Title: Panzer Dragoon Saga
Platform: Sega Saturn
Reviewed on: Sega Saturn
Genre: Action, Adventure, JRPG
Players: Single player
Written by Whistler 22nd March 2014
Sadly back in 1995 international video game tycoon Sega had begun it's slow decline from glory, suffering from customer backlash due to the disappointing Sega 32x, a premature 'surprise' launch negatively impacting developers and a $400 launch price tag compared to Sony's Playstation at $300; Sega sadly didn't ever manage to catch up to the PSX nor the N64. However the Sega Saturn was not a complete failure as some may think, while it shared some of the ground breaking games of that era like Resident Evil, and House of the Dead; the Saturn also held a bunch of incredible exclusive titles and franchises. One franchise in particular was the Panzer Dragoon trilogy; while the first two were rail shooters, Panzer Dragoon Saga was developed as an RPG while retaining it's predecessors traits.
Panzer Dragoon saga is a fully 3D polygonal RPG that follows the story of Edge, an ordinary guy who is hired with some others to guard a tomb from bandits and such by the Empire. Some shenanigans goes down and the group discover the body of a enigmatic woman encased in a mural underground, imperial troops descend upon them proceeding to kill Edge's compatriots, stealing the girl and then leaving Edge for dead. All is not lost as he manages to find a gun left by the ancients and is saved by a dragon, he then goes on a quest to solve the mystery of the girl and exact his vengeance in honour of his fallen captain.
The game consists of exploring towns on foot where you can purchase goods, take up some side quests etc, and the majority of the levels by dragon where you go about following story based objectives and fighting monsters.
Of course being an JRPG, Panzer Dragoon Saga follows the many tropes of the genre with an active time battle system (seen in Final Fantasy 7 and Chrono Cross) combined with positioning your dragon to avoid maximum damage and target enemy weak points. Sadly due to controlling only one character (technically two -
While this is an issue, the game does make up for this with the ability (gained towards the end of the first disc) to transform your dragon into various forms in order to focus on physical damage (attack) , speed (agility), defence (defence) and magic (spiritual) or a mixture of two. While granted this doesn't sound like much, it does allow for some customization and a little more depth to combat (considering you can change mid combat too). I felt this was an incredibly impressive feat with the visual changing of the dragon, each little change towards either of the four main stats and the one neutral stat (normal), is actually represented. While it does get a bit Frankenstein-
Sadly visually the game is lacking, while as mentioned your dragon is awesome; most of character models feel very lego-
In all fairness this could pinned on the Saturn's capabilities as while it roughly matched the Playstation's it was far more suited for 2D rendering than 3D.
But hey ho, at least the dragon (who let's be honest is the main character and not Edge), is well designed and does come to life.
The gameplay follows the stock standard JRPG formula of getting given some form of task, completing the necessary 'dungeon', fight a boss and proceeding to the next village or progressing the story.
While it is basic, the combat is actually pretty intuitive for it's time, utilizing an ATB (Active Time Battle) gauge, the player and enemies fill up their ATB gauge and then can use their abilities etc, adding to the twist; the player can freely move themselves into one of four directions (north, west, east, south) in order to either to target enemy weak spots or avoid 'danger' zones where the enemy would deal out substantially more damage which when combined with the ATB and using your dragons' various forms to their full potential comes together for a really enjoyable experience that gives the fights a much more action packed feel compared to your standard turn based JRPGs.
However exploring the towns and to some degree the dungeons; is incredibly tedious.
Perhaps I'm being to harsh on Panzer Dragoon Saga, but the environments while giving a good sense of scale, are very bland and often quiet the eyesore with incredibly pixelated textures and low draw distance not helping either. Granted most areas do have great atmosphere, but that is really thanks to the game's soundtrack composed by Saori Kobayashi and Mariko Naba, known for composing soundtracks for NiGHTS into Dreams and various Sonic titles. While the environments fall behind other games', the soundtrack is spot on, lending itself to each scenario, whether it's a foreboding ambience while you approach an ancient ruin, or heart pounding war drums as you fight off a fleet of military aircrafts; Panzer Dragoon Saga's OST helps create great atmosphere and adding some 'soul' to the game.
However my biggest issue with this game is the length, with other JRPG's at the time and even before it such as Final Fantasy VII, Shining Force III and Suikoden (1 & 2) all managing way past 30 hours; Panzer Dragoon Saga only manages a 15 hours at best or 20 if you really take your time, hell even Pokemon Red/Blue takes longer than that. All while this game is painfully short, there's so much emptiness in between the main fighting sections and once I reach the 4th disc I found myself quickly losing interest in the game; when exploring the mandatory sections of towns/villages/camps, the game is just sleep inducingly boring. While yes why would town exploration be exciting, but other rpgs managed to have story elements within these sections keep you interested or even use them to help with some much needed character development; but Panzer Dragoon Saga does not.
Panzer Dragoon Saga is by no means a bad game it just falls short of it's competitors who exceled it by far, perhaps due to the doomed Sega Saturn system's limitations or (rumoured) rushed schedules caused this game to not reach it's full potential. However even with a short playtime, lack lustre visuals and somewhat bad dialogue, Panzer Dragoon Saga still has some great concepts that developers should learn from and was an JRPG that took all the growing pains and went head first into the transition from 2D gaming to 3D while holding it's own very unique charm.
If you're an old school JPRG gamer or want to play some of the Sega Saturn's classics then this is for you, considering if you're lucky enough to find a copy with physical copies fetching around ｣150 for the PAL version and emulators running into issues left right and centre trying to emulate the ISO files.
Sluggish town sections,
Story doesn't really seem to go anywhere.
Final verdict ,
Panzer Dragoon Saga gets a 6 out of 10 from me.