Panzer Dragoon Saga, reviewing a legendary cult classic

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  • #8323
    shenyongo
    shenyongo
    Participant

    First off, I would like to say hello as I am new here. Well actually, I have been an avid fan of CCS podcast’s content for at least 2 years now. Just now I have actually made an account on their website.
    Any way, off to the review…

    Ever had that moment where you hear about a game that no one knows about but is supposed to be “the greatest game ever made” only for it to be nearly impossible to get your hands on? For me, that moment was when I was watching the G4 channel’s Top 100 Video Games of All Time (back when the channel was geared towards gamers) and a game placed at the #22 spot had caught my attention: Panzer Dragoon Saga, an RPG where you ride a mighty dragon (I was and to some extent still am crazy for them dragons). The game caught my attention, and I knew I just had to somehow play it. However being that the game was for the commercial failure Sega Saturn, only a few thousand copies were ever made for the game (worldwide), so copies of the game tend to be sold for hundreds, and sometimes even a thousand, dollars on Ebay and such. However luckily for me there was a neat little thing called emulation that has allowed me to at last play through this game.
    So how did the game stand for me… well let’s just say that this is undoubtfully one of the best games I have ever played through.
    Having looked back at the G4 100 games of all time list, I feel as though the G4 crew didn’t really do a good enough job at explaining what makes Panzer Dragoon Saga one of the greatest games of all time (literally only one person said anyhthing meaningful related to the game, everyone else was just “OH MUH GAZZ, DRAAAAGONS!!! LAAASSEEERZZZ!!! <insert corny joke>”, just see for yourselves….). Therefore I am going to explain why I think Panzer Dragoon Saga is one of the greatest games of all time.

    STORY
    Taking placed in a post-apocalyptic science fiction world ruled by a powerful Empire, the story starts off pretty simple: a boy works at a mining facility, finds a mysterious girl, only for to watch his coworkers die at the hands of a group of Empire troopers gone rogue, who also take the mysterious girl. Boy finds dragon and vows revenge and his quest starts off from there. The set up of the story seems pretty standard, from the Evil Empire (who is also after the boy) to the classic revenge quest, however like Xenoblade Chronicles, Panzer Dragoon Saga takes those standard tropes and evolves into a much more complicated story, as the boy learns more about the origins of his dragon and the girl and how they link to an ancient civilization who has kept the world trapped in its grasp. Along with its ideas about individualism, the story is amazingly well executed, from the well crafted dialogue of the NPCs, the memorable characters, the world building, and even the FMV cutscenes that are very well-directed; filmmaker quality, even if the graphics haven’t aged all the well, though I don’t really care about the graphics as I always consider the time the game was made and released, and that I see the art style as something that should be unique to each game rather than just being nothing but boring and redundant “realism”. However even when the story is great, a game isn’t anything special unless it excels in the most important aspect for its medium….

    Gameplay
    And I gotta say, Panzer Dragoon Saga really does excel here. To start, I will explain the combat.
    -Combat
    Now one thing I have to mention is that Panzer Dragoon Saga is actually the 3rd entry in the Panzer Dragoon series, the previous 2 which are rail shooters. The director of the game Yukio Futatsugi, who also directed to previous 2 games, wanted the 3rd entry to be an RPG, but was faced with a task of having the game appeal to the JRPG fans while not alienating the Panzer Dragoon players. To do this, they created a unique combat system. Basically it functions somewhat like turn-based combat, with 3 gauges (one for each turn, though 2 for magic spells), but the twist is that adds in a real-tine element where you have to maneuver at 4 points (North, South, East, West) around the enemy to avoid severe damage and find weak spots. You use your gauge with a menu system, where you can either use your pistol, your dragon’s homing lasers, or Berserks (magic skills). There are four classes: Assualt, Spiritual, Defense, and Agility. However you do not have numerous party members, you only have your dragon. In order to compensate for this, you are able to edit the stats of your dragon (in and outside of combat) in order to morph it into the different classes (and it acutally changes appearances depending on its stats). You gain experience with each victory, however unlike most RPGs of the time, the amount of EXP you get depends on how well you do in battle, which motivates you to not only learn to master the combat system but also awards meritocracy in a way. It really is a unique and thrilling combat system. However combat isn’t all you will be doing, which brings us to the level design.
    -Level Design
    Most RPGs have this standard formula: towns, areas, and dungeons. There a very few towns in Panzer Dragoon Saga, as they serve more to serve to story, but each one has its own identity and gives you a good idea of what the world of Panzer Dragoon is like. There aren’t really dungeons per say, or rather not in the convenctional sense. Basically the areas you go through are the game’s dungeons. While most RPGs normally have a very standard dungeon set up of puzzles and waves of enemies, in Panzer Dragoon Saga, while there are some little puzzles here and there, mainly focuses on having you explore the area around you. While this sounds like a very simpel set up, it is used in a way that is not only engaging buy also engaging, as this allowed the developers more freedom in structuring what you do in each area. While in some areas you are simply flying to destination B, others will have you trying to find your way into some ancient ruin, trying to find a way out of a maze of an ancient laboratory, and even infiltrating and destroying an Imperial base. What makes this approach work is the fact that the dragon mechanics are spot on.
    -Dragon mechanics (Interactivity)
    It really is a shame how the concept of flying a dragon is a rarely used premise in games, and most of the time it is used it ends up either being underwhelming or nothing special. Panzer Dragoon Saga on the other hand shows the potential such a concept has and proves that it can be done right. You have the basic controls of turning left or right, moving forward, however one thing that is added is the ability to go up or down in altitude, which is just one simple way the game provides the experiene oof flying a dragon (in fact in some areas, like the final area The Tower, you are able to freely free around with the only limit on the altitude being the area itself). However what really makes the experiene is the interactivity. Basically what you do is use a cursor to select certain items with the dragon’s laser (be it items or entry ways between locations). While at first it may seem like just a chest opening mechanic, this function is later used for more dynamic purposes, especially when you are inflitrating the Imperial base and when you try to destroy the engine of a very dangerous ship. So even when you aren’t in combat the game can still have these dynamic moments that get you immerse into the story. Where as most games today try to have so may features that end up being either shallow or add nothing to the game, Panzer Dragoon Saga takes the few mechanics it does have and creatively utilizes them to their fullest potential. If only Game Journalists would take this into account instead of giving awards to the likes of Event[0] which was very flawed in its programming….. However those awards came from the same people who hail Gone Home as some “masterpiece” so not really surprising).

