Review by nitewulf
"An alternate world, an amazing story, one hell of a game..."
The review will follow, but I ask you to bear with me for the first few paragraphs.
The boundary between the so-called “hardcore” gamer and the “casual” gamer is rather vague. I started out playing games for fun, enjoyed it quite a bit but felt no attachment towards the companies that developed the games, nor did I relate with the games in a deep way, the whole hobby was very superficial, except Sonic…I loved the little blue hedgehog and his games…everything else were just mere diversions.
That’s why I skipped out on the Saturn, because frankly speaking, after the Genesis, I had no time or patience for console games anymore, the “mature” PC games attracted me more and I felt I grew out of the console phase. I still loved Sonic games mind you, but the little blue hedgehog was missing from the Saturn launch lineup, and after a certain period of time I did not even follow that market and was completely content with PC gaming, specifically FPS and Racing games.
Words started spreading around early 1998 about a new super console from Sega named the Dreamcast, and as the Japanese launch neared, there was mention of a new full 3D Sonic game. Screenshots and previews flooded the web, and I got more and more nostalgic, I HAD to buy the new Sega console. The console launched in Japan, the Sonic game came out, got great reviews everywhere and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the US Dreamcast. But alas, I had to wait a year for it, and since I never imported game systems, I was not really familiar with the whole scene. So during this period I decided to go back and try some of the deeper games for my Genesis, which was collecting dust. I got a hold of Phantasy Star 4, a console RPG, a genre I hated…I watched my friends play the Final Fantasy games, and I could not believe how anyone could just sit there and go through menus to insert battle commands. But since it was a more “mature” genre as far as I was concerned, I decided to give it a try. Suffice to say that after a week, the console RPG became my favorite genre of gaming.
The US Dreamcast launched in due time, I had gotten my Sonic fix, but I was starved for Sega RPGs, I had played most of the Final Fantasies and other notable Squaresoft RPGs in the meantime and loved them. But Sega RPGs like the Phantasy Star and the Shining Force series held a certain charm that I craved. So I decided to research Sega RPGs I had missed and I came upon a game called Panzer Dragoon Saga, critically acclaimed and generally agreed upon as the best RPG Sega ever created, for its doomed console, the Saturn.
Suffice to say, I had a hell of a time getting a Saturn and obtaining a copy of Panzer Dragoon Saga, but gaming was forever changed in my eyes, and I had a favorite RPG that could never be topped.
An ingenious battle-system. The encounters are random, and you hear the trademarked “swish” as you gear up for battle. Your dragon flies along with the enemies as 3 gauges start to fill up one after another. You can freely rotate to the sides, front and back of the enemies in real-time. The press of one button fires your gun, which can be modified in many ways, the press of another button unleashes your dragon’s tracking lasers, all in real-time. Both of these attacks require one gauge. The press of a third button opens up the menu as time freezes, letting you use items or special techniques to obliterate your foes or heal/defend you and your dragon, all these actions may take 2 or all 3 gauges. Very simple eh? I did not mention that certain enemies will use devastating attacks if you are in front of them, so perhaps you should stay back or on their sides! Then again other enemies will obliterate you if you are on their sides! And yet other enemies have 3 areas where they can unleash powerful attacks, how do you know where to stay? A handy radar will show you the zones. GREEN for safe, RED for danger and CLEAR, for normal damage. Did I mention your gauges stop filling up as you move? Did I mention you can configure your dragon to optimize Defense, Offense, Magic or Agility during battle? There are more tricks, but I will let the players find out on their own for more enjoyment. A take on the Squaresoft ATB technique? Sure. But one hell of a take, and the innovations put it ahead of every single RPG battle system I came upon, and the most FUN.
2) Exploration on foot:
This is what you will be doing in the villages and towns. You will converse with people for information and clues, run errands, do side-quests and buy or sell items.
3) Exploration on your dragon:
This is what you will be doing most of the time, when you reach a new area or dungeon, you will fly around in your dragon, battling enemies and solving puzzles.
This is what puts PDS ahead of all other RPGs in my opinion. A true cinematic RPG. The story is told through FMVs and real-time cutscenes, and also from dialogues with other characters. The confusion builds more and more as you near the end, what you thought was obvious becomes less obvious, your simple goal becomes much more complex. Emotions run wild, feelings of exploration, adventure and sadness intermingles…
Most of the music is generated electronically using the chips of the Saturn, rather than off the CD. They are dreamy, they will take you to another world. The orchestrated scores are majestic and epic. The music and sounds are so good that I bought the soundtrack to this game.
All the dialogues in this game are spoken in Japanese, every single person will actually speak to you, and they don’t just repeat the same thing over and over! The Japanese voice actors did an excellent job giving the NPCs and main characters emotions and personalities. The language also succeeds in absorbing the player into a different universe, at least for non-Japanese players.
A technical achievement for the Saturn, which was said to be weak in 3D graphics. Your dragon animates realistically…as realistically a dragon can, anyway ;) Water shimmers as fishes swim by, waterfalls splash down, birds fly around in the distance…you come upon majestic ruins, biomechanical monsters, awe-inspiring bosses, huge explosions, large towns and excellently designed dungeons. It truly depicts a post-apocalyptic world and succeeds. The atmosphere will immerse you. The artistic design is without peers.
Sure the frame rate does stutter when things get too hectic, things pop up at the distance, and some textures are blurry. But overall from an artistic perspective, this game is amazing.
The FMV is not up to Squaresoft or Capcom quality, in fact I wondered why they used FMVs at all when all the real-time cutscenes were much more impressive. The characters animate fluidly during these real-time cutscenes, conveying different emotions, you could just tell by their gestures what they are trying to express!
If my review doesn’t sound like it deserves the score I gave it, you must excuse me. As I wrote this review I had so much more to say, but I didn’t as that would have spoiled the game for those who did not play it yet. Panzer Dragoon Saga took me out of my regular life for a few days, it embraced me and absorbed me into its own world. No other game can ever take its place in my heart.
Reviewer's Rating: 5.0 - Flawless
Originally Posted: 09/16/01, Updated 09/16/01
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