Expanding the Dreamcast Collection: Part 2 - The Hikaru Seven

In part 2 of my Expanding the Dreamcast Collection series, we’ll be covering one of the other systems in the Dreamcast family, the Sega Hikaru. Much of the information from part 1 (such as how to play Naomi games) applies here, so if you haven’t already, I suggest you go and read part 1 now.

Back now? OK, great  - let’s get started.
Part 2: The Hikaru Seven
The Sega Hikaru was released into the arcades in the year 1999 becoming the third system in the Dreamcast family (the first and second being the Naomi and Dreamcast respectively). Development of the Hikaru was born out of the necessity to convincingly recreate fire, water and the subsequent lighting and particle effects required for such a task in the game 'Shouboushi Brave Firefighters.' Rendering such effects in a semi realistic manner was cutting edge at the time and beyond the capabilities of the original Naomi hardware, so a beefed up version of the system was hastily developed at the request of the game's development team.

The specs of the Hikaru differ from the Naomi in that it utilises a custom Sega GPU and doubles-up on many components; 2 x Hitachi SH-4 CPUs and double the amount of RAM and VRAM. Furthermore, Hikari units are standalone systems not designed for games to be easily interchangeable like the carts seen on the Naomi. Each unit comes with a ROM board containing a specific game fixed in-place inside a heavy duty metal case, much like the House of the Dead 2 board and the predecessors to the Naomi, the Sega Model 2 and 3.
Left: Model 2. Right: Hikaru
The word 'Hikaru (光/ひかる)' means 'to shine' in Japanese, and comes from the system’s ability to generate lighting effects far superior to other gaming hardware at the time. Hikaru was in fact the first piece of arcade hardware cable of rendering scenes with phong shading and Brave Fire Fighters was the first EVER game to use the shading technique. On a side note, the first game for home consoles to use this kind of shading (albeit on far more limited scale) was Space Channel 5, giving a shimmer to Ulala's dress. So there you go, another example of the Dreamcast family leading the pack in terms of advancements in the games industry.

Ulala showing strutting her stuff in this season's beautiful phong shaded dress
The system was generally used only in deluxe cabinets with dedicated controls; not a single Hikaru game uses the standard 2-6 button + joystick layout. This is perhaps one reason why no more than one Hikaru game was ever ported to home consoles, meaning if you’d like to sample the other six games, you’ll have to either hunt down a cab in the wild or resort to emulation.

After roughly two years of support, the system's short life came to an end and was soon succeeded by the cheaper and more successful follow up to the Naomi, the Naomi 2. None the less, there were some fantastic games on the Hikaru with plenty of very unique ideas and control schemes that have never been seen since.

If you get a chance, either on genuine hardware or through emulation, I strongly recommend giving the Dreamcast’s lesser known sibling some much needed love.

Some examples of Hikaru exclusives

Planet Harriers
Spiritual successor to Space Harrier, this game plays more like Panzer Dragoon than the series it spawned from. The cabinet uses an analogue joystick for targeting, but gives the user slightly more control over the position of the character on screen, allowing a skilled player to move or dash out of the way of incoming enemy attacks. As in Panzer Dragoon however, the game is set on rails and doesn't allow you to deviate from the designated path of each level.

Beyond the lighting effects, the graphics don’t particularly stand out as a giant leap above regular Naomi games and in my opinion it was a mistake not releasing the game on the lesser powered system, thereby making a port a significantly easier task. A Dreamcast version was in fact planned for release but unfortunately never materialised. Had it done so under the name “Space Harrier 3”, I’m sure it would have been a huge success, as it's great fun with controls that could be easily mapped to a standard pad.

You never know, perhaps 2016 is the year we'll finally see a prototype GD-ROM surface, but until then (short of hunting one down in an arcade somewhere) your best bet is probably emulation.
It really was a missed opportunity never taking this game to the home market
Star Wars Racer Arcade
This one you may have seen in your local arcades as it was one of the more common Hikaru games in the west. The cabinet is a giant replica of Anakin’s pod from Episode 1, including dual throttle controls, making reliving some of our favourite Star Wars character’s moments, from the greatest Star Wars movie of all time (ahem...), a blast. The game itself however, was clearly designed to be no more than a novelty as there’s only four tracks, no 2-player support and absolute zero depth to the gameplay. Still, it’s great fun and worth a try if you happen to stumble across one of these beasts.

Edit: The Reader RJAY63 has kindly informed me that the game does in fact support a two player link up mode and a twin cabinet was produced by Sega. So there you go, shows what I know.

Some random kid playing Star Wars Racer Arcade
Brave Firefighters
Since seeing a screenshot of the game in a Dreamcast magazine as a teenager, I’ve dreamt of playing this cab someday, but unfortunately have never had the chance. Subsequently it is the only game (thus far) in this series of articles that I'm forced to admit, I have never played.

As the name suggests, players take up the role of one of two 'brave' fire fighters pitted against a series of burning rooms and buildings. The attention to detail put into the controls of the cabinet is simply fantastic; two giant light guns in the shape of hoses protrude from a hydrant shaped coin slot. How cool is that?

