10 February 2019 | markmadon
Sega never did this wondrous title justice
Although Sega was badly losing the latest console war, there was no justifiable reason for it to can the console so early in its life; the Sega Saturn produced many gems of games, and Panzer Dragoon Saga may just be the crown jewel. Sadly, Sega never even gave PDS a chance to shine, not even as the Saturn's swan song.
Panzer Dragoon Saga is set in a post-apocalyptic world where humanity has fought for its very survival for the past ten millennia; where people living medieval lifestyles struggle against the gargantuan, vicious, hyper-advanced biomechanical creatures and other population-control super-weapons their own forgotten ancestors, known as the Ancients, had created; where an empire motivated by fear and a lust for power has risen and fallen many times to retake control of these devastating weapons and reclaim humanity's place as the world's masters; and where one super-weapon, the Heresy program, in the form of a powerful Dragon, was designed to awaken every few decades and bond with a chosen human rider to break the evil legacy of the Ancients once and for all.
The game puts you in control of Edge, a young mercenary hired by the Empire to guard an Ancient excavation site, aiming to unearth more super weapons to add to the Imperial fleet. During the dig, Edge and his fellows discover Azel, a young girl encased in stone. Craymen, a mutinous member of the Imperial Academy, swoops in with his fleet to abduct the girl and executes the excavation crew, almost killing Edge as well, before he is rescued by the Heresy Dragon. The two set off to avenge Edge's friends, but little does he know of the grand machinations of Craymen, the powerful and mysterious Azel, the Empire, and the long-dead Ancients themselves.
You begin by flying around and exploring the desolate, ruined, but beautiful landscape, interrupted by random encounter battles, typical of any RPG. But in PDS, your objective is to manoeuvre around the enemy party, using Edge's laser gun, or the Dragon's laser breath or Berserker attacks to target your foes' weak points. The faster you can dispatch your enemy, and the less damage you take, the more experience points and currency, called Dyne, you earn. The battles are fluid and allow you to tactically consider your options to find the most efficient ways to win battles - which is a welcome break from the tedium of most random encounter battles you usually find in RPGs. The sheer scale of the boss monsters is truly breathtaking, especially when combined with the perfectly-matching music, sound and visual effects.
Experience points allow your Dragon to level up, giving him a wider range of powerful attacks, as well as increasing his HP and BP (Berserker Points), and also allowing your dragon to morph into increasingly powerful forms - an amazing process to watch.
You can also modify your dragon's appearance and characteristics any time you want, allowing you to customise the Dragon's balance between armour, attack power and spiritual power. Edge's weapon can also be upgraded by finding parts along your journey.
You're not even restricted to flying; you can land in various locations such as towns, leaving your Dragon to walk about as Edge and interact with the townsfolk and secondary characters, immersing yourself in their rich dialogue. The fact that the game's intro and ending sequences use "Panzerese", a language invented for the game, and Japanese throughout the rest of the game, reinforces the feeling you're in a foreign and exotic land.
The plot is intriguing and multi-layered, allowing you to bond and sympathise with each character, even the villains as you start to unravel their motivations, and they change and develop as the plot progresses.
PDS's beautiful and creative character and location design draws upon many Asian influences, particularly Japanese and Central Asian, evident when you step into a yurt in the middle of a harsh, alien desert on the Panzer world. Each and every monster throughout the game is lovingly crafted and very well thought-out, inspired by mid-twentieth century biomorphism, creating a rich alien biosphere, even describing their biological features and behaviours.
The musical composition boasts many strong, memorable melodies that range from ambient to intense, from tribal to orchestral, perfectly suiting the mood of the plot. The sound effects, particularly in battle, are awe-inspiring and will thunder in your head every time you think about the game.
Although many people like to harp on about the PlayStation's graphical superiority over the Saturn's, PDS has amazing visuals for its time. The game boasts a high resolution, dazzling water, lighting and morphing effects, though it does suffer from the Saturn's usual inability to create true transparency effects and its characters' warpy textures.
Only something like ten thousand copies of this game were ever made, which is, in my opinion, truly criminal. If you can ever brave this collector's item's high price tag, you can savour a gaming experience unlike anything any other console has to offer.