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Panzer Dragoon Saga (Saturn) artwork

Panzer Dragoon Saga (Saturn) review

"I donít know the name of this world, but itís a bleak, somber wasteland hoping to get by on scraps left behind by a dead people. An advanced civilization known as The Ancients originally spanned the globe until it was destroyed by an unknown cataclysm years ago. Sparse nomadic tribes of humans band together in order to fend off vicious mutants that roam the lifeless hillsides and dead seas. An emerging civilization Ė The Empire Ė grows stronger by salvaging The Ancientsí God-like technology. "

I donít know the name of this world, but itís a bleak, somber wasteland hoping to get by on scraps left behind by a dead people. An advanced civilization known as The Ancients originally spanned the globe until it was destroyed by an unknown cataclysm years ago. Sparse nomadic tribes of humans band together in order to fend off vicious mutants that roam the lifeless hillsides and dead seas. An emerging civilization Ė The Empire Ė grows stronger by salvaging The Ancientsí God-like technology.

Panzer Dragoon Sagaís story is unusual for a j-RPG thanks to its barren and morose setting. Itís a lonely game. The protagonist, Edge, is quickly orphaned in the first ten minutes when a renegade Imperial commander guns down his adoptive father. Edge is only saved by the miraculous arrival of a dragon, a rarity in this world. With the help of his only friend, he initially sets out for revenge. That quickly changes. Edge encounters few friends other than his rather intimidating traveling companion. Sagaís world has more rotting plants and freshly-stripped bone than NPCs. Edge is alone for most of the game until he encounters the only other dragon rider in the world, Azel. The narrative shifts quickly exploring Azel, the history and future of the Panzer Dragoon world, and his role in things to come.

It isnít the best written RPG and the dated presentation dampens the impact of some cutscenes, but Saga offers a different kind of story than the usual Final Fantasy ilk. Itís easy to forget the story. Itís fantastic and sometimes beautiful, but its world can be ugly and unpleasant. Getting swept up in the gameís engrossing, unique combat blending elements of RPGs and the seriesí rail shooters can do it too. Rather than a party, battles are fought solely by Edge riding atop his dragon. Combat is a mix of executing turn-based actions with real-time maneuvering.

As Edge takes to the skies, he and his dragon have three action bars that continually fill as time passes in battle. In exchange for one action bar, a variety of commands can be used at any time. Traditional RPG commands like items and spells (called Berserks here) can be employed for support or to utilize devastating attacks, such as razor-sharp chakrams of wind leaving battered mutants in their wake or a bolt of lightning that curls and slithers across the screen while electrocuting all that it touches. Basic attacks consist of two types: a flurry of energy shots from Edgeís gun concentrated on a single enemy for maximum damage and a blast of the dragonís lasers capable of eviscerating multiple targets.

At any time during combat, the dragon can be positioned in four quadrants using the left and right directions to swing around monsters. Optimal movement is key during many encounters. Early on Edge encounters a disgusting creature with twitching feelers emerging from a bulbous cobra-like head. Its body is a slender serpent-like design with a quivering sac of flab at its posterior. By no discernable means the beast floats in the air occasionally vomiting gastric juices. In every fight a compass in the HUD shows the location of Edgeís dragon. Quadrants are colored to denote their relative danger. Go to the green spots against cobra-fiend and Edge will be safe from its attempts cram him into its gaping maw, but staying in the red zones leave Edge susceptible to the enemyís strongest attacks.

But itís not as easy as staying put in a green zone. Some bosses are impervious to the strongest laser volley when Edge is in a safe area and others have weak points hidden in the red ďdanger zones.Ē For example flying in the red zone will tempt the cobra-fiend to ram its thick skull toward Edge, but doing so will put it on a collision course with a mountain ledge, thus momentarily dazing it and exposing its soft underbelly. Countering with all kinds of hurt at its now unprotected weak point (appropriately labeled in flashing letters and all caps WEAK POINT) will really bring the pain.

Not every enemy has a weak point and they all canít be felled with the same strategy. Sometimes quickly pouncing on a weakness will kill an enemy before they can even react, while other times itís better to constantly move in and out of danger. But thatís not the only strategy the game has to offer. Like the other Panzer Dragoon games, the dragon can evolve into various forms based on different attributes: attack, spirit, defense, and agility. However unlike previous games, the dragonís attributes can be set on sliding scales between two linked stats (attack with spirit, defense with agility). Putting more points into one reduces the other.

