Panzer Dragoon Orta (Xbox) review
"This game is amazing. No, really, it is. Panzer Dragoon Orta is one of the most impressive things I've experienced in quite some time.....graphically. It's a shame that the gameplay itself isn't as spectacular, because it could have been one of the best games in the Xbox's library. There are a couple of annoyances and problems that keep the main game from becoming very enjoyable. Thankfully, all hope is not completely lost. The slew of extras crammed into Pandora's Box rescues PDO ..."
This game is amazing. No, really, it is. Panzer Dragoon Orta is one of the most impressive things I've experienced in quite some time.....graphically. It's a shame that the gameplay itself isn't as spectacular, because it could have been one of the best games in the Xbox's library. There are a couple of annoyances and problems that keep the main game from becoming very enjoyable. Thankfully, all hope is not completely lost. The slew of extras crammed into Pandora's Box rescues PDO from what could have been an average product.
Now, imagine, if you will, you're minding your own business, just sleeping in a prison tower. Then, suddenly, a bunch of bio-engineered, winged freaks (Dragonmares) from the Empire (resurrected once again, they just refuse to stay down), attack the town you're in and rip open your prison walls. You're pretty much surrounded and about to die. But a dragon, a supposedly extinct creature, comes out of no where and swoops you out from danger, for the moment. From this point on, you take control of Orta and her dragon, and get thrown into a world where you must fend off the Empire, bio-engineered creatures, and a much bigger threat, later on. Basically, it's the usual "some unknown person becomes The One that saves the world from being flushed down its own anus" storyline.
It starts out pretty ambitiously, but spirals into a web of confusion and disappointment towards the end. By the end of the first episode, you'll get bombarded with a ton of plot setups that you'd think would get explained in the following episodes. But the storyline slowly takes it's time over the game's ten episodes, giving you bits and pieces at a time. When some stuff is actually explained during the middle episodes, it just leaves you with more questions. After that, the story almost becomes nonexistent. And once you finally beat the game, and presented with a cop out ending, you're left with even MORE questions. You'll be sitting there, watching as it sends you back to the title screen, thinking: "THAT'S IT?!". As you can tell, I was not pleased by how they carried out the story. It tries to be deep, but not deep enough for you to really care.
As you take to the skies, you'll have a variety of moves and attacks at your disposal. It can be really overwhelming at first, which is a good idea to go through the tutorial, before you start. And you might want to go through it just one more time once you play the main game a bit, since you probably wouldn't have soaked in everything the first time. Basically, all of the old moves make their return, like the ability to rotate the camera in a 360 environment, being able to attack enemies from every corner. Then there's the Berserk attack, which, once its berserk meter is filled (slowly fills up by attacking enemies), you can unleash a special attack that can cause more damage then what your normal attacks can do.
Then there are new additions, like the ability to morph into three different forms at any time. It's reminiscent of Zwei's evolving system, except, they can transform on the go and can evolve when obtaining Genes (powerups, basically). The three forms are base, heavy, and glide wing forms, and all three have different strengths and weaknesses. Like for example: the heavy wing has strong homing laser attacks, but it can't lock on to as many targets as the base wing can. Its giant size can also be a problem when trying to dodge attacks. In glide form, you take control of a lighter dragon that is fast and can easily dodge most attacks, because of it's small size. Its attacks aren't as strong as the others, but its rapid machine gun-like shots are great for taking out multiple bullets or weak enemies. Each form also has a different type of berserk attack that'll help you out in certain ways. You really need to learn how to use each form effectively, as many situations will require moments where you need to use them and when not to.
And believe me, you'll be thrown into all kinds of situations. Like flying through a river valley, while fighting off its inhabitants, like giant plant-like creatures and huge water creatures. Then going into the cloudy skies, fending off the Empire's army of imperial battleships, and then, eventually, end up running through a snow covered land where giant worms and reptile-ish beasts roam free. There won't be any complaints about how varied locations are, but, I can't say the same about how the actual game plays. The difficulty can become a bit ridiculous at times, it goes from really easy to "GAME OVER, MAN! GAME OVER!" type hard in a heart beat. The game acts like it has mood swings. One moment, you're easily shooting targets down, then, suddenly, enemies become quicker and faster. Giving you little time to react, they pound you mercilessly with everything they've got. Granted, this doesn't happen all the time, but when it does, it becomes annoyingly frustrating. Like in Episode 6, towards the end. There are these flying machines that you need to knock out almost immediately. They're easy at first, slowly dropping green laser barriers that you can easily dodge, but they suddenly become hard seconds later. Letting loose the barriers all over the place, they'll cover up your entire path, leaving you no space left to dodge. And it doesn't help that the camera swings around wildly at times (whenever you take a dive or fly around in maze-like tunnels) or lose your aiming balance whenever you get hit, thus giving them cheap hits.
