Panzer Dragoon Saga
|Panzer Dragoon Saga|
European Saturn cover art
Panzer Dragoon Saga (アゼル パンツァードラグーンRPG Azel: Panzer Dragoon RPG?) is a critically acclaimed role-playing video game released for the Sega Saturn in 1998. It was the third game released in the Panzer Dragoon series (not counting Panzer Dragoon Mini, a spin-off title for the Sega Game Gear), and is the only game in the series that is not a rail shooter.
Like the other Saturn Panzer Dragoon games, it was developed by Sega's internal Team Andromeda development studio. The team disbanded after Saga’s release, though several of its members went on to Smilebit, which later developed the fourth Panzer Dragoon game, Panzer Dragoon Orta, for Xbox.
The player controls a young hunter named Edge as he attempts to free the world from the will of the Ancients with the help of a powerful flying dragon, which can fire lasers from its mouth. The game blends strategic semi-realtime combat with free-roaming exploratory sequences on both dragonback and foot.
As with other Panzer Dragoon games, the story takes place in an unspecified post-apocalyptic environment where hostile mutant creatures roam unprotected areas, and disparate human factions compete for land and resources. The largest of these factions is the Empire, built upon the buried technology of the Ancients. "The Ancients" is the generic name given to the people that once controlled a world-spanning, hyper-advanced civilization, thousands of years before the events of the series. A mysterious cataclysm, hinted at as being a terrible war, caused the downfall of this civilization and almost destroyed the planet, leaving the survivors to eke out a bleak existence among the remains. Eventually, the Ancients and their works passed into legend, attaining a sort of godlike respect, and a horrific regard, among the people. The remnants of their technologies are used in the development of much of humanity’s machinery, weaponry, and vehicles, such as the floating ships that are a staple of the series.
The protagonist of the story, and the character whom the player controls, is Edge, a young soldier of the Empire. The story begins with him on duty protecting an excavation site where Ancient artifacts are being recovered. After helping to fend off an attack from one of the wild mutant creatures within the cave where the excavation is being made, Edge discovers what seems to be the body of a young woman buried in a wall.
Before he can react, the excavation site is attacked by a faction of mutinous Imperial troops. Craymen, the faction's leader, orders his troops to take the girl. Edge and the rest of his companions are shot. As Edge is hit, he falls from the top of the cliff where he saw them take the mysterious girl, into an underground reservoir. He is apparently unharmed and manages to locate a gun to defend himself with. Then, attempting to find a way out, he is intercepted by a flying dragon. The dragon seems to be communicating with him on some spiritual level and, with its help, Edge escapes the cave. Upon returning to the excavation entrance, he discovers his dying Captain. Distraught, Edge vows to take revenge upon Craymen, and decipher the mystery of the mysterious girl.
Gameplay consists of free-roaming exploratory levels, either on dragon or foot, and battles. In the free-roaming levels, the player uses a combination of puzzle-solving and strategic thinking, with frequent interaction with non-player characters in the case of on-foot travel, to progress in the game and further the story. Combat also plays a large part in the game, with common small enemies and story-centric boss opponents standing in Edge’s way. As with other RPGs, experience points are handed out after successful battles, with the player’s dragon growing in power and ability as it gains levels based on its amount of points. Panzer Dragoon Saga is strongly story-driven, and non-interactive cut scenes, many of which are pre-rendered CG sequences, are frequently used to illustrate important plot sequences.
When Edge is on foot he can move freely around his environment, talk to other characters, enter buildings, read books, and so on. This mode is used primarily for exploring towns and other safe areas, and has no combat functionality. Certain items and characters can be interacted with using a mechanic similar to that found with the rail-shooting games in the series: A cursor can be called up and moved around the screen to highlight (or "lock on" to) specific objects of interest. Depending on how close Edge is to the object or character highlighted, a different response is generated: selecting a pair of characters from a distance ("Far") will allow you to eavesdrop on their conversation, while at closer range ("Near") Edge will converse with them directly. Items can only be acquired when near to the appropriate object.
The flight mode is used for exploring expansive ‘dungeon’ areas. When Edge is riding the dragon (which can be named by the player) the control scheme changes. Without input, the dragon will simply hover in one spot; movement is controlled by moving the dragon horizontally and vertically, and using the B button to fly forwards. Unlike the other Panzer Dragoon games, the dragon’s course is not predetermined; the player is free to explore their environment as they wish.
The on-foot mode’s cursor system is present, but is simplified somewhat: there is no differentiation between distances, and the dragon’s interaction is usually limited to "Break" (for opening item boxes and destroying certain objects) and "Access" (for operating doors or switches, etc.). For breaking objects, the dragon's has a Laser Rank, which increases with its evolution during the game: Stronger objects require a more powerfully morphed dragon to destroy them. With very few exceptions, any area with such objects can be revisited later to destroy the obstacles and uncover their items or secrets.
