Also available on PlayStation 2 and Windows
Panzer Dragoon was one of the few truly stunning system exclusives that Sega Saturn owners could boast back in 1995, and as an exceptional Saturn exclusive, it gained a bit of a cult following. I picked this up in a bundle with the other two Panzer Dragoon games on Saturn five years ago, so I figured it was time to fire up again for a replay.
For those unfamiliar with Panzer Dragoon - and shame on you for that - it's a rail shooter not entirely unlike Space Harrier that takes place thousands of years in the future in a post-apocalyptic world ravaged by a great war between humanity and their biologically engineered weapons. One of the nations, known only as The Empire, discovers a large tower near their capital; in this towers, they harness the power to control the monsters that roam the world, and they soon use this power to conquer nearby nations and expand their power ever farther. You play as a hunter who, after seeing an Imperial airship fly past him in a canyon, is attacked by monsters and chases them into a large cavern where he finds ancient technology and, soon after, a black dragon against which his weapons are useless. He loses consciousness and later awakens to see a blue dragon piloted by a mysterious rider. This rider makes a psychic connection with the hunter, tells him not to let the black dragon reach the tower, and then promptly dies, leaving this clueless - and probably completely uneducated - hunter as the only person standing between the world and conquest by the Empire. I assume. Honestly, the story isn't entirely clear to me as it's told entirely in series of cutscenes.
As one might expect from a rail shooter, Panzer Dragoon is not an especially long game; there are six stages (four if you're playing on Easy) and a final boss. If you don't die, each stage takes roughly seven minutes or so, I'd guess, and the final boss will probably take about that long as well, maybe a little less. Including time for deaths, you're probably looking about an hour or two to playthrough once, so it's easily doable in an afternoon or if you just want a quick revisit. It's well worth revisiting, as well; while the frame rate isn't great and the controls may feel a bit imperfect (I've heard it's better with the 3D pad, but I don't have one yet), it's still a fantastic game nonetheless.
Those of you familiar with fifth generation consoles know that the Saturn wasn't the best designed for 3D visuals, so while Panzer Dragoon certainly doesn't look bad for the era, the 3D textures don't look quite as nice as they might had game been on PlayStation or Nintendo 64. The best aspect of Panzer Dragoon isn't the gameplay, the visuals, or the story, however, but the music. The music is absolutely PHENOMENAL. The soundtrack is almost entirely orchestral, and it truly is one of the best video game OSTs of that entire generation. From the first French horn notes of the opening theme, anyone at all familiar with music will realize just how special a soundtrack the game has, and even those not versed in music will be able to appreciate just how grandiose the entire musical production is.
Panzer Dragoon truly is a marvelous and very special game. Like most games of that era, it hasn't aged particularly well from a gameplay or visual perspective, but even so, it's still a great experience and an absolute must-have for Saturn collectors. It's a shame that, other than a Windows port in 1997, the game's never gotten a rerelease in North America. This is the kind of game that would have been PERFECT for a port to Wii that used motion controls. Even a straight emulated port to a modern system with HD upscaling would have been great. Perhaps one day Sega will start to like money again. Until that day, keep your Saturn plugged in because this game is dope.
My Rating - 4 Neps
I'm Mr. Deck
And I like to play video games. I like to collect video games. I like to talk about video games, and I like to write about video games. During the day, I teach history at a high school in central North Carolina; during the night, I spend my spare time gaming. Then I write about it.