Panzer Dragoon Retrospective Part 3: Saga - 20th Anniversary Edition

Chapter VII: The Saga Continues

After the release of Panzer Dragoon, Team Andromeda had split to develop two games. While one team worked on Zwei, The other began development on an RPG that could expand upon the world they had created. During this time Team Andromeda had also brought in more developers to manage two games at the same time, with over 40 people working on the RPG. Development began on both games in the summer 1995, with Futatsugi taking directing duties on the RPG and Tomohiro Kondo directing the shooter.

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However with a bigger team, development was still difficult. Unlike the previous title, this would mix the traditional shooting mechanics with RPG elements. This was a problem because most of the team had little experience with RPGs. They also had the monumental task of developing it in full 3D. At the time a game like this was unheard of on consoles, since console RPGs of the time still used pixels or used pre-rendered backgrounds to give the illusion of 3D. Because of their lack of experience in the genre, it took the team a whole year to figure out how to rework the series shooting gameplay into an RPG.

Azel Concept Art
Azel Concept Art

During this time Futatsugi had begun writing the story. Instead of writing a story with a large cast as most RPGs had, he opted for a smaller cast of characters. As he felt a smaller cast would allow players to have a closer connection with the characters and to make the story more impactful. He also wanted to avoid cliches which permeated games and anime at the time. By the time Futatsugi was done, the script was over 1500 pages long. Most of the script was spoken in Japanese with the exception of the intro which was spoken in Panzerese, the fictional language of the series that mixed Ancient Greek, Latin and Russian. Though most of the story would be told through pre-rendered cutscenes, in total the game included under an hour and half worth of cutscenes to tell the story.

The Illustrations and character designs were done by Katsumi Yokota who had done the end credit illustrations for Zwei. Futatsugi loved his art style and felt that it fit in with the series aesthetic.

Edge Concept Art
Edge Concept Art

In order to cut down development time and production cost, the team had opted to use the same engine as the Zwei team. However it had to be slightly modified to allow for open world exploration. Just as development on Zwei wrapped up, members of the development team were moved to the RPG project to help development. As it turned out, a few of them had experience with previously working on RPGs. This brought the developer count to around 50-60, making it at the time the largest project Sega had produced. Though even with a massive development team, it wasn't enough. As development dragged on, it started to take it's toll on the game and the developers.

Several times during development, the game had gone over budget, missed its deadlines, went through multiple re-writes and storyboard changes. The stress of finishing the game on time was growing and reportedly many people had lost relationships over it. Though the biggest loss and the one that nearly cancelled the game was the death of two developers. One had died in a motorcycle accident and the other had taken their own life. Futatsugi was so distraught over their losses he nearly shut down the project. Years later he was quoted as saying.

All we could do was carry on and finish the game - it was out of my hands. Part of me did want to stop though. That was definitely the toughest project I've ever worked on. Personal relationships became strained. The stress was overwhelming.

-Yukio Futatsugi

US Box Art
US Box Art

However the team carried on. Despite all the hardships and loved ones lost during development, the game was finished by the fall of 1997. During this time the soundtrack work on the soundtrack had begun. This time the music was composed by three people, Saori Kobayashi (Sonic Drift 2, Sonic Triple Trouble & NIGHTS Into Dreams), Mariko Nanba (Knuckles’ Chaotix, Dragon Force) and Hayato Matsuo (Densetsu no Ogre Battle, Master of Monsters). The game’s theme Sona Mi Areru Ec Sancitu was written by Kobayashi and sung by vocalist Eri Ito. The entire song was sung in Panzerees, the world’s fictional language that was a mix of Latin, Ancient Greek and Russian, and translates to Art Thou The Holy One. The soundtrack was inspired by tribal and modern music from around the world, mixing South American, African, Classical and New Age.

Sega officially unveiled the game at E3 1997, In Japan the game was titled Azel: Panzer Dragoon RPG but was changed for North America and Europe to Panzer Dragoon Saga. Japanese gamers got the game on January 29th 1998. American Saturn owners waited until April 30th while Europe saw a release on June 5th.

Japanese Box Art
Japanese Box Art

Chapter VIII: Panzer Dragoon Saga

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Panzer Dragoon Saga take place many years after the previous games. The game opened with a young mercenary named Edge, who was hired by the Empire to guard an excavation site called Site 4. After months of inactivity, workers had re-awoken an ancient Pure-Type and Edge was called down to fight the beast. Meanwhile a fleet of black ships were headed towards the excavation site. The fleet was helmed by Craymen, the leader of the Empire's Black Fleet, who had recently gone rouge and operated a rebellion against the Empire.

As Edge and his men confronted the Pure-Type, they discovered that it was a lot more powerful than any Pure-Type they had encountered previously. When Edge reached for a more powerful gun, the Pure-Type took a swipe at him with it's claw. However the beast had missed and ripped open a hole in a wall.

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To his surprised behind the wall was a young girl who appeared to be sleeping. Edge was mesmerized by her however he wasn't the only one as her reveal had caused the Pure-Type to halt, giving Edge time to aim and fire the weapon at the floor and causing the Pure-Type fall below.

As Edge escorted the injured out of the mine, two men were shot and killed by a Zastava, a deranged and masked henchman of Craymen. Just as he was about to kill Edge, Craymen demanded he cease fire. At first Craymen ignored Edge’s plead for answers, however upon mentioning the girl caught Craymen's attention. Edge was then knocked out by Arwen, Craymen’s second-in-command as Craymen ordered his men into the site to find the girl.

