Panzer Dragoon Saga - Reader Retroview  

‘Armored Mercenary Chronicle;’ Not Quite the Same
by JuMeSyn

Just Right
13-18 hours


Rating definitions 

   Certain titles are difficult to describe adequately to another, thanks to their being so unique in the canon of RPG games. Panzer Dragoon Saga is recognizably an RPG thanks to experience, money, spells, and an incredibly gripping story. In so many other aspects, however, the title confounds expectation. This is perhaps unsurprising if one has played other entries within the Panzer Dragoon series, but the incredibly gripping result of melding an on-rails shooter series with an RPG is still something the sheer beauty of which will astound.

   The Sega Saturn was acknowledged as the 2-D powerhouse in a comparison between it and the Playstation. On the basis of Panzer Dragoon Saga however, it had unexpected capabilities in the third dimension also. Town graphics can be somewhat muddy and unimpressive (while equaling most titles on the Playstation in this regard), but towns are not where much action takes place. It is on the back of the dragon that the lion’s share of game time will be spent, and the images the player will observe in this position succeed in being distinct from any other title. The creatures one will combat and the locations visited are frequently an unusual melding of the organic and the mechanical, with results unlike anything else a player can find in any other RPG.

Piranha?  Manatees?  Kites?  Only a player of the game knows for sure. Piranha? Manatees? Kites? Only a player of the game knows for sure.

   Musically Panzer Dragoon Saga distinguishes itself also. Thanks to the use of rhythmic patterns not usually heard in RPGs, the Saori Kobayashi/Mariko Nanba collaboration achieves a frequently ethereal quality in many places. In battle the number of different themes used is staggering, with over a dozen tracks being used here. Voice acting must also be given a high mark, for every line in Panzer Dragoon Saga spoken by a human is uttered by an actor. In the beginning and ending cinemas the language spoken is Panzerese, created solely for use in the Panzer Dragoon games. Panzerese is used for perhaps 15 minutes however, and the rest of the voice acting is in Japanese. It is by and large of high quality, with the sole caveat being the need for the player to read extensively.

   If one somehow began playing Panzer Dragoon Saga without knowing the roots of the series in the shooting world, the first battle would dismiss that notion. The player controls Edge the dragon-rider atop the dragon in battle. A tap of the A button will unleash Edge’s gun at a target chosen by the player, a tap of the B button will unleash the dragon’s lightning attack from its mouth at computer-chosen targets closest to the player. As the game progresses the dragon will learn Berserk Attacks, which work rather like magic. Berserk Attacks have a number of different effects, varying from healing to assaulting the enemy with blades of wind that hit for varying damage depending upon the number of enemies present, to a shield that guards one attack and then returns the damage of the attack to the enemy. Using the gun, lasers, Berserk Attacks and/or items requires the use of the attack gauge however. The gauge charges during battle, and until the required charge for an action is gathered all the player can do is move. Moving is vital, as the battlefield is divided into quarters and color-coded. Green denotes a safe zone, clear denotes vulnerability to enemy attack, red denotes high danger. There is a catch to moving about in order to dodge enemy attacks, and it is that the attack gauge does not charge while moving. Additionally, the dragon after a certain point (reached early) in the game can be modified into four variants of the basic type the player begins the game with. Each variant has a strength that is achieved at the sacrifice of another quality possessed by the dragon.

   In a conventional sense, Panzer Dragoon Saga is not very challenging. Paying attention will allow the player to come through the entire game without dying. Disregarding convention, the title is perfectly placed. Its shooter roots show through in the relative ease most regular opponents can be dispatched with, the concentration required to deal with stronger sub-bosses, and the fearsome power of true bosses. Bosses will require the player to pay close attention at every moment, for many like to throw the player into the zones where the most powerful attacks can be used. If being required to pay attention throughout the game is requisite of a challenge, Panzer Dragoon Saga meets it. Interaction helps here by being quick and responsive in all regards, although occasionally requiring a bit of time outside battle.

I killed them… all of them.  And not just the men: but the women, and the children! I killed them… all of them. And not just the men: but the women, and the children!

   Panzer Dragoon Saga begins with a cinema showing Edge and his fellow workers excavating a site for the Empire. Soon enough a girl is discovered during the excavation, and her presence prompts a man named Craymen to take her, slay all the workers who were involved with her unearthing, and launch a revolt against the Empire by means of blowing its capital city apart. The Emperor is unconcerned with the capital’s loss, and has his own plans for undoing the damage. Edge, left for dead during the killing of his fellows, awakens with a burning desire for revenge against Craymen and is soon presented with the means of accomplishing this task in the form of the dragon. What both Craymen and the Empire seek, who the girl unearthed in the ruins is and why Craymen desires her so badly, where the dragon came from and why, all this and more will be answered as the story unfolds. Panzer Dragoon Saga’s story begins brilliantly and never stops before it intends to.

   A glance at the completion time of Panzer Dragoon Saga might prompt disbelief. Such a brilliant title could be completed in a very long day when it encompasses four discs? Yes, it could. There are a fair number of events within the game that encourage additional exploration, along with some small fetch quests between NPC’s that are dependent upon events in the game to complete, that can stretch the playing time out a fair amount. But unless the player is determined to reach level 99 or something similar, the game will be completed without coming within reach of 20 hours. This is not a result of any cuts to the planned product being presented; the game simply goes by very quickly. It never feels rushed however. The story has no filler and is complete at its end.

   Locating an English version of Panzer Dragoon Saga is a mammoth undertaking, and not to be initiated by the faint-of-heart. This title was released with a tiny number of copies to the English-speaking world, and far more than its original store price must be expended to attain it now. Whether this is worthwhile must be decided by the individual RPGamer, but the game is one of the best I have ever played and manages to be different from any other title in my experience. If playing something truly unique is essential to one reading this, good luck. Selling blood is optional.

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