A modified version of the title was also developed for donation to the Kyoto City Disaster Prevention Center and is surely the rarest game in the entire Dreamcast family, so rare that not even a rom dump exists of the game online. Differences include changes to the opening movie and story, removal of branching paths, cuts to parts of some stages, Japanese subtitles, removal of time limit and the character Taylor from the original release swapping his role as mayor to become the company president in the new story arch. Whether or not it’s still there is anyone’s guess. I’ll be sure to stop by next time I’m in the city.
The custom version of Shouboushi Brave Fire Fighters
housed at the Kyoto City Discaster Prevention Center
The Ports

Cyber Troopers Virtual On Force (XBOX 360)
At the end of 2010, almost a decade after its initial release in Japanese arcades, Virtual on Force was ported to XBOX 360, making it the only Hikaru game to ever receive a home conversion.

To be honest, despite owning and having tried every game in the series, the Virtual-On games have never really clicked with me. Even with dual sticks in hand, I find myself spending most of my time battling with the less than intuitive controls than enjoying the game. Jumping to target your opponent, what’s that all about? And why is turning with the right stick soooo slow? Anyway, I’m well aware that the series has huge fan-base , and I’m sure it’s a rewarding experience for those who stick with it, but it’s just not for me. With that said, I’ll try to give a brief rundown on what the game has to offer.

The key mechanic that differentiates this from previous games in the series is the change from the 1-on-1 battle format to 2-on-2. The option for 1-on-1 bouts has been completely removed from the game, forcing you to either team up with a friend or select an AI team mate. At the beginning of each round, a leader for each team is designated with the goal being to to destroy the opposing team’s leader before they destroy yours. Do this and the match is over, regardless of the second opponent’s health bar.
Beautiful lighting effects for the time.
I can’t fault this change in structure and tactically it opens up many more options and ways of play when compared to previous games. One thing that has taken a hit however is the speed; in comparison to Oratorio Tangram, the game moves noticeably slower and isn’t nearly as flashy and exciting.

As for game modes, when it comes to single player, you’ve got your standard arcade mode that can be tackled with a friend or default AI and a Mission mode with roughly 30 missions that upon completion reward you with points to level up a customisable AI teammate.

In multiplayer, the game not only allows you to play via XBOX Live and system link but also offers the option of playing a two or four player split screen mode (Yes, modern gaming, believe it or not, some of us still appreciate a way of playing in the same room with a bunch of friends). At the time of writing, the servers still seem to be up and running, but I couldn’t find a match despite trying at peak time in Japan.

Is it worth picking up? If you're a fan of the series then definitely! For the rest of us, being the only Hikaru title to receive a home port, it serves as an interesting piece of Sega history. Hell, it's only 20 pounds on eBay, give it a shot.

Edit: The Reader CDageS reminded me to mention, to anyone thinking of picking the game up, that although a Japanese exclusive, the game is region free.
My complete collection of Hikaru home ports.

Hikaru full games list
Air Trix
Shouboushi Brave Firefighters
Shouboushi Brave Firefighters Kyoto City Citizens Disaster Prevention Center version
Cyber Troopers Virtual-On Force (also on XBOX 360)
Planet Harriers
Star Wars Racer Arcade


RJAY63 said...

Nice write on the Hikaru board. I was a regular at my local Sega Park and other arcades, and managed to play all of these titles with the exception of Virtua-On.

I have to say though, Star Wars Racer Arcade was definitely two player compatible: Sega themselves sold a twin cabinet version and you could link two Deluxe version together (in a Master/Slave setup). Also while the game appeared to be a shallow racer, there was actually quite a bit of hidden depth to it. It was also the first coin-op racer in the UK to have an internet ranking; I competed against some exceptional Japanese players and literally spent hundreds of pounds trying to climb higher up the leaderboard.

I actually preferred Planet Harriers to the later Afterburner Climax as it was a bit more subdued and you had a traditional boss battle at the end of each level. The final chapter was absolutely bonkers though and chewed up credits in seconds!

Brave Firefighters also made an appearance back in 1999 but it was only a demo version and my arcade still had the cheek to charge full price for it!!

The 1 Ross said...

Thanks mate. Is that so? Well, there you go then, shows what I know. Over the years, I must have seen that cab at around ten different locations across the UK and Japan, but never linked for two player mode. I guess it was just two expensive for most arcade operators. That'll teach me a lesson, even when you've seen and played a game many times, do the research on it anyway, just in case. As for hidden depth, I'll believe it when I see it, seemed like just left, right, boost to me.

The 1 Ross said...

Updated the article ;)

CD ageS said...

Also worth noting that VO Force, while released exclusively in Japan for 360, has no Region lock whatsoever :)

Once again. Great work. Love these articles.

The 1 Ross said...

Yes, I should have mentioned that. I'm actually playing it on a US 360 myself. I'll edit the article now ;)

MetalliC said...

"and 2 x Power VR2 GPUs"
wrong, Hikaru (codenamed Samuarai) architecture have nothing with Dreamcast/NAOMI, it uses custom Sega-developed chipset and GPU.
however it have several same "regular" components - SH4-series CPUs and Yamaha AICA SPU(s)

JAA98 said...

good article, planet harriers would have been awesome on the dreamcast but xenocider is close enough

The 1 Ross said...

Edited, thank you.