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The History of Panzer Dragoon

April 16, 2008 Article Start Page 1 of 8 Next

The Beginning

Panzer Dragoon Saturn Cover The early days of the Saturn were dark indeed. Sega was primarily counting on home conversions of Virtua Fighter and Daytona USA to carry its hype, especially during the summer of 1995, when it was surprisingly launched at a rather pricey $400. Although fans gobbled them up, Namco had a one-two punch of Tekken and Ridge Racer, which were being released for Sony's brand new PlayStation.

Despite not having quite the same level of arcade street cred, they both looked much better, and helped begin Sony's dominance in the console gaming field. Meanwhile, Sega scrambled to make its Virtua Fighter port look less embarrassing with the release of Virtua Fighter Remix, and tried to create a number of other properties such as Clockwork Knight and Bug!, neither of which were terribly impressive.

In these dark early days, one of the only truly original titles that Sega fans could get excited about was Panzer Dragoon, created by a Sega team known as Team Andromeda. Although it was specifically designed for the home console, Panzer Dragoon felt much like an arcade game -- it was short and shallow, but remarkably pretty, at least for the time.

In many ways, Panzer Dragoon is a light-gun game without the light gun -- the gamer term for this is a "rail shooter." Although you pilot a flying dragon, the game's path is completely pre-calculated, so all you need to do is shoot at enemies and dodge incoming fire.

In all games, you have two weapons -- a standard gun, and a lock-on laser, which is activated by holding down the fire button, targetting several enemies, then releasing. You'll then send out a homing laser which decimate -- or least badly wound -- whatever is in your sights. The only real freedom you have is the ability to turn your viewpoint for a 360 degree view of the landscape as you fly over the game's desolate landscape, which is activated by hitting the left or right trigger buttons.

Since enemies come from all angles, being able to shoot in any direction is key to survival. However, it also contributes to one of Panzer Dragoon's biggest issues -- sometimes, there's just way too much going on at once. Short of spinning the view around rapidly, the only way to detect incoming enemies is by paying attention to the radar at the top of the screen. Before you get used to it, you'll find yourself tracking the enemies' position frantically, until you can finally target them, only to find out that they've already fired off a few shots and done some damage to your dragon.

In many cases, the most efficient way to combat enemies is simply to play through the levels over and over, and memorize when and where the enemy formations pop up. It's frustrating to get the hang of at first, but the learning curve is almost a necessity, because the Saturn Panzer Dragoon games are remarkably short, and they needed some kind of staying power.

There are other issues that take some adjusting -- you don't directly control your dragon, but rather, you control the targetting cursor, and the dragon just sort of follows. It's strange to feel the disconnect between the beast you're piloting, especially if you're more familiar with similar games like Nintendo's StarFox 64. It doesn't help that trying to dodge enemy attacks can be quite difficult due to both the controls and perspective -- most of the time, it's better just to try to shoot down enemy projectiles than rather dodge them, which can occasionally be a fruitless affair.

Article Start Page 1 of 8 Next

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John Adams
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While I felt the cliques of panzer dragoon one was justified in some respects somehow I feel you’re far too connected to the workings of today’s gaming world, where sugar filled cut scenes and artificial length is added to games and some other points you have made do not seem to make sense in context making me question have you done your research wrong or did you even experience these games at the time?

The frantic difficulty of the game?

The patterns of the enemies throughout the on-rails games has always been some of the very best examples of video-gaming flow, enemies coming in waves that were created for single strokes of the directional pad and placements which lead from one to another without pushing the player as they’ve come to expect such movements, complaints about lack of analogue support not withstanding, forgetting that the analogue pad wasn’t created yet…

The minor? Improvement in graphics of Panzer Dragoon Zwei?

Even today when I’ve showed this game to people they’ve been stunned, at the scale, design and beauty of enemies and areas you encounter throughout this game, everything from the guardian dragon to the animated transparent textures used throughout level 4 and at points with water/clouds… kept at a smooth and constant frame rate…

While these minor niggles only made me put my back up, more importantly I feel you don’t understand the gaming arena of the mid 90s, we had just come out of the 16 bit era, the arcades were still leading the way in game development, games were made to be arcade experiences, a rush, a ride something that leaves an impression, complaints about the length of the games I feel are totally unjustified, so many games of that era were both shorter and lacked any replay value, being spewed from the arcade generation, along with being born from the arcade orientated 1990s SEGA surely the longevity of the game cannot come into question, games like this, Nights and even Orta are score attack games at heart, the shmup and arcade strive for perfection, the mission to get 100% accuracy winged death rank… The slow unlocking of the contents of Pandra’s Box merely to give the player an area to “play” within, these weren’t standard practices at the time…

No game is perfect and they all do have their flaws, but I feel you may be being needlessly critical on the side of bias e.g saying the FMV in panzer dragoon saga could not compare to the work of square, at this time the only recent FMV square had done was in FFVII which if memory serves couldn’t even match panzer dragoon 1’s FMV in quality…

This article could be your feeling, however more likely I feel its probably an attempt to get a reaction, to put ones-self at a height of editorial elitism to be able (in an uninformed way) criticise such a guarded game series…

John Adams
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While I felt the critiques* of panzer dragoon

Very sorry at 1am i am running on reserve power, there are surely many a typo but now i don't care...

Brandon Sheffield
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This article is bafflingly backward!

Brian R
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I definitely agree with John Adams. This feature article was written too subjectively, and biased towards the author's personal and well unsophisticated tastes. To say that the saturn wasn't mad to be a 3d powerhouse and was unable to display tasteful graphics is just like saying that "NES wasn't good at displaying 2D graphics like the nintendo DS is so it shouldn't have even tried."

The Saturn was a console of its time, the playstation was designed for 3D graphics, but even it's games can be viewed as ugly/pixelated as any saturn game. Even playing the original Metal Gear Solid gets distracting if you focus on all the clipping problems and jagglies.

The game designers used the technology of the period and tried to do as much as they could with it. Nights (for example) is horrendously pixelated and has the vantage point of about 5 feet. Though if you pay attention to the colors its aesthetic is impressionistic, vibrant moving pointalism. Gameplay and music are perfect, though not only very innovative for the time, complimenting aspects to a extremely engaging videogame as a whole.

Though the author does mention the games' commendable art direction, he fails to see that technological limitations are not bad graphics, just graphics of the time and aesthetic strength should overcome the attention given to technical limitations.

To add, I thought panzer dragoon zwei was phenomenal. The first time i played it was when i was 15. After finally completing the game, the ending song played and credits rolled it was my first real conscious experience that i had just took part in something so well conceived, executed and (above all) artful. The music, the landscapes, the flight, and epic immensely affecting. Games don't really achieve that as flawless and masterfully. And maybe the game was short because they cut out all the fat, and all the imperfections.

I'm not gonna even get into Saga, and to say the "problems" or imperfections the author sees in the game as 'nit picky' would be a severe understatement.

Its like saying bread is crappy cause it has crust on the sides and all bread should be crustless everywhere.

pff...just kill this waste of a good subject "article"/overlong ignorant blurb.