic Book Operator allows the Saturn to read eBooks in the EB, EB-G or EB-XA disc formats (sorry no Kindle support…)   The Photo CD Operator lets the Saturn view up to 100 starndard Photo CD images with some nice viewing options.

Shop For Sega Saturn Operator CD on eBay

Game Library

  • Games That Defined the Sega Saturn – If you want to check out the games that made the biggest impact on the original Saturn demographic, this guide will take you through the biggest titles.
  • The Best Saturn Games for Today – These are the games that I would most recommend you looking into (if you can afford them all) as they are the most timeless titles and often the best exclusives.
  • The Best Sega Saturn Games Under $25 - If you need a good place to start your collection on a budget, this list should be your first stop.  It will cover most of the Saturn essentials.
  • Sega Saturn Hidden Gems – If you’ve already got the most popular games under your belt, this Hidden Gems list will help you expand into the best under-appreciated games
  • 2D Shooters / Shmups – The Saturn is a must-own for hardcore shmup fans as there are so many great arcade ports and console exclusives
  • 2D Fighters – Fighters are another great reason to own a Saturn — there’s even some great exclusives to be had/
  • Multiplayer Games – The Saturn can be great for multiplayer if you have a Multi-Tap (see above in the accessories section)
  • Rarest and Most Valuable Saturn Games - Be on the lookout for these valuable titles
  • Homebrew Games – there’s actually a pretty good Saturn Homebrew community to look into

Some Popular Saturn Games in North American Cases

Collecting Notes

  • The US Sega Saturn releases use the same type of cases as the Sega CD games.  They are large, proprietary plastic cases that can break over time.  They are beginning to become more valuable and hard to find.  Because of this, some collectors are using DVD cases with custom artwork to store their games.
  • Imports are a rather important aspect of Saturn collecting, so be sure to check the section below and don’t be afraid the look into some of the great Japanese games out there


Examples of Japanese Game Cases – by Afrokid

Playing Backups / CD-Rs

  • Obviously, this can be a grey area, but between playing homebrew, giving options for playing imports (see above), and for helping preserve originals of the increasingly valuable Saturn games, we thought we should share the proper info.
  • There are only two ways of playing CD-Rs on a Saturn: The Swap Trick and a Mod Chip
  • Mod Chip installation isn’t too hard if you have a Model 2 32-pin Saturn.   The only problem is, it can be hard to tell for sure the type of Saturn you have (or are shopping for) without opening it up.  Round buttons (as opposed to oval buttons) are a good bet, but you might still end up with a 64-pin Saturn or one with a Sanyo Board.   It is possible to install on these other models, but it is not recommended (and Racketboy doesn’t provide support for these models other than the guides I just linked to)
  • The Swap Trick is ideal for Model 1 Saturns, but it is possible to eventually cause damage to the CD drive if you aren’t the best at pulling the game out at just the right time. Proceed with caution.


  • If you would prefer to play your Saturn games on your PC instead of the actual console, you may need to wait a bit longer for perfect compatibility. While you may get to have a handful of games playable if you have a modern PC, many games are quite glitchy if playable at all.
  • If you want to emulate on the PC, you best bet is probably SSF — check out our writeup on this emulator
  • Other available emulators include Satourne, Saturnin, Yabause, and the hacked GiriGiri emulator.

The Saturn Console’s Retail Box


  • A Saturn console is relatively inexpensive, but the value of the consoles has been gradually increasing the last couple of years. More people are discovering the great games that are only availible on the Saturn and snatching them up on eBay. You can usually find one between the $55 to $100 range without all the packaging.  You can check our Retro Console Hardware Price Guide for more detailed breakdown of values for different conditions.
  • There are a few of the more common games that can be found for a few dollars, but most of the more popular games are becoming collectors items. Many of the most worthwhile games are now ranging from $25 to the $100 ballpark.
  • To find the best Saturn games on a budget, read The Cheapest Sega Saturn Games Worth Your Time.

Technical Frequently Asked Questions

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Anonymous says:

Right on about the Saturn controllers! Especially the 3D controller. I use that for pretty much all of my Saturn gaming, and I’d vote it the best controller of the 32-bit era. It even gets the nod from me for Capcom fighters over the Arcade Stick. I’ve never been a big fan of home arcade sticks. They move around too much while you play, which can throw off your stick movements (quarter circles, etc.).

