Panzer Dragoon Orta, Reviewed by Neil

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A review of Panzer Dragoon Orta.

At the birth of the Sega Saturn console in 1995, a divine series was born alongside it. Panzer Dragoon, one of the first 3D on-rails shooters and later the RPG Panzer Dragoon Saga also graced the console. However, in 1998, at the end of the Saturn’s lifespan, Panzer Dragoon development team, Team Andromeda disbanded, leaving Panzer Dragoon fans little hope of another game. That is until developer Smilebit (Jet Set Radio Future/GunValkyrie) took control of the series. This year, the dragon once again returned to the skies on the Microsoft X-BOX under the name of Panzer Dragoon Orta.

Contents

Story

Many years after the Great Fall, an Empire, once dismantled, regains strength, ruling the land with an iron fist, creates a new weapon of mass destruction, a dragonmare. At one particular dragonmare assault on a town, a young prisoner watches the destruction from her stone chamber. The dragonmares turn on the tower, breaking its fragile walls, face to face with the young girl. As the dragonmares prepare to eliminate their victim, another figure enters the area. A great horned dragon soars through the skies and in mere moments the dragonmares have been disintegrated by the amazing arrows of light.

The dragon takes hold of the girl, Orta, and flees the scene, while in relentless pursuit by the Empire and at the same time chasing their own goal. To catch up with the drone, Abadd. The battle begins here, but the only way to find out it’s ending is to play the game yourself!

Gameplay

The controls for this game deserve a little praise, since they fit the console perfectly. At first I was a little shaky, but then I could not live without these controls. They are simple enough, and you can pick them up without even reading the manual. The left control stick moves the dragon and it’s sight around. ‘A’ is to fire Orta’s gun, and when held down it allows the player to lock on to enemies for homing lasers. ‘Y’ changes dragon forms, ‘X’ uses the glide move, and ‘B’ slows down the dragon. The white button allows the player initiate the dragon’s famous berserker move. Also, the ‘L’ and ‘R’ trigger buttons rotate the 360-degree camera angles, which I have been fond of since the first Panzer Dragoon.

Another aspect of this game is the dragon evolution system, which debuted in Panzer Dragoon Zwei. In Orta, the dragon can morph between 3 forms. The primary form, the Base Wing, has good defense and shot power, the highest amount of lock-ons (8), and an excellent berserk attack that hits everything onscreen. The Heavy Wing has below average defense, but makes up for it with superb shot power and an awesome berserk move. However, the Heavy Wing only has 3 lock-ons and cannot glide, unlike the Glide Wing, the dragon’s final form. The Glide Wing has the best defense out of the 3 dragon forms, worst shot power, and has no lock-ons, but has homing shots in the form of rapid fire. Its berserk attack drains the berserk meter quickly, but concentrates its fire on incoming enemy fire, protecting Orta and her dragon from danger. The evolution system now has somewhat of an RPG feature to it. As you progress in battle, your dragon ‘levels up’, and in doing this, it gets stronger. If that weren’t enough, the Heavy and Glide Wing change in appearance as they level up! You need to use all 3 forms if you want to do good in this game.

The down side of this game is that it only has ten episodes, and in most shooters like this, once you have beaten it, there is little more to do. This game has a section for extras, but still, the game can be beaten in about an hour or so (considering that you don’t die several times). Even though the size is appropriate for a shooter, the game is too epic to have such a miniscule length, and if it did not have Pandora’s Box, there would be almost no replay value in this game.

Graphics

The graphics in the game are outstanding, even by the X-BOX’s standards. Beautiful environments, like those that can be seen in the ‘Eternal Glacies’ and ‘Altered Genos’ stages envelope you into a true alien world. Orta and her dragon look so slick and smooth, and the cut scenes are unbelievable. The homing laser, enemy attacks, and berserk animations are awesome. Smilebit chose the right platform to market this game, taking full advantage of the console’s capabilities, and extending them into something much more. The series had broken the barrier of visual quality on the Saturn with Panzer Dragoon Saga, and I am glad that Panzer Dragoon Orta did the same on the X-BOX. It is the best-looking X-BOX game so far in my opinion.

Music/Sound

When this game came out, I was fearful that the developers would go wrong with the music. I will confess that I was very wrong. The musical composition in the game stays true to the Panzer series, which is a good thing, since it is the series trademark. The music also blends into the atmosphere, giving the game a realistic feel (i.e.: the music for the first stage has a war/escape theme, which is exactly what is going on in the episode). I would say that this game has better music than the excelling tunes in Panzer Dragoon Zwei.

