|Release Date:||April 1998|
|Save Feature?||If the Sega Saturn Lithium Battery functions properly, then yes! ;)|
It doesn't happen often, but once in a blue moon or so, you come across a book or a movie or possibly even a video game that seems to almost transcend its given platform. It becomes something bigger than itself, something thought-provoking or even life-changing in some cases. In a nutshell, that describes what Panzer Dragoon Saga for the Sega Saturn means to the world of gaming. This is simply one of those can't miss/must play video games that, despite its daunting price tag (it goes for $275+ complete on eBay thanks to only 20-30K copies being distributed back in 1998), is completely worth the price of admission. Panzer Dragoon Saga is easily one of the best kept secrets as well. Heck, I am a lifelong video game fan and I didn't even hear about this game until recently! Needless to say, everything about this game from the epic atmosphere, ethereal musical score, and completely original battle mechanics make this a gaming experience unlike any other.
Overview: Being a full-time eBay Power Seller who specializes in video games certainly has its benefits. In addition to researching which video games go for the most cash (See: Stadium Events for the NES, Hagane for the Super NES, and Shantae for the Game Boy Color), I have come across some truly amazing gaming items during my travels. I have discovered NES games that I knew nothing about (for better or for worse) along with a whole host of treasures/oddities from Super NES, Playstation One and Two, GameCube, and Game Boy fame among others.
One particular game that was never all that far from my mind was Panzer Dragoon Saga for the somewhat frowned upon Sega Saturn. Not only was this game selling for uber-bucks on eBay, but it was widely regarded as an incredible epic and was even touted as "one of those games" that you simply had to play to qualify as a true gamer (whatever that means...but still). Well, it certainly didn't come cheap and was easily the most expensive video game purchase I have ever made, but recently, I came across a complete, near mint copy of this game and I just couldn't pass up a likely once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play such a highly regarding game.
Despite the hefty price tag, I do feel like I made the right decision in snagging Panzer Dragoon Saga (at least for now...I bought the game treating it as a "glorified rental" of sorts). As many fans of this game (and series) will tell you, there really is nothing quite like the Panzer Dragoon experience. And in the murky, over-saturated RPG field where 60-80 hour epics come at you like mosquitoes making a beeline for standing water, that truly is saying something.
Right from the beginning, Panzer Dragoon Saga sucked me in to its wonderous world and kept me glued to the TV all the way through. What this game lacks in length (despite the game spanning four discs, it can be completed in 15-20 hours pretty easily) it compensates for in an epic, thought-provoking story, an atmosphere and feel all to its own, and one of the best, most original battle systems I have seen in a long time. And this game was released fourteen years ago!!
So what is the actual gameplay like you ask? Well, while there are a few standard RPG elements such as wandering around a couple of towns/caravans, talking to people, and buying/selling items, the meat and potatoes of this game involves your dragon. Yes, you heard me right...a dragon!! You will be spending most of your time flying around an impressive 3D world as well as fighting countless battles in real-time. It may not sound that impressive but one of the great strengths of Panzer Dragoon Saga is its simplicity. This game doesn't try to overwhelm you...it simply says "Here you go!" and allows you to take off and have an incredible adventure.
In addition to gliding, swooping, and executing impressive flips in mid-air, you will be fighting enemies/bosses while flying as well and that is what makes this game's battle system so unique. Any enemies you fight are essentially in the middle of the screen and throughout the game's many battles, you fly either in front, in back, or on one side of your foe(s). What makes things really interesting (and fun!), however, is that there are safe zones, neutral zones, and danger zones to consider. For example, let's say that the Safe Zone is located behind an enemy (these zones are green on the battle radar circle). If you use the Control Pad (i.e. D-Pad) to move your dragon to the Safe Zone (you are essentially manuevering throughout a circular area in battle), the enemy can't touch you. On the other hand, if you wind up in a Red/Danger Zone, the enemy will be able to unleash its most powerful attacks on you. Since you along with your enemies can move during most battles, this adds a nifty cat/mouse element to the game. Since sometimes an enemy's weak spot (naturally, you want to focus on these "Weak" spots in order to defeat enemies quickly) is in the same area that is a Danger Zone to you, there are times when you might want to quickly "sneak" into that spot, fire a few rounds, then safely move back into a Safe Zone before the enemy can strike back.
In addition, you are actually graded on your performance in battle and by defeating enemies quickly and taking small amounts of damage, your grade will improve. This is important too because you receive additional experience, money (known as "Dyne" in this game), and even bonus items by getting the best grades ("Excellent" is the best while "Narrow Escape" is the worst) so there is truly an emphasis on fighting efficiently and intelligently in Panzer Dragoon Saga. This element actually makes the game more enjoyable because it rewards you for performing really well in battle. More RPGs should incorporate a "reward" system like this!
