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Panzer Dragoon (Saturn) artwork

Panzer Dragoon (Saturn) review


"I'm going to throw you back in time for a few minutes, when the Sega Saturn performed a sneak attack launch on North America. Pretend that you just bought the console, and you've played the hell out of the pack-in game, Virtua Fighter. Of course, playing one fighting game over and over again eventually becomes repetitive, so you go out to buy another Saturn title to invest your time in. What are your choices? Well, there's a port of a racing game that you've played a million times in the arcade,..."



I'm going to throw you back in time for a few minutes, when the Sega Saturn performed a sneak attack launch on North America. Pretend that you just bought the console, and you've played the hell out of the pack-in game, Virtua Fighter. Of course, playing one fighting game over and over again eventually becomes repetitive, so you go out to buy another Saturn title to invest your time in. What are your choices? Well, there's a port of a racing game that you've played a million times in the arcade, an action-platformer involving toys, and another platformer about insects... Granted, these choices don't sound terrible, but you want something more, something different for that brand new, next generation system you just spent all your money on.

Panzer Dragoon was the answer.

Out of all the first offerings that were given to Saturn owners, this game felt like actual effort was put into it. Other titles were either ports or typical games that barely used the system's potential, inserting quick FMV segments or pasting 3D effects onto 2D objects. The moment you start up your Saturn with Panzer Dragoon inside, you were treated to something more. The game begins with an intro. A seven minute intro. Within that time, Panzer Dragoon brings you into its world, telling a tale of an advanced civilization nearly wiping itself out with their own destructive weapons. And now, in the midst of recovering, they're on the brink of a repeat, by summoning the Dark Dragon. Of course, little, unimportant you, a simple hunter, gets in the middle of all this fuss, by stumbling into a fight between the Dark Dragon and an armored blue dragon. One thing leads to another, the rider of the blue dragon gets shot, dies, and now you've been given the responsibility of saving the planet. Isn't life great?

As soon as the intro fades away, you're then greeted by the game's title screen, which begins from the blue dragon's point of view, as it flies through the sky, until it spots the game's name stamped on the ground below. All this is happening while a beautifully orchestrated theme plays in the background. You're willing to just stare at the title screen for a few more seconds, just to listen to it. You're ten minutes into Panzer Dragoon... and you haven't played it yet! So, you finally hit start, and dive into episode 1. You hear another wonderfully composed theme, watch your dragon fly over what seems to be a ruined city at sea, and when you eventually gain control of the blue creature, you realize something: this is an on-rails, 3D shooter.

Understandably, you're a bit disappointed, but you continue playing. Hey, it's this or more Virtua Fighter. Sooner than later, you come to the realization that this isn't a typical on-rails shooter, where you just shoot and dodge anything that comes toward you up ahead. Even though you're stuck on a linear path, with the press of the L or R buttons, you can switch your shooting direction to the left, right, and back sides of your dragon. This completely changes the dynamic of how you would normally play, and Panzer Dragoon isn't shy in showing this off. At the very start of episode 2, the viewpoint actually begins behind your dragon, where you witness a gigantic worm dive in and out of the sand. Obviously, you think it poses a threat, so you continually fire at it. However, if you focus too much on the worm, you'll likely fail to notice yellow dots, enemies, up ahead on your radar, getting ready to fly right into your dragon. Episode 3 steps it up by throwing enemies at you on all sides, ground and sky. It only gets more aggressive from there, forcing you to really depend on your aiming, turning, dodging, and shooting skills to stay alive.

Now, let me bring you back to the present day, before I have to resort to rigging a clock tower on a stormy night. Gaming generations have passed since Panzer Dragoon was released, and in some aspects, gaming has evolved a lot, offering a bunch of unique experiences. So, while Panzer Dragoon may have been a significant title during its time period, does it still offer an interesting, and more importantly, fun experience for players? Well, graphically, it hasn't aged quite well, and gamers today will consider it butt-ugly. I could go as far to say that the constant brown look is a turnoff. But that wouldn't be fair, because it's consistent with the game's post-apocalyptic plot. Though, I could have done without episode 3's surroundings; going from a desert setting, in episode 2, to a similar setting at night, in episode 3, is a bit repetitive.

The actual gameplay is still tough, whether you're playing for the first time or haven't touched it in years. After the game's simplistic first episode, the difficulty will come down hard on you. If you're not quick to dispose of any foe that appears on your radar, you'll be hearing your dragon scream a lot. Though, once you get the hang of the game and remember enemy placements, you'll be surprised at how short Panzer Dragoon ends up being. What's even more surprising is how easy the final two episodes are in comparison to what came before. It's like the game reached its high in episode five, then the developers felt it shouldn't be tougher afterwards. Sure, you can make it more challenging on yourself by switching the difficulty to hard, thus, prolonging the title's lifespan for a bit, but it's still strictly an arcade-style game.

Would I recommend you go out of your way to purchase a Saturn just to play this, no matter the cost? No. Though, if you own a Saturn, and you have never played this, then I'd suggest you give it a go. You have a better chance of getting this pretty cheap then, say, a certain Saga title.

Rating: 7/10

pickhut's avatar
Community review by pickhut (April 12, 2009)

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JANUS2 posted April 13, 2009:

"So while Panzer Dragoon may have been a significant title during its time period, does it still offer an interesting, and more importantly, fun experience for players?"

I'm glad you asked this question.

It's always hard to know how to approach games like this. If you give people the myth then you risk losing credibility when they play the game and find out that it's not as stunning as you made out. But I thought you made an effective contrast between the historical perspective of being blown away by Panzer Dragoon as a new Saturn owner and the more critical analysis of its flaws 10+ years on.

One thing:
"Granted, these choices don't sound terrible, but you want something more, something different that your brand new, next generation system could provide."

This sentence jump between tenses. Switching to the past tense for the single sentence paragraph works well, but it feels awkward here (because half the sentence is in the present tense). Maybe something like, "Granted, these choices don't sound terrible, but you want something more, something different for your brand new, next generation system." I dunno. But other than that I thought you handled the changes in tense well.

Plus you get extra marks for working in a BttF reference.
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pickhut posted April 13, 2009:

Thanks, and yeah, after finishing the review, I realized that I had to make sure I got the tenses right, or this would end up sounding like a trainwreak. Hmm, I'll have to think about what to change in that sentence you pointed out.

I'm surprised how the review turned out as a whole, because when I was ready to write it, I was drawing a blank on how to start. So I figured playing the game one more time might be able to help. Halfway through, I thought "You know, back when this game out, people were praising the hell out of it", and from that, I had a general idea of how the review would flow.
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overdrive posted April 13, 2009:

I loved the BttF reference, as well. I think I read that line about three times, while wondering exactly how in the hell, despite having like 200 reviews of retro games on this site, I never thought of referencing that movie in even one of them. Pure genius. And the rest of the review was pretty good, as well.
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pickhut posted April 13, 2009:

Huh, I didn't think people would actually like the reference that much. I almost removed it at one point, thinking the readers would find it corny.
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randxian posted April 13, 2009:

Review seemed a bit short to me. Then again, this sounds like a simple game, so maybe there isn't a whole lot more you could actually say. I've never played a Panzer Dragoon game ever, so I'm wouldn't know.

The closest thing I've played would be either Dragon Spirit and D&D Dragonstrike, both for the NES.

I enjoyed those, so maybe I would like this game.

Outside of the length, nice review. Based on the screenshots, I think you give a fair assessment of the graphics. I agree that when we rate graphics, we should take the overall theme into account. It may look bland, but as you said, it should look bland based on the story.

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