As far as sound goes, the sound effects are very good, however there seems to be little more than one noise for each effect. For example when you kill a particular enemy, it may let out a screech of pain. Perhaps you were to kill a dozen more of the same enemy, and you would hear the exact same sound over and over again. This gets very tedious and annoying, and sooner or later, it does get to you. For this reason, I am not too impressed with the sound effects, for they would have been good if there were more of them for each action.

Pandora’s Box

This feature that debuted in Panzer Dragoon Zwei has finally returned in Panzer Dragoon Orta, and if I must say, this is the real meat of the game. Even after you have beaten the game story-wise, there is so much more to do, leaving you with hours on end trying to unlock all of the secrets crammed into this game. This time, Pandora’s Box is packed, and it is a huge improvement over the Panzer Dragoon Zwei Pandora’s Box. This adds so much replay value. Just to list a few things, there are films to unlock, illustrations from the games, sub-games that allow you to play as Orta’s supporting cast (even from the Empire’s point of view!), a box game that allows you to play simulated versions of the game with different rider’s and mounts (very cool), and an informative encyclopedia of the things you will encounter in the game. The best feature however, is the complete playable version of the original Panzer Dragoon!!! (read my other review on Panzer Dragoon to see what I think of it).

Complaints

Although the game is very fun and has good points, it does have a few things that are wrong with it. One thing that I absolutely hated about this game was the camera’s tendency to fail totally in the middle of a battle. You would think with all the control that the player has over the camera this would not be a problem, but it is, and it becomes irritating. Another thing that vexed me about this game is the new airship design. Almost all of the new machines in this game look very unorganic and far too mechanical; therefore it loses a lot of Panzer charm. Another complaint I have would seem somewhat small to most people, but this really bothered me. The font used in the game is a different font from that used in previous games in the series. Instead of the modified Hoffmann font we Panzer fans know and love, we are now introduced to some bland, Times New Roman wannabe font. Please Smilebit, if you are going to alter the series, please, PLEASE let us keep our font, it is important to us.

I also am not too fond of the Pandora’s Box design (or that repetitive computer voice that keeps repeating itself in Pandora’s Box). The design is very un-panzerish, and looks like something out of Star Trek. Can I continue to nag? Yes. The length of this game is far too short (although appropriate for a shooter, as I said earlier), and there isn’t much game here, with little replay value. The game has three difficulty levels, which should be re-named from easy, normal, and hard, to something along the lines of fairly difficult, very difficult, and impossible. But I cannot blame the developers form the difficulty of this game. The Panzer Dragoon series has been known for insane difficulty and the fact that they left that in isn’t a personal complaint (actually more of a complement for staying true to the series), but I know that there are some gamers who will not like the difficulty level in the game. Developer Smilebit has been known to try new things in their games, but changing Panzer was not acceptable. While playing this game, even though it was great, I did not feel like I was playing Panzer. It just felt like I was playing another shooter. Hopefully someone at Smilebit will read this review and will revert back to the old ways in the Panzer Dragoon Saga sequel.

The Deal

Here’s the deal. Overall, I loved this game, and I shall praise Smilebit to the moon for bringing back this terrific series on the X-BOX. It gets points just for being made. It is worth the $50 price plus the price of the X-BOX. All I can say is that I hope for Smilebit to continue the series more than anything. This is my favorite X-BOX game so far, and Smilebit says that if Orta sells well, then they will release a new Panzer Dragoon RPG sequel to Panzer Dragoon Saga! That should be reason enough to rush downtown to Best Buy right now and pick up Orta!

Graphics
10/10 (Best looking game I have seen in awhile.)
Sound/Music
10/10 (Beautiful music that stays true to the series.)
Gameplay
10/10 (Great shooting game that marks the return to awesome gameplay.)
Difficulty
9/10 (The series has always been known for its difficulty.)
Originality
7/10 (It’s no longer original since it is the fourth game, isn’t it?)
Longevity
6/10 (It can be beaten on Easy in less than an hour if you are good.)
Controls
10/10 (Fit the console perfectly.)
Storyline
8.5/10 (I wouldn’t want to spoil you, would I?)
Replay Value
10/10 (Just check out Pandora’s Box.)
Fun Factor
10/10 (I spent 20h03m playing this game. I think I had fun.)
Overall
9.5/10 (THIS GAME IS WORTH CHECKING OUT. SHAME ON ANYONE WHO DOESN’T PLAY IT.)

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