"Shooters, typical in their brievity and to-the-point nature, have never been known for scale. They're reknowned for intensity and adrenaline, but they most usually come without grandeur or flair. This isn't to their detriment; it rather makes them pure gameplay powerhouses, and the games do not suffer for lack of scope. However, Panzer Dragoon Zwei is not a typical shooter, and instead brings to the genre the first ''epic'' shooter. "
Shooters, typical in their brievity and to-the-point nature, have never been known for scale. They're reknowned for intensity and adrenaline, but they most usually come without grandeur or flair. This isn't to their detriment; it rather makes them pure gameplay powerhouses, and the games do not suffer for lack of scope. However, Panzer Dragoon Zwei is not a typical shooter, and instead brings to the genre the first ''epic'' shooter.
The backstory for the Panzer Dragoon lineage is among gaming's most rich and involving. The setting is otherworldly, in a time and place where civilizations are turning towards the past to pave the future. Ancient machines are being excavated and studied; original records of them being all but destroyed, these newly found artifacts must be examined and surveyed as if never before known. The power of some of them is awesome, and factions on the world are beginning to quarrel over control of the artifacts.
While the world plots and battles and destroys itself, our hero finds himself with a moral dillemma. He's been keeping a mutant Khouleat alive despite his town's creed that it must die. Mutants such as Lagi (the name given it by our nameless hero) are believed to be a bad omen, so they're supposed to be executed at birth. Lagi's existence has been hidden, as our hero believes it will one day fly. He is right, but he discovers so at the peril of his villiage.
One day, while out running with Lagi, the two come to a ravine where the worlds of a small, innocent town and a power hungry Imperial army collide. Lagi and our hero watch as their home and land is torn apart by giant airships employing the power of the ancient devices. A burst of laser-like energy erupts from Lagi and the destiny of the two begins.
Panzer Dragoon Zwei is a 3D, forward scrolling shooter, similar most to Sega's Space Harrier games. Control is given over a cursor, with a little input as to the direction of Lagi's momentum given as well. Aiming is controlled in 360 degrees, as attacks can come from any direction. Two buttons encompass Zwei's shooting repretoire; one for the rapid fire (and when held down, for a lock on laser), and one for berserk rages.
You set out with the two so young and almost infantile; they're both so innocent, the game seems to have you in over your head. Lagi runs along the ground and our hero is armed with his gun, but they both seem so overwhelmed. Surrounding you are flying enemies and large, lumbering monsters intimidatingly beckoning you further. Dispatching punishment is easy, and as you progress in confidence, so too do the characters on screen mature.
And this is where Panzer Dragoon Zwei's epic scope sets foot. It gives personality to the characters in a way no other shooter has attempted. Following the story and combatting the evil as it is laid out lets you feel exactly how the characters do. The cut-scenes play out the script well, and the story is good enough to be its own entity entirely. The camera circles around and zooms in on Lagi before handing you control, and the language spoken (some sort of mix of Japanese and German?) hammers home the idea of a fantasy world.
As you play further, your Khouleat emerges and reveals its fate: it is indeed a Dragon. Lagi's first leap off of a ravine (should you take the correct path...) and his resultant spreading of magnificent wings, is one of gaming's greatest moments. This single metomorphosis is so important because the characters are already so cared about, and it is here where the power of the hero is first realized.
If you take the other path, though, you won't see the transformation so easily. In Panzer Zwei, levels play out in branching formations. Veer right one way, see one part of the level. Shoot a certain object/enemy, see a different part. The forking of the levels adds to the replayability of an already stellar game, and invites the player to discover the ways the story can play out.
Also presented are some extras to earn, most notably in the form of Pandra's Box. In here are several variables able to be controlled by the player, such as health, berserk meter, etc. There are several ways to earn the Box, and it is fun to do so, but the game is most remarkable simply because it plays so well.
Panzer Dragoon Zwei is a gaming dream. Control of the shooting is excellent; the cursor speed is perfect, and the ability to rotate ninety degrees is implemented without flaw as well. The trademark rapid fire/homing weapon is just as effective, yet simple, here. Dodging, once grasped, is just as excellent as the shooting, but must be given some time get ahold of. The enemies are of the highest caliber design, as are the levels. The levels are destructible and constructed to give players feelings of both claustrophobia and strandedness, achieving both emotions and more as well.
The Berserk attack gives Zwei a ''bomb.'' Shooter fiends know that a well-timed bomb can mean the difference between a thrown controller and a smiled face, and Zwei delivers its own variation. As you shoot enemies, a meter builds up, symbolizing the Dragon's anger. When the meter is filled red, a Berserk fury can be unleashed, and the product is an orgy of lasers and light both impressive and destructive. Premature bursts or Berserk rage can be shot, but the result is the same: the meter drains, and the Dragon must get angry again...
Zwei is gorgeous, unique, brilliant. It is the most beautiful 32 bit 3D game ever, eclipsing even other heavyweights such as Virtua Fighter 2 and Metal Gear Solid. It plays both to the Saturn's strengths and its weaknesses, and exploits and compensates both as if crafted by deity.
Enemies, conveying a look of archaic power, are developed and rendered perfectly to deliver on the game's theme. The textures on them, and the backgrounds as well, are of surprising resolution for 32 bit levels, and even more so in the game's stunning real time cut scenes. In those, the res on everything is jolted up to unheard of levels on the Saturn, looking head and shoulders above its nearest competition.
Several 2D effects mask some shortcomings, and while they're obviously tricks, the result cannot be argued. The water, seen a few levels into the game, would not be bested by a game until Ecco the Dolphin years later on the Dreamcast. High resolution, yet static 2D images serve as the backdrop for some levels with limited sight distance, and the effect is a trippy, yet gorgeous landscape. Later, as some levels sport obvious themes, more milestones are achieved. The 2D snow falling is another brilliant graphical step, as the screen hazes and the snow falls on the already lush, arctic level, yet slowdown simply doesn't occur.
In Zwei's most predictable moment, the music is... legendary. The Panzer series is marked by its aural superiority, and Zwei was not just a footnote here. The electronic woodwind noises that leave their impressions on the player are here, adding more to the broad, sweeping feel of the game. Music does not add as much to any game as it does to a Panzer game; the complexity and feeling of a cohesive world could not be achieved to such a degree without the astoundingly brilliant audio tracks.
Panzer Dragoon Zwei gives shooters what any game can benefit from: self-importance and emotion. The characters and phenomenal story are so loved, everything that happens to them matters to the player. The story telling and atmosphere make the game attach itself to you and not let go, yearning for more- more games, more anything about Panzer Dragoon. And it's all there to wrap up an almost flawlessly playing game.
While it doesn't quite capture the intensity of the great Space Harrier games, it more than makes up for the lacking with remarkable pacing and feel. Panzer Dragoon Zwei is the epitome of the modern 3D shooter, a genre that is dying and will most likely never see a game so good again. Its place in gaming history has already been made, and its throne shall never be taken.
Community review by ethereal (March 14, 2004)
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