|Title||:||Panzer Dragoon Saga|
|Review by||:||Ken Gagne|
The Sega Saturn was doomed almost from the start. Poor advertising, a smaller game library, and an initial higher system price made it a poor competitor for the Sony PlayStation. Although it has always had excellent titles, there has been little awareness of them. Just now, some of Sega's best games are being released. Panzer Dragoon Saga is such a title.
The third in the Panzer Dragoon trilogy, this installment is not like it's flying shooter brethren, but is a role-playing game. There are references enough to past titles to interest veteran of the series, but not to confuse newcomers. The game comes on four discs.
Ancient relics are unearthed at an excavation site, prompting a bandit attack. When Edge, a mere boy and the only survivor, is befriended by a mythical dragon and begins his search for vengeance, he becomes caught in a war between the rebels and the Imperial Army for the power to save, or destroy, the world.
The game opens with a 10-minute movie, telling the above tale and setting the tone for the rest of the game. Much of the involving storyline is told through full-motion computer movies, nearly comparable to those found in Final Fantasy VII. The graphics here and in other modes are smooth, detailed, and often dark. Towns are explored in a 3D, over-the-shoulder perspective, similar to Tomb Raider.
The dialogue accompanying the speeches is a combination of gibberish and Japanese, and subtitled in English. Although English dialogue would have been more dramatic and effective, the foreign tongues serve to support the fantasy setting. Music is also used well to introduce new mysteries, friends, and foes.
At the heart of any role-playing game is the battle system, and Panzer's is innovative and fun. All battles are done from dragonback, against flying and racing foes. The winged lizard can be positioned in front of, behind, or to either the side of the enemy to launch attacks, which may be a dragon laser, Edge's gun, or a variety of special Berserk attacks. The type of attack available depends on a power gauge which fills during battle, similar to Street Fighter. As the game progresses, the dragon morphs into more powerful forms, with strengths and weaknesses selectable by the player.
Edge has few enemies which will fall quickly to his assaults. Most have weak points, but hidden behind many offensive and defensive strengths. There are safe spots and danger zones; getting caught in the wrong position at the wrong time can prove devastating.
Despite the challenging nature, Panzer is a shorter game than other role-playing games. It will provide 20 to 30 hours of solid, enjoyable gameplay, not the 40 or 50 standard for the genre.
It's a shame that such an excellent title has arrived so late in the Saturn's life. Sega has saved the best for last; for that and all those reasons which make Panzer an incredible experience, players owe it to themselves to take to the skies with this RPG.
This article is copyright (c) 1998, 2007 by Ken Gagne. All rights reserved. Not to be distributed without permission.
Original publication: Sentinel & Enterprise, 27-Jul-98