The Sega Saturn has multiple ways to persist game data across play throughs. This includes built in memory on the Saturn console itself and official and 3rd party cartridges that acted as memory cards.
Note that these are not the same as “Save States” that emulators produce as these are specifically written by the game developers to store certain data such as High scores or progress but Save States store the entire console memory.
Since the Sega Saturn was CD-based it was not possible to add additional hardware to a specific game such as battery backed save files as was common on the Sega Mega Drive.
Instead the Sega Saturn was one of the first consoles to have built in storage for game saves, although it was rather small at 32KB, it means that users didn’t need to buy an external memory card if they just played a few games.
Similar to other consoles such as the Nintendo 64 and Playstation, it was possible to buy official memory cards known as “Power Memory” from Sega which offered additional space for games to save their state.
These cartridges fit into the standard Saturn cartridge slot and offered up to 512KB of space for game saves!
Third party manufacturers such as Blaze and Datel also started to create their own save cartridges that could store as much as 1MB of game saves.
Third parties also bundles additional features in these cartridges such as Cheat Engines (Action Replay) and region unlocking.
If you have a Japanese console there is a third alternative to the above two options, the Saturn Floppy Drive!
It supports up to 1.44MB of game save data which is many times more than the official cartridge memory and certainly more than the internal console RAM.
Unfortunately however, very few games supported the peripheral which limited its appeal.
One problem with Sega Saturn Save Data storage was that not all games supported saving to memory cartridges and management of the saves such as deletion and duplication was not easy.
Thankfully developers have created a few useful Homebrew tools to help manage game save data on the Sega Saturn. These are split into two different categories:
Your own game saves stored on the internal Saturn RAM or on external Saturn cartridges will not last forever, so backing up to PC is vital to preserve any data you are specifically proud of or just nostalgic over.
There are a couple of tools which provide this functionality but for both you will need a Saturn capable of supporting Homebrew code.
One difficulty that springs to mind when trying to get save data from the Saturn is how is it possible?
The Saturn doesn’t have the ability to write to a CD-R or external HD, so the solution isn’t obvious. Also most peripherals use the cartridge slot itself, meaning that you wouldn’t be able to dump cartridge-based save data.
This is where one clever solution comes in, transfer the data directly from the SATURN TO PC via sound! All you need is a Stereo audio Y cable adapter and a CDR.
It is based on the
minimodem project, which is a very clever tool to send data over audio, it isn’t the fastest method of transfer but it is very effective for use cases such as this 1.
Once you have the save data copied over from the Saturn to your PC you may want to edit the data. The Sega Saturn Save Parser provides a GUI for exactly that purpose, it can load in a number of formats:
This tool has the ability to delete, extract and insert saves back into the raw image 2.
Whether you want to restore your own save game data, try other peoples or even experiment with hacked saves you will need a tool to move the saves from your PC to the console.
Thankfully a few developers have created some tool exactly for this job.
The Save Game Manager by
Rockin'-B is a very useful tool that allows you to manage save games on the Saturn itself.
You can copy save games from the burned CD and save it into the internal RAM or the external cartridge RAM. You can even export save files as base64 strings.
It can also be a useful tool to dump and update Action Replay firmware 3.
The Save Game Copier is a tool by SlingaHomebrew as an entry to the 2003 SegaXtreme Saturn Homebrew contest.
It allows the user to burn Sega Saturn save game files to a CD and copy them to the internal RAM of the Saturn. It consists of a Sega Saturn Homebrew Application with a menu allowing you to choose which saves from the CD to move to either the Internal RAM or external save cartridge.
It also offers the ability to save to the Japanese only Saturn Floppy Disk Drive which is pretty nifty if you happen to own this hardware.
The project is now archived but is still a useful tool and the source code is available for anyone interested in how it was built 4.