The Final Indignity

When Sega released the Dreamcast on November 27, 1998, they kick-started the 128-bit generation, or what would now be known as the 6th Generation of gaming consoles. After years of working on a 'Saturn 2' to beef up the 3D capabilities of their flagship device in response to Sony's all conquering (but ageing) PlayStation, they were primed and ready to go to contrarily sweep away their recent history of failure to reclaim the lost throne in the West and also to build upon their newly found and long sought after success in the East. 

It seemed like a good idea to get in early; to build up a good quality software library over the coming year to potentially have the edge over what would turn out to be a lacklustre collection of launch games for their sword of Damocles weilding rival lurking just beyond the horizon. However, despite tempting the masses with a veritable smorgasbord of very tasty gaming treats, they underestimated the patience (and brand loyalty stubbornness) of the average consumer, who were prepared to wait for the privilege of buying a "free" DVD player with their “emotion engines.” 
Aw, what the hell, I don't got that long a lifespan anyway...
To add insult to injury, there were further unintended consequences from getting things off to an early start. The decision to use standard Compact Disc jewel cases for Dreamcast games in Japan and the US was simple, elegant, sensible and unpretentious. There was no stigma associated with the jewel case in Japan, as it was the de facto standard for just about all the recently successful video game systems (with the exception of Nintendo's bewildering use of flimsy cardboard boxes), including but not limited to the NEC PC Engine, Sony's PlayStation and Sega's own Saturn, which was not the downtrodden aborted foetus that it became in the West, but a glorious golden child that was much loved in its home country. 

I imagine that Saturn games and Dreamcast games sat proudly side-by-side in Japanese game stores, much like how the Master System and Mega Drive games would be joined at the hip in PAL territories during the early years – a state-of-the-art older brother pushing graphical prowess to the cutting edge, alongside an entry-level younger sibling who offered a large back catalogue of unique, simpler but no less charming games. 
It's surprisingly difficult to find photographic evidence of a glorious
Japanese Saturn and Dreamcast retail display from the late '90s
(or maybe my google-fu is lacking)
The jewel case was also well suited to the US market, as it created some distance from the bad history associated with the monstrosity that was the oversized Sega CD/Saturn plastic cases of old, and put the Dreamcast on equal footing with the reigning champ at the time, ensuring the new breed of casual playstation-era gamers wouldn't be confused by any unconventional game case designs. This was a victory for common sense, as Sega doesn't have a particularly good track record when it comes to designing their own game cases (the less said about the PAL territory game cases the better).

Everyone's on a level playing field - all games come in jewel cases, end of story.
No-one is special, everyone wins. Simple.
This was all well and good in the early days, but as the new console war evolved and was fought, won and lost, the Dreamcast found itself suffering one final indignity as it tried to gracefully exit the arena. The remaining combatants in the 6th generation war – playstation 2, xbox and Gamecube – all used either standard dvd cases, or cases that were very similar (with the exception of Gamecube in Japan, which used half-sized mini-DVD cases). Not one of them supported the traditional CD jewel case to flog their softwares, and even the often rarely acknowledged contender Nuon game system used DVD cases as well. 

