Review by dragoon lover

"The greatest game of all time"

Good games come and go. Great games come and go. Even masterworks, as rare as they are, I've played and have enjoyed. Yet over my 10+ years of playing video games, I have never ever found another game that has even come close to topping the masterpiece known as Panzer Dragoon Saga. Not Final Fantasy 7. Not even The Legend of Zelda. It is my number one favorite game of all time and probably shall remain so. It is in my opinion the finest video game ever created. And yeah, technology may be getting fancier, graphics may be getting shinier, and maybe even once a while a game with some innovative ''trick'' may come out. But the basics of what makes a great video game will always remain the same. A great video captivates the player on a fun, visceral, visual, aural, whatever level. Or in the case of an RPG, it engrosses the player on a narrative level. Panzer Dragoon Saga not only succeeds on narrative and technical levels, it also skyrockets itself to wonderful heights in such gray areas like artistry and atmosphere. What follows is a point by point breakdown of my thoughts on the game.

Graphics: 9. Okay let's get one thing out of the way. This game was released on the Sega Saturn, a system with one of the most underpowered 3D processors ever. Naturally compared to today's standards, the graphics are going to look outdated. And there are some parts in the game that were painfully denied sparkle, which is very apparent when walking around some towns at night. However most of this game makes up for this with graphics that dazzle and ignite the senses. Yes, it's still the Saturn, but even with the system's limited capabilities, this game pushed the hardware to the limit. The monsters and dragons exude color, and the game even manages to allow the dragon to smoothly change from one color to the next as it morphs. And the very act of morphing the dragon(in real time no less) is probably hands down the most innovative game element ever created both graphically and in terms of gameplay. You can actually see the dragon fluidly change into a near infinite variety of shapes as you shift the stat points around. It's brilliant. Graphically the cinema sequences remind me of watching really old movies where the color has started to fade. However compared to many of today's cinematics heavy rpgs, the animation and body expressions in this game are surprisingly fluid and well acted, especially when you look at Final Fantasy 7's wooden characters.

Sound: 10. Utterly brilliant. Almost every line in the entire game is spoken with incredibly fine voice acting work. The vocal performances help you grow attached to the characters, both good and evil. The soundtrack is also brilliant. It's really impossible to describe in words what a Panzer Dragoon-esque song sounds like, but it's here in this game in full color. Then of course there's the unforgetable Panzer Dragoon sound effects. You can almost feel each beat of the dragon's wings and the searing heat of the lasers, and you wince in pain everytime the dragon cries whenever it gets hit.

Control/Gameplay: 10. Control isn't really an issue for rpgs, but in this game it's on a brilliant level both in terms of gameplay and aesthetics. Instead of controlling the character in a top down scheme like most other rpgs, you control your character in a 3D world from a mostly behind the back view, giving you a greater sense of actually being in this game's world. However, control of the character is tight and responsive and isn't like a first person type of control at all(and no deadly camera issues either). But it's in the battle sequence that is where this game separates itself from all the other rpgs. The battles take place mostly on the back of the dragon. But unlike other rpgs where you select an action and watch a resolution based on random values, Panzer Dragoon Saga gives you the ability to maneuver around the enemies to one of four 90 degree points in real time. Each position has situational advantages and disadvantages, and the field is always changing as enemies try to outmaneuver you and redirect their weak spots and open up new hazards. And much like the Final Fantasies, the dragon is slowly charging up to three charge bars. Filling up one or more of these bars has various effects in battle, like being able to cast spells or use your homing lasers. This opens up a whole level of strategy not seen in many rpgs where instead of hit percentages determining battles, the game actually rewards players for the speed in which they defeat the enemies.

Story: 11. Okay. So this isn't exactly a legal score. But the story of Panzer Dragoon Saga just separates itself from all the other RPGs. The characters just reach out and drag you into their world. The voice acting and emotional impact is stellar work. The characters just feel real. Instead of stock good and evil characters like in most other RPGs, the characters in Panzer Dragoon Saga feel dynamic and fleshed out. The main character Edge feels like just an average citizen just trying to do his job. However you know he's got a heart of gold, and when his world gets turned upside down he shows his emotional side(Edge clearly gets an Oscar for best performance in a lead position in an RPG) and his dark side(he's motivated by revenge). On his quest he meets a wide variety of characters, some of which stand out as being colorful and emotional characters. Even the bad guys seem like real, fleshed out characters. Save for a few stereotypically laughing maniacs, what seems like a stock villain later turns out to be motivated by noble intentions, if through impure means. Azel is Edge's antagonist, yet it is clear that she is not evil. Edge and Azel develop what is easily the most interesting yet most reserved relationship I've ever seen in an RPG as they duel each other time and time again in incredibly epic battles. And even the stereotypically evil characters are done with style. The story of Panzer Dragoon Saga isn't afraid to get dark, like the best Final Fantasies. Good characters die. Whole towns get leveled. The hero suffers torture and emotional anguish. Yet never does the game threaten to bury you in convoluted plot elements or cliches like so many other RPGs nor does it mess around with minigames and side quests or turn lighthearted and fluffy. And surrounding the characters and even involving them and the player are the many heavy themes that the Panzer Dragoon universe is known for. It all ties together in a seemingly perfect tapestry as everything builds.

Atmosphere: 10. Atmosphere is a hard element to suss out, as it doesn't apply to every game, and it's an even grayer area to judge than how good an RPGs story is. Yet Panzer Dragoon Saga has atmosphere in spades. Panzer Dragoon isn't just a set of four games. It's an experience, a whole universe. Panzer Dragoon is a frightening futuristic world filled with bio-engineered monsters. It is terrifying imagery punctuated by flashes of beauty with unusual shapes and organic and tribal sensibilities. Even death is beautiful. Panzer Dragoon is a work of art. It's images inspired by Mobius and brilliant music that's hard to describe. It has its own history and mythos. It's inspired theories and essays and other works of art. Panzer Dragoon is the Star Wars of video games.

Overall: 10/10. There is so much more to Panzer Dragoon Saga that makes it my number one game of all time. The game is technically brilliant and narratively superb, but so are many other RPGs. Panzer Dragoon Saga goes that extra inch that elevates itself above the other games. Artistry, music, history, characters, and story all combine to paint one glorious picture. Instead of concentrating on one character, it actually feels like you're participating in a story much bigger than yourself. It is a true ''cinematic'' game, moreso than many of today's RPGs that use cinemas to tell the story. It has many wonderful scenes worthy of Hollywood. Rare is the game that achieves 100% immersion. Panzer Dragoon Saga, in my opinion, is the one game that is the closest to reaching this. The only two minor things that todays RPG fans might complain about is that this is the easiest RPG ever created and also one of the shortest. However I don't think this is such a bad thing. The bosses challenge you without killing you and the shortness of the game means a streamlined story that pulls you in and never lets go, rather than other RPGs where the overall experience only comes in spurts. The game puts experience and story above all else. These two minor nitpicks aren't enough to kill this towering masterpiece. It is, in my opinion, the greatest game ever created and will probably always remain my number one favorite for all time.

Reviewer's Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

Originally Posted: 02/01/04

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