When flying, the player may be attacked by one or more enemies, with the chance of an attack at any given moment being indicated by a coloured danger meter in the HUD (assuming the player has a Telepathy Shard item, which are fairly common). The game makes use of the traditional Random encounter system.
At one point in the story, Edge’s dragon is replaced with a hovercraft-like vehicle called a Floater. Although it has no proper flight capacity (i.e. its altitude cannot be increased beyond a minimal height above the ground), the Floater operates in almost exactly the same way both as the dragon both in and out of combat, lacking only the dragon’s Berserk abilities and possessing a permanent Laser Rank of 1.
Compared to many of its contemporaries, such as the Final Fantasy series, Panzer Dragoon Saga has a cinematic combat system, making use of dramatic, sweeping camera angles and elaborate animation sequences to dramatize battles. Combat takes place in mid-air rather than on the ground, and is based on a traditional turn-based model, though maneuvering takes place in real time. Like most RPGs, the player is able to attack, use items, or cast spells (called Berserks).
The player may confront multiple opponents at a time, and many enemies have multiple points that may be targeted. The player is also given the opportunity to circle the enemy and attack from different sides, allowing the dragon to attack a specific weak point that may only reveal itself from different angles. The risk is that this may also leave the player character open to a strong attack from that direction. Enemies are also able to adjust their positioning. A radar in the HUD indicates the areas surrounding the enemy as being safe, neutral, hazardous, or inaccessible. Safe areas—and the enemy’s weak spots—often change. Therefore, the player must frequently assess the strategic advantages and disadvantages of the player character's positioning in order to gain the best advantage.
The combat system makes use of three action gauges that deplete with each move made. A move constitutes a normal attack, a Berserk attack (see below), or the use of an item. Basic moves such as firing Edge's gun or unleashing a laser attack from the dragon cost one gauge, with Berserk attacks consuming anywhere from one to three gauges. The gauges refill in real-time; the speed at which they do so dependent on the form that the dragon is currently in. The player can use whatever moves one likes, whenever, as long as there are enough Berserk Points and fully charged action gauges. Therefore, if all three gauges are charged, three single-gauge moves can be carried out consecutively with no hold between them. This enables the player to "beat the enemy to the punch", initiating a basic attack or avoidance maneuver before the enemy is able to react.
There are numerous means of using the action gauges. First, there are two forms of basic attack: the dragon’s homing lasers or Edge’s own gun. In the first case, the dragon fires a stream of lasers that attack multiple targets regardless of player input. (If there are fewer targets than lasers, multiple lasers will strike a single target.) Edge’s gun is used for causing concentrated damage to individual targets. Unlike the laser attack, the gun can be modified through the use of items (attachments) found during the course of the game; for example, the Sniper modification increases the damage the gun causes to weak points.
There are also special moves called Berserks that are comparable to the magical spells found in other RPGs. Unlike the basic moves that are initially available, the dragon will learn these as it levels up. Each use of a Berserk costs an amount of Berserk Points (BP), which may be thought of as traditional "spell points". Unlike the action gauges, BP do not recharge of their own accord (unless the dragon is in a form that allows BP regeneration, elaborated below). They must replenished through items, rest, or those Berserk moves that serve to replenish, rather than expend, BP. Some berserks are hidden in certain areas.
At the end of a battle, the player is ranked depending on how quickly and efficiently they handled it. The better the rank, the more experience points are received, eventually allowing the dragon to level up and learn new battle techniques or even evolve into a different dragon type. These evolutions are generally plot elements that occur after a critical boss battle.
There are also Berserks which enhance the dragon depending on its type:
- Healing Wing can be used if the dragon is Normal type and all three gauges are full. Using this regenerates health.
- Assault Wing can be used if the dragon is Attack type and all three gauges are full. When used the dragon's laser power increases and more damage is dealt when the lasers are used.
- Defense Wing can be used if the dragon is Defense type and all three gauges are full. Using this increases the dragon's defense power further for least damage.
- Agility Wing can be used if the dragon is Agility type and all three gauges are full. Using this increases the speed that the action gauges charge.
- Spiritual Wing can be used if the dragon is Spiritual type and all three gauges are full. Using this regenerates Berserk Points.
As in Panzer Dragoon Zwei and Orta, the dragon has the ability to morph into different forms. However, unlike other games in the series, Saga uses a sophisticated system that allows the dragon to transform into hundreds of different forms.
