Release Date: 14-Jan-2003
Panzer Dragoon debuted on the Sega Saturn back in 1995. A year later, a sequel, Panzer Dragoon II: Zwei, was released. Two years after that, the extremely hard to find RPG, Panzer Dragoon Saga, was available. Some hail these titles as some of the very best the Saturn had to offer, and they were without a doubt amazing games for their time. Now Smilebit has taken the time to craft a new title: Panzer Dragoon Orta. This time, we're using an Xbox controller. How does it stack up?
The game is what may best be referred to as an "on-rails shooter". Basically, the dragon you ride through the game follows a set path. Occasionally there are forks in the road, and you can move around the screen, but you can never really stray from this path. You have a gun with two ways to shoot; taps of the firing button will release an array of weaker shots, while holding in the button and moving over targets allows for more powerful homing missiles. Also, by tapping the L and R triggers, you can pan the camera (and firing reticule) to the side or behind the dragon, allowing you to shoot from all angles.
A number of things have been added to expand upon this basic formula. You're now able to control your dragon's speed, to a degree. By pressing the button to speed up, your dragon flies forward, whether it be for escaping collisions, getting in front of enemies, or to move into integral positions to hit an enemy's weak point. The same thing can be said about the button to slow down. Both come in handy quite often and are a welcome addition. In order to keep you from using them constantly, a sort of a stamina meter has been added. Whenever you change your speed, a nice chunk of stamina is extracted. Of course, the stamina does return, but at a slow pace. Strategy is essential.
The other big addition is the inclusion of different dragon forms. By tapping the Y button, your dragon shifts through various forms, each better suited for certain things. The initial Base wing is the most well-rounded, offering both lock-on and rapid-fire shots, a fair stamina bar, and nice maneuverability. The Heavy wing is rather hard to maneuver and can be easily hit in small corridors, but it features a lock-on weapon more powerful than that of the Base. Another downside is the total lack of a stamina bar for this wing. The final form, the Glide wing, is light, the easiest to control and has the largest stamina bar of all three forms. It's only form of attack is a rapid fire shot that works very well against large groups of weak enemies, but quite badly against powerful ones. It's up to you to decide which to use, and when.
The leveling up system also returns, which was introduced in PD II: Zwei. The more you use each dragon, more experience is added to it. When enough is collected, that form actually changes, making it more powerful and change it's looks. Also returning from Zwei is the Berserk power. As you fight, the Berserk meter is filled up. Once it is, you can release a very powerful attack. Depending on which form you are using at the time, the attack will vary. One might be a powerful, concentrated beam, while another could be a weaker attack that hits all of the enemies around. Whatever happens, it is useful.
And you'll need all the help you can get. This game is pretty tough, even on the easiest difficulty setting. And some may complain that the game is too short, that it can be beaten in a few hours and hardly changes. However, I think the game benefits from its length; it encourages lots of trips through again. As soon as I finished the game my first time through, I immediately started it up again. It's so much fun to perfect your technique and go through certain scenes. The game definitely has a movie-like feel, which is awesome.
If you're still worried about replay value, I advise you not to be. There is a feature called Pandora's Box, which is full of unlockables. There's a whole encyclopedia of terms, lots of illustrations, mini-games and scenarios, and more. Plus, the original Panzer Dragoon is available in all its glory once certain criteria are met. There's so much stuff in Pandora's Box - it will take you many hours to unlock everything.
A simple glance at this game's box art will give you the impression that this title is very artistic. And boy, is it ever. It is clear that Smilebit, who have also created Jet Set Radio Future and GunValkyrie, have mastered their already awesome graphical skills. Since the game follows a set path, camera angles are sometimes very cinematic. Everything is modeled down to the tiniest detail, mapped with the highest quality textures, animated with life-like smoothness, and finished off with trippy visual effects. The game really gives you a sense of being there, which is incredible.
The sound is also very well done. The music always fits the game perfectly, whether it be at a calm, happy spot or a frantic, chaotic boss fight. The sound effects are no slouch either, accurately representing what everything would sound like. Neat elements are the voices. They are all in an alien language that sounds, well, like it is a real language spoken by real people. Very impressive.
There is absolutly no reason to pass up on Panzer Dragoon Orta. The game packs fun gameplay that is simple and elegant with complexity and a need for strategy. It's an absolute blast to play, and the presentation is amazing. This is, quite simply, a must-have title.Sega brings us a striking new edition to the Panzer Dragoon series; one that must not be missed by any Xbox owner!