I have only just touched on the basics but rest assured that the gameplay/battle system never really grows old or stale in Panzer Dragoon Saga. Despite the fact that a huge chunk of this game is spent flying around the many valleys/caves/forests on your dragon, the gameplay is varied enough and original enough to keep things interesting. You will be tested in many different ways in battle and there will be times when you might not know what to do next in order to proceed. This game is a true adventure that allows you, the gamer, to decide your fate. It is deliciously old-school in this regard.
Graphics: Panzer Dragoon Saga is definitely one of those games where you have to imagine yourself playing the game back when it was new to accurately assess the quality of the visuals. It is funny too because, for some odd reason, it seems like games from the 32 and even 64-bit era have aged a lot worse than, say, 16-bit or even 8-bit games. I think that the main reason for this phenomenon is that this was a time of experimentation when 3D gaming was just getting off the ground. Video games were making an inevitable shift from the 2D era to the 3D age and growing pains were a natural by-product of the times.
With that being said, however, I do feel that the programmers behind Panzer Dragoon Saga did pretty much all they could do given the limitations of the Sega Saturn. Sure, the visuals can be somewhat blocky and unrefined at times (particularly if you visit the towns/villages at night) but they are almost endearing in a way. There is something to be said for maximizing the potential of an inferior product and what programmers were able to accomplish with measly NES specs (and Sega Saturn specs in this case) is astounding when you really stop to think about it. For its time, Panzer Dragoon Saga actually does have some eye-popping visuals. Although the character graphics leave a lot to be desired (not a death knell since other great games of this era like Final Fantasy VII, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, and Xenogears all suffered from the same issue), some of the background graphics, particularly those when flying around the ancient area of Uru, were to die for!
And where this game really shines is in the impressive FMV movies that play throughout the four discs. For its time, Panzer Dragoon Saga certainly came through in terms of the "wow" factor. The animations and movements of the game's main characters just really stuck with me and I honestly got the impression that this game was more of a experience than just a typical playthrough. Even though the visuals are rather dated (they remind me a lot of Xenogears for the Playstation One actually), there is a lot of heart in what you see in the world of Panzer Dragoon Saga. In any case, this game looks as impressive as any other Sega Saturn game out there.
Music: Do you know how sometimes, when you ask someone what they thought of a particular movie or book or sports event, they respond by saying that "You just have to experience it for yourself!"? That's how it is with Panzer Dragoon Saga in regards to its musical score (if not the game in its entirety as well). I could sit here and try to describe this game's music (which I will attempt) but, in all honesty, it is something that needs to be experienced in person in order to truly understand its overall value.
If you have read some of my other video game reviews, you know by now that one quality I am always emphasizing in a game is its atmosphere. Does the game have a unique feel? Does it suck me into its world and not let me go (like a good book)? Does it give me chills/goosebumps at critical junctures in its story? If the answer is "Yes", then I am probably discussing a game that is worth playing. And in terms of atmosphere, Panzer Dragoon Saga has one that completely permeates this game from start to finish. I can't recall playing any other game that had a feel quite like this game. Xenogears sort of had a feel like this but I think the similarities in terms of the graphics are the reason for this. In the end, Panzer Dragoon Saga feels completely different than any other game out there. And that's one of the game's main draws for sure.
You are probably asking yourself what all this talk about atmosphere has to do about the game's soundtrack, right? Well, it means everything because the music that plays throughout Panzer Dragoon Saga completely gives the game its unique vibe. The one tune that immediately sticks out is the serene-yet-eerie-yet-mysterious beauty of a track that plays in the overworld area of Uru. You simply must hear this tune for yourself to understand what I mean but music like this completely warrents a playthrough of this game. From the grand, uplifting track that plays in the first area of the game to the epic battle themes that play throughout the game, this game's soundtrack is simply stellar. It doesn't have the size or scope of a Final Fantasy III or Chrono Cross or Xenosaga symphony but it doesn't need one either. Games that dare to go off on their own path away from the crowd are sometimes the games that are worth playing the most.
In addition to its ethereal score, the sound effects in Panzer Dragoon Saga might be just as impressive! I was amazed by how realistic some of the sounds such as your dragon's wings flapping, various explosions that take place, and that heart-wrenching sound of your dragon getting hit in battle are. In some ways, this game almost reaches PS2 levels of sound effects. The voice acting, despite being Japanese (with English subtitles), is actually quite impressive as well. Minor, seemingly unimportant things, like running on dirt or picking up your gun off the ground are executed very well not only visually but in an auditory sense as well. For anyone who still feels like video games are not truly an art form, give this game a go then come back to me and we'll talk.
