When people talk about the best games for the Saturn, the words “Panzer Dragoon” inevitably come up. So what are these games about, in essence? The first two games of the series, Panzer Dragoon and Panzer Dragoon II Zwei are on-rail shooters involving a hero riding a dragon in a post-apocalyptic world, battling evil forces. The original Panzer Dragoon, developed by Sega’s own Team Andromeda, was released in 1995 during the Saturn’s launch. You, as the hero Keil, ride around on a dragon on a mission to stop the Dark Dragon from reactivating an ancient ruin that will give them weapons and ultimate control of the planet. The gameplay camera is a 3rd person behind your dragon and a reticle appears on screen that can be moved up, down, left and right along with the position of your dragon. What makes Panzer Dragoon unique is the 360 degree option you have to shoot enemies all around if necessary. You are in constant motion while on your dragon and must avoid enemy fire and other hazards as you fly forward in the 3D environments progressing through each level. At the end of each level is a boss battle and cinematic cut-scenes progress the story of the game forward. You are initially equipped with a gun and a laser to protect yourself and destroy enemies and structures. Panzer Dragoon is a pretty straightforward game and while fun, it doesn’t have the same depth that future games in the series possess. Also, it is sorely missing a password or save feature to avoid having to play the early levels over and over again.
Panzer Dragoon II Zwei, released the following year in 1996, takes the gameplay introduced with the original PD and enhances it in a prequel setting. Zewi is still a rails shooter at its heart but also introduces a little bit of a RPG elements by allowing you to evolve your dragon’s strengths as well as including levels that take place on foot. You are also given alternate route options, making the game less linear than the original. The new berserk attack, similar to a stage clearing multi-bomb, also is a welcome addition to the franchise. The boss battles are huge, similar to the original game, and include some massive ships that must be whittled away slowly. The graphics are improved in Zwei and the game now includes a save option, correcting two of the biggest flaws from the original. This is essentially the perfect version of an on-rails shooting dragon riding adventure.
The final game from the Saturn trilogy, Panzer Dragoon Saga, was released in 1998, two years after Zwei and this time, Sega went RPG with the gameplay. No longer a linear rails shooter, Panzer Dragoon Saga is full bore turn-based, free roaming role playing game complete with gorgeous FMV video cut scenes. Riding around on a dragon is still your character’s main mode of transportation, keeping the “Dragoon” (what an odd word by the way) part the game intact. The Saturn had a lot of top notch RPGs available and this is one of the finest you’ll find….or not find (more on that in a bit). The graphics, music and plot is epic in scope. The gameplay leaves nothing to be desired and as a result, its a highly sought after game in today’s collector market. Unfortunately for fans of the Panzer Dragoon series and of this particular title, 1998 was the final year that Sega supported the Saturn by releasing new games. As a result, Panzer Dragoon Saga was one of the last released for the Saturn, and therefore sold in relatively small numbers compared to the other two PD games. If you can get your hands on a copy, it’s a massive 4 disc adventure, but not a terribly long game. However, its a game that I wish more could play, but due to its currently high price point, many won’t. This is one example of a game that is hard to find but worth seeking out or at least finding an alternate way to play.
Currently in my collection:
Panzer Dragoon – game, manual, case A-
Panzer Dragoon II Zwei – game, manual, case A
Panzer Dragoon Saga – game, manual, case A