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Panzer Dragoon Saga
PublisherSega Disc(s)4
DeveloperTeam Andromeda RAM CartNo
Players1 OriginUS/Japan/Europe

by Wes Pringle (wes.pringle@sympatico.ca)

Lowdown:

    Panzer Dragoon was the first game that I bought for my Sega Saturn. I remember being taken aback by the quality of the introduction, the in-game graphics, the gameplay, and the overall presentation. I don't think I'm exaggerating when I say that it is a big part of what sold me my Saturn.

    Later, when Panzer Zwei was released, my sense of respect for the franchise was increased dramatically. Here was a shooter with unbelievable polish, and fantastic gameplay. That game spent a long time in my Saturn, and I still pull it in from time to time.

    But beyond the gameplay, the Panzer series has always seemed to be set in a particularly rich fantasy universe. Even while blasting away at enemies, I couldn't help but feel that this wonderful universe could not be fully explored with a simple shooter.

Enter Panzer Dragoon Saga. A RPG set in one of the richest environments I have ever seen. Two years in the making, this game has reeked of promise for as long as I've been aware of it. Now that its finally here, the question is, how does it stack up?

PD Saga - FMV Clip I am not going to go into tremendous detail describing the plot here, as I am afraid it will diminish the experience for those that have yet to play the game. Let me just say that this title excels in the area of plot development. From the first few minutes of the game, you are immediately pulled into a story that captures your sense of wonder. This is a very well written story, with brilliantly developed characters and environments.

In terms of the delivery of the plot, the game is no less brilliant. Periodically throughout the game, FMV sequences (with rendered images, not actors) develop the storyline further. These sequences always advance the plot in a meaningful way that leaves you wanting for more. There is a real sense of mystery to this story - and whenever its various secrets are revealed, you hold on to every word. I have not once opted to bypass the plot development sequences. I can think of no other RPG that I've played where I can make this claim.

The graphics in this game vary considerably. In some portions (particularly early in the game), the environments are rather plain and simple. Also, during some of the real-time cut sequences, the characters look a little grainy and blocky.

However, at other times, the graphics are simply mind blowing. For example, there is a fighting sequence on the second disk (right by the water spout for those that have played it), that just left me slack-jawed. I had to slow down the pace of the fight just to appreciate the beauty of the graphics. By the time you get to the third disk, things get really spectacular. It seems that as you get further into the game, the graphics just keep getting better and better.

PD Saga - Battle Overall then the graphics do an excellent job of depicting the Panzer world and I would rate them highly. The only thing holding down the score is the occasional bland exception.

The Panzer world has always been about mood and environment. A big part of that mood is the music that is created for the game. In Panzer Saga, the music and sound effects do not disappoint. The theme music on the attract screen gives a grand sense of wonder to the game. The in game music is subtle, and nicely done. And the sound effects! Well, let's just say that they are brilliant.

When you fly high, you hear the sound of whistling wind. When you are about to fight an imperial ship, you hear the captain barking out orders. Even the voice acting (though in a different language) is clearly done well. As a final word on sounds, here's some advice - play this game through a stereo, not through the television speaker. You'll get much more out of the music and sound effects.

Jeesh, where to begin.

I have played many role playing games in my life. In fact, I think I can honestly say that I have played all of the well known titles (though I haven't completed all of them).

As much as I've enjoyed the genre, I've always known that it has needed to evolve. The thin plots and tedious battles of most games leave you wondering why you play them at all (but I still do). To be perfectly honest, I think its fair to say that the genre has really stopped evolving since its very early days.

Well finally we have before us a game that takes the role playing game to the next level. In particular, the battles are so different and so well done that you are forced to sit up and pay attention.

In the Panzer Dragoon battle system, you not only have to consider how to attack your opponent, but you also have to consider how to position yourself. With a good positioning, you are invulnerable and in a strong position to attack. With a poor positioning, you can be in big trouble. Also, positioning is very dynamic - making the fights a bit like a quick dance.

The more you move yourself around, the less time you can spend attacking or healing. Also, particularly with many of the boss battles, it is unclear how to hurt the things. As a result, you must consider each battle carefully. There is no "auto-response" approach to a battle in Panzer Dragoon Saga.

Finally on battles, the game also re-introduces an innovation which I first saw in the old Might and Magic games. When you first enter an area, you will get into many random encounters. However, as you clear the area of enemies, for the most part, they are gone. You do not have to spend hours and hours fighting tedious battles that only get in your way. There are a few exceptions to this, but it is largely true through the whole game. Its funny how such a simple innovation can so dramatically increase your overall enjoyment of a game.

The only criticism that I would put forward about Panzer Saga is that the game is rather linear. You have the ability to go back into old areas of the game at almost any time, but if you do, you are generally just looking for secrets. The game itself plugs away along a pretty steady and straight forward path. The truth is however that with the games deep storyline, I don't know how they could have done it any other way.

Everything about this game reeks of polish. The attract screens are tight and beautiful. The character design is inspired. The costumes and environments look both ancient and futuristic at the same time, and fit with the game's story just beautifully.

PD Saga - Around Particularly on the environments, I personally was very impressed to see that many environments from the previous Panzer games made it into Saga. For example, the watery area with the arches and the pillars at the beginning of the first Panzer Dragoon game - is in Saga. As are the tunnels from Panzer Zwei that have creatures hanging from long suspended cords. Understanding what these places are, and what they represent is like being told a secret that has been kept for over three years.

Panzer Dragoon Saga is not a particularly long game. With some moderate exploration you will finish it in about 20 hours. If you explore for secrets with gusto, you will still be done in about 25 hours. And even though this is a reasonable amount of time for a role playing game, believe me when I say that it seems to go by so much faster. If you are like me, you will feel regret every time that the game tells you to put in the next disk.

I will however play this game again. Not to find additional secrets, but because like a great movie I want to experience this title more than once. Also, after having played the game through, you will notice new things in the story development sequences that you may not have picked up the first time through. I have already noticed this in a powerful way after watching the introductory sequence over again.

As hard as I try to do this game justice, I feel that I cannot. Panzer Dragoon Saga is an absolute masterpiece that has clearly created the new high water mark for role playing games. It has replaced Ultima IV - Quest for the Avatar as my favorite RPG of all time - and it absolutely demolishes more recent titles like FFVII.

All the years that I have hobbled my way through poorly executed tedious RPGs - this is what I've been looking for. Panzer Dragoon Saga delivers the experience that RPGs have been promising (but falling short of) for years. When I reflect on the total experience, there is only one simple yet arresting conclusion that I can make about Panzer Dragoon Saga...

It is the greatest game I have ever played in my life.

Graphics: 8.5
Sound/Music: 10
Gameplay/Control: 10
Lasting Power: 8
Overall: 10
-Wes




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