Play Control: Despite Panzer Dragoon Saga being the first game that I ever played for more than 15-20 minutes on my Sega Saturn console, it took hardly any time at all to assimilate the control scheme. This is an impressive feat too because Panzer Dragoon Saga is certainly not your vanilla RPG. However, everything from manuevering in battle to executing commands to flying in a vast 3D world is incredibly easy to learn. The controls were set up nicely and everything just flows seemlessly. It's nice to know that the game's challenges come from actual gameplay elements other than the controls. Too many games slip up in this regard. Not so with Panzer Dragoon Saga though!
Challenge: Panzer Dragoon Saga is, in all honesty, a rather tame experience if you pay close attention to the game's tutorials and comprehend the unique battle system early in the game. As long as you wisely stay in the Safe Zones, keep your battle gauge high enough to make quick adjustments, and take calculated chances when necessary, you should be able to beat this game without too much trouble. That doesn't mean that you can get away with being lazy though because there are several key battles where poor decisiion-making can quickly get your nerves in a knot.
Seriously though, I was even relatively surprised at the somewhat moderate challenge level of this game. It wasn't a total cakewalk by any stretch but I was able to beat the game without losing a life which is quite an unusual feat for a game of this nature (I'm not complaining though!) It would have been nice to have been pushed a little more but this game is still a blast to play even if it doesn't exactly give you the Battletoads treatment.
As far as replay value goes, it almost completely depends on how thorough of a gamer you are. There are a plethora of hidden/missable items that the more casual gamer will probably fail to obtain during an initial playthrough. None of these items are truly jaw-dropping or astounding but it is kind of cool to snag all of the D-Units and find your hidden Dragon friend too. While the replay value certainly isn't a huge driving force behind this game's appeal, it's pretty safe to say that you'll find something new during each new playthrough.
Storyline: Along with its epic musical score, the equally engrossing background story is one of the main strengths of Panzer Dragoon Saga. It just comes across as captivating and intriguing and never truly lets you go...even after beating the game if that makes any sense (I won't give anything major away.)
Basically, you are thrown into the tumbling world of a young man named Edge. Edge is an orphen who has had a difficult life and early in the game, he is completely devastated when his Captain and mentor along with several of his friends are murdered at the hands of the notorious Craymen and his men. Naturally, Edge wants nothing more than to track down this Craymen and get revenge for his Captain. Things slowly become murky though. In addition to Craymen and his insurgents seeking an ultimate power from an ancient civilization, the Empire (who, like in Final Fantasy III/VI, rule the land with an iron fist) also has its eyes set on this mysterious power that seems to be connected somehow with an ancient woman that is unearthed early in the game by Craymen's men. And after a seemingly fatal fall, Edge wakes up and finds himself completely healthy. The presence of a mysterious (and incredibly powerful) dragon further complicates things.
As the game progresses, everything begins to make more sense...or so you think. Throughout much of the game, you aren't really sure what you should be doing which is a unique twist for a game of this nature. By the end of the game, you'll still be wondering this very same question as some serious and surprisingly deep questions are posed to the gamer. The ending is a real thinker too which seemed to be the case with many games of this era for some reason (see: Xenogears, Final Fantasy Tactics, etc.)
Funfactor: Even though Panzer Dragoon Saga is admittedly on the short end of the stick in terms of its overall length, I can honestly say that I had a wonderful time playing this game for as long as it lasted (nearly 25 hours for me personally)! There is something to be said about the simplicity of a game like this though. Nothing is too intricate or too complicated about this game. It's just good clean fun all the way through. The battle system is completely original, this game has an atmosphere/feel all to itself, and the story is incredibly thought-provoking. If any video game out there is a true, bonafide work of art, it would be Panzer Dragoon Saga. There is just a unique quality about this game and something intangible that makes it stand out in my mind. It does cost a pretty penny and is quite difficult to find in nice shape, but I can't recommend this game enough...if only for one playthrough. It truly is one of those hidden gems that should be a requirement for all RPG fans to play. If any game needs to be re-released so that more gamers can have the opportunity to delve into its world, Panzer Dragoon Saga would be at or near the top of the list.
Negatives: If there is any weakness in this game, it would probably be the overall length. Despite being a larger than life, 4-disc masterpiece, Panzer Dragoon Saga can easily be finished in 15-20 hours or even around the 10 hour mark by an expert gamer. While the core gameplay and overall quality of this product is top-notch, an additional 10-15 hours would have been nice.
Also, while the graphics in this game were superb at the time of its release, they haven't aged very well. Xenogears for the Playstation One and other early 3D attempts in the world of role-playing suffer from this same issue so it really isn't that big of a deal. I wouldn't be the least bit upset if Sega decided to create a remake of this game though.
Ratings: Graphics: 4.3 Music: 4.7 Play Control: 4.7 Challenge: 3.9 Storyline: 4.8 Funfactor: 4.8 Overall Score: 27.2 out of 30.0 Overall Rating: Golden Classic!!
Back to Sega SensationsLast Updated: August 3, 2012