The Sega Dreamcast is often regarded as a less important console than its peers, the Xbox, PlayStation 2 and Gamecube. However, if you were a fighting game fan, the Dreamcast was (and still is) the way to go.
There was a significant amount of support for fighting games on the Dreamcast, both through official releases and through controller support. The Dreamcast had more options for gamepads and fightsticks than any other console!
Plus, arcade games that ran on NAOMI hardware (a kind of arcade system board) were easily convertible to the Dreamcast, as both were manufactured by Sega. This means that ports from the arcade were almost perfectly 1:1–even for 3D games with cutting edge graphics. Sometimes, the Dreamcast’s graphics and sound would be even better than the cabinet.
Almost every single influential fighting game franchise has had at least one Dreamcast installment or port. In this article, we’re going to run through the top 10. There’s a perfect mix of hardcore, high-skill games and casually accessible romps with friends.
JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Heritage for the Future
If you’re already a fan of the wildly popular JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure manga and anime series, you’re definitely familiar with this game. Heritage for the Future, despite its awkward name, is a game built to please fans of the series. It has nearly every memorable character from “part 3” of the manga/anime, titled “Stardust Crusaders.”
Besides the fanservice, though, it’s a wonderful fighting game with fun mechanics. There’s a very unique “stand gauge,” which lets fighters take out their “stand,” which is a magical spirit that fights alongside them. It changes their move properties, but also makes them vulnerable; you can get put into a stunned state when you’re hit while your stand is out, and they also run out gradually.
Not every character has one, though, and there are some more “normal” characters if you want a simpler experience.
It’s worth playing even if you’re not a fan of the series, even just for the creative game mechanics and unique characters. No other fighting game has a character like Hol Horse or Dio, with his flashy time-stop super.
Guilty Gear X
If you were part of the fighting game community in the 2010s, you probably heard people talking about how great Guilty Gear was. It’s a franchise that went on hiatus for a long time, but in the early 2000s, Guilty Gear was hot. There’s a spectacular lineup of interesting and goofy characters. Each character has a well-stocked repertoire of extremely flashy moves; it’s much different than what you would see in games with a more grounded style.
Instead of having a gauge just for supers, X has the “tension gauge.” As the match goes on, characters can use the tension meter for super moves, counters, or an advanced technique called roman canceling. Roman cancels allow you to spend the meter to cancel attacks into others, allowing for combos that otherwise wouldn’t exist. This is similar to the FADC mechanic in Street Fighter 4, for readers familiar. X doesn’t have much in the way of single player content, so if that’s what you’re looking for, try another one of the entries in this list. What it does have, though, is some of the best visuals and gameplay out of any game on this list. The sprites in this game are of unmatched quality (except for later entries in the series, of course).
This game was originally released on Dreamcast in Japan, but was later re-released on PS2 in North America.
Dead or Alive 2
This is a series known for its aesthetics and sex appeal, but when you strip all that away, the game is a great 3D fighter. During the Dreamcast era, DoA2 was considered a direct contender to Namco’s Soulcalibur and Tekken series. Not only were the graphics pristine, but it was one of the few fighting games on this list to focus on a realistic aesthetic. (Well, semi-realistic.) In many ways, DoA is a sister series to the critically acclaimed Virtua Fighter.
The foundation of this 3D fighter is an extremely heavy focus on the classic rock-paper-scissors dynamic. What sets DoA2 apart is the ability to use “holds,” even after getting hit; these act like parries and let you defend yourself in situations when you’re getting combo’d.
Quick throws also make this game play very defensively. It’s common for you and your opponent to circle each other looking for an opening. Moves are often unsafe, meaning if your opponent blocks, they can counter very quickly. Depending on your playstyle, this can be a blessing or a curse. Regardless, it’s unusual for a fighting game to have this much focus on defense, which makes it interesting and fun.
(Also known as Rival Schools 2)
Much like MvC2, Capcom took the 2v2 gameplay from the first Rival Schools game and turned it into a 3v3 game. There’s team-up attacks with two of your fighters, or all three. This is one of Capcom’s few forays into 3D fighters, alongside the Street Fighter EX series which came out around the same time.
The school-based setting with delinquents brawling it out over a classic shounen plot made this series a cult classic, even though it hasn’t been revisited in almost two decades. It’s considered a cult classic fighting game, which is already a genre mostly comprised of cult classics, outside of the Mortal Kombat juggernauts.
If you can get your hands on the Japanese version of the game (and have a translation document ready), give it a shot. There’s a character creation mode centered around a board game mode. The mode was never localized to any other language because of the amount of text it came with, but it’s the only fighting game with such a character creation system.
The first game did the character creation as a dating sim, if you’re into that. The gameplay is obviously more shallow, but it’s worth mentioning that the series as a whole had some pretty interesting ideas about how players can make characters.
Power Stone 2
The Power Stone series isn’t a traditional fighting game; it’s more of a 3D brawler with several characters in an arena perspective. Even though it’s very different from other games on this list, it has earned its spot. Flat out, it’s one of the best Dreamcast games period.
