Panzer Dragoon, Reviewed by Stephan Dolby
Panzer Dragoon is one of the Saturn's launch games, and it wowed everyone with its texture-mapped polygon graphics. But is it any good?
The world has been reduced to its knees by genetically-mutated creatures created by your ancestors thousands of years ago to help mankind, but for some unknown reason they now desire human blood. People are struggling to survive each and every attack, and some have found sources of ancient weapons which are proving effective in killing the creatures. However, the Mecchanian and Imperial factions are vying for control of the planet and have initiated a large war.
A young man is riding one day with his friends on their Khourieats when they see a battleship flying above them. Bemused by this, pause to watch, but suddenly a burrowing mite knocks one of his friends off and shoots into the distance. The young man gives chase, and, dodging the crossbow bolts from the man’s gun, it continues to flee. Another burrower surfaces to the right of the man as he is riding, and it decides to strike. A good aim and attack by the rider knocks the mite out of the air. The rider looks forward and the fleeing mite rounds a corner. As he turns the corner, he stops the chase and looks at the entrance to a strange cavern. The rider enters and walks through the eerie, dull light. After a little while, the rider and his mount stumble on an automated elevator. When it reaches the next floor, a shriek causes the khourieat to rear back, throwing the rider. The mite he saw earlier is laying on the floor, twitching as it loses blood rather rapidly. Before the rider gets a chance to pause for thought, small lasers hit the ground around him. He looks up and sees a rapidly-descending creature, encased in solid white armour, and moves out the way just in time to avoid its impact on top of the unfortunate khourieat. The rider runs away as fast as he can while the armoured beast gives chase. The young man runs into a dead end, and turns to face the approaching enemy. It slows and gets within a few metres. He raises his crossbow and fires two bolts at the beast, which bounce harmlessly off its shell. The beast reacts by growling, but as it starts to inch towards the young man, a sudden tremor shakes the room. A large rock falls and squashes the beast. A noise makes the man look up, and as he does so he sees a small blue dragon fly down and through the cavern. As he looks, he hears a huge shriek, and a large black dragon flies down, following the other dragon. Both dragons have riders. The young man falls down in shock. As he recovers, he sees the small dragon flying his way with a large firey explosion behind him. The wall behind the young man falls apart and he falls through it as the blue dragon escapes into the sky.
As he comes to, his face in the ground, he sees the black dragon pursuing the blue dragon in a dogfight. Positioned high in the sky, the black monster fires a powerful projectile at the blue dragon. It misses, and incincerates a village below. The blue dragon swoops up and stops in the air as its rider looks down at the devastation. As he is preoccupied, the black dragon swoops down and fires a laser through the blue dragon rider’s chest. It retreats into the distance, as the blue dragon flies to the ledge where the hapless young man is watching in horror. It puts its head near him, and the dragon rider stretches out his hand to him. Visions fill the young man’s head. In the images he sees, he hears the mind of the rider. He tells him to prevent the Dark Dragon from reaching the “Tower”. As the images fade, the rider says “Please…” before he collapses off the dragon’s neck and lands on the rocky ground, dead. The dragon raises its head and screams loudly. It then lowers its head and looks into the eyes of the young man. It gently screeches to him as he picks up the gun that the former rider let drop to the ground. He mounts the dragon, and they fly off into the wilderness. Their purpose - to finish the job that the previous rider had been assigned - stop the Dark Dragon from reaching the Tower. No matter what it takes.
Graphics and Sound
Boot up the game and you get the FMV intro, which is kind-of an overview of the game. It is pretty smart, and in 30 fps (NTSC), but the PAL version has a stretched version of the Japanese version, which is odd. I would have expected it to be from the original computer version rather than the Saturn. The use of Cinepak has allowed for the extra smoothness, but has compromised the colour a bit. All the movies are like this, but they are great to watch and pretty quick to load. The language spoken is an indigenous language for the frontier, but just in case anyone was thinking that it was made up, let me just say that this language remains constant for all of the games in the series. Sure, in PDS it is mainly Japanese, but the introductory language is the same frontier language. Besides which, the language is very limited and proper conversation is impossible.
The main graphics move okay, but the frame rate is rather questionable. There are some neat effects such as transparent lasers too. The backgrounds are very nice and you can change the view of your dragon from on-its-back to near and far, but they don’t make too much of a difference to the gameplay. You can also rotate your viewpoint in 90 degree increments to tackle enemies from all angles.
The sound is pretty decent. They used CD music and it features many decent pieces of music, although I do prefer the chip-generated tunes of the sequels. The music is still very good, especially the orchestral stuff, and it is made to play in time with the level, which (unfortunately) emphasizes the linearity of the game. The sound effects tend to be a little bit muffled, but they are still decent. The atmosphere is good.
It is a shooting game. Enough said. However, it has a few original features, such as lock-on lasers, a gun-toting rider and the very diverse monsters that the Panzer world features. There are different skill levels, and although it won’t take you too long to complete the game, the incentive to replay is pretty good. The skill levels allow for a great learning-curve and as Easy level is much shorter, you want to play Normal to play the following levels, and Normal offers a much sterner challenge.
This is a great game and definitely worth the sub-£10 price. Its sequel, Panzer Dragoon Zwei, is a better purchase, but this is still a classic game and one of the 3D pioneers, so if you can find it, get it.