Panzer Dragoon Saga (Saturn) review
"Beyond life follows death, but for the most important of all dragon riders, beyond his death is his life, again. Death brings him his destiny, and death raises him from the commoner depths of labor and servitude to the forefront of the struggle between a world and its damnation. Edge, the youth who experiences this soul-altering transformation, dies at the outset of this, the single greatest RPG the world will ever see. He's resurrected and saved from his demise by a dragon, a magnificent beast ..."
Beyond life follows death, but for the most important of all dragon riders, beyond his death is his life, again. Death brings him his destiny, and death raises him from the commoner depths of labor and servitude to the forefront of the struggle between a world and its damnation. Edge, the youth who experiences this soul-altering transformation, dies at the outset of this, the single greatest RPG the world will ever see. He's resurrected and saved from his demise by a dragon, a magnificent beast he'll soon learn shares his place in the cosmos.
Panzer Dragoon Saga begins so modestly. Edge wants nothing with his regained life but to find and kill the man who not only murdered him, but his adoptive ''father'' as well. In this world of awkward flying machines linking scattered, anemic townships, bonds are rare and those held genuinely are never forgotten. He recalls the other things the man, ''Craymen,'' did when ambushing Edge's fleet: the pillaging of the work site; the destruction of the ships; the man with the weird mask; the coffin in the impression of a young woman. None moves him as he focuses on Craymen.
On the back of the dragon will rest the core of the game- from freeflight navigation of areas of Panzer's world to the stunning combat system, piloting the awesome creature both binds this to the previous games and sets it apart. You'll spend much of the game trying to get from point A to point B; at first, from point A to Craymen, and as the story evolves, from point A to places of legend and whispered fear.
It's a hostile world. As a morally ambiguous Empire has governed what constitutes its populace, resources have been routed where it sees fit. Monsters have been growing in numbers in areas away (but nearer and nearer) from city sites, terrifying a world which has no real defense against them. The Empire has been excavating the sites of the world's ancient civilizations for desperate answers to the threat the monsters pose. As Edge, on the dragon, it is you who poses the threat.
As you soar to your destinations, you'll run across all sorts of threatening situations; most are monsters in the area, but some are Empire airships or defensive installations. The combat system then switches on, and the most amazing thing happens: it doesn't bore you to tears. In fact, the combat in this game is so fun and impeccably designed, it's literally flawless.
Rather than impose some insipid turn-based nonsense, Panzer Dragoon Saga RPG-ifies its Panzer formula with a gauge system. You're given three gauges, and they fill over time. Certain actions can be performed with only one filled, while more powerful actions will require two or three to be full. As your combat skills and dragon evolve, you'll gain powerful Berserk actions, which are much like the spells of more mundane RPGs. You must balance both the timing of your attacks and your placement in relation to the enemy. Gorgeous and devastating, the Berserk actions have transformed from their one-dimensional bonus attack nature in Panzer Zwei. As the quest continues, more strategy will be required as you must gear your dragon to perform defensively, offensively, magically, or maneuverability-wise, depending on the situation.
Beyond the thrill and reward of the game's combat lies the spectacular enemy designs. The most basic enemies are as otherworldly as the most enormous bosses. There are no throwaway encounters with pointless rats or ravens; the monsters here are fantastical designs that solidify the impression of a civilization very much unlike anything on Earth. Arachnid-like enemies will shift shapes to release spores; large, lumbering airships will at once strike you as primitive and powerful; flying insects made of hardened resin will teleport to dodge attacks. The bosses take these ideas a step further: the talent Andromeda had for designing dragons bleeds through with some awesome concepts of dragons both organic and materialistic. Witness Atolm, the dragon on which Azel rides; a massive and powerful brute which dwarfs your own dragon, simultaneously looking like its own breed of the species.
And for a 32-bit attempt at 3D, Panzer Dragoon Saga is an impressive game. Atop your dragon, the cliffs and clouds and other expanses are rendered competently and vividly. The water effects, although not as awe-striking as the still-unbelievable effect in Zwei, are mesmerizing. The dragon models are awesome and intricately animated. The colors, models, and textures concert to form a look of worn antiquity that is distinctly attractive and distinctly Panzer.
And the music, another tradition of the Panzer lineage, is absolutely perfect. From the threatening and ominous woodwind themes of the world's levels, to the drum-heavy battle and boss music, Panzer Dragoon Saga was so richly endowed with gifted composition, it bests even Zelda: OOT in terms of resonance in the mind. Play any piece from the game in a stereo and the mind will race to the corresponding scene in the game... play some battle music, and you'll visualize the dragon's tail dance in the wind as you maneuver around for the perfect striking position.
Accompanying this soundtrack is the German/Japanese blended language with which the Panzer games are synonymous. Subtitles translate this beautiful gibberish, offering a glimpse into what even further makes the game so extraterrestrially fascinating.
And as the story dances around and toys with the minds of both Edge and the player, it becomes absolutely riveting. It is one of the few games you play hoping it never ends. You continue the quest, dreading the turn of the next disc and the signal that you are 1/4 of the way closer to its conclusion. Edge is juggled from emotion to emotion as he discovers the true nature of the Empire, Craymen, dragons, the ancients, and Azel, the enchanting woman from the tomb... and you'll be mesmerized by the whole experience. Something far greater than Edge is the driving force behind his life, and when he dies, he becomes that much more important. Panzer Dragoon Saga is both the telling of this story and the most amazing possible way to play it through.
Community review by sinner (March 14, 2004)
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