The first Power Stone was a one-on-one arena fighter that featured characters slugging it out with their bare fists and item pickups. Power Stone 2 ups the ante, with more weapons, more vehicles, and more characters. The game can be played with 4-players, making for awesome free-for-alls and tag-team matches, both in the single player mode and with your buddies.
It might not be as technical or skill-intensive as the other games on this list, but it’s just so much fun. There’s no juggling, no wall-combos, no two-frame combos and no complicated stick motions. Those aren’t necessary to make a game as simple and fun as this.
The formula has been attempted since by other companies, but never to as much critical acclaim. Power Stone 2 remains a favorite in college dorms everywhere. The cool college dorms, at least.
Fatal Fury: Mark of the Wolves
Although the company SNK isn’t as well known in America as they are overseas, Terry’s release as a DLC character for Smash Bros. Ultimate reminded the world how awesome the old school Neo Geo fighting franchises are.
Back in the Dreamcast days, SNK was hitting their stride. They didn’t have to develop exclusively for the Neo Geo anymore, meaning their franchises were able to reach a wider audience. King of Fighters went all over the place, to Xbox and PlayStation, but Garou was a heavy-hitter specifically for the Dreamcast.
Garou is the final game in the Fatal Fury series, which is adjacent to SNK’s other series King of Fighters. SNK brought many fighting games to the Dreamcast, but Garou stands out as a classic. Originally ported from the Neo Geo system, it’s been lauded as one of the greatest games made by its developer with an outstanding legacy.
You can also play the game on modern platforms. It’s been re-released on PS4, Vita, Xbox live Arcade, and PC (both through GOG and Steam).
For many people in the late ‘90s, Soulcalibur was the Dreamcast’s system seller. This 3D weapon-based fighter had some of the best graphics on the system and really accessible gameplay. Throw in some memorable characters and you’ve got an instant classic.
Because the game is centered around weapons and a 3D environment, the character playstyles are based more around their range and speed than anything else. Instead of having characters be defined as “zoners” and “rushdown” like in 2D franchises, Soulcalibur has a set of unique characters that are hard to classify.
Not only that, but Soulcalibur introduced the “8-way run” to the franchise, changing the series drastically from its Soul Blade roots. Movement became a lot more fluid and skill-intensive, adding an extra layer to the spacing and mix-ups already present in the game.
The gameplay elements in SoulCalibur transfer easily to the rest of the series, meaning this is a great entry point if you want to get into the franchise. SoulCalibur VI is on current generation consoles (and PC), but if you want to see where the franchise really exploded, check this one out.
Street Fighter Alpha 3
If Third Strike doesn’t suit your tastes, give Alpha 3 a shot. The Dreamcast version of the game has some more characters than the arcade version, and an extra single-player mode that the PlayStation version doesn’t have.
Alpha 3 features the unique “-isms” mechanic, which allows you to choose the way you want to play your character. A-ism gives your character several super moves and a three-bar gauge. X-ism gives you a single-bar gauge and a single super move, though it is more powerful than the ones you find in A-ism. V-ism gives your character more custom combo variety at the lack of super moves.
This game feels very different from others in the series due to air blocking and a depletable block gauge. These two mechanics alone almost make the game feel like it’s part of another franchise. Even if you aren’t a fan of other Street Fighter games, give this one a shot — the deep and customizable gameplay might surprise you.
Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike
Capcom brought the third installment of its flagship fighting franchise to the Dreamcast after its arcade release. It had three versions — New Generation, Second Impact, and Third Strike. Third Strike is widely considered the definitive version, with additional bug fixes, characters, and some content.
Even though this installment is missing some fan favorites from SF2, like Guile, E. Honda and M. Bison, it more than makes up for it with wild new additions. Hugo, Q, Urien and Makoto became instant favorites; and when all else fails, you still have Ryu, Ken and Chun Li.
Many hardcore fighting game players consider Third Strike to be the best game in the entire franchise; others consider it the best fighting game of all time. The combos are smooth, the pacing is slow and methodical, and the game’s parry mechanic has made for some of the most hype moments in gaming history. Just look up EVO Moment 37 and turn your speakers down a little bit.
Marvel vs. Capcom 2
If you’re looking for an arcade-perfect game with lasting appeal, look no further. MvC2 is a three-on-three fighter with a bevy of complicated mechanics and fast action. There’s a healthy roster of Marvel heroes and villains, and an even larger selection of Capcom fighters from many of their series.
One of the defining mechanics of this series is the tag-in combos, tag ultras, and assists. Unlike some other franchises with two or more fighters per player, MvC2 lets you have several characters on screen at once. Even at a casual level, the game encourages you to discover synergies and develop your own unique playstyle.
The other games in the Marvel series are great, but MvC2 has the most characters and is the last game to have 2D sprite-based graphics. Its community is alive and well today, decades after the game’s release — and for good reason.