Panzer Dragoon Saga

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Panzer Dragoon Saga
The Panzer Dragoon Saga European cover art. The protagonist, Edge, stands before his dragon and another character, Azel.
European cover art
Developer(s)Team Andromeda
Publisher(s)Sega
Director(s)Yukio Futatsugi
Designer(s)Manabu Kusunoki
Artist(s)Katsumi Yokota
Composer(s)Saori Kobayashi
Mariko Nanba
SeriesPanzer Dragoon
Platform(s)Sega Saturn
Release
  • JP: 29 January 1998
  • NA: 30 April 1998
  • PAL: 5 June 1998
Genre(s)Action-adventure, role-playing
Mode(s)Single-player

Panzer Dragoon Saga is a 1998 role-playing video game (RPG) published by Sega and developed by Team Andromeda for the Sega Saturn. It departs from the linear rail shooter gameplay of the Panzer Dragoon series by introducing traditional RPG elements such as random encounters, semi-turn-based battles, and free-roaming exploration. The player controls Edge, a young mercenary who rides a powerful dragon and encounters a mysterious girl from a vanished civilization.

Development began in early 1995 alongside Panzer Dragoon II Zwei (1996). Sega felt an RPG was critical to succeed against the PlayStation, and wanted to compete with Final Fantasy VII. The game underwent an arduous development process. Much of the challenge came from incorporating the series' shooting elements into an RPG with full 3D computer graphics and voice acting; both were unusual features in RPGs at the time, and pushed the Saturn to its technical limits. Two staff members died during development, which director Yukio Futatsugi attributed to the stressful working conditions of the video game industry.

Panzer Dragoon Saga is the most critically acclaimed Saturn game, and is often listed as one of the greatest games of all time; it earned particular praise for its story, graphics and combat. However, the game suffered from a limited release in the west as Sega had shifted focus to its Dreamcast console, and worldwide sales were poor. It has not been rereleased and English copies sell for high prices. After its release, Sega disbanded Team Andromeda; several staff members joined Sega's Smilebit studio and developed the final game in the series, Panzer Dragoon Orta (2002), for Xbox.

Gameplay[edit]

Unlike the other Panzer Dragoon games, which are rail shooters, Panzer Dragoon Saga is a role-playing video game (RPG).[1] The player controls Edge, a young mercenary who rides a flying dragon. Gameplay is divided into three modes: traversing large areas on the dragon, battling enemies, and exploring on foot.[2] On foot, Edge can talk to non-player characters (NPCs), upgrade his weapons, buy items such as potions,[3] and use a targeting reticle to interact with locks, doors, and other elements; on the dragon, this reticle is used to fire lasers to activate triggers or break objects.[4] In one sequence, Edge rides a hoverbike instead of the dragon.[5] The player travels through environments including canyons, deserts, forests, and subterranean ruins;[6] these are accessed from the map screen, and new areas are added as the game progresses.[2][3] Campsites serve as rest areas and save points.[3] The game features full voice acting[3] and numerous FMV cutscenes.[2]

Saga simplifies many RPG conventions. For example, it has few travel sequences and side quests, requires little "maintenance work" such as managing inventories or skill trees, and features only Edge and his dragon rather