Review by kristina kim
"The Saturn's swan song is one that is most beautiful, even years later"
Panzer Dragoon Saga is one of the most unique games ever to grace a console system. Taking an already successful franchise, Panzer Dragoon, and turning it into an RPG is something that is bred from the dreams of the Sega Fan boy. I would have liked to been in on the board meeting where this game was approved - the idea seems more like a fantasy spawned from the editors at EGM than a serious possibility for a game suggested by developers. Panzer Dragoon Saga is a game that will be definitely be remembered for generations to come.
I will rate the graphics 2 ways here; one, in the context of the 32-bit era, and again in the context of today's technology.
When PDS first debuted, it had some of the best graphics ever seen on the Saturn, or any other system at the time. The fully rendered GC cinemas were of unusually high quality for a Saturn game. Likewise, the 3D graphics, something the Saturn was notorious for having difficulty rendering, were a graphical feat. The transparencies, the water effects, the detailed textures, the far horizon, the character models - they all surpassed anything offered graphically at the time. If there is one fault in the graphics, and it's not really a fault as much as it is a feature of the game itself, is that the colors and textures used in the game can be rather dark and muddy. However, it fits the dark, gritty mood that the Panzer Dragoon series has always conveyed. The old graphics get a 9.
Playing the game now can be quite hard on the eyes. The game stutters at 20-30 frames per second at most, more than adequate in it's original era, sub-standard nowadays. The polygons are sparse and roughly detailed; your average in-game character is composed of 10-20 polygons, with minimal texture detail. The polygons also suffer from the ''wobbly'' effect that many 32-bit games did. Like almost all it's 32-bit brethren, anti-aliasing is non-existent. The colors can seem drab and washed out at times, either too muddy or lacking in variety. The people in the game are so poorly rendered that sometimes it can be hard to tell what exactly it is that you're looking at. The GC cinemas in the game are rather grainy and are probably comparable with CG cinemas in DOS PC games. If you are only experiencing this game recently for the first time, i suggest you take time off from playing other games, because the graphics take quite a while to adjust to. The new graphics get a 4.
The Panzer Dragoon series has always been known for it's exceptional audio, and PDS is no exception to the rule. It even bests some of the more recent RPG offerings in terms of musical quality. Fully orchestrated, every musical score fits the in-game scenario perfectly. The music is so vivid and poignant that there is never a time when you tire of hearing it. Most RPGs are flawed in this department, as they have one or two different tracks for the overworld, traveling, or battle perspective, in which the majority of the game is spent, and thus can easily tire the gamer's eardrums with the redundant music.
The sound effects seem almost directly lifted from the other Panzer Dragoon games. The sound of shots firing, the lock-on laser, the dragon's wings flapping, even the sound of menu confirmation remains the same. The sound effects are good, not great; they do not edge on the nerves, nor do they impress.
Ahh, here is where PDS has gained many a favor in the eyes of game reviewers everywhere. Touted as an amalgamation of shooter and RPG, PDS seamlessly merges the both of them but yet creates something entirely new. The game plays almost, but not quite, like the other games in the series. Instead of most RPGs where you must align your character properly with people or objects in order to interact with them, you are given a target that allows you to focus on objects/people from any distance and interact with them. This makes for a much smoother control experience, without the difficulty that many 3D RPGs have with pathfinding and direction. Pinpoint accuracy makes talking to different NPCs standing near each other or sorting through a gathering of items amazingly easy.
The battle system is one that has far surpassed any previous offerings and even to this day has yet to be bettered. PDS takes parts from other highly successful battle engines, namely the Active Time battle system found in Square games, the action-RPG engine that was spawned in games like Zelda and Secret of Mana, and growth systems in games such as Shadowrun. The battles take place in real-time; your enemies don't wait for you to make your move and you must make decisions hastily. Like the active time battle system, you must wait for several bars to charge before you can perform any action, such as attack, use items, or use berzerk techniques. You can attack two ways, either using the standard gun that can target one enemy, or the homing shot that can lock onto several enemies at once. There is the standard RPG option of using items to heal or have other effects during battle. Berzerks are the various techniques your dragon can learn during the course of the game. It functions like the standard magic system as well; you have a limited number of Berzerk points, and Berzerks are divided into separate categories depending on the effect the spell will have. During battle you have 3 bars that slowly fill; using a standard technique like firing your gun or the lock-on laser, or using an item will consume 1 bar. Using a Berzerk will consume 2 bars. Unlike most other RPGS, this is balanced out much better since using the standard attacks or an item don't eat as much into your time as Berzerk attacks do. During battle you must also consider the position of your dragon - you can move facing 4 directions as in previous games, only there is a little more strategy involved. Some enemies attack furiously in one direction, but may be totally vulnerable when faced from another. Lastly, and this is most important, battles aren't a cakewalk. In order to advance in the game you must become very good at managing your dragon position, what attacks you use, and when you execute them. Not every battle yields the same results; at the end of each battle you are given a ranking on a scale of 5 to determine how much experience points, money, and items you will receive (if any). Battles are some of the most tiresome and mundane aspects of most RPGs, and they are mostly intended to add another 20 hours to the game to give the player something to do between boss fights and story progression. In PDS, you will want to get into battles.
Experience building doesn't happen like normal RPGs, though. You can fully determine the outcome of the abilities of your dragon. There has never been a level of customization before in a game; not only does increasing select attributes affect the way your dragon performs in battle, it also affects the actual appearance of your dragon in-game. There are almost an infinite number of possible dragon combinations, each relying on a unique amount of strategy.
Here is where PDS takes a lot of flak. I have said before that developers try harder and harder every day to make their games into an ''experience''; something the player actually lives through. PDS fulfills this promise. Many have criticized the game for it's brevity, with the most intrepid of players finishing the game in less than 20 hours, with the most light-footed clocking in at 30 hours. However, those 20 beautiful hours are something that will not soon be forgotten, nor will it be something that can be matched. How many RPGs have been created that contained more than 20 hours of actual worthwhile play? how many of those many hours in FFX and other modern RPGs are spent wandering in the overworld map or engaging in battles in order to achieve a level suitable for facing the next boss encounter? PDS is short because it has successfully separated the wheat of the RPG from the chaff; giving us a story to follow without the time-consuming filler in between.
PDS, reviewed years later on a system many will say was doomed from the start, holds it's ground as an RPG that has yet to be matched.
Reviewer's Rating: 5.0 - Flawless
Originally Posted: 05/04/02, Updated 05/04/02
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