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When he awoke, Edge saw the fleet leaving with the girl in tow. He tried chasing after them only to be stopped and shot by Zastava who laughed as his body falls into a dark abyss. As the Black Fleet leaves, Craymen mentioned that a surprise they left at the Imperial City will go off at any moment.

Meanwhile at the Imperial City, a flash of blinding light went off and the city was destroyed. As the Emperor watched the destruction from a distance, he was informed that Ancient Technology was used to reduce the city to nothing. Knowing this was the work of Craymen, he ordered his men to hunt him down with their flagship the Grig Orig.

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It is then that the game talks directly to the player, asking for your real name. While this appears to be useless, it does serve a purpose later in the story. Upon entering your name, a small ball of light flew down a shaft and into a pool of water where Edge’s body was floating.

Edge gain consciousness and swam to the nearest land, surprised to see he survived the fall. This area also acted like a short tutorial, helping the player get used to the controls when controlling Edge. You could interact with people and objects by pressing A or C would bring up a cursor that could lock onto the nearest object or person. Pressing them again would confirm your choice. Pressing B would cancel your choice. Y would change your perspective, L & R would change your camera and pressing Start would bring up your menu.

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Edge found a gun and key that let him take a nearby elevator. However upon taking the elevator, it took him to a floor that was crawling with Pure-Types. His new weapon malfunctioned and it seemed like all was lost. Just then several beams of energy came out of the darkness and killed the Pure-Types, saving Edge’s life.

Edge was surprised to see his savior was a Dragon. The Dragon then used telepathy to communicate with Edge, showing him visions of the past as well as his missions to destroy all the towers. With his gun in hand, Edge takes off on the Dragon to seek revenge on Craymen.

Upon exiting the ruins, Edge and the Dragon found themselves in a vast valley where players were introduced to flight mode. While in this mode pressing up or down would change your altitude while you could turn with left or right. Much like when controlling Edge, pressing A or C would bring up your lock-on cursor and B would cancel. However in this mode Pressing Y would bring up your map and Z would let you chose a destination marker. You could also Fly backwards with L and B or do several tricks while holding R and going left or right. This also lead to a new feature of the game, the battles.

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Much like most RPGs, battles were random and would take place on a separate screen. The gameplay mixed shooting a turn-based battles, you could attack when one of the three Synchronized Gauges on the bottom right of the screen were filled. Pressing A would fire your gun while B would fire your Dragon’s homing laser. You could press start and go into a menu mode to select these options and more including using items and special Berserk Attacks. However some attacks would cost more than one gauge and also required BP or Berserk Points. Your HP and BP were located on the bottom screen along with the status bar that told you when your dragon was poisoned or paralyzed. Most interesting was the Battle Radar, during battle your dragon was positioned around the enemies. Pressing Left or Right would let you move into another position. The radar would not only show your position but also which positions were safe or dangerous. These mechanics made gameplay strategic as some enemies could only be attacked at certain positions and others couldn’t be killed with just the gun or homing lasers.

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At the end of every battle. players would be given EXP, money and be ranked on their performance. When enough EXP was obtained, the player would level up. However when the Dragon reached a certain level, it could evolve into a new form. This form could also be changed to be customized to be stronger or weak in one of four categories including Attack, Defense, Spirituality or Agility. Edge could also have his gun customized with parts bought from shops. These changes could be made during battles.

When players exited an area, they would go to the fully 3D world map. Here you could choose where to go next and see where the Empire and Craymen were headed. As they were about to exit the Valley, Edge came across a defenseless man being attacked by a monster. After it was defeated the half-masked man introduced himself as Gash, a member of a group of thieves calling themselves The Seekers. Edge was weary of the man but saw he had no choice but to help him after his coolia was killed in the attack. The two then head to Canius Village only to find it in ruins and the two decide to make camp there.

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While sitting at a fire, Edge tells Gash about how he met the dragon and his plans for revenge on Craymen. Gash then reveals that a member of the Seekers who was killed in Canius had left a message saying that Craymen was responsible for the the destruction of the village. At dawn the two headed towards the Garil Desert where they found massive sand worms and flat creatures called Lathums. When they headed underground, they were attacked by a flying monster called Gigra.

After the encounter, they found the end of the desert and Gash left the party. Before he left however, Gash handed Edge a pendant that would help him find more information with a nearby caravan. Upon reaching the caravan, Edge showed the pendant to their leader, a hunter named An’jou who told him about how they had been attacked by Craymen and that he appeared to be heading towards a dangerous area called the Forbidden Zone.

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When they arrived, they found flooded ancient ruins and a machine called the Sky Transporter. Upon activation, it sent them above the clouds where Craymen and his fleet are waiting. As they caught up, the flagship was alerted to their presence and a battle ensued. However when Edge boarded the defeated ship where he found a wounded Arwen who explained that Craymen is far away looking for a Tower and set a trap for them knowing Edge would catch up. Just then the ship was attacked by a black dragon that, to Edge’s surprise, was being ridden by the mysterious girl he saw at the excavation site.

The two battled it out but the girl’s dragon was too weak and they escaped before Edge could take it out. Knowing what Craymen is after, Edge flew to a nearby village of Zoah. There he found a rigidly divided city. The place was divided into two districts, The religious Holy District and the commercial Liberal District. Because the Holy District was sealed off to merchants and hunters, Edge could only visit the Liberal District.

