Panzer Dragoon Orta, Reviewed by Solo Wing

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A review of Panzer Dragoon Orta.

For almost five years the Panzer Dragoon community waited for a game that would continue the epic series where Panzer Dragoon Saga left off. When the next instalment was finally announced it created much excitement amongst fans worldwide… could this finally be Panzer Dragoon Saga Zwei? Just before E3 2002 the initials of the new game ‘PDO’ were leaked onto the Internet. Rumours started that this stood for Panzer Dragoon Online and the game would be a massively multiplayer experience. So when Panzer Dragoon Orta was finally shown to the public some people felt disappointed that it was ‘only a shooter’. I was not one of these people and after playing the game for myself I can safely say that this game was worth the wait. The game is an on-rails shooter but it is without a doubt one of the most dramatically evolved rail shooters of all time.

As great as this game is, I must start by complaining about a minor niggle. When I started the Japanese version of Panzer Dragoon Orta up in my modded PAL Xbox I found that the sides of the screen were cut off as the picture was stretched for the lower NTSC resolution. The text that appears when characters talk in the middle of a stage cannot be read properly because the dialogue is on the right hand side of the screen. The only way to remedy this problem is by setting the Xbox to wide screen. While it’s not a big issue, it would have been nice if the game display looked right regardless of Xbox region (and without having to mess around with the settings), especially since the subtitles appear in English on a PAL console, making the Japanese version a useful way for Europeans to play an almost identical game over three months earlier (even longer for Australia and New Zealand). However, since playing games from other regions is not officially supported, I won’t hold that against Panzer Dragoon Orta for the purposes of this review.

Speaking of presentation, Panzer Dragoon Orta has some of the best graphics for its time. The artistic style is beautiful as well, staying in some respects true to the original Saturn titles’ design and look, although straying in other respects. Panzer Dragoon Orta, like its prequels, hosts an assortment of ‘far out’ creatures and ship designs. The creatures stay close to those seen in the Saturn trilogy (one of the bosses, the Catharp, manoeuvres in a similar way to the third boss from Panzer Dragoon Zwei). There is also a range of new creatures from baturns (a species similar to coolias, but with antlers) to creatures called didars that will continue running even when they are asleep. The ships on the other hand are a mixed bunch. There are some neat designs but a lot of them have lost the Panzer Dragoon look and feel. The change of Imperial ship colours and styles can be explained due to events between Panzer Dragoon Saga and Panzer Dragoon Orta but the fact that none of the ships from the classic Panzer games can be fought was a disappointment to many fans, myself included. The dragonmares were one creation of the Empire that I did appreciate though. They don’t look as cool as the dragons created by the Ancients, but this creates the impression that the Empire still has a long way to go before they can create ‘true’ dragons. Much of the game feels brighter than the Saturn trilogy, and although the dinginess of the former style will be missed, from a story point of view it represents a new world that is free from the legacy of the Towers, giving the artists an opportunity to move the series in a different direction. Putting aside some other stylistic changes to the ‘Panzer feel’ such as different coloured menus and targets, the game is a pleasure to the eyes with the entire game running at a smooth sixty frames per second at all times.

The storyline of Panzer Dragoon Orta takes place roughly thirty five years after the last instalment in the series. Panzer Dragoon Saga’s events are known as ‘the Great Fall’ and while they are shrouded in mystery (which is fitting, considering how few people got to experience the game) it is also known as one of the darkest times for humanity. However, the world is no longer under the shadow of Ancient Age and mankind’s Empire has made an amazing recovery since it’s ‘deathbed’ around the time of the Great Fall. The Empire’s lust for power has been one of the main themes throughout the whole series and that has not changed. Now, by harnessing the skills of the humanoid biomonsters called drones, they have succeeded in creating an ultimate weapon of destruction: the dragonmare. With its new dragonmares, the Empire swept across the continent, destroying all those who resisted, all in the name of Imperial expansion. The story begins when the Empire invades a city located deep within Yelico Valley. Our heroine, Orta, who has been a prisoner there for most of her life, is suddenly confronted by these winged beasts, but is rescued by the dragon, the horned creature who has been the main character’s steed in all of the Panzer Dragoon games so far. The motivations of the Empire for capturing Orta are unknown at this point in the game, but a series of events take place that will radically change Orta’s perspective of the world. The characters, although not as developed as in Panzer Dragoon Saga, are both creative and memorable. I won’t spoil the story any further, but Panzer Dragoon Saga fans will appreciate many of the cameos and links to the Saturn trilogy. Oh yes, just wait until you see the movie sequence after the third episode! One downside of Panzer Dragoon Orta’s developed storyline is that people who are new to the series (or at least haven’t played Panzer Dragoon Saga) may feel a bit lost in places. Storywise, Panzer Dragoon Orta is a true sequel to Panzer Dragoon Saga, and unfortunately this may confuse some new fans who aren’t willing to dive into the series’ rich history.

Panzer Dragoon Orta hosts an assortment of full motion videos and cut scenes, all of which are stunningly beautiful with fluid animations and appropriate music. There are only three full motion videos, but they are completely full screen and are of the highest quality. Although the cut scenes are an excellent way of telling the story, dialogue is also spoken while the game is being played making the story flow better. The game also displays cut scenes within the episodes, however I found this unnecessary a lot of the time. Portraying Orta’s emotions after witnessing a meaningful event is one thing, but when a cut scene just shows the dragon entering a cave I have to wonder why this couldn’t have been done in real time; these cut scenes, although short, break the flow of the gameplay. This was possible in Panzer Dragoon Zwei so why not in Orta?