Retromangia says:

YO Racketboy! you are the man dude!! I’ve been going crazy with my old Saturn lately.. I never thought I would bring it out again, but I’m loving the great games I missed out on!! I never knew Saturn had so many great games. thanks so much for this great read!


jopamine says:

Another way I was playing imports was on a third party memory card. one day i forgot to change my cart and it read shining force 3. i was like.. WOAH! i dont have to save on my hard drive 😉

my bro and i bought saturn pads for ps2. i love it! i can play third strike w/o blaming the controller. now if i lose, i have no excuse 🙂

racketboy says:

Was that an Action Replay you used? An Action Replay typically boots imports, backs up game saves, and has cheats.

jopamine says:

nope. it was just a third party memory cart.

it was called the Memory Card Plus. they have one on ebay.

some discretion tho, after some years, i feel like the saves are messing up cuz the number of blocks it reads seems wrong, but then again, it’s been a while since i’ve gone back to use it.

i feel like initializing it, but i don’t wanna lose saves. decisions….

ndut says:

hi. I’m very new with Sega Saturn console and I bought an AV composite cable for my LCD TV from racketboy. But I got some problems with it. Pictures had these straight lines that filled up to the whole screen and instead of directly playing the CD games, it went to a CD playback menu or something. Please help me with this..Thanks…

racketboy says:

Well, that doesn’t sound like something that would be caused by an AV cable — it sounds like an issue with the Saturn’s CD-ROM drive. I would recommend posting in the forum for further troubleshooting — best of luck!

Alex says:

I just got a Saturn it only came with a RF adapter i plugged everythingbut when I turn it on the picture shows up but it has that static noise like when you get snow on your screen when you unplug the cable from your tv or when the cables out. I can barely hear the saturn boot up screen itself any idea why?

racketboy says:

Have you tried playing with the channels on the TV?

Cid says:

I noticed you talked about the memory cart issue. I actually found out that Japanese memory carts work in US machines (tried it myself) and they can be found dirt cheap most of the time. Usually you can only find the small ones (I think they’re 512kb?) but you could buy a few of those for the price of a bigger cart from America.

if you have or will buy a saturn, you MUST buy RADIANT SILVERGUN. and yes, it IS worth $200.

Stinho says:

I can advise buying an Action Replay 4M plus cart.
Make sure it’s the ‘plus’ version.
It will allow you to play all games of any region and give you all the extra graphical splendour.
It’s also a save cart and cheat cart of course.
costs about 30 bucks. But well worth it seeing as japanese games are a lot cheaper on ebay.

Kyen says:

I love this console 🙂

Patrick BBE says:

I got mine at a garage sale…for $30.

Fred Rentz says:

Is there a way to mod a Sega Saturn to play burned games on it? If so could you give me some info on where to find out how to do it?

TheBrick says:

I just got a Saturn, and whenever I open the lid to change games, when I close it (and yes, it clicks into place), it says on the menu that the lid is still open. I have to almost (but not completely) close it to get the disc to be read, and then when I close the lid again, it says the lid is open now.

MetalFRO says:

Racketboy – I read that the modchip itself doesn’t allow for playing imports, but I already have an Action Replay 4-in-1, so will that play import CD-R copies in conjunction with the mod chip if installed and the cart in the slot?

racketboy says:

@MetalFRO — that’s the one thing an Action Reply won’t do. The only way to play CD-Rs is to use a mod chip or the swap trick

MetalFRO says:

Let me rephrase, because I think my question wasn’t 100% clear. I have a US Saturn, and I want to install a mod chip. Doing so will allow me to play backups. Since I have an Action Replay 4-in-1 cart, that allows me to play imports (which I do). Having the mod AND the AR cart installed at the same time, would I be able to play backups of import games, or would I need to instead purchase a modded Japanese Saturn? I’d like to know if I could make CD-R copies of the imports I own and play the copies, much like I do w/ my Sega CD unit for my US Sega CD titles.

racketboy says:

Oh — then yes, you are all set 🙂

Miguel says:

Just a small correction: the Photo CD wasn’t only released in Japan, it was also released in Europe. I have one nd it’s the PAL version (I’m from Portugal).

pakopako says:

Huh, this is now back on the front page? (With an image of the model-2 that looks like a GCN?)
What’s changed?

racketboy says:

Actually, since this was the first 101 post I ever wrote, it was VERY bare-bones, so it was in need of an update. It was also 5 years old, so some of the importing and emulation items were outdated.

Anyway, the biggest addition is the whole Accessories section. That didn’t exist at all in this post.

I also added the backups section, the collecting notes, and list of guides for the game library section.

I also added a bit to the historical impact section and added all the images

So actually, the only part that is the same is the Strengths and Weaknesses.

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