A Linear, But Beautiful Xbox Flying Experience
Anyone who has had the opportunity to play the Sega Saturn Panzer Dragoon titles knows that they were a visual tour de force for that particular system. Most of the Panzer Dragoon games were brief experiences (Panzer Dragoon Saga being the only exception), but they are still generally thought of as superb on-rails shooters. With Panzer Dragoon Orta, Sega tried to bring the series' magic back -- only this time it would be released on Microsoft's black and green console.
Did this experiment succeed during an era in which first-person shooters were beginning to dominate consoles? Sales-wise, no, but Panzer Dragoon Orta is a quality on-rails shooter that is at least worth purchasing at its bargain-bin price.
Part of what makes Panzer Dragoon Orta special is its gorgeous environments that are reminiscent of the beauty of nature in our own world. Unlike the dark, drab environments that plagued many original Xbox games, Panzer Dragoon Orta is a world rich with color.
During the first level, you'll escape an enemy encampment during the night that is enhanced by brilliant lighting effects. This mission will have you gliding through cramped, well-lit corridors containing dragons, anti-air weapons, and small, maneuverable aircraft.
The second mission changes things up with its natural beauty. Instead of escaping a crowded enemy encampment, you'll glide above streams while combating enemy drones and vicious plant life. In addition to gentle streams, there are narrow caverns that are home to giant worms, and there are massive waterfalls overlooking steep cliffs.
By now, you probably get the picture -- gliding through these environments is pleasant, but there's more to these ten levels than beauty. You'll also find branching paths, which give the game additional replay value. More important than these branching paths, however, is the gameplay itself.
In Panzer Dragoon Orta, you'll control a dragon whose rider is a girl named Orta. She was manufactured as a weapon of sorts, and was held hostage by the empire until she escaped due to the help of a renegade dragon.
When the game actually begins, you have complete control over this winged-beast. Your dragon is quite capable of anything the game throws at you. He can pivot to aim in any direction, slow down, boost, and transform. Unlike the previous on-rails Panzer Dragoons, your dragon can morph into one of three forms.
The dragon's default form is fairly powerful and agile, which suits most situations, but when fighting a powerful enemy, you'll want to switch to the second form, which is the least mobile, but gives you control of deadly purple lasers. However, when a series of seemingly infinite projectiles are hurled your way, you'll want to switch to the third form that has no lock-on attacks, but is incredibly agile.
While in the first two forms, the player can shoot targets individually or can lock onto multiple targets at once. Locking on to targets is usually the best method of attack, but against fast moving enemies, the third form is ideal. When things get hectic, another option is to use the special ability of your current form, which will usually overwhelm the enemy if aimed at a weak point.
Like the first Panzer Dragoon, Orta is an incredibly difficult game, so you'll want to choose wisely when selecting a difficulty level. Even though the description of 'Normal' says it's for most players, it really isn't. As a veteran of on-rails shooters, I found 'Normal' far too difficult, so I switched to the much more reasonable 'Easy'.
It's a shame that 'Normal' isn't more balanced, as most players won't have the skill level necessary to beat it. 'Easy' is of course easier, but there isn't much of a challenge until the later levels, which is somewhat disappointing. At least playing on that setting allows you to experience the entire adventure, but Sega could have done a little more tweaking before releasing the final product.
In addition to the generally fun, albeit sometimes too difficult gameplay, you'll find a solid storyline that continues where Panzer Dragoon Saga left off. For those who didn't get to experience that wonderful RPG, Panzer Dragoon Orta has extra modes that'll fill in the blanks on your Panzer Dragoon knowledge and flesh out the game's story. Everything you ever wanted to know about dragons, the Empire, and practically everything else from the Panzer Dragoon series is contained on a single disc, so that's a nice bonus for fans of the series.
Panzer Dragoon Orta's cut-scenes and gameplay do an excellent job telling its story, but equally important is the game's music. The game's ambient tracks are a perfect fit for its environments, but I wouldn't say they're as impactful as the music in earlier Panzer Dragoon games. In case you'd like to hear what Panzer Dragoon Orta has to offer for yourself, here's a taste of its soundtrack:
As a budget Xbox game, Panzer Dragoon Orta is a worthy successor to any of the titles of the original Panzer Dragoon trilogy. Orta is a relatively short experience (even with its mediocre optional scenarios), but its ten levels are well-crafted, and will provide you a good return on the five to ten dollars you'll spend to obtain this game. It's a shame that its music isn't as impressive as previous Panzer Dragoon soundtracks, but at least its gameplay has been expanded in a significant way with the ability to morph into different dragons. If you discover a fairly priced copy of Panzer Dragoon Orta in bargain bins or online, just make sure to experience it on 'Easy'.
· Works on the Xbox 360
· The game's colorful visuals have held up well
· Being able to morph into different dragons keeps the gameplay fresh
· Unbalanced difficulty levels
· The experience is relatively short with only ten levels. The game's ambient music is a bit disappointing