Zero Divide: The Final Conflict (1997, Zoom)

Continuing our look at Sega Saturn games, here is another outstanding 3D polygon fighter that pushes the hardware very well. This is the third title in the Zero Divide series, which began on the Sony Playstation. I really enjoyed the first game in 1995, much more than Toshinden and Tekken 1, both of which were, IMHO, massively overrated. Zero Divide had better gameplay and cool robot designs. As Mark Bussler would say, all that’s needed now are flamethrowers.

Zero Divide 3 takes advantage of the Saturn hardware, using both SH-2 CPUs (“SH-2” is prominently featured on the title screen), and it has also been reported that this games also uses the SCU DSP to crunch extra polygons, which was only used in a few titles late in the system’s life (Burning Rangers, Panzer Dragoon Saga and Shining Force 3 are other examples). Graphics are presented in 480/60 “high res” mode, and everything is very sharp and cleanly detailed. Many of the arenas also feature polygon walls and there are also some polygon objects in the background. The robot fighters are very interesting. They have very subtle lighting effects when they move. In addition, the robots’ armor shells can be broken apart, revealing the inner skin that is gauraud shaded. It’s all very impressive.

The animations are very fluid, controls are swift and responsive. Gameplay is another copy of Sega’s Virtua Fighter, which is a Saturn standard (if you’re a VF freak, this is the greatest console ever made). You have buttons for guard, punk, kick and evade, with the usual set of canned combos and opportunities for “rolled” combos when you knock an opponent into the air. There are also throw reversals, which is always very welcome. Finally, you can be knocked off the edge of the stage platform, hanging on the ledge by one hand.

One really cool thing is that when you pause the game, the screen rotates in a Matrix-style “bullet time” fashion, enabling you to see the fighters, broken parts, and effects suspended in mid-air. I had to rely on the pause screen for taking screenshots, as you can see. If only more videogames had clean pause screens; it would certainly make my job easier.

We have always assumed that Fighting Vipers and Fighers Megamix ran in the “standard 240” graphics mode because of all the cool lighting and shading effects, which were impossible in 480 modes. But Zero Divide challenges this notion. Mind you, the lighting and shading effects here are more subtle and restrained, and the stage designs are slightly more simplified; the cages and backgrounds in Sega’s titles are more elaborate and sophisticated (Jane’s boxing arena is a perfect example). It’s an interesting observation that may fuel debates among the fans.

Back in the mid-1990s, it was extremely frustrating to be a Sega Saturn fan in the USA. So much of the software library was dreary, ugly, glitchy, and only on rare occasions did we see something that was truly inspiring. The system only really started to pick up steam in its final months, just as the console was being shuffled off the stage by Sega of America in favor of “nothing.” Imagine our shock when we discovered, many years later, just how many exciting videogames were available in Japan, just waiting to be played and loved. We would have gone absolutely gaga over Zero Divide, as well as all the other brawlers, shoot-em-up, action and strategy role-playing games. But we were never given the chance. We were robbed.

Zero Divide 3 is a little harder to find than Dead or Alive and Anarchy in the Nippon, but prices are still very affordable, averaging around $20. Saturn fans should definitely grab a copy before the Ebay scammers get wise and jack up the prices. But make sure you DOA and Anarchy first.

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