The dragon has five attributes: normal, agility, spiritual, attack, and defense. The normal statistic is a balance of the four types; if all three action gauges are charged then health is regenerated. The attack statistic increases the power of the dragon's laser attack and berserks of the attack type are learned more quickly, but berserk attacks cost more BP to use and are less effective. The defense statistic decreases the amount of damage the player character receives from enemy attacks and berserks of the defense type are learned more quickly, but the action gauges charge very slowly. The spiritual statistic increases BP efficiency (berserks require less BP), allowing the dragon to slowly regenerate BP when all three action gauges are charged, and increasing the power of the dragon's berserk attacks. The agility statistic increases the speed at which action gauges recharge, enables the dragon to maneuver more quickly, and restores status to normal (if the character is poisoned or stunned) when all three action gauges are charged, but the character receives more damage from enemy attacks as defense power is decreased. It is not possible to maximize one attribute without minimizing another, and so the player must strike a balance between them depending on the combat situation. Shifting a dragon's form also takes a gauge to perform while in battle, but the player may change a dragon's form at any time, whether on foot, flight, or in battle.
The morphing element comes from the physical change the dragon goes through in adjusting its attributes. There are four extreme forms the dragon may take, representing agility, spirit, attack, and defense. If a balance between these four extremes is selected, then the dragon takes on a physical form reflective of this balance. For example, if the player has a dragon that is high in defense and increases its agility a little, it will begin to look more agile and aerodynamic.
The dragon will also morph into different forms of its own accord as it levels up, indicating its development and growth. In addition to the forms that the dragon will transform into during the regular course of the gameplay, there are also some unique forms that can be gained through acquiring items known as D-Units.
Summary of Dragon Forms
|Stat Focus||Alignment||Acting Gauge Effect|
|Agility||Speed||Instant Status Recovery|
Hidden Dragon Forms
Among the regular dragon forms the player acquires during gameplay, there are two other hidden dragon forms.
This dragon form is acquired when all twelve of the D-Units scattered throughout the game are collected. Light Wing was designed by The Ancients as the ultimate dragon. With Light Wing the player can use all of the special berserks listed in this article under "Battle System". Also, when all three action gauges are charged the dragon regenerates health and berserk points, and status returns to normal.
It is harder to obtain this dragon form than Light Wing; first, the player must get the baby coolia from Shelcoof in Georgius, and then go to the red ruins in the Forest of Zoah to obtain Solo Wing. If the Shelcoof is destroyed this becomes impossible. Unlike Light Wing, there are no gameplay benefits, but when the player morphs Solo Wing into different types, the dragon will take the form of dragons from other Panzer Dragoon games.
Development for the game had begun at around the same time as its predecessor, Panzer Dragoon II Zwei, and its development group started as an offshoot of that game's team. They eventually grew in number to around 40 members, twice as many as that of the team working on Panzer Dragoon Zwei, as they handled the tricky task of creating a game that was of an entirely different genre to others in the series, and yet retained the general qualities and elements of the previous installments.
Like its predecessor, the 3D software Softimage was used in development, and the title remained keenly anticipated throughout its two grueling years of development, remaining amongst the top 5 most-anticipated titles on Japan's Sega Saturn Weekly magazine for almost this entire duration.
Even as the Sega Saturn faltered in the console market, Team Andromeda struggled with their own difficulties in developing the game. While they appreciated the creative freedom they had in attempting to produce gameplay that was unique, there was a need to adhere somewhat to the standard conventions of the RPG genre, as well as to incorporate the aerial shooting elements of the series. Eventually, they achieved their goal as they developed a well-received battle system that utilized both turn-based and real-time combat, and allowed the player to alter the dragon and its abilities on-the-fly, as opposed to the specific evolution paths of the previous game.
Team leader Yukio Futatsugi has stated that this was done so as to allow for more combinations to compensate for the lack of characters, as most RPGs usually allow the player to control a party of several members, as opposed to the single character and his dragon in Panzer Dragoon Saga.
The game also intentionally eschewed the highly populated worlds of most RPGs, as Futatsugi felt the lack of NPCs lent a sense of loneliness to the game. This is further evidenced by his statement that the game could only have been done on the Saturn, rather than the Sony PlayStation, due to the former's more somber color palette, which served to further highlight the game's desolate, post-apocalyptic atmosphere.
Team Andromeda also had to deal with the tragic losses of a couple of their members during the game's development: one to a motorcycle accident, and another to suicide. The latter occurred during development of the game, and not, as is often rumored, due to the eventual poor sales of the game.
Critical and consumer reaction
Panzer Dragoon Saga was received with unanimous praise from international gaming publications, citing its sophisticated art direction, vivid and unusual story, and its cinematic, fluid battle system as particularly noteworthy. Official Sega Saturn Magazine UK gave it a review score of 96%, and provided the entire first disc of the game with a £4.99 edition. However, the game, coming late in the Sega Saturn’s life, was released in very small quantities in the US and Europe. Only 6,000 copies were first produced for the game’s American launch in May 1998, and many retailers failed to meet pre-order demand. Sega released a second batch of 12,000 copies the following June and then another 12,000 in the late summer.
