Review by Lee1

"Sega's unique world stands as one of the most intricate and beautiful of its genre."

If Sega's Panzer Dragoon series is known for one thing, it's its unique and captivating atmosphere. From the first level of the first Panzer Dragoon, gamers were in for a treat as they flew their way through the post-apocalyptic pseudo-fantasy world on the wings of the dragon. What makes this series' story so interesting is the fact that each game doesn't feel like a saga, but rather a collection of interwoven side-stories that combine to become that saga.

And with the release of the third Panzer Dragoon, the entire story does feel like an epic saga.

Panzer Dragoon Saga was released near the end of the Saturn's life in an effort to invoke one final bang before the system faded. Even with making the third game a RPG, rather than a familiar shooter like the first two were, they succeeded in creating that bang. Sega managed to make an RPG that is completely unique from the norm and still a blast to play. One of the most immersive worlds in any game. A fast-paced and entertaining battle system. An epic score. And while making every pixel of the world push the Saturn to its limits.

You control Edge, a young man who is working on a mining project for the empire. As he makes his daily rounds, bored at his work, he discovers a young girl encased in a tomb deep under the rock. But as soon as he finds her, the empire comes in their airships and slaughters everyone who is working on the project. He survives the massacre by falling deep into a ravine, everyone leaving him for dead. From there, he awakes in a pool of water, groggy from the turn of events. As he stumbles through the caverns, trying to find a way out, he encounters several large monsters. Too many to handle by himself, especially after his gun runs out of ammo. As death seems imminent, a giant dragon swoops down and emits a stream of energy from its mouth, obliterating the opposition. Edge and the dragon confront each other. It would seem that fate has chosen them to embark together. Thus, they fly out of the ravine. Confused at the empire's betrayal of its own men, and angered by the death of everyone he ever cared about, Edge and the dragon embark on a journey to unravel the truth about the empire, the ancient age, and the very land they live on.

What really sets Panzer Dragoon Saga's story apart from other RPGs is not only the freshness that oozes from every line of dialogue, but the characterization and context in which the story is presented. Edge matures from a naïve soldier to a savior. His relationship with Azel is not only convoluted and dismal, but thought-provoking as well. Crayman shifts from villain to anti-hero. And a fury of beautifully-written supporting characters, like the bumbling tinkering mechanic, the corrupt mayor, the shadowy emperor, the mysterious yet friendly seeker. And of Each character that you meet is instantly memorable and fresh.

But one of the biggest strong points about Panzer Dragoon Saga is the battle system. Battles are waged from the top of the dragon, sometimes with a supporting character riding double. As the battle starts, the enemy is positioned in the center of the radar. You circle yourself around the enemy in an effort to find a weak point, or to simply get out of the way of a brutal attack. But there are always twists thrown at you. Suppose getting to the right of the enemy is impossible because of a wall. Suppose hitting the weak point means you will have to stand right in front of the strongest weapon. Suppose you have to hit every point on the enemy's body in an effort to bring out the weak point. Suppose you're fighting a flock of flying enemies and need to find the leader. Suppose you need to destroy an egg before it hatches into something more deadly. Each enemy has a best way to battle, so this means that no single type of enemy will be destroyed the same way as you weave in and out of danger spots in an effort to bring them down.

You have two main attacks. One is to have Edge fire his gun, which can be upgraded to fire at multiple enemies or cause extra damage than normal to weak points. The other attack is the dragon's homing laser, which causes it to fire several homing shots at the nearest enemies. Then there are your berserk powers, which is basically Panzer Dragoon Saga's take on magic. These powers range from a fury of hits to heighten your stats to summoning creatures to attack. But the order in which you learn these berserk powers is different depending on how you set your dragon up. Let me elaborate.

After a certain point in the game, you unlock the ability to manipulate the dragon's stats. Raising the attack will make it an Attack Class dragon, which will enable it to learn attack-based berserk powers. However, whenever you raise a point, you lower a point in another stat. Say, you want a purely defensive dragon. Well then, you'll need to lower your speed. But unlike most other games, the difference is noticeable. If you lower your defense you'll notice the extra turn you'll be getting every time you attack, or the ease you get when evading. If you decide to raise attack fully, you'll be hitting for at least double damage. And with every stat point you manipulate, the dragon's appearance slightly changes until it looks like a completely different creature when compared to another extreme. It's a really neat system that allows you to fully customize what shape you want your dragon to take on.

The environments are immensely varied and look really impressive for a Saturn game. What's more, it's actually fun to explore every inch of these maps while on the back of your dragon. At times, you'll forget that the objective is to explore the map, and instead race across it, watching the sides of the canyon walls or the blue of the sea skim by. But the dungeon layout can get out of hand and very frustrating at times, especially the few times where you feel like you're going in circles. Or when you simply cannot find that obscure passage you need to go through.

The music is another high point. Composed by Saori Kobayashi and Mariko Namba, this OST is filled with a distinct and original style that fits the Panzer Dragoon world extremely well. And as a standalone, it ranks as one of my favorite game OSTs. It's moody, distant, epic, and fresh. Not to mention the ending theme, ‘Sona Mi Areru Ec Sancitu', has to be one of the best ending themes I've ever heard.

My gripes with the game are few, yet serious enough to knock a point off. One is the controls. While they're extremely fluid while riding around on the dragon, the on-foot controls need some work. They could be a bit tighter, and I shudder to think how it would work if the targeting system wasn't there and you had to go up to everything to activate it. The dragon's controls are great, but when you're trying to go straight down or up, it takes forever. But my biggest gripe lies with the ending. It's anti-climatic ending and resolves little (leaving everything to be implied). Also, the game feels much too short. I beat each disc in a single sitting and felt like I could go on longer (Well, maybe not disc 2).

Now for the real decision. Is it worth the hundred-plus dollars it goes for online? I'd have to say no, unless you're a die-hard RPG fan. Or have the money to spare. It ranks as one of the best RPGs out there, but the play is very casual and easily finished. Within a week you could do everything there is to the game (if you use a walkthrough to help you with the side-quests. Otherwise add a few days). But still, if you find other means to play it besides shelling out on Ebay, do so. What we have here is an excellent story-driven game with a fun battle system, excellent score, and one of the most unique worlds you will ever find in an RPG.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 08/08/05

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