Panzer Dragoon, Reviewed by Solo Wing
A review of the original Panzer Dragoon game.
Every epic series must begin somewhere. This is the game where the Panzer Dragoon legend did begin, and that alone gives it credit. As I write this review I will keep that in mind. No matter how good the story or gameplay in later titles are there will always be a place for Panzer Dragoon. It is one of those special games, a game that should be remembered among the greatest of Sega’s creative achievements.
Team Andromeda’s Panzer Dragoon was one of the first 3D console shoot ‘em ups. It was also one of the most original games of its time. Rather than giving you some sort of vehicle or space craft like most games in the genre, Panzer Dragoon puts players into the role of a young man who rides the skies on the back of his legendary dragon.
Right from the start the world of Panzer Dragoon sucks you in with its unique style of an ancient world that has been destroyed by deadly biomonsters, leaving the few remaining humans struggling to survive. Artefacts from the Ancient Age have been unearthed, but in this sad, desolated world humans use them to wage war on each other rather than uniting to restore the shattered wasteland to its former glory. The only hope left rests in the hands of an armoured blue dragon.
The story begins with an impressive (for the time) full motion video sequence showing the amazing world of Panzer Dragoon. A hunter belonging to one of the warring nations chases a sand monster through the desert until he stumbles across an ancient ruin. Upon entering it he encounters two dragons locked in combat. When one of the riders of the dragons is shot down, you as the player are left with the responsibility of stopping the Dark Dragon from reaching the Tower, a mysterious ruin from the Ancient Age that holds tremendous power. The plot may sound simple but in fact your quest is merely a chapter of the whole saga, whether or not Team Andromeda had planned the whole thing from the start. Kyle’s journey is one of bewilderment, the young hunter not knowing what to expect around each turn and this mirrors the freshness of the player’s experience in this rich world. The Panzer Dragoon series wouldn’t be complete without it.
On towards how the game looks, Panzer Dragoon was a graphical achievement, not just when it came to style. As one of the first Saturn games to use polygons it was an impressive leap forward in visuals from the 16-bit days. Although the technology used in the game is now outdated, Panzer Dragoon still looks fresh and original thanks to its imaginative art style.
While the use of polygons was a fairly modern concept for its time, the gameplay in Panzer Dragoon is primarily old school. The ‘on-rails’ gameplay offers limited movement of the dragon while the player can aim the rider’s gun in 360 degrees by pressing the L and R shoulder buttons. Pressing one of the action buttons fires a shot and holding the fire button down selects multiple enemies, releasing the dragon’s lasers that home in on their targets. The controls are basic and easy to get to grips with, although they can feel quite stiff at times. The fact that the game is on-rails maintains the action and speed that simply wouldn’t be possible in real time on the Saturn without significant compromises. I have fond memories of playing the fourth episode where the dragon races through a labyrinth of underground tunnels, fighting off enemy battleships and dodging though opening and closing doors. In places like this I think it is better not to control the dragon completely as it would slow down the pace of the game.
One of the greatest things about this game is the beautiful soundtrack. There is a whole new language (based on Latin and Ancient Greek) that was designed specifically for the game and it helps create the feeling of being in another world. The music really drew me into the game too. I may not know that much about what goes into making a good song from a technical point of view, but I do know when I hear something really special and unique. Panzer Dragoon has that kind of music.
A downside with this otherwise amazing game is the difficulty. In my opinion it is a bit too hard. I’m sure some hardcore shooter fans will disagree with me, but if a game starts to get too difficult, and the player starts to die over and over, it starts to become repetitive and loses its fun factor. It can take away something from the flow of the experience. Trying to complete hard mode might take a while but the lack of extra options and secrets (unless you use cheats) ultimately doesn’t give this game a great lifespan. However, dying aside, the game never gets boring, so the short length can mostly be overlooked.
Overall, putting aside a few minor problems, Panzer Dragoon is a must have video game for shooter and science fiction fans and is an essential part of the series. The style, music, and gameplay add up to create an unforgettable experience. Although its sequels, Panzer Dragoon Zwei and Panzer Dragoon Saga were superior in almost everyway, they would not have been possible without the original. Panzer Dragoon will always remain the classic that started it all.
- Visual Style
- Replay Value
- 8/10 (81%)