Review by slithy
"Works better as art than a game"
For those who've never played a Panzer Dragoon game, the idea of an RPG spinoff of a rail shooter might seem far-fetched. However, those who are familiar with the series know it created a world that was just calling out for a more substantial game to draw you into this richly-detailed fantasy world. Panzer Dragoon Saga does just that.
In Panzer Dragon Saga, you play as Edge, who is caught the middle of a bloody fight when the excavation site he was guarding comes under attack after discovering a beautiful girl encased in stone. The figure who saves Edge is a Dragon, a creature from the "Ancient Age." Together, you set off to exact revenge on those who killed your friends and learn about the mysterious girl who was taken from the site.
The game's plot is very well-paced, lacking the long, "character development" scenes that slow down most RPGs. Much of the story is told through spectacular CG cut scenes, which are every bit as good as those in the Final Fantasy games. Also, most of the main characters are voice acted, and Sega mercifully left the original voices in and used subtitles for the translation.
Being an RPG, Panzer Dragoon Saga focuses on combat and exploration. The combat in Panzer Dragoon is very unique. When you encounter an enemy, you attack using a pseudo-realtime system, like Final Fantasy's Active Time Battle. During combat, the formations constantly change, so you have to position your dragon where you are less vulnerable. The overall effect is a much more dynamic battle system than your typical RPG, while staying true to the feel of the series.
There are times when this excellent battle system seem to be wasted, however. When you enter a new area, you fight a new kind of enemy, then you fight the same thing over and over until you know how to take them down easily each time. A little more variety would have made the game seem a lot less tedious.
The boss battles are where the battle system really shines. Panzer Dragoon Saga has ome of the most epic boss battles in any game, and you'll need to master the nuances of the battle system to defeat most of them. Once you recognize the patterns, though, most of them are fairly simple.
The other major aspect of the gameplay is exploration. On foot, you'll walk around towns and villages, gathering clues and talking to people. On the dragon, however, the world opens up and you are free to explore the vast environments in all directions. Unfortunately, the extent of the puzzles while on the dragon amounts to flipping switches and flying through tunnels. Again, some variety would have been nice.
The graphics, while not as detailed as in Panzer Dragon Zwei, push the Saturn to its limits. Still, many of the textures look blocky and there is some draw-in of some of the larger environments. Where the graphics excel, however, is in art direction. Even on the Saturn's limited 3D hardware, Team Andromeda created a believable world with lots of detail and ambiance. The music is mostly subdued, but it matches the mood perfectly.
Although the game stretches over 4 disks, it's a surprisingly short game. Most people will beat the game in fewer than 20 hours. Like a good film, though, you may want to go through again to see the great cinemas and revisit the memorable locations.
What Panzer Dragoon lacks in gameplay, namely challenge and variety, it more than makes up for in production. Never before or since has a game made such a wonderful world come to life. This game has established quite a reputation as one of the top RPGs of the 32-bit era. While this is debatable, it's certainly a unique game with a stunning look and feel.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 06/30/05
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