    Music
    Another really great part of the game that is also very well used is the music. Let’s just say you have to hear it yourselves:



    Length
    Being a JRPG from the late 90s, Panzer Dragoon Saga contains more than one disc. It has 4 CD discs, similar to other JRPGs of the time like Final Fantasy IX. However don’t expect this game to be putting 50+ hours into this game as the only reason it has 4 discs is due to the voice-acting taking up a good amount of memory. The length of the game is actually rather short for a JRPG, being 20 hours instead of 50+ hours (though I have beaten it in 15 and a half hours), and the world is pretty small compared to other JRPGs of the time, with there being only a few towns. There are some secrets outside of the main story but that will like still be between 20-30 hours of gameplay (main story included). You will basically be wishing for more content. However like the Garth Nix book series, The Seventh Tower, what little is provided is not only satisfying, but also feels complete. And because everything in the game is so well executed and creatively utilized, it is a very worthwhile 20 hours. In fact it probably helps that it isn’t as long as most RPGs as this allows people who are busy, be it work or college courses (the latter for me), to be able to play it without having to take up too much of their time.

    Difficulty
    Also I should mention that the game isn’t ultra hard (not like Dark Souls brutal). Basically the best to sum it up is that the difficulty of Panzer Dragoon Saga is fair to say the least. Having played through the game, I didn’t really die much. While yes I had save states I never really used one to avoid a death. However the game offers enough a challenge as to require you to do some thinking and master the combat system. In a way it is an advantage for Panzer Dragoon Saga though despite it’s relatively short length as this prevents you from having to go through long periods of repetitive farming, which is normally an annoying issue with a lot of JRPGs, without sacrificing the challenge at the very least.

    Panzer Dragoon Saga truly is a gem. A masterpiece in fact. However the game has been criminally under exposed due to Sega’s poor management with the Saturn, and very little people even know this masterpiece exists. And that likely won’t change anytime soon as Sega had lost the source code when the studio that was supposed to do the canceled PC port went bankrupt years back. While there are physical copies out there they are normally expensive as people can be such greedy jerks when it comes to classic titles. Even with emulation most roms of the game tend to not work (I believe the only ones guaranteed to work are the ones from http://www.theioszone.com), and depending on the resolution of your computer or laptop the game can appear more pixelly than it is supposed to look, and there are sometimes annoying but tolerable frame rate issues (again depends on the computer being used). Either way Panzer Dragoon Saga is a game that is truly deserving of all the praise its cult following gives it (unlike Gone Home). If you are interested in the game feel free to download it from the site I have mentioned or watch other review for a more in depth look at what to expect from the game..
    Also feel free to also reply any thoughts, from about the game to constructive criticism of my review.

    #8327
    shenyongo
    shenyongo
    Participant

    Sorry, accidentally posted the same video 4 times for the music category

    #8336
    LaughingMan
    LaughingMan
    Keymaster

    I’ve always wanted to explore this series a bit. I dinked around with the original Panzer Dragoon but never could get it to work. But then I keep seeing this particular edition always making the top 10 lists of best Sega Saturn games.

    Also thanks for pointing me to a site that may help in making these games ‘work’ 😉

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