Everything the Saturn was meant to be.
So why am I talking about this? Because this is the reason why Magic Knight Rayearth was not only a good game, but a game of great importance. Magic Knight Rayearth was the last Saturn game released in the US, and it is the culmination of everything the Saturn stood for. It was a gorgeous 2-D RPG based off a popular anime series; a type of game that's very rare to see outside of Japan. Allow me to elaborate on these points.
Magic Knight Rayearth is a fine example of great 2-D graphics. Everything is animated quite smoothly and artistically, which makes for some beautiful backgrounds and sprites that the Playstation could only dream of producing. Every now and then, you will even see some 3-D models blended into the scenery, with stunning results. This is a metaphor for the Saturn's graphics as a whole; initially a 2-D-only powerhouse, but with 3-D thrown in as a bonus. The sprites are colorful and well-drawn, and many of the bosses are HUGE! Some of which are one giant sprite, where other consoles would have to separate them into smaller sprites. It's just that detailed.
This game has some very good music in it; the trouble is that a couple of the tracks are re-used in different areas, which strikes me as somewhat lazy. The best music, though, will be the dungeons. [The volcano pass theme is truly awesome]. But, what surprised me the most about this game's audio was the sound effects. While a few are abrupt and unnecessary, the majority of them are crisp, clear, and high-quality; making good use of CD audio capabilities. Alas, we have come to the "elephant in the room". Voice acting. As an RPG based off an anime, it was inevitable that the game would include some voice acting. Unfortunately, it is not quite up to par. Many voices sound bland and uninspired, with only a handful of decent ones. Magic Knight Rayearth could definitely have benefited from a better voice cast. Luckily, cutscenes with voice acting are few in number.
Magic Knight Rayearth is an Action RPG, and a good one at that. The gameplay consists of running around on a map from a top-down perspective, fighting enemies in real time, a la Legend of Zelda. You can switch between each of the 3 main characters at any time with the shoulder buttons, each with their own unique weapons and status bars. This introduces an interesting level of strategy to the game, and makes for some clever puzzles. The controls are tight, and make good use of the Saturn's controller. 2-D RPGs were right at home on Sega's console, and Magic Knight Rayearth is no exception.
I honestly don't know what to say about the story. A downfall of it is that it barely follows the anime's story at all. The only thing that remains the same are the first few minutes, and the overall objective. Everything else is unique to the game. While fans of the show may be upset about this [I can say that I was], it gave the developers the chance to make creative levels of their own. And when you think about it, you would rather have a good, non-canon game than a boring one that follows the story by the letter. Movie-based games have proved us that many, many times. However, there were a couple fights in the anime that I thought would have made some seriously epic boss battles that were not included. Nevertheless, the story is good enough, and certainly better than average.
There are a couple of FMVs scattered throughout the game, although somewhat grainy, are smoothly displayed with no stuttering. Also, the game's manual has some cool stickers in the back!
To quote the movie The Dark Knight, "He is the hero we deserve, not the hero we need." That is Magic Knight Rayearth. It did not save the Saturn from poor US sales, nor did it garner a mass of media attention, but it did give Sega's 32-bit wonder the proper send-off it was worthy of. It encompassed everything that made the Saturn popular in Japan, and gave us in other regions a glimpse of what the system really was, could have been, and maybe should have been. It is a bittersweet goodbye from one of the most respected systems of our time. You have done well, Sega. Rest in peace.