Because of the title’s limited print run, English-language copies of Panzer Dragoon Saga are rare. What copies do exist tend to be recognized as valuable by their owners and, as a result, copies tend to sell for a relatively high price on eBay, often raking in over $300 US. Although the game is frequently requested to be re-released on a modern format, thus far the game remains a Saturn-only release. Team leader Yukio Futatsugi has also confirmed that the original source code for the game has been lost, adding further weight to the unlikelihood of a port. There is now a demand from fans for the source code to be recovered.
In addition to its persistent fan following, Panzer Dragoon Saga continues to be well regarded by critics and was featured in IGN.com's list of the top 100 games of all time in 2007 and in G4's top 100 games of all time in 2012. On Gamerankings.com, the game is ranked as the most critically acclaimed Saturn game of all time, with an aggregate score of 92.87%.
A "Mini Album" was released prior to the official release of the game itself, a two-disc set with the first CD containing a selection of music from the game and the second disc acting as a game demo. The two-disc OST was released later with a limited print run. It would be re-released in 2001 as "Azel: Panzer Dragoon RPG Memorial Album" with two bonus tracks remixing the ending song. However, this print run would also be limited.
|Panzer Dragoon Saga soundtrack, Disc 1|
|1.||"Ecce Valde Generous Ale" ("Behold the Precious Wings")||1:34|
|3.||"Noble Rebel Army"||2:07|
|4.||"A Holy Nation of Deceit"||1:19|
|7.||"Separated for Eternity"||1:51|
|8.||"Premonition of War"||5:10|
|10.||"Chaos Amongst the Silence"||2:32|
|14.||"Breath of Life"||1:45|
|15.||"The Blue Ruins"||0:47|
|18.||"Pure Blood Seed"||3:24|
|19.||"The Black Fleet"||2:20|
|20.||"Rendezvous with Destiny"||0:30|
|22.||"Spirit of a Dragon"||2:16|
|26.||"The Town of Zoah"||2:51|
|Panzer Dragoon Saga soundtrack, Disc 2|
|2.||"Path to the Being"||3:48|
|5.||"Giant Creature II"||2:09|
|7.||"Source of the Protective Flame"||3:02|
|9.||"Sleeping Iron Ingot"||3:29|
|10.||"Imperial Air Force"||3:43|
|14.||"A Century Gone By"||2:35|
|18.||"Village of the Seekers"||2:44|
|19.||"The Forest's Cry"||3:37|
|20.||"The Red Ruins"||1:40|
|21.||"Into the Promised Land"||1:45|
|22.||"Overture to the Finale"||3:31|
|27.||"The Final Battle ~Recurrence~"||2:24|
|28.||"Sona Mi Areru Ec Sancitu" ("Art Thou the Holy One")||4:11|
- "Panzer Dragoon Saga Sega Saturn Retrospective". 1UP.com. Retrieved January 22, 2009.
- "The History of Panzer Dragoon". GameSpot. Retrieved September 12, 2007.
- "VideoGamePriceCharts.com". Retrieved 2008-05-12.
- Ciolek, Todd. "Among the Missing: Notable Games Lost to Time". 1UP.com. Retrieved 2014-04-02. "In a 2009 interview, Panzer Dragoon Saga director Yukio Futatsugi confided that the game's source code no longer existed in Sega's records. While this might have delighted some collectors who paid hundreds on eBay for the game, it's by no means a death sentence. Even without a game's source code, it's entirely possible for developers to dump the data from a retail copy and emulate it. While the lack of basic code might rule out a heavily reworked version of the game, it simply makes porting Panzer Dragoon Saga more work than normal."
- "IGN Top 100 Games 2007". IGN.com. Retrieved November 24, 2008.
- Top 100 Games of All Time: No.22, G4.
- "GameTap sitting on Panzer Dragoon Saga, Joystiq mobilizes masses". Joystiq.com. Retrieved May 13, 2009.
- The Will of the Ancients A Panzer Dragoon series fansite with timelines, theories, fanart, and discussions
- Panzer Dragoon Saga Oasis An extensive fansite dedicated to Panzer Dragoon Saga containing information, creative media, and a full visual guide to the game
- The Art of Panzer Dragoon, A database of official concept art from the series
- RPGamer's Panzer Dragoon Saga page
- RPG Fan's Azel Panzer Dragoon RPG OST review
- RPG Fan's Memorial Album review
- Panzer Dragoon Saga Video Project, A site dedicated to Panzer Dragoon Saga videos
- Panzer Dragoon Saga Spanish Fan Translation, SEGASaturno & Old Castle Street fan patch