When Edge is leading an assault on an Imperial outpost and fending off against salvaged Ancient death trains barreling down the perimeter of the base and armed with nukes, it may be advantageous to mount a defense-type dragon. On the flip side, high defense will reduce its agility, causing the action bars to fill slowly. Fortunately the dragon isnít limited to an extreme of one stat. Teasing out a good ratio between attributes is most effective. Ultimately the dragon will be designated a certain ďclassĒ based on its highest attribute granting bonus abilities, such as counters for attack types or Berserk Point regeneration for spirit forms. Morphing is available any time outside of combat, and often itís best to experiment and find new combinations.

Though blocky, the graphics have a melancholy look that match the feel of the game. The art direction is as fantastic and inspired as the Panzer Dragoon rail shooters. Saga equally employs desolate wastelands as well as The Ancientsí ornate, alien architecture in ruin. One dungeon consists of turbulent sea overcast by dreary grey clouds with the slightest hint of sunlight poking through. Jutting out of the churning water are white obelisks shooting blue pulses into the heavy rain. Itís easy to appreciate the vision Team Andromeda had. The enemy designs are equally memorable consisting of surreal monstrosities both biological and technological. The music is also exquisite and fairly atypical of the genre. The soundtrack has an earthy and tribal flavor often featuring various percussion, synthesized keys and a warm-sounding flute. Additionally the game sports an impressive amount of voice acting in the seriesí own beautifully demented Panzerese Ė an amalgamation of ancient Greek, Latin and Russian.

If there is one disappointment to Saga, itís the game is relatively short. Unfortunately it clocks in at 10-12 hours. I wanted more when I was done, but I had to admit the game had zero filler or low points. Once the story gets moving, it doesnít falter and neither does the combat. Many gamers know of this unique and fantastic RPG, though far fewer have played it. No doubt people would be snatching up copies and pre-owned Saturns if it werenít for several small details: this game is rare, extremely expensive, and in-demand. Saga was one of the last Saturn games released outside of Japan, with only approximately 30,000 English language copies pressed. Secondhand copies can go for over $200, and at that price tag itís a tough sell. Adding insult to injury, GameTap has had the rights to release the game since 2009, but have made no attempts to do so citing ďlack of demand.Ē Correct this please.


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Community review by Genj (July 01, 2010)

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wolfqueen001 posted July 02, 2010:

Man. I've heard nothing but good things about this game, and you show us why. Interestingly, though, I'm a little surprised that the story wasn't as impressive as I thought it would be. I remember Felix showed me the first ten or so minutes of this game, and it seemed rather story-heavy. It's interesting that you sort of "debunk" this, or at least place emphasis on other aspects of the game that seemingly outshine it.

With that you did well. I was absolutely intrigued by the combat system while I was reading about it. It definitely sounds very unique for an RPG, probably like nothing I've ever seen before. You also make it sound fun and exciting to play, and the various strategies involved with the dragon sound like you could play the game several times and not catch them all, despite the fact that you can willingly change the attributes.

It's a shame this game is so rare. I certainly haven't played it. Hell, I've never even owned a Saturn. You'd be right in assuming most of us probably never will. And it sucks that GameTap is being so thickheaded, but it's like... where'd they get that idea from? haha

Anyway, as for nitpicky stuff, there was a bit of word/phrase repetition in some paragraphs, and I may have found one tiny error:

it may be advantageous to mount of a defense-type dragon

"of" doesn't really seem necessary to me.

Those small things aside, nice work.
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Genj posted July 02, 2010:

Thanks for the positive comments and the catch on the typo. I was changing sentence structure around quite a bit into the night, so the remains of a cut phrase must have eluded me. I don't think I'd say the story isn't good, but it certainly isn't amazing either (I may be jaded in that I think few games have good stories). The plot and game world are interesting, but the combat easily overshadows it. And yes, a true shame that the game is so rare and expensive. Even if GameTap actually got off their butts and tried to release it for their service, I have my doubts that a web-based emulator of a Saturn game would really work well anyway. A port will never happen either because Sega lost the source code. It's probably one of the best RPGs I've played, but you can pretty much only play it if you have a lot of disposable income for video games or are savvy enough to get a Saturn emulator working.
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dragoon_of_infinity posted July 05, 2010:

There's a local shop I frequent that sells games all the way back to the Atari. A copy of PDS recently showed up for $150, and it blew my mind.

I'm very tempted to buy it, and this is just making it worse.

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