Review by NiGHTS Man Rick
"One last hurrah for Team Andromeda and the Saturn, and what a hurrah it is..."
Yes, Panzer Dragoon Saga. A game many gamers have heard of, many collectors pine for, but so few have truly played. Is this highly rare title worth the attention it gets and it's outlandishly inflated eBay prices? The answer is a resounding yes.
For the Saturn? Very impressive. For a system that always had trouble pushing polys like the PSX, Team Andromeda managed to make this game combine a smooth frame rate with sharp character models. With excellent dragon and monster designs, this game can be quite a dose of eye candy. It's downsides, however, are it's frequent pop-up (especially in wide-open areas like Uru) and the occasional slowdown here and there (Zoah comes to mind.) Also, some of the dungeon designs are rather flat, bland, and lifeless, this can be redeemed however with the excellent design and layout of other areas. Other than that, the game is quite impressive visual wise.
This game's soundtrack is a bit of a mixed bag, really. Some music (Zoah, Camp, Final Battle) is downright superb. While other music can be rather bland. Regardless of if you like a certain track or not, it's at least undeniable that Team Andromeda has given the Panzer Dragoon games a sound of their own, and no game has a soundtrack quite like Panzer Dragoon Saga be it in style or sound. The games sound effects are nice, as are the VAs. Azel especially has a nice voice, fitting to her role.
Conveniently, this game works well with both Analog and Digital Controllers in battles where maneuvering around the enemy letting out Berserk attacks and Laser Shots, but not the same can be said for exploration. Exploring towns with lead character Edge or through the sky with your dragon is better used to the Analog Controller, as it allows better maneuverability through areas and for sharper turns. However, other than that, controls are simple with the basic RPG buttons, but PDS takes an interesting twist. While exploring as Edge or with the dragon, pressing A or C allows a crosshair that can be rotated around to come up that allows Edge to inspect whatever it highlights, be it a person he wants to talk to, a door he wants to enter, or an event that he wants to trigger (when playing as Edge, different effects occur depending on what your distance is between you and the item/person.) Only other complaint I can think of is that Edge feels like he runs a bit slow with the B button, but other than that, control is simple and intuitive.
If you've played Panzer Dragoon or Panzer Dragoon Zwei, you've probably heard it all before. Seeking vengeance against the Empire (or in this case, a rebellious faction of the Empire controlled by a Lord Craymen) vengeance for killing your (Edge's) friends, you run into a near death situation in which you're narrowly saved by a mysterious dragon, you don't know it's purpose or why it has chosen you to guide it, but you will continue your quest for vengeance riding atop it's back. There are a couple of differences between the games' openings, but after this all similarities end, as this chapter in Team Andromeda's trademark series goes far more in-depth into the exploits of the Empire and the true secret of The Tower, a giant relic from the Ancient Age as mysterious as it is lethal. Adding another little enigma to the game's storyline is the mysterious girl from the Ancient Age, Azel. What is Lord Craymen's purpose for her? What connection does she have with the Tower that Craymen is pursuing? And where is the Empire fit in in all of this? Play the game and find out for yourself. With wonderful real-time and CGI cut scenes to guide the great story and classic characters through this epic adventure, you'll be begging for more right up to the game's fantastic climax.
More Action game that RPG tedium, Panzer Dragoon Saga combines the exploration aspects of RPGs with thrilling real-time fights in which you fly alongside your enemies blasting them from all angles to gain experience and Dyne (money). A radar helps you to find the worst danger zones and best areas of cover. However, the real-time fights are restricted by your dragon's own active-time battle gauge, in which 3 bars fill up over time (raising Agility helps.) A regular Laser Shot, your dragon's Berserk attack, or using an item or Healing Berserk Spell will cost you one bar, while any other Berserk Spell will cost you two. Berserk Spells, you ask? Think of them as PDS's own little magic system, where depending on the Dragon Type you work with the most, as you level up you learn newer and more powerful abilities to strike down even the fiercest of bosses. Dragon Type, what's that? As you progress through the game, you'll have the ability to change your Dragon's stats, affecting Attack Power, Defense, Agility, and Spiritual Power. The board is set up on a picture of your dragon with increased Attack to the left, Defense to the top, Agility to the bottom, and Spiritual to the right, effectively making it so all types of dragons you create on the grid are balanced well. Changing the Dragon Type affects your stats in battle and what kind of Berserk Spells you learn. This function is extremely useful, especially since it's available during mid-battle, so you can effectively change your strategies as the enemies change. If you're dealing with a fast and armored enemy, boost up your Attack and Agility to counter your opponent, that simple. (I personally found it best in most situations to have a dragon with 200 Attack, 100 Defense, and 100 Agility.) With this intuitive but deep battle system combined with nice exploration that focuses on interacting with environments, you have quite the Action/RPG on your hands. Only real complaint? The game is just too easy, and relies more on persistence and determination than actual skill. But hey, the same can be applied to many an RPG right?
Pretty average for an ''epic, 4-disc RPG,'' it clocks in at only around 12-15 hours. However, you won't mind playing through it a few times, and there's plenty of side quests and stuff to keep you busy (Getting all the Berserk Spells, collecting all the D Units, getting 100% Field Analysis ranking, etc. etc. etc.) The replay value is just as well, but you'll get just as much out of the game by borrowing it from a (obviously rich and/or lucky) friend. :)
If you can try before you buy, I certainly recommend it. It's not that PDS isn't a fantastic game that shouldn't belong in any Saturn gamers library, it's a matter of whether or not you're enough of a fan of the game to drop down anywhere from $80-$140 for it depending on it's condition. I personally think if you can find for $110-$120 or under in good or new condition, grab hold of it and do not let go. It certainly delivers the bang for the buck.
Easily one of the best games on Saturn and easily one of the most sought-after games ever, PDS is a gaming experience that need not be missed. Sadly, 5000 domestic copies ain't enough for everyone, so this is one saga that doesn't come cheap. The bigger question probably is do you get the bang for your buck? To put it bluntly, oh hell yes you do.
Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 03/08/02, Updated 03/08/02
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