Why did I play this?Why did I play this?

Posted on Feb 13th 2015 at 09:06:17 AM by (SirPsycho)
Posted under sega saturn, sega, saturn, team andromeda, rail shooter

Sega's surprise launch of the Saturn in North America caught retailers and developers off guard. As a result, the pickings were slim. The Saturn's Japan launch happened only six months before the North American launch, so most Japanese third parties did not have anything ready for international release either. The launch date that was originally announced was September of 1995 for North America, but instead, they decided to launch it in May, right in the middle of E3! For a gamer that was anxiously anticipating the Saturn, that might sound like a good deal at first, but it meant that many games would be a full four months behind the launch. As a result, only Sega's first party games were available at first, but there was a decent spread of genres available. Panzer Dragoon was one of these games and became Sega's cinematic action game for the North American launch.

After playing through Panzer Dragoon a few times I can say that it feels heavily inspired by Sega's own arcade history. This game feels like a modernized (for the mid 90's), cinematic version of Space Harrier. There's even a code to put in at the title screen that will derender the dragon and let you fly around by yourself, and its called Space Harrier Mode because of this! Team Andromeda was founded specifically to develop this game, and they delivered one of the all time classic launch games.

Panzer Dragoon is so well polished that it shouldn't feel like a launch game, and to be fair, it was not available at the Japanese launch. The Japanese Saturn launch was dominated by Virtua Fighter. In Panzer Dragoon, you fly on a dragon, unless you decide to go in Space Harrier Mode, and your mission is to stop the Black Dragon. There are six levels, called episodes, to fly through and five of them have bosses to fight at the end. The sixth boss is in the seventh episode, and this episode only contains the final fight against the end boss.

Panzer Dragoon is set far into the future, long beyond the modern pinnacle of technology and into an apocalyptic view of a world post-industry. At this point in time, a tyrannical government exists and is the only source that adds new technology to the world. Of course, these new pieces of tech are only available to the military to keep the government in power. Since old tech is much more advanced, they are ravenously in search of it in ruins that are scattered across the landscape. The unnamed character, or Keil Fluge in other versions, is approached by the dying rider of a blue dragon after being attacked by a black dragon. Keil carries out the rest of the rider's mission to stop the black dragon!

Remembering that Panzer Dragoon is an early 3D game is kind of hard at times. It runs smoothly and the graphics in the world and characters are quite detailed for an early Saturn game, especially with its lack of 3D capabilities compared to its competition. The controls pan the camera slightly from side to side as you move the dragon. The aiming reticle moves quite smoothly during this panning, and while I only played with a D-Pad, it would likely feel better to play it with a Saturn arcade stick. This game feels like it would be right at home in an upright cabinet with a stick, fire button, zoom button, and camera switch button. The only controls in the game consist of: movement, shooting, and moving the camera to see your flanks, and zooming in and out.

Another notable feature in Panzer Dragoon is your weapons lock on feature. By holding down any fire button, you can lock onto any enemies that you swing your reticle over; you can then launch your lasers by releasing the button. The firing button does not autofire, but you can alternate presses of A, B, and C to initiate a series of rapid fire shots. Depending on the area, it may be more useful to lock on, or it may be better to use rapid fire. The shoulder buttons are used to switch the camera's focus from side to side. L swings it left, L again swings it behind the dragon, L again goes to the right flank, and one more press brings you back to the front quickly. After one press, you can slowly aim your way around your flanks and back as well, but the shoulder buttons are useful for quick switches. Finally, the X, Y, and Z buttons are set to different camera zooms.

Panzer Dragoon is a game about memorization. It's not overly difficult, but each level increases in difficulty over the previous level. You should not have much trouble getting through the first level the first time you play the game, but getting through level 5 or 6 the first time is a far more daunting task. Panzer Dragoon offers different level difficulties, but playing on "Easy" only lets you play through level 4; you have to play on "Normal" to beat the game. The "Easy" setting can be used to master the first four levels so that when you move up to "Normal" you will know the enemy patterns. Taking out a high percentage of enemies will also give you an extra life or continue at the end of each level. Getting close to a "Perfect" will give you two continues. These extra lives and continues are extremely useful, because if you want to see the real ending of the game, you have the beat it on "Hard!" The best way to do this is to memorize everything in all six main flying levels so that nothing can threaten you.

Thankfully, the game is short. Each level only takes a few minutes, and the bosses don't take long to defeat once you figure out their pattern, where their weak spot is, and what attack method works the best on them. A playthrough of the game only takes around an hour from start to finish. The challenge comes from having to memorize the game and then increase the difficulty to get the true ending. Since the game is so fun and easy to pick up and play within a short time, I can forgive all of the required memorization.

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Love this game a lot. Be cool to see a remake come out on something.
^ This.

I really like this series even though I completely stink at them.
@bombatomba: Practice makes perfect!
One of my favorite Saturn games.  Great write-up!  I would love to see another PD game with a modern control scheme, i.e. left analog stick for movement, right stick for aiming, triggers for firing, and other shoulder buttons to change the field view, like in the original.  I think a new PD game could be amazing with the right team behind it.

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