Eventually Edge found a lead to the Tower in the form a local bar keeper who showed Edge a supposed photo of the mysterious Tower and directed him to a man named Paet, a young man who tinkered with ancient technology. After talking with him, Paet agreed to give Edge information on the Tower but only if he could recover ancient parts from Georgius. When Edge flew to the location, he found a flooded area with a massive hurricane in the middle. Once the hurricane dissipated, it was then revealed that Georgius is actually the final resting place of the Schelcoof, the infamous airship from Panzer Dragoon Zwei. He grabbed the parts and returned, only to be scolded by Paet for grabbing the wrong parts. When the two returned to Georgius, they found that a massive hole had been recently bored into the side of the ship.

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Upon entering the hull, Edge found the Empire was salvaging ancient technology from the ship as well as the remains of the Guardian Dragon. However Edge’s visit was cut short as he had been spotted by a guard and was knocked out When he came to, Edge found himself tied up and being interrogated by imperial soldiers. During the interrogation and accused of being a spy for Crayman, one of the interrogators found a picture of the Tower among Edge’s belongings. As the guards left to inform their superiors, Gash snuck into the room and rescued Edge. Suddenly the ship was attacked and went into full alert, giving them a chance to escape. When they got on deck Edge found the Dragon waiting for them and a battle with the gunship ensues.

The ship was also carrying the Guardian Dragon’s remains and eventually the beast reawakened, leading to a second battle with the a ancient beast. However the Guardian Dragon was weak from it's long slumber and was finally defeated for good. The party headed to camp and Edge was disappointed he couldn’t find the ship parts. However Gash handed him the ancient parts he was looking for.

When he returned, Paet wasn’t worried about the parts anymore as he had discovered Edge’s dragon. Paet explained that he was a scientist who studied ancient technology. He then revealed that he had never seen the Tower in person. Instead he used an ancient monitoring system to catch a glimpse of the Tower and print out the picture he gave Edge. He knew where it was located and pointed Edge in the direction of the ancient ruins of Uru.

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Upon his arrival, he found a vast submerged city in the middle of a lake. After finding several keys and opening areas of the ruins, Edge was then confronted by a familiar laugh. However before Edge could fight Zastava, a huge Pure-Type called Drenholm attacked. Though the Pure-Type was defeated, the battle wasn’t over as the Black Dragon and it’s mysterious female rider had returned. As the two fought they both charged at each other, which inadvertently knocked both riders off their dragons and into the ruins.

When Edge awoke, he found himself in a pitch black tunnel surrounded by creatures. However he wasn’t alone as the mysterious girl was there warning him to stay still since the creatures were blind. Using a flare, Edge was able to find the girl pinned to the ground by an ancient vehicle. For saving him, Edge decided to return the favor and helped her get free. The two agreed to help each other until they could escape.

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Using the vehicle she was pinned against, Edge and the girl flew through the labyrinthine ruins. They found the way to the surface but it was blocked by a creature called Energ. Though the monster fled only to return with a even bigger creature called Basilius. After being chased, the two found the elevator and took the long ride to the surface just in the nick of time.

During the trip, the girl introduced herself as Azel and explained that she was not human and had been asleep since the ancient age. She also explained to Edge that Craymen was trying to save the world but it was not enough to convince him. Just then their chat was cut short as Basilius had caught up with them. As the beast tore open the elevator, Edge and Azel were thrown off. When the two plummeted down the shaft, they suddenly found themselves floating in a force field. Their savior turned out to be Edge's Dragon and the party left the ruins. The two parted ways and Azel was reunited with her dragon Atolm. Though it wouldn’t be the last time they saw each other.

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As Edge returned to camp, he was greeted by Paet who came with good news. He had discovered that the reason why no one could find the Tower was due to an ancient machine that covered the area with dense fog called the Mel-Kava. He suggested looking into the Holy District’s historical records on the ancient machine and handed Edge a pass to the Holy District. After using the pass, Edge was greeted by the most powerful man in Zoah, Vaiman who turned out to be Paet’s father. Vaiman explained that he was next to be elected High Priest of Zoah and claimed to have prophesied that a dragon and it’s rider would save the city. He would help Edge but only if they helped fulfill his “Prophecy” and take care of a nearby Imperial Air Post.Which in turn would assure his bid for High Priest. Edge agreed and took off for the base which was located near the Ruins of Uru.

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Edge snuck into the base early in the morning during dark and destroyed the central control tower. In an act of retaliation the Empire launched the Deathmaker, a massive missile/ship headed straight for Zoah. Thankfully Edge was able to defeat the behemoth and returned to Zoah. Edge told Vaiman the good news but was informed by Paet that he had received a mysterious letter asking Edge to come by Paet’s work area after dark. Upon arriving there Edge was shocked to find the letter was from Craymen. Edge initially drew his weapon but soon found that Craymen wasn’t alone. He explained his reasoning for turning on the Empire, claiming that he was trying to stop the Empire’s plans and that everything he had done was justified and asking for Edge’s help. However before Edge could answer Craymen flew away with Zastava.

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The next day Edge was handed the key to the city’s archives located in the church. There he found an ancient relic called the Guardian Fire. However touching the artifact caused Edge to receive visions of the Mel-Kava. After learning the location of the ship, he headed out to its location. Edge flew into the ship and reached its ancient engines, successfully disabling it. This caused the ship to explode and the skies around the Tower cleared up. Just then Azel was waiting for him and the two fought one more time before Edge defeated Atolm and saved an unconscious Azel. When Edge made it back to Zoah, he was surprised to find the Empire's flagship the Grig Orig was just outside the city.