In the final years of software support, the new release Dreamcast games in their shiny new CD jewel cases had a hard time getting noticed. They were often mistakenly associated with the older 5th or even 4th generation gaming consoles, and game stores would ignorantly hide them away in their dark and rarely visited back corners, starving them of sunlight and the respect and potential sales they deserved. 
Wait, what's going on? Who changed the rules? This isn't fair!
Sega and other third party publishers could not sit idly by and let this affront to common decency stand. The Dreamcast was still more than capable of holding its own against its late arriving adversaries, with the easy to use development kits and libraries, coupled with the Dreamcast's excellent anti-aliasing filters which often gave better and smoother visual results than its reigning contemporaries. A change in game case presentation was required and, as the old adage goes, if you can't beat them, join them. Late release Dreamcast games would shed their jewel case skins and be reborn in shiny new DVD cases. 
The new world order
I was (and still am) a very loyal and diligent Dreamcast and Sega fan and I steadfastly refused to move on to “greener” (read: mainstream) pastures when things went south. I eagerly pre-ordered every new shmup that came out in Japan between 2004 and 2007, and was bemused by the DVD cases for Under Defeat, Trigger Heart Exelica and Karous. Those extra tall and slender spines looked out of place among their short and frumpy jewel case cousins. I noted at the time that some other hardcore collectors created their own custom jewel cases for these new releases to satisfy their OCD driven need for consistency, but I went off in a different direction. I searched high and low for all of the other Dreamcast games that were released in DVD, or DVD-style cases, so that my latest acquisitions would not look so lonely on my shelf.  
Eggfan's collection, circa. 2006 (PAL games in another room).
Note DVD releases in top shelf.
On October 5, 2000, Sega first flirted with an alternative Japanese Dreamcast game case design with the release of Eternal Arcadia (Skies of Arcadia to you and me). It came in 3 different guises: a regular double CD jewel case; a fancy Limited Edition box set release containing the same CD jewel case along with some other goodies; and a mysterious entry in a DVD-esque case. I say DVD-esque because although it has mostly the same dimensions as a standard DVD case, it's a few milimetres thicker, kind of reminds me of an old school VHS hard plastic clamshell case (the kind that clasped shut symmetrically down the middle), and has disc trays on both sides with no feet or special consideration for stowing manuals, so they just floated around loosely inside. Most notably, it brandished an '@barai' insignia on the cover, which was a very short lived collection of games that yet again proves Sega's willingness to innovate and take risks. 
@barai games worked somewhat similarly to the successful shareware model used by Doom and its ilk back in the day. Instead of buying the full version of the game outright on day one for 6800 yen, you could choose to buy the @barai version for the much cheaper outlay of only 1000 yen. This alternative version also contained the full game, but you only had limited access to the first few levels/chapters/scenarios. If you liked the taste of this sample, you could go online with your Dreamcast to purchase the unlock code to play the rest of the game. 

It's assumed that the unusual DVD-ish case would be used for future @barai releases to help distinguish them from regular full-priced editions, but this would not prove to be the case. A number of @barai games were planned, but only one other game, Hundred Swords, would eventuate, and this was released in the same double CD case as its full version companion. This suggests that the @barai experiment didn't really strike a chord with the Japanese public, but Sega still gets brownie points for giving it a shot (at least in my eyes anyway). I wonder how this idea would have been received in the West? I'm guessing that the rampant piracy at the time kind of filled that “try before you buy” void and Sega didn't bother to try and give people a legitimate option.  
Note the extra DVD sized manual explaining @barai 
This unique case would again be used once more for a trio of Dreamcast releases on March 29, 2001 and, as far as I can tell, was never used again. One of these was licensed anime dating sim Love Hina: Smile Again. Unlike Eternal Arcadia, it was only released in this style case, with no alternative jewel case release, and the manual inside was the full length of the rectangular case, rather than a hastily repackaged square jewel case size. This would seem to indicate that it was deliberately released in this manner, perhaps intended to sit alongside the 9th and final DVD volume of the original Love Hina anime series, released just a few days later on April 2. 
I wonder if this did successfully grab Love Hina fans attention
when they went shopping to complete their DVD set
The other two games released on this day were the early first edition releases of Segagaga (SGGG), which could only be bought via Sega's D-Direct online store. Two versions were available, one was just the game itself in the unique case, and the other contained the same thing (with a different catalogue number) inside a super-dooper limited edition box set that contained some awesome Sega branded swag, including a T-shirt and Sega console logo badges in a balsa-wood box. Both of these versions would contain square jewel case-sized manuals, which exposed the plan to also release Segagaga in a regular jewel case edition, but this didn't happen until a couple of months later on May 31.
Sneaky old school manual
Sega didn't use a regular DVD case until the release of Cosmic Smash on September 13, 2001, however they would turn the conventions around using DVD cases on its head… literally. The insert was placed in the flap upside down, so that the game tray was on the left side and the manual on the right. The game disc was also placed upside down on the tray, so that the label would show through the translucent cover, perhaps aping the similar practice used for NAOMI games released to arcade operators. The manual would slide into the feet so that the spine would face into the centre, which kept the manual neatly tucked in and less prone to “dog ears.” It's a wonder many of these ideas didn't catch on, as they kind of make sense in a lot of ways. This would be Sega's only first-party Dreamcast release in a DVD case, but it wouldn't be the last for the machine.
One of my favourite ever Dreamcast releases
A number of the forgettable dating sims were released in DVD cases during the Dreamcast's twilight years between 2003 and 2005. Software developer/publisher Pionesoft would be the most prolific offender, with a total of 8 releases in a DVD case. One other release worthy of special note was the repackaged limited edition release of Wind: A Breath of Heart, exclusive to the D-Direct online store. It would use a special style of DVD case, the kind with plastic trays sandwiched between some folded cardboard (often seen in DVD box set releases). 