Gameplay is the core of the Panzer Dragoon series and with each game Team Andromeda introduced something new to the series. Does Panzer Dragoon Orta live up to this? Yes indeed. Panzer Dragoon Orta may be a shooter like Panzer Dragoon Zwei, but it also takes elements from the RPG, Panzer Dragoon Saga, and expands upon them. At first glance it seems that Panzer Dragoon Orta controls exactly like the first two games in the series. Holding down the A button will allow the dragon to lock onto enemies, while tapping the button shoots rapid fire from Orta’s gun. The triggers rotate Orta’s line of sight and the left analog controls the target (and the dragon’s position if the view is to the front). There was really no need to mess with these basic controls because they were already near perfection for an on-rails shooter. However, Smilebit have added a host of new features and they change the way Panzer Dragoon Orta plays considerably. The dragon can now morph in real time with a tap of the Y button, a mechanism borrowed from Panzer Dragoon Saga and expanded on. There are three dragon forms - Base Wing, Heavy Wing, and Glide Wing - all of which can level up if enough enemies are defeated. The Base Wing is the best all-round dragon and can shoot the most lasers. The Heavy Wing is bigger, can shoot less lasers, but is much more effective than the Base Wing when attacking a single target such as a boss. The dragon’s Glide Wing form is smaller and less powerful, but hosts greater agility and a useful healing berserk move. Panzer Dragoon Orta’s battle system is further enhanced by the ability to speed up and down using the X and B buttons. By using this boost feature you can now have greater control over the dragon’s position, which is vital if you plan on mastering the game. Some enemies can only be shot down from certain sides or need to be dashed through in order to destroy their shielded front side. With morphing, positioning, and speeding up and down, Panzer Dragoon Orta will not be able to be mastered simply by quick reflexes and that is what makes this game so great. Furthermore, when fighting many of the bosses, speeding up and down will allow the dragon to circle around his target. Combine this with weak points and safe areas and you’ll discover that some of the boss fights play out almost exactly like in Panzer Dragoon Saga, only in real time! In my opinion Panzer Dragoon Orta has the most fluid battle system out of all the Panzer Dragoon games; I prefer it even to Panzer Dragoon Saga’s system.

The Panzer Dragoon language, ‘Panzerese’, returns in this game and it sounds as beautiful as ever. For those who are unfamiliar with it, Panzerese is a made up language especially for the Panzer Dragoon series. It is a combination of Latin and Ancient Greek, fitting the game world perfectly. All of the characters have distinct and memorable voices. The use of this alien language throughout the entire game (yes, the entire game!) has really paid off.

The music was one part of Panzer Dragoon Orta that I wasn’t overly impressed with at first. But after replaying the game and listening to various tracks from the soundtrack my opinion shifted. The music is actually quite Panzerish, yet different in many ways. Some of the tracks really stand out such as ‘Legacy’ and ‘Ancient Weapon’ that reminded me of the deep mysteries and epic chases that this game offers. ‘Anu Orta Veniya’ is a powerful theme song and lives up to Panzer Dragoon Saga’s ‘Sona Mi Areru Ec Sancitu’. So overall the music is well composed but compared to the Panzer Dragoon Zwei and Panzer Dragoon Saga soundtracks I’ve come to expect more from the series. A matter of taste, perhaps?

One problem with all of the Panzer Dragoon games is their length. Although they keep the player immersed throughout the whole experience, the first two games could be completed in under an hour. Panzer Dragoon Saga improved this, but was still short compared to other RPGs of its time. Panzer Dragoon Orta can be completed in around two or three hours but there are many different routes that the player can tackle, offering a decent amount of replay value. However, Pandora’s Box is crammed with the most extra goodness. This menu of secrets offers all sorts of hidden bonuses that can be unlocked with the more hours that the game is played. For those that haven’t played the original Panzer Dragoon games there is a wealth of history in the form of images, videos, written texts, even the entire original Panzer Dragoon game. There are also mini games and side quests based around the main storyline including a seven-episode side story where you play as a boy from the Empire. To see and do everything this game offers could last about twenty hours, making this the longest lasting Panzer Dragoon game.

Panzer Dragoon Orta is quite literally an interactive piece of art. The fast chase scenes and engaging storyline make this an essential purchase for the Panzer Dragoon fan. Even if you have never played a Panzer Dragoon game, the basic story and gameplay elements of Panzer Dragoon Orta can be understood and appreciated enough to immerse you in the experience. Panzer Dragoon Orta lives up to the series’ name. But is it ‘only a shooter’? Well, yes, at its core that is all Panzer Dragoon Orta is: a shooter. But it has been enhanced to something more than a mere reflex test, making the experience much more fulfilling than the average shooter. If you dislike all but the RPG genre then this game is probably not for you. For everyone else, I cannot name a better reason to buy an Xbox.

Graphics
10/10
Visual Style
8/10
Gameplay
10/10
Controls
10/10
Music
8/10
Sound
10/10
Length
9/10
Reply Value
10/10
Originality
9/10
Storyline
9/10
Overall
9/10 (93%)

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