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In retaliation for the attack on the air base.The Grig Orig shot at the defenseless city with one blast of its energy cannon, reducing the city to dust. Edge tried to fight back but the ship was too powerful and they retreated. Just then Craymen’s fleet appeared. Edge saw this as an opportunity to get back at Zastava and the two battled. Edge then fatally wounded Zastava him. Though just before he died, he told Edge to meet Craymen at the Tower.

Upon reaching the Tower with Azel in tow, Edge found Craymen waiting for him. While healing Azel, Craymen then that he explains that the ancients created a network of towers that controlled the environment and and watched over all living things. They were also responsible for creating Pure-Types. Craymen knew of the Empire’s plan to reactivate the Tower and so decided to use his men to use it as a weapon to fight back. He also explained that Azel was a drone designed specifically to oversee and interface with the Tower. The Empire was looking for her as well and so he reached her before they could.

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Just then the Empire infiltrated the Tower and Edge fought to stop them from gaining control, while Craymen stayed behind in the Control Room to watch over and restore Azel. However Edge was too late to realize that it was a diversion and upon his return he found the Emperor and his men had Craymen and Azel surrounded. The Emperor then shot Craymen and forced a distraught Azel to activate the Tower at gunpoint. However this would be the Emperor’s undoing. Reactivating the Tower , many Pure-Types within the Tower were as awaken. Including one Pure-Type in the Control Room that attacked and killed the Emperor and his guards. Unfortunately Craymen also became a victim of the Pure-Type as Edge and Azel got away.

As they fled, thousands of Pure-Types poured out of the Tower and the Grig Orig headed in its direction. In the end the Empire was no match for the Pure-Types and the fleet was instantly destroyed. The flagship of the Empire was infested. Edge stopped by the Caravan where one of the Seekers was waiting and handed him the location of the Seekers Stronghold.

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Upon his arrival, he left Azel in their care. Gash then revealed the Seekers true purpose. The group weren't thieves but scholars who collected information on the Ancients technology to make sure no one could use their destructive power. They were founded by Gash’s mentor Jean-Luc Lundi, the protagonist from Panzer Dragoon Zwei. After taking down the Schelcoof, Lundi sealed his sleeping dragon in the airship and left to discover the secrets of the ancients and their Towers. Edge came to realize that the Towers were created by the ancients to assure humans were oppressed so as to prevent another cataclysm.

To free humanity, the Towers must be destroyed. In order to do so the Seekers were searching for the Divine Visitor, a being prophesied to destroy the Towers and end the Ancient’s legacy. Gash believed Edge and his dragon were the Divine Visitor and entrusted them with the difficult task. Though the Towers were numerous, so destroying them individually would be difficult. However they were all linked and controlled by a network called Sestren. Their plan was to use Azel to open the network and send Edge into the system to destroy Sestren, freeing humanity from the tyranny of the Towers.

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Just then Azel had come to but was disoriented and disturbed by what appeared to have been her first dream which was not common for drones. As the two reunited, more trouble reared as the infected Grig Orig was heading straight towards the stronghold. Edge took his dragon and flew straight towards the flagship to end it’s destruction. At the Forest of Zoah, Edge took on the behemoth airship and destroyed it for good. However upon his return to the stronghold, he was shocked to find Azel had snuck out during the attack. Knowing where she was headed, Edge flew to the Ruins of Uru.

There he found her surrounded by monsters, the two left and headed back to the stronghold to attend a funeral for those who died during the attack. Gash then told Edge that due to their depleted numbers, they wouldn’t be able to escort Edge and Azel to Sestren.

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However Edge felt he could continue the plan and Azel decided to go with him. Before they left Edge promised that if all went according to plan, he would meet back with them at the place where they first met. The two entered through the top of the Tower and descended through its ancient corridors dodging security traps, they finally reached the bottom of the Tower and activated an elevator to the surface.

Before continuing on, Edge could return to the Schelcoof and if his dragon’s spirit level was high enough it could inherit the spirit of Lagi and gain the Solo Wing.

Upon returning to the Tower, Edge and Azel made it to the gateway. As Azel began interfacing with the Tower she explained that after Edge passed through the gateway she would close it off and destroy the Tower so that Sestren couldn’t escape. Edge was worried for her safety but trusted her. Azel then gave into her human emotions and admitted her feelings for him. As he flew off into the portal to the digital stream, Edge promised he would return and asked that she wait for him. After Edge was gone Azel caused a beam of light to emit throughout the Tower, instantly destroying it.

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Within Sestren, Edge found himself in an ethereal world surrounded by Anti-Dragons. These doppelgängers each reflected the previous forms of the Dragon. the five part battle was difficult but once defeated they led the way to Sestren.

Sestren then came forward, taking on two forms. One was the same as the Dragon you were using and the other was insect like. Sestren then revealed that the Dragon was the physical manifestation of the Heretic Program, an AI that opposed the will of the Ancients, Sestren & the Towers and had whose mission was to destroy the system.

Just then several glowing orbs appeared, which were recordings of past events from the first two games. Once all orbs were viewed, the final battle had begun.

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Sestren used everything it had against Edge and his Dragon, going so far as to create virtual reconstructions of bosses from Saga and previous games such as the Schelcoof, the Guardian Dragon, Golia, the Mel Kava and the Black Dragon. However Sestren wasn’t strong enough to withstand the Heretic Dragon and was destroyed, disintegrating into the network.