It's this type of thing that'll get you the game over screen, constantly. And what's annoying about that, is, it'll send you back to the beginning of the episode, forcing you to play through the entire thing again. I wouldn't have mind this feature in a game like Metal Slug 3 (Xbox version, of course) or the original Panzer Dragoon, because it's actually fun to play through their stages again, despite the challenges. Playing through Orta's episodes, though, feels more like a chore. You'll likely just quit and play later after dying, rather then attempt to go through it again. It'll become a struggle to reach some of the boss fights, while, at the same, trying not to lose so much health. Know why? Well, once you reach a boss at the end of most episodes, you can continue at the start of the fight, instead of the beginning of the episode, when you lose. The problem? The amount of health that you had left over before the fight is kept! That means, if you have a tiny bit of life left, that amount will still be there when you restart the fight. Thus, putting you into a dilemma. Should you start at the beginning of the episode, to see if you can save more health? Or try to fight the boss with what little you've got left? Either way, you're really screwed.
When you eventually reach the bosses, you'll be pitted against a bunch of attention whores. They'll truly put on a show for you, graphically. Episode three's boss, Catharp, a gigantic spider-like robot, will put up quite a fight as you constantly try to keep up as it wildly runs loose on a desolate wasteland. Then, in episode four, as you penetrate an Imperial Battleship, you'll have to deal with a huge robotic statue. As you slowly approach, it'll start shooting laser beams at you, destroying the Empire's smaller weapons that are lined up in front of it, in the process. After defeating it, though, you'll have to take on a a squadron of Dragonmares. Sounds like a long boss fight, right? Yup, it's one of the longest fights in the game. The other ones aren't as long, but, they'll take quite some time to defeat, too. And that's the biggest flaw with these fights, they repetitiously drag on. They're not even that hard, and the boss's patterns are easy to figure out. The problem is having to go through the patterns, repeatedly, watching as their huge ass life bar slowly deplete (they almost take up the entire screen at the top, horizontally). While the bosses are epic, you'll quickly get tired of them, because the fights drag on too long for their own good.
Well, there are a couple bright spots included in PDO. Like Pandora's Box. This feature is LOADED with all kinds of extras. Like records of your game performance, illustrations, and an encyclopedia about the world of PDO. Then there's also a couple of mini-games. You can play as different people, seeing the main story of Orta through a different point of view. One of which is a story about Iva, a boy who tries to survive on his own after his father dies. It's kinda ironic how this story did a better job of pulling you in then the main story could, especially since they're somewhat similar. And Iva's method of story telling of pictures and words grips you better then Orta's real time narratives. Another cool extra is the ability to play the first Panzer Dragoon (gotta love it's title screen music). All of this doesn't come easy, though. You'll mostly have to perform certain tasks in the main game to unlock most of these goodies. Like clocking in an amount of hours, obtaining a high rank in a certain episode, beating the game, etc. If it weren't for these qualifications, I wouldn't have even consider playing through PDO again.
And of course, the biggest highlight Panzer Dragoon Orta has going for it are the beautiful visuals. This game is literally decorated with all kinds of pretty colors, cool effects, and jaw dropping background sceneries. When you first witness the second episode boss, Ikrakav, you'll gawk at its entrance. You'll see this giant plant/flower monster floating down the river bank, with water effects looking incredibly real, accompanied with nicely detailed hills. At that exact moment, everything looks frighteningly realistic. Then later on, you'll be wowed by the nicely executed aerial battles Orta will have against the Imperial Army, in the fourth episode. The skies will be filled with battleships and small planes, the majority of which you'll need to shoot down. It really does a good job of making you feel like you're in the middle of a battle zone. The seventh episode is a total mind trip, throwing drugged up visuals all around you at every corner. The characters/creatures have a surprising amount of detail on them. Surprising, because, you can't see most of them up close during the actual episodes. But during real time cut-scenes, you can check out how well detailed and animated they are. You can even view the enemies up close in Pandora's Box, once you have the option to, that is.
But, alas, graphics alone do not a game make. PDO's main problem is that it tries too hard to be ambiguous and complicated. And in the process, it annoys you with it, destroying what could have been an enjoyable experience. And seriously, I wouldn't have even thought of playing through the main game again if it weren't for Pandora's Box. Especially with all the problems I've talked about. It's like how Metal Gear Solid 2 wasn't so great by itself. But with the inclusion of all those vr missions and other extras in Substance, the overall product became much more enjoyable. That's basically how I feel about Panzer Dragoon Orta and its extras. Except, MGS2: S pulls it off better.
Community review by dementedhut (October 11, 2004)
Happy New Year.
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