Saturday, 13 August 2022

Panzer Dragoon Saga - The Legend and Myth

 Changing the entire genre in a series can be considered premeditated suicide. Beat'em ups have tried to turn into fighting games, fighting games have tried to turn into adventure games, survival horrors have tried to turn into action FPS's and on and on and on. How many times has it actually worked? I'll give you a hint: Not many! So often, turning one game into a new genre makes 10% of it work and 90% of it into a multi million dollar mistake.

Panzer Dragoon is not an example of this, not in the slightest. Somehow, they took one of the greatest railshooters of the Saturn and turned it into a legitamate roleplaying game with scope, stakes, characters and a sense of dread that you can feel throughout its run. Against all odds, they gave flying a dragoon across chasms and deserts a sense of adventure that you can truly feel because no one place out stays its welcome and almost every place you go has new dangers and new obstacles. 

You may not be surprised to find out, but this is widely considered the greatest game on the Sega Saturn. This is one of the greatest weapons in an argument against the Playstation along with Burning Rangers and Nights Into Dreams. It combines the high flying adventures of the first two games with a sense of progression we gleamed from Zwei, then it adds in roleplaying game mechanics which shouldn't have worked but they do for some strange reason.

Let me explain. The first two games worked because the controls and the aiming system, along with the smooth flight gave you a sense of impending danger and fast pace shoot'em up action. You wouldn't think that could translate to a roleplaying game, but you would be wrong, apparently. They made it a very loose turn based system in the vain of Final Fantasy 7. You can fire your dragon laser, gunfire or special move once one attack meter fills up. Some of your berserk moves require more than one to be full so you can perform your larger attacks. It gives you that same intensity because you are under constant attack while you wait for your attack meter to fill.

They also brought in some of the craziest creatures for you to battle. During the battle, you can shift your position from back to forward and either side in order to find the best method of attack. 

There are so many combinations and strategies, it is a tiny bit mind blowing. If one strategy does not work, there are so many more you can try and it is a struggle to keep up with some of these creatures. Your opponents run the gambit from laughably easy, to nail-biting frustration and so on. If you die, come back with a new angle of attack and you may surprise yourself at how well you do. 

Like the other titles, all of this is framed with some of the most beautiful graphics you will see in 32-bits. You will see areas that look so beautiful, decimated and/or barren in Sega Saturn graphics that many of us absolutely love.

Now, that's not to say it is without flaws. There are times when the level progression can be a little confusing as to what needs to be done. Some enemies can also run over the gambit of frustration because their powers and abilities can be seen as near gamebreaking. Does it truly break the game? No, but sometimes that frustration can get a bit overly hot. The load times can also get a bit overly long, as can a few of the cut scenes. At least the latter can be skipped.

By that same token, the satisfaction of completing this quest is beyond powerful. You get that gamer high you crave and it is glorious! This game rivals the greatness of FFVII. You can argue that point until you are blue in the face and stamp the ground with contradictions but the truth of the matter is that they succeeded with what they set out to do.

The development of this game was probably one of the worst tales of hell that has ever graced the platform and that is no exaggeration. There's no need to go into gory details, but there were some very harsh happenings along the way and it was quite the sad story overall because it happened at the end of the Saturn's life cycle. This game never truly reached its full potential in the game market because the Sega Saturn was already on its way to becoming discontinued in the US. It was the story of Burning Rangers all over again. If the Saturn had lasted longer, they could have come out with true greatness such as this and other titles, but sadly, as with many cases in the Saturn's library, it was constantly overlooked.

The silver lining is that the Panzer Dragoon franchise trilogy is seen as some of the greatest games on this one particular system and only on this system. Why they have not come out with a master collection is beyond me but at least they've started with the Panzer Dragoon 1 remake. It was nothing groundbreaking and it lacked the charm of the original but at least it was an acknowledgement. These games are timeless and deserve to be given life once again and we can only hope that Zwei and Saga are given the same if not better treatment. If you have not played these games, there cannot be a stronger recommendation. Try what you can to get a copy and do not forget to lead your dragoon to water.


Trevor said...

Thanks for writing this detailed article. I have a long history with this game, and it is arguably one of my favorite gaming franchises. I am not too familiar with this blog, I will be looking around.

Anonymous said...

Nice article, but it's actually a tetralogy or quadrilogy, not trilogy. PD, PDZ, and PDS for SS, followed by PDO for XB.