Once Sestren was defeated, Edge found himself floating through the network in front of the Heretic Program. It explained that Sestren was completely gone and that it now held the network in its grasp. The Program also revealed that Edge wasn’t the Divine Visitor, but you the player who was also responsible for resurrecting and guiding Edge. If you put in your real name at the beginning, the Heretic Program would name you as the Divine Visitor and asked that you push the button to destroy the system.

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Once pushed, Edge broke the 4th wall and talked directly at you and just like that Edge, The Heretic Program and the whole Network disappeared. The legacy of the Ancients was over.

In the epilogue, Gash was seen waiting for Edge and Azel. One of his men informed him that their supplies are running low and Gash decided they would leave in the morning. As he worried about Edge and Azel, he heard what sounded like a dragon and looked up into the blue sky, hoping that it was them.

Once the credits rolled another epilogue played, as An’jou, the leader of the caravan, was trying to persuade a shrouded Azel from heading west. Though in the end he couldn’t talk her out of it. She headed into the wasteland on a coolia, determined to find the one she loved.

Upon completion, a status screen appeared showing the form you ended with, total flight distance, field map coverage, destruction rate, enemy data collection and spiritual closeness.

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Part IX: Aftermath of Saga

Panzer Dragoon Saga received near universal praise upon its release. Critics praised Saga for everything from its gameplay, graphics, storytelling and soundtrack. Though some criticism was aimed at it ls incredibly short length for an RPG and its easy difficulty. However every critic agreed that Saga was truly a fantastic game that could rival anything Square could put out.

Saga is also the only game in the series to receive a D.I.C.E. Award nomination for Console Role-Playing Game of the Year. Though it sadly lost to Zelda: Ocarina of Time

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Which is why it’s a damn shame it sold so poorly. It had done well in Japan, selling around 100,000. However it failed to be a commercial success in North America and Europe. There are many reasons as to why such a highly rated game sold so poorly. The main problem was the console it was on.

About a year before the game came out, the Saturn sold so poorly that it was considered dead in many regions. This was mostly due to competition from Sony and Nintendo as well as Sega's poor marketing of the system. Though the Saturn was a success is Japan, it never was a real contender in the the US and Europe.

It also didn’t help that Sega had already begun talking about their next console. With then president of Sega of America, Bernie Stolar quoted as saying “The Saturn isn’t our future. The game also come out in the US and Europe only a few months after Sega had unveiled the Dreamcast in Japan, which had caught the attention of many American and European gamers.

Sega had also poorly advertised the game. While it was given plenty of coverage from publications, going so far as to give away the first disc as a demo in copies of the UK publication Sega Saturn Magazine. The US and EU ads from Sega did a very poor job of explaining what the game was even about. Just showing a cutout mask of Edge’s face and telling gamers to wear it and flap their wings around pretending to be a dragon.

In the end the game had only sold an estimated 20 to 30 thousand copies just in the US with EU sales estimated to have been even lower. However those lucky and persistent enough to wait were rewarded with an experience they would never forget.

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Though Saga never was a commercial success, it’s legacy still continues. Much like Zwei, Saga has remained an exclusive for the Saturn. Though its cutscenes were unlockable in Panzer Dragoon Orta.

In 2009 GameTap made a deal with Sega to distribute the game but it was never released on their service due to technical issues with emulating Saturn hardware.

Though fans hope the game could be remastered, the source code was reportedly lost many years ago according to series creator Futatsugi.

However thanks to retrospective reviews, a small but dedicated fanbase and improved Saturn emulation, many who had completely missed out on the game have discovered it over the years, becoming a must have for the Saturn. Complete copies have also become highly sought after, commanding upwards of $300-$600 USD.

The soundtrack has also received several remixes over the years. In January of 2018, Brave Wave announced that Saga's soundtrack would be remastered to celebrate its 20th Anniversary. With Saori Kobayashi returning to compose new arrangements of old tracks and Eri Ito lending her vocals once again.

Though it wasn't a commercial success upon release, it's legacy has only grown over the years. With its innovative gameplay and gripping narrative, Panzer Dragoon Saga has earned its rightful place as one of greatest RPGs ever made.

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In Part 4 of the Panzer Dragoon Retrospective, the series will take a five year rest only to reawaken on a new console, in a new generation and in a new millennium. It told the story of a mysterious young girl freed from her tower prison by a dragon. It was a journey to end the Empire and to unlock the secrets of her past. Panzer Dragoon Orta.

Until then dear readers, see you next time.

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Panzer Dragoon Retrospective Part II: Zwei

Chapter IV: Team Andromeda Strikes Back

With the success of Panzer Dragoon, Sega gave Team Andromeda the green light for a sequel. Of course the team wanted to expand upon the universe they had created. So by late Spring of 1995 it was decided that they would do two follow-ups, one would be a prequel set just before the events of the first game and the other would be a sprawling RPG that took place after.

To accommodate for both games, Team Andromeda expanded their numbers and split into two teams. However due to Futatsugi's commitment to the RPG, he was unable to direct the prequel. Instead series co-producer Tomohiro Kondo took over both directing and producing duties.

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Production on both titles began in the summer of 1995. During development, the team took into consideration everything they had learned while making the first game and the criticism it received. Now having a better grasp of how the Saturn worked, the developers were able to make gameplay smoother and raise the framerate to 30 FPS. Though they still refused to use Sega's dev tools, opting to create their own like they did with the first game.