Other publishers who weren't keen to abandon the jewel case tradition would find other ways to survive in a DVD dominated world, such as hiding the jewel case inside a rectangular box with similar dimensions to a DVD case, usually with extra goodies inside. Both of these practices were clearly a bid to try and get noticed on store shelves, and may have even been an attempt to try and convince buyers that these games were somehow more advanced than their lowly jewel case brethren.
Note the regular sized manual with the fancy DVD sized tray thing.
A full list of every official Dreamcast game in a DVD case is as follows:
Note: some releases come with a bonus DVD, but were not released in a DVD case (for example Sakura Wars 2 – Memorial Pack)
I need a new shelf...
And this brings us back full circle to the triumvirate of excellent late release Dreamcast shmups: Under Defeat, Trigger Heart Exelica and Karous, all released in standard DVD cases. Even after official support dried up, many indie games released on Dreamcast would continue the DVD case fad, including rare oddities like DreamParaPara and Frog Feast. My original set of games in DVD cases are now far from lonely on my shelf (If I still had a shelf).
Complete (?) set of independent releases in the DVD style. 
(As always, please let me know in the comments whether I missed any DVD case releases, or to point out any other factual errors.)


ShehzaanA Abdulla said...

"Sega doesn't have a particularly good track record when it comes to designing their own game cases (the less said about the PAL territory game cases the better)."

I have dozens of games neatly packed in a cardboard box, and yeah, nearly every single one of those blue fuckers managed to break apart whilst doing little more than being stored. You so much as look at them and they'll disintegrate. It's ridiculous.

Aaron said...

Excellent article! Considering so many DC releases, though mostly indies, are in DVD style cases, they look right at home now. They do sit on a shelf below my jewel cased DC games though.

doceggfan said...

@ShehzaanA: Yeah I was including the woeful PAL Saturn cases as well, but to be fair, it is more difficult to cater for PAL territories with all the different euro languages, which means stupid thick manuals that won't fit in standard jewel cases. A few more months on the drawing board would probably have helped though. Maybe even DVD cases from day 1 for PAL would've been an excellent idea, with extra tall DVD size manuals to account for all the languages.

@Aaron: Thanks man! Yeah, they have reached critical mass now, so not so out of place as they used to be.

Miguel Coelho said...

I don't think the PAL cases made by SEGA are as bad as you're making them... Sure, the Dreamcast cases have ridiculously fragile hinges, which makes having a mint condition case almost impossible, and the Saturn cardboard versions were very prone to damage too; however, the Saturn plastic versions were very sturdy and both Master System and Mega Drive/Genesis were rock solid, surviving bad owners, dust, humidity and time, even to this day. Also, Mega CD had those double disc big cases like the Final Fantasy games on Playstation, for example, which were pretty good too.

doceggfan said...

Oh yeah, completely agree, my main gripe was with the DC and first generation Saturn cases. Although, even the second plastic version for Saturn never seemed to hold the discs very securely. In Australia, the MD and SMS cases were made from inferior and thinner plastic, so they haven't survived as well down here. And cardboard boxes are always a bad idea - I'm looking at you 32X