Review by Jeet Soon Kai
"Greatest Game Ever. Period."
This is an updated review of Panzer Dragoon Saga. I have made a conscious decision to overwrite my previous review for a number of reasons--the most important of which is that I believe the last one simply did NOT do the game justice. I made the mistake of defending the game from its criticisms, as opposed to celebrating its genius.
I will not make the same mistake twice.
That being said, I must not be modest: Panzer Dragoon Saga is video gaming perfection. Understand that I did not write that sentence with ease. I mean, perfection? Quite a standard is being set to say that word, but it is the only word that applies. This was the first game to inspire me--literally inspire me. It was the first to suggest that we could connect with video games in a medium higher than entertainment. It changed my perception of art (and, make no mistake, this game is art).
Now, that doesn’t mean because it had this affect on me, Panzer Dragoon Saga will redefine you. If you need it deconstructed into mechanics, it is still nothing short of absolute brilliance. The game looks, sounds, and plays exactly like it should (given the nature of its setting and story). But, if you are willing, you will discover a life experience. Reading this paragraph again, it sounds as though I am preaching, and maybe I am. Powerful words need to be said for Panzer Dragoon Saga, or they will fail its owed credit.
I realize, also, that I am simply praising this game, not listing reasons why. So let’s break it down:
You could capture any frame of Panzer Dragoon Saga (cut scene or in-game), and it would be worthy to hang on your wall. From a technical standpoint, however, it is nothing short of dated. It is certainly not par with modern standards. Then again, if frame rates, texture quality, and resolution is today’s criteria for a good looking game, then today’s imagination is truly dead, and the wrong qualities are being appreciated.
How a game is presented is much more significant than how it looks.
The proof of this comes in the form of a question: Would this game benefit from the aforementioned criteria? The answer is no, a glossy overhaul would not help Panzer Dragoon Saga look any better. Its strength lies within its substance (not its style). Its substance lies within its universe. And what a universe this is! Never before has a world looked this alien. Where the organic and the inorganic meet and embrace each other willingly. Where its inhabitants no longer look to the heavens for answers--they’re already there.
Speaking of its inhabitants, I dare you to find more imagination in character design... and I’m not just talking about video games. While enemies in most games can look as sinister, Panzer Dragoon Saga goes the extra step to give them a reason why they look that way. Every time you defeat one, you get a history of their existence. Darwinism to justify the hideousness of your foe? Brilliant.
From the title dragon, to Edge, to Craymen, to Zastava, to Atolm, to the Ruins of Uru, to the Garil desert, to the Tower, to Azel (ah, Azel... has there ever been so much beauty found in so few polygons?)... anyone of them could make for an entire game all their own.
The series took a wrong step, aurally, with Panzer Dragoon II Zwei. In that installment, they went for a more synthetic sound, as opposed to the orchestral brilliance of the original. Fortunately, Panzer Dragoon Saga realized this mistake, and decided to retain its symphonic origin. Very smart, and much appreciated.
Or, to better put it into perspective, I spent the better part of year to import its soundtrack... and it’s the only soundtrack I will ever need (video game or other). Points are also added to the fact that they invented an ENTIRE language for this one game. That’s love.
Pure invention. Instead of being a retread of its shooter brethren, Team Andromeda took a bold step to evolve the series into an RPG. And it is in this genre where the series feels most comfortable. They knew that the world they had created was much too beautiful and much too immense to be confined to the predetermined rails of a shooter.
But, what’s most impressive, is that nothing was lost in the translation. Panzer Dragoon Saga still requires the lightning quick reflexes and sweaty palms of a shooter, while seamlessly marrying the strategy of a turn-based RPG. In terms of mechanics, the two genres are polar opposites, and the fact that they pulled it off is an achievement in itself.
Yes, the story owes a nod to the Star Wars legacy (Edge is basically Luke, and they both try to stop the evil Empire), but what separates Panzer Dragoon Saga is its insights into human character and its willingness to challenge us. Who we root for in the beginning, and who we condemn, may not be the same people by the time the story ends. The heroes and villains do not wear their motivations like name tags.
In reality, no one is merely evil, and no one is merely good, and I have nothing but admiration for a game that would challenges us to accept such conflicting morals. Also of note is Azel. She is the first digital character that I’ve actually felt for (on an emotional level). Her story, and the sadness surrounding it, is seriously that involving.
While Panzer Dragoon Saga has received blows for its length (10-15 hours), I find it to be just right. Not too long, not too short, and with enough discoveries to keep you coming back for more (I swear, I find something new every single time I play). Add to the fact that this is the one RPG I have no trouble playing over and over without losing interest, the only real gripe I can possibly have is that Pandora’s Box is not nearly as well represented as it was in Panzer Dragoon II Zwei.
If there was a universal list of games required to be played in order to be considered a TRUE gamer, Panzer Dragoon Saga would be right at the top of the list. And if there was a universal list of experiences needed to die a completed human being, guess where else this game would be? The line of difference is virtually nonexistent.
Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 12/16/00, Updated 12/14/01
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