Panzer Dragoon Orta (Xbox) review
"Find all you need and, in doing so, help Orta find her answers, help her find peace and a place to belong in a war-torn world. Unfreeze the lonely heart of a lost young girl and help her find home."
Home is where the heart is.
Orta never knew of a home beyond the solitary prison tower that serves as her cage. Brick and mortar encase the young girl, simple pleasures such as feeling verdant grass beneath her unclad feet or marching down a busy street bordered by a thriving populace are unknowns to her. Limbs clad in iron chains, she sits by the barred hole in her barren wall that serves as a window, listening to the comings and goings of those below her. Forgotten, abandoned and completely alone, enslaved by a township who have forgotten her existence. Her freedom draws near, but it comes at a price.
Nightmarish Dragonmares, bio-engineered monstrosities controlled by a malignant empire, swoop from great flying fortresses, laying the town to waste in a sea of unforgiving plasma fire that rolls over pebbled roadways like a treacherous wave, annihilating any foolhardy enough to stand their ground, firing antiquated firearms at beasts well beyond their comprehension. Sentry towers are eradicated with the flick of an armoured tail; populations snuffed out with unceasing blasts of fire and plasma. Defences overwhelmed, the crying of women and children, the sound of tearing flesh. Death. Otra's walls crumble before her, and she is greeted with the saliva dripping-snout of a Dragonmare. She back-pedals in free-flowing panic, throwing her hands up to her face in a futile gesture of self-defence just as another section of wall crumbles, a second beast snapping at the air in front of her face, uneven rows of jagged teeth clashing together mere inches from her eyes. The first unclenches a needle-lined jaw, an eerie green glow illuminating through snarling fangs. Orta closes her eyes and waits for the end.
A bright blue stream of laser blows the dragonmare from its precarious perch on the crumbling tower. The second looks round at where its companion once stood and gets a mouthful of talon. From the skies comes salvation.
On the back of her reptilian dragon who serves as her saviour, Orta finds her home is in the skies.
Flying through the burning husk of her village, a dastardly platoon of dragonmares gives chase, always fluttering in the background, never too far from her trail. Her unexplained rescuer, the dragon, is a worthwhile ally, one that can lock on to multiple targets, washing them away with harrowing plasma blasts that homes in on targets, chasing foes down into an explosive death. Orta herself is no slouch, and finds herself armed with an ancient handgun; one that spews out a rapid stream of laser blasts perfect for dismissing the hails of rockets and missiles that are launched at her in a futile bid to halt her escape. As a pair, they glide over the aflame wreckage of a city still in the process of being destroyed, flames dancing atop buildings with a maniacal vigour that not even the lashing rains can extinguish. Surviving citizens dash from the ruined shells of the former homes, desperately seeking cover from the bombardment served up from a bevy of fighter drones and hulking arachnid tanks that pepper the surface with unceasing explosions and lock all manner of cruel artillery on to the single dragon and its timid rider.
They all go down in flames.
As Orta's set path has her dipping in between molten detritus and fallen buildings, targets never let up. Gatherings of jet fighters will swoop in from all sides, forcing the pair into eternal vigilance, swinging their perspective about in an effort to dissuade those that seek to bring them down. Bright blue plasma lights the screen, vying with the constant explosions of what it hits for screen-time, greedily filling the arena in between bubbled blasts of Orta's lighter handgun. Twisting and turning though a razed town offers up more danger than safely navigating through enemy embankments; obstacles need to be safely bypassed without suffering clipped wings.
Just as it looks like the village is safely bypassed, a lone dragonmare swoops in, orbiting Orta and spraying her with a smattering of green-hued fireballs. The dogfights takes her and her dragon further away from the town and under the belly of a magnificent floating fortress before diving into the depths of a rock-lined cavern barely big enough to house them. Here, she finds herself in a forgotten sewer, the walls and ceiling dripping with slime-ridden water that collects in a murky stream beneath. Long disused cogwheels block her path, forcing her to dodge around them while smaller fighter jets zip past, dropping bombs and missiles all the while. Emerge safely from these underground catacombs and sweep directly into the searching spotlights of the majestic floating fortress. With Orta in their sights, it seems the ante has just been upped.
Filling the screen with bombastic bombardment, the fortress presents the biggest challenge to date, forcing Orta to employ some of the dragoon's differing features. The first flyover presents a deck full of missile-spitting tanks that can be best eliminated with the standard base wing; a form that offers up the highest amount of lock-ons and a middling degree of manoeuvrability. Send ribbons of plasma sailing into the tanks while weaving in and out of their onslaughts until they're mutated into steaming piles of scrap. Soaring beneath the target brings out the Heavy Wing form. Speed is compromised and the number of available lock-ons is decreased in favour of sheer brute force. Thick streams of laser snake towards targets culminating in a branch of blossoming explosions garnered by the powered-up blasts to nuke naked engine pods and gnarl shut hanger doors that spit forth fighter jets. The Glide Wing comes to play as Orta flanks the ship, unending bursts of laser tearing into the hull as the increased mobility allows the dragon to zip away from torpedoes twice its size and come to a full stop as later-fired projectiles slide across its snout. This zippier form sacrifices the ability to lock-on, but Orta's pistol suddenly finds itself ungraded, the bubbled bursts homing in on targets, chipping away at defences delicately.
The wanton destruction also serves to fill the dragon's special bar, allowing each base to unleash it's own slice of armageddon. Laser ribbons can fill the screen, angry pulsing plasma flowing freely and annihilating at will; a tightly-focused beam can be swung around the dragon in a 360* cycle, destroying and maiming without exception; ghostly apparitions can flood outwards, stealing enemy's life-force and replenishing that of the dragons. Orta has all the tools she needs to storm through all ten levels, leaving naught untouched in her wake.
She'll fly over a sun-kissed desert, protecting a quaint settlement housed on the back a send-dwelling monstrosity from blitzing raids carried out by Empire carriers, before dating inside one of the mammoth infrastructures, destroying the behemoth from the inside out. She'll glide over a serene riverbank, dodging moss-covered logs draped across the narrow ditches she darts between, exchanging shots with amoebae-spitting mothbats and weeding out house-tall florae that snaps hungrily from rooted perches on the craggy walls of a canyon. Her steed will even gallop across a snow-filled wasteland, inhabited by bipedic nomads and strange bulbous winged beasts that block out the effervescent sunset struggling to be seen through the driving snow. All the while searching for answers. Who is she? Why was she rescued by her new draconian conveyance? In the glowing eyes of the war-drone Abadd, a twisted throw-away soilder that keeps an ever vigulant eye on our efficacious doublet, she finds only more questions. In giving her quarry chase, she finds a stronger drive for conclusion.
Always unsure but never hesitant, Orta stars in what will probably be the last in an exceptional series that not only innovates on titles past but dares stay true to the sense of challenge they pioneered. Don't believe me? The entire first chapter of the Saturn-released title lies within a slew of unlockable features, extras and mini games, effectively doubling the lifespan of an already stellar package.
Find all you need and, in doing so, help Orta find her answers, help her find peace and a place to belong in a war-torn world. Unfreeze the lonely heart of a lost young girl and help her find home.
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