Development ran smoothly and the game was finished by the end of the year. Composer Yoshitaka Azuma couldn't return for the sequel due to commitments toward the soundtrack for the game Virus by Hudson Soft. Instead the soundtrack was handled by multiple composers including Yayoi Wachi (Sonic Triple Touble, Magic Knight Rayearth), Junko Shiratsu (Knuckles Chaotix, Outrunners), Teruhiko Nakagawa (Metal Head, Shadow Squadron) and Tomonori Sawada (Golden Axe III, Sonic 3).

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The sequel was titled Panzer Dragoon Zwei. Much like how the first game used the German word Panzer in it's title, the team went with Zwei as it translates to two in German so as to fit in with the asthetic of the series. However feeling that most players wouldn't be able to distinguish that the game was a sequel, Sega added a II to the title.

Panzer Dragoon Zwei was released in Japan on March 22nd 1996. North American gamers had to wait a few weeks later on April 17th while Europe saw a release on May 10th.

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Chapter V: Panzer Dragoon Zwei

Panzer Dragoon Zwei begins one year before the first game. Thousands of years after civilization fell and humanity went nearly extinct, the surviving humans fled to the wastelands. In order to adapt to the dangerous environment, they tamed wild animals called Coolias, in the NA and EU they were called Khourieats.

It's soon discovered some coolias have a genetic mutation that come in the form of a blue-green glow in their throat. Fearing this mutation would cause another cataclysm, villages purged all coolias that showed any sign of mutation.

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However one young villager disobeyed his village and secretly kept a newborn mutant coolia he named Lagi. Much like the first game, the protagonist was nameless in the NA and EU release but was named Jean-Luc Lundi in the Japan.

One year later the Empire declared war against the neighboring country of Meccania. During this time the Empire discovered a mystery airship in their region heading towards an unknown destination. At the same time, Lundi noticed Lagi developed wings and takes him on a test flight. Just when they're about to take off, the mysterious airship appears over Lundi's village and destroys it. When they get to the devastated village, the two find it overrun with Pure-Types. Thus the game begins.

Much of the gameplay from the first game was brought over to the sequel but with new improvements. Above the player's life was another bar that would fill up every time you shot down enemies. Once the bar was green, pressing either X, Y or Z would unleash a Berserk Attack where for a short amount of time the player would become invincible while automatically targeting and firing a barrage of homing lasers at enemies.

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The game introduced multiple paths for certain levels. The alternate paths were usually much harder but had a greater reward for completion. Lagi could evolve into different forms depending on the player's performance which was given points based on three categories, Clear, Route and Technical. These features meant that not every playthrough was the same and players never knew which form they would end the game with.

Because Lagi was still young and developing it's wings, not every level was in the air. Some levels would have Lagi shooting from both land and air with transitions between both fighting styles happening mid-game. Players could also choose what type of HUD they wanted.

As Lundi and Lagi fight their way through the village, they see the Airship in the distance and try to fly to it. Only to be attacked by a mysterious creature called the Guardian Dragon defending it.

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After being knocked out, the two found themselves in a canyon which to their surprise was the home to a Meccanian outpost. However their visit is interrupted when the Empire launches a surprise attack. Caught between the fire from both sides, Lundi and Lagi are confronted by a massive Imperial Battleship.

As the battle rages on, they seek shelter in the forest below. While the two thought they were the target of the Imperial ships, it turns out it was actually the Airship the Imperials were chasing after only to be decimated by the great airship. When Lundi and Lagi get to the forest, they soon find it's crawling with Pure-Types. The two are able to defend themselves but are confronted by a massive Pure-Type called Golia. After the battle, they came across the entrance of an ancient building where they found an endless series of flooded corridors full of Pure-Types.

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At the end they came into a huge chamber with an underground lake and a narrow bridge. However they soon find a massive Pure-Type lurking in the water. After defeating the Pure-Type, the two exit the ruins which leads them to a vast inland sea where they spot the Airship in the distance. However before they could take on the airship, scores of enemies come pouring out of it. During the skirmish Lundi and Lagi were confronted by another Pure-Type. After the battle the two were then able to launch their attack on the Airship. Seeing the Guradian Dragon, Lundi and Lagi chase it to the airship just as the ship launches a counter-attack. While dodging fire, they were able to get inside the Shelcoof and destroy half of the ship's engines which crippled the ship. The two then head for the underside of the ship where the Guardian Dragon has been encased in a cocoon. Thus the first of the three part final battle begins.

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Upon cracking it's cocoon, the Guardian Dragon emerges in a more powerful form. It's at this point where Lagi reveals it's final form. If players gained 24 points or 100% shoot-down rate on every level, Lagi would evolve into the Blue Dragon from the first game. The second part of the final battle is tricky but upon defeat the Guardian Dragon would revert back to it's previous form. In one last attempt, the weakened Guardian Dragon increased it's speed trying to dodge Lagi's attacks.

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However it's not enough and is quickly defeated. After crumbling to the sea, Lagi and Lundi headed toward the Airship. However Lagi summons a force field, leaving Lundi behind. He telepathically speaks to Lundi, explaining it's mission to destroy all the ancient towers as well as a glimpse into future events in the first game. As this is being revealed, the Airship explodes and everything is engulfed in a flash of light.

When Lundi comes to, he finds himself in the middle of a desert with the wreckage of the Airship nearby. Upon entering the wreckage, he comes across a large chamber. On the wall of the chamber he sees an engraved emblem of Lagi with a green glow. After the credits roll, Lundi utters "After all this, he is still with me". Letting us know that Lagi is still out there looking for the next rider for help on it's mission. Depending on which dragon you ended the game with, the emblem in the final cutscene would change. Upon completion players were shown their shot-down rate as well as their final score and ranking. Either completing the game 100% or clocking in 30 hours of gameplay would unlock Pandora's Box which included features such as level select and more powerful weapons. This feature could also be unlocked if players had saves for both Zwei and Saga.

