Is This Saga Worthy of Your Tuition Money?
When you're eighteen, you have three choices in life: you can buy a car, put the money you've earned towards your college tuition, or you can blow your money on Panzer Dragoon Saga -- one of the rarest video games in existence. This Sega Saturn title frequently goes for $180-250, so anything less is a steal. Sure, if you had two hundred dollars to spend, it's not like you could buy a Mercedes-Benz, but you might be able to get a used Kia Rio (or a Christmas present for your significant other) in place of Panzer Dragoon Saga. So which is the better buy?
If you're looking for some serious gameplay mileage, Panzer Dragoon Saga appears to have it upon initial inspection. This Saturn title is spread across four discs, so clearly it must have the longevity of Final Fantasy 8, right? Well actually, its CD-packed jewel case is a bit misleading. Panzer Dragoon Saga is actually quite short for an RPG -- clocking in at only fourteen hours. However, as we've all learned from Chrono Trigger, a polished experience that is lacking filler material is better than an adventure padded with tedious grinding. So did Panzer Dragoon Saga manage to rid itself of unnecessary elements like that legendary RPG?
For the most part, Panzer Dragoon Saga is an excellent experience. You're introduced to the game via a lengthy, albeit interesting cutscene that sets up the story in a wonderful way. This initial cutscene introduces players to the main (and only) character named Edge, who is tasked with guarding some ancient ruins by the Empire.
While exploring the inner ruins, Edge encounters a mysterious girl attached to a device, and is soon beset by a monster who emerges from the depths of the ruins. Fortunately, Edge manages to escape thanks to the captain's help, but upon exiting the ruins, he and the captain are confronted by individuals who appear to be aligned with the Empire.
A general immediately steps forward to confront Edge and the captain, and shoots the man who was Edge's mentor. This imperial general named Craymen tells Edge not to interfere with his plans as he makes off with the girl and other prizes from the ruins, but Edge charges at them in a rage, only to fall into a deep ravine.
Somehow, he manages to survive due to landing in a sizeable body of water at the bottom of the canyon, but Edge is soon surrounded by powerful monsters. Fortunately for Edge, a dragon appears out of nowhere to rescue him. Once he escapes, Edge vows to avenge his friend, and remains with his dragon pal for the majority of the game.
From that point on, the story evolves into a tangled web involving various factions. Craymen is an imperial general, but he appears to be a rebel of sorts who desires to obtain weapons from the ancient ruins before the Empire can get a hold of them. Besides the Empire and Craymen's faction, there're also 'Seekers' who're hunting down the world's ancient relics, and then there are 'Hunters' like Edge, which are basically everyday explorers.
Over the course of his journey, Edge will learn why the Empire desires these relics, what Craymen is up to, who the mysterious girl from the ruins is, and he'll identify the Seekers' true intentions. Edge will also discover the nature of the dragons, the monsters he encounters, and the towers that seemingly govern the fate of the world. The plot is quite interesting, and manages to grip the player throughout the entire experience.
Without spoiling everything, much of the story has to do with humans abusing their power and desecrating the planet. As with most linear RPGs, there's only one solution to the problems at hand, but the story will keep players guessing throughout the experience.
Much of the story is told through voiced cut-scenes that will frequently appear throughout Panzer Dragoon Saga's four discs. The voice work is all in Japanese, but it's acted well, so players can feel the emotions of certain characters. Panzer Dragoon Saga's cut-scenes aren't quite as beautiful as those in the PlayStation-era Final Fantasy games, but they're still fairly impressive.
As with the other Panzer Dragoon games, the visuals and music play an important role in the experience, and in this regard, the final Sega Saturn Panzer Dragoon delivers. The visuals are composed of rudimentary polygons, and blurry textures and pop-up are commonplace, but Panzer Dragoon Saga doesn't look too bad considering the poor 3D capabilities of the Sega Saturn. The towns and dungeons look a bit muddy at times, but they're still believable environments that are fun to traverse.
Panzer Dragoon Saga's music fares much better than its visuals, because of the game's excellent sound quality and diverse track selection. Without even playing the game, its music will make you feel as if you're exploring ancient ruins and traveling through a world that is on the brink of war. But instead of taking my word for it, why don't you listen to a sampling of the game's tracks yourself?
