I’ve always shied away from the topic of console mods. Perhaps because it’s the kind of discussion that can result in bannings from forums and websites, auctions being shut down on eBay, that sort of thing. It’s a legal grey area – not the act of modding itself, but what modding can allow for. At the risk of indicting myself, I’m writing about it here because I find it to be an interesting topic that I hear and read little about in mainstream circles. So to begin with, let’s talk about what modifications are out there, and why someone might want to modify their console in the first place, and then I’ll talk a bit about my modded Saturn and PlayStation.
Why mod in the first place? Often, a regular console is fine. And honestly, if I lived outside of Europe, I wouldn’t be nearly as compelled to mod a few of my consoles. Regardless, I see there as being two main explanations for why someone would want to mod a console. The first is an enthusiast who wants to experience games in the best possible way. The second motive is when someone is a cheapskate who doesn’t want to (or can’t afford to) purchase legit games. I have been in both camps at different times.
The most common and respectable mod out there is removing the region lock. Most consoles have some sort of region locking, and most region locks can be overcome one way or another. The archetypal user of this mod – until recently anyway – was the hardcore gamer importing Japanese games before they were released in the West. That used to be an amazing prospect back in the day when localisations could take months, even years. This model is pretty redundant now, with the new digital marketplaces and simultaneous global launches. Still, for folks like myself playing on older systems, there are many great games that never left Japan, or did leave Japan but never came to Europe. In fact, I would almost call a region mod a must for a console like the Sega Saturn, since so many unique games were Japan-only.
There is another common console mod for Europe folks only. It lifts the curse of console gaming that besieged this continent (and Australia, our fellow unlucky bastards) until the Dreamcast era and only fully went away with the rise of HDTVs and HDMI cables. I’ve written about it before – it’s the PAL versus NTSC TV standards issue. Basically, the vast majority of games released pre-Dreamcast in PAL regions have black borders at the top and bottom of the screen, and run at a slower speed than their NTSC equivalent. Several old consoles, like the Megadrive, SNES, and Saturn, can be modded to run PAL games at 60hz (full speed) and without borders.
Finally there are mods that completely bypass a console’s internal copyright protection/security so that virtually anything can be played on them. Usually that would require the installation of a mod chip, possibly alongside a region free mod. In recent years though there have been a number of innovations that mean it’s no longer necessary to modify the console itself to bypass its security checks. These are so-called “soft” mods – mods that work primarily through software, as opposed to hardware. For instance, a popular recent device is the EverDrive, an external device made for cartridge-based consoles like the NES, SNES and N64 that fits in the cartridge slot but has an SD card reader inside. The EverDrive (or more specifically the software on it) tricks the console so that it’ll run basically anything saved on an SD card. And since the file sizes of most cartridge-based games are very small, a single SD card can easily store every game ever made for any given console.
What modded consoles do I have? My first modded console was my Sega Saturn. It is hard modded to play games from any region, plus it has an additional chip that lets me swap between 50/60hz modes on any game. These two mods are extremely nifty and have let me experience a vast array of Japanese Saturn games, as well as giving me a way to play the many PAL games I own that is on par with their NTSC equivalents. Something these mods do not allow for is playing backups, or CD-Rs; the Saturn will only run legit original games.
About a year ago I heard about a breakthrough soft mod for the Saturn called Pseudo Saturn that lets the system play CD-Rs – bypassing the need for special hardware such as a mod chip. In the case of Pseudo Saturn, basically you only need a cheap (to the tune of £15) Action Replay cart for the Saturn, a CD-R and a computer with a CD/DVD drive. Incredibly, this soft mod was only created in 2015 – 20 years after the Saturn was released. At long last, people have finally managed to work around the Saturn’s internal security measures without a mod chip. That’s insane when you consider how quickly most other consoles are hacked.
I decided to give Pseudo Saturn a go in early 2018 and it really does work! The only downside is that, because it takes over the Saturn’s cartridge slot, saving games is a hassle. Any save files have to go on the Saturn’s internal memory, rather than a memory card. That would be great if the Saturn’s internal memory were reliable – I certainly wouldn’t want to play an RPG using this thing. It’s great though as a gateway to all manner of (short) games that fetch insane prices on the second hand market: Radiant Silvergun, Battle Garegga, Cotton 2, Elevator Action Returns, and more. (This is really what I mean by a mod for cheapskates.)
My second and only other hard modded console is a PSone. This particular mod means the PSone will play anything and everything, regardless of region or whether it’s a legit PS1 disc or not. I got this specifically because I wanted to play Final Fantasy Tactics, a game that, like so many other RPGs on the system, never came to Europe.
After I first got the modded PS1, to be honest, I barely used it. Not because of the mod – that worked great – but actually because of my well documented dislike of the Dualshock controller. I tried Final Fantasy Tactics and discovered it wasn’t my thing, and then dutifully played Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, a great game I’d never played before. Having tried those two games though I put the console to one side, and only returned many moons later with some third party controllers to try some import shooters, Harmful Park and Gradius Gaiden.
Honestly it’s a great mod and the PS1 has an incredible selection of rarities and oddities. The only sad thing is that the PS1 doesn’t have the same capability as the Saturn to switch internally between 50/60hz modes, so there is no way of playing my PAL PS1 game library at full speed/without borders.
So those are my modded consoles! Mods aren’t the easiest topic to cover and I’m no expert, but if you have any questions drop me a comment and I’ll do my best 🙂