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Chapter VI: Aftermath II

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Like the first game, Panzer Dragoon Zwei was a critical and commercial success. Critics praised it's multiple paths, dragon types, berserk mode, frame rate and the improved gameplay. Zwei went on to sell 310,000 units worldwide. Despite selling just a little less than the first game, Sega was still confident in Team Andromeda and it's next game in the series.

Unlike it's predecessor, Zwei never received a PC port. Though later in 1996 the game was packaged alongside the first game in a box set. Several cutscenes and demo footage from Zwei were unlockable in Panzer Dragoon Orta. To this day it has remained an exclusive for the Sega Saturn.

In the next part of the six part Panzer Dragoon retrospective we'll take a look at the game that expanded upon the series. It was the Saturn's swan song that pushed the console to it's limit. Spanning four-discs, it was an epic that told the story of a young Imperial mercenary and a mysterious girl with a link to the past. Panzer Dragoon Saga.

Until then my friends, see you next time.

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Panzer Dragoon Retrospective - Part I: The Beginning

Chapter I: Flight

Since the days when games were experiments by college students and engineers, shooters have been one of the oldest genres in gaming. Dating back to 1962 with the creation of Spacewar! and only growing in popularity with the release of Space Invaders and Asteroids in the late 70's. In 1981, Sega entered the genre with Zaxxon, an isometric shooter praised for it's pseudo 3D graphics. Two years later the rail-shooter sub-genre was created thanks to Star Wars Arcade and in 1985 Sega took the genre into the world of 16-bits with the release of Space Harrier. However little did Sega know that it would later serve as one of the influences for one of their own games when it came time to jump into the 3rd dimension.

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Our story begins in late 1993 as Sega was preparing for their 32-bit console, the Sega Saturn. Wanting a new game that could show the Saturn's capabilities, they asked their employees for new concepts. This wasn't the first time they had done so, the last internal contest led to the creation of their mascot Sonic the Hedgehog.

One of those who participated was 23 year-old Yukio Futatsugi, who had submitted proposals for several games. Futatsugi had been working at Sega for two years doing various tasks and assisting with games such as Shinobi for the Game Gear.

Sega had liked his proposal for a 3D shooter and in January of 1994 they made him lead of the recently formed Team Andromeda. The team consisting of 15 people included illustrator and character designer Manabu Kusunoki (Bonanza Bros., Knuckles Chaotix) composer Yoshitaka Azuma, who had never done a game soundtrack but had previously released several electronic music albums in the 80's and had done music for the NHK, and producers Yoji Ishii (Flicky) & Tomohiro Kondo (Shadow Dancer: The Secret of Shinobi, Panic!).

While planning the concept, Futatsugi and Kusunoki came up with the idea of having the player control a dragon rather than a spaceship. They felt the concept was a more original idea and that it's organic movements could show the 3D capabilities of the Saturn.

Manabu Kusunoki (Left), Yoshitaka Azuma (Middle), Yoji Ishii (Right)
Manabu Kusunoki (Left), Yoshitaka Azuma (Middle), Yoji Ishii (Right)

During this time Futatsugi also began writing the story and setting, inspired by the post-apocalyptic sci-fi & fantasy settings of anime and literature such as Naussica of the Valley of the Wind, The Wings of Honneamise, Dune by Frank Herbert, Arzach by Moebius ,who later was commissioned by Team Andromeda to illustrate the Japanese cover and concept art, and The Long Afternoon On Earth by Brian Aldiss which Futatsugi had read in his childhood.

Many in Team Andromeda were already fans of shooters, so the team drew inspirations from contemporaries of the genre such as Space Harrier, Star Fox, RayForce & StarBlade. The style and asthetics of the world were inspired by Ottoman and Turkish architecture instead of European architecture which Futatsugi felt was too strict. He also developed an elaborate backstory for the world, so far as creating a new language that mixed Latin, Ancient Greek and Russian.

Originally the game was to be called Armored Dragon. However feeling that the name was too bland, Futatsugi changed the title to Panzer Dragoon.

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Development on Panzer Dragoon went through much adversity. Due to the complexity of the Saturn's architecture and Team Andromeda's lack of experience with the hardware which was still in development when production began. They had to develop a game on a console that had no final dev kit. These setbacks caused them to miss the Japanese Saturn launch in November 1994.

Because of this the game initially had to be developed on hypothetical hardware using SoftImage3D and SGI Workstations, they went so far as to having to create their own mapping tools and graphics library. The team weren't sure how far they could push the hardware, so to get around this they adopted a new design philosophy of keeping everything simple. This meant cutscenes, levels, scenery, objects and enemies had to be designed in a way that was easy for players to recognize and for the dev team to create.

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By the time they received a debug unit in mid-1994, the team ran into more issues with frame-rate. The problem was soon ironed out and the game was locked at 20 FPS

Despite these issues, Team Andromeda and Sega were confident about the project and development finished by the end of 1994. The last few months before release, Azuma began working on the soundtrack which comprised of orchestral and electronic pieces.

While Sega was preparing for the North American and European release, they had also altered the difficulty of both versions as to make them more challenging.

On March 10th 1995, the game launched in Japan. North American gamers thought they had to wait until September. However at that year's E3 Sega announced that the Saturn and five titles including Panzer Dragoon would launch that very day. Much to the chagrin of third-party developers and retailers, they launched on May 11th 1995. While European Saturn owners had to wait almost two months later.