The end of the original Panzer Dragoon trilogy isn't just remembered because of its interesting storyline and stunning music -- its innovative gameplay also captured the hearts of over 10,000 Americans back in 1998.
Instead of exploring the world by foot as you would in a standard RPG, Panzer Dragoon Saga has you flying on the back of a dragon through the majority of the game's environments (the towns are the only exceptions). This means that you'll be able to increase and decrease your current altitude and discover secrets by taking different paths. When you reach a town, however, you'll dismount your dragon and enter shops to buy and sell weapons and items as you would in other RPGs.
Most of the game is fairly straightforward, so you'll never have too much trouble finding your destination (unless you choose not to purchase new weapons and backtrack now and then). There's a convenient world map that operates much like the world map obtained along with the airship in Final Fantasy 10, so you'll be able to travel to old areas without backtracking significant distances.
Traveling in Panzer Dragoon Saga feels a bit different than movement in most RPGs, but the most interesting aspect of this title is its battle system. As with most RPGs, the player will encounter random battles while traveling through dungeons, but the actual battles aren't traditional menu-based affairs.
What differentiates Panzer Dragoon Saga from other games of its respective genre is the ability to move during battle and being able to perform certain attacks without entering menus. When the player encounters enemies, he can circle around opponents simply by tapping a direction on the d-pad. Each type of enemy has different weak points, so if the player isn't doing much damage while attacking the front, he can easily move to the enemy's side or rear.
Once an ideal position is selected, the player can either shoot using Edge's gun (which hits a single target), or she can shoot using the dragon's laser, which attacks a group of enemies. Each of these attacks can be accessed without using a menu, and the only prerequisite is having one of the dragon's three gauges charged. Having one gauge charged allows the player to shoot, use dragon attacks, and use basic spells and healing abilities. The second and third gauge are useful for performing advanced attacks that cause massive damage or heal the player.
Positioning and careful timing with attacks is also important, because you can avoid certain attacks based on your location or if you attack right before your opponent is set to strike. A handy radar helps the you see where the enemy is most likely to strike, so if you're paying close attention, you can easily evade devastating attacks.
As you can tell, this battle system is quite hectic, but it's also very engaging, much like the Mario RPG titles. If quick attacks aren't your thing, advanced moves and healing can easily be performed by entering menus. The game's menus allow you to use various types of special attacks including offensive, defensive, agility, super moves, and extra abilities, and these can all be performed by having multiple gauges full and by changing your dragon's type.
As with most RPGs, your dragon can gain levels, but another way in which it can improve its abilities is by changing form. During battle or while in the menu on the field, the player can later alter her dragon's stats and color by putting more points into agility, offense, and defense among other stats. These statistics can be altered at any time, so you can change your dragon's attributes to match the current situation. Changing these attributes is also important when the player wants to learn moves that belong to certain categories, such as agility and offense.
Even though this all sounds quite complex, Panzer Dragoon Saga is actually not that difficult as long as the player looks for enemy weaknesses and fights battles as often as possible. Finding enemy weaknesses is not only important for ending battles quickly -- it'll also enable you to earn extra experience points and potentially find items. I found being rewarded based on player performance to be a clever idea, and wish this was used more in other RPGs.
So now that I've dragged this dragon's tail through the mud, is this Panzer Dragoon worth its lofty asking price? For most people, the answer is, no. Panzer Dragoon Saga is an entertaining RPG that has a great soundtrack, an interesting story, and some interesting gameplay mechanics, but it doesn't do enough to differentiate itself from other RPG titans of the 32-bit era. With classics such as Final Fantasy 7 going for $10, spending $200 on a game like Panzer Dragoon Saga is simply too much. If you'd really like to play Panzer Dragoon Saga, buying and selling the title quickly is not a bad option, but most players will want to pretend this title never existed and put that $200 towards a cheap car or a new game console.
· Features a whimsical, aurally pleasing soundtrack
· Includes an innovative battle system that relies on tactical positioning and reflexes
· Fully-voiced cut-scenes (although they're all in Japanese)
· An interesting storyline full of mysteries and betrayal
· $180-250 is a high asking price for any game -- especially a 14 hour experience
· You may get lost on occasion if you don't purchase certain items
· The game starts a bit slow. No English voice track