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Chapter II: Panzer Dragoon

Panzer Dragoon takes place thousands of years after a great war between humans and bio-weapons ravaged the land. All advanced civilization was destroyed and humans were pushed to near extinction. Trying to survive in a world of vicious bio-engineered creatures, the remaining humans splintered off into tribes and small nations. One of these nations called The Empire discovered a mysterious ancient tower in the middle of a sea. During the excavation, the tower powered itself on and announced that Units-01 & Unit-02 had been activated.

Meanwhile a hunter and his party were traveling through a canyon. While the hunter was nameless in the NA and EU versions, he was named Keil Fluge in the Japanese release. After his party is wiped out by creatures called burrowers, he came to the end of the canyon where he saw the entrance to an ancient building.

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Upon entering, Keil found himself in a hangar where two dragons were in the middle of a duel. During the skirmish, the Blue Dragon's rider was fatally wounded and carried to Keil, who was observing the battle from below. In his final moments the rider used telepathy to explain his mission and pleads to Keil to finish it in his stead.

Armed with the rider's weapon and dragon, Keil took off to stop the Black Dragon from reaching the tower.

Gameplay was similar to other shooters but had an interesting twist. While the dragon flew in one direction, pressing either L or R let you change between four different directions which gave the player 360 degrees of aiming. This also meant enemies would come from all directions. While that may sound annoying, players were given a mini-map at the upper right hand corner that showed where enemies were and which direction you were facing.

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Tapping either A, B or C would fire your weapon, holding down either one of them would let you charge and aim a powerful homing laser. Pressing X, Y or Z would change your perspective. The game spanned six episodes, each of which ended with a boss battle.

After accepting the rider's request. The two flew through a submerged city where they were spotted and attacked by an Imperial Patrol Ship. After the fight, they then traveled over a vast desert inhabited by massive sandworms. However as soon as they exited a cave, they were soon confronted by the Black Dragon. During the battle the two were able to incapacitate it and escape. But they soon found themselves in the middle of a heavily fortified Imperial excavation site.

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While fleeing the heavy fire, the two escaped into ancient ruins. Though it was soon discovered that it's not just Imperials they had to worry about as the ruins were overrun by Pure-Types, bio-engineered creatures created by the ancients as weapons of war. Upon exiting the ruins, they traveled over a large forest where an ambush was waiting for them. During this battle, the ancient tower summoned Pure-Types to attack Imperial Ships and sent more towards the Imperial City.

When the two reached the city, the attack had already begun and they fired upon as well. It's here that they once again met with the Black Dragon and the two raceed to the tower. When they arrived, the Black Dragon revealed itself to have been Unit-01 and mutated into a powerful dragon. Thus the final battle began.

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The final confrontation was fast and fierce but upon defeat, the Black Dragon reverted back to it's normal form and crashed to the sea. With the Black Dragon defeated and the Empire's plans ruined, the two headed into the tower. Knowing what lied ahead, the Blue Dragon summoned a force field around Keil and left him behind while it rushed further into the tower. It then fired a homing laser, causing the tower to emit a blinding light.

Keil then woke up in the middle of a desert. As he searched for the dragon, he took notice that surrounding him was the dragon's footprints. Keil then looked into the sky, unsure if the Blue Dragon survived.

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Upon completing the game, you were ranked by the percentage of enemies killed. Getting more that 90% would get you the Dragoon rank. If you beat the game on hard you would get an extra ending with a code to unlock Wizard Mode which sped the game up. During the end credits a series of paintings by Ryuichiro Kutsuzawa were displayed, chronicling Keil's journey.

Chapter III: Aftermath

Panzer Dragoon was a surprise success, selling more than 167,000 units in it's first week in Japan. Initially the game had been given very little coverage in the US. However that all changed after Sega's E3 surprise launch of the Saturn.

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Critics praised Panzer Dragoon for it's gameplay, graphics and soundtrack. Though some criticism was aimed at it's simple story and lack of diverse weapons. The game received high ratings from many publications and was considered a must-have for the Saturn.

Two years after it's release, the game was ported over to PC by Expert Software. The port added a higher resolution and better lighting. Another version of the PC port was later released with the Diamond Edge 3D accelerator alongside Virtua Fighter Remix. Rather than rendering it in software, this version used hardware acceleration which allowed for a smoother frame-rate and a cleaner look. Since it was never released as a stand-alone product, it's become one of the rarest ports released.

The original PC port was also released on the Xbox as an unlockable in Panzer Dragoon Orta. To obtain it you need to either beat the game or log in 5 hours of gameplay.

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In 2006 Panzer Dragoon was ported to the PS2 under the Sega Ages 2500 brand, which was a collection of remastered games from Sega's past. This version differed greatly from the PC as it included both the Saturn version and a new arranged mode with better textures, new 3D models, anti-aliasing support and unlockable extras.

Panzer Dragoon ended up selling 370,000 units worldwide. Despite it's critical and commercial success, it didn't perform as well as Sega had hoped. However it was enough to warrant a sequel. Team Andromeda immediately began work on not one, but two follow ups. This was only the beginning of a new series.

This has been part one of a six part Panzer Dragoon retrospective. In the upcoming parts we'll be covering the three sequels, Zwei, Saga and Orta. Two spinoffs. One anime OVA and a look at the world of Panzer Dragoon and the people behind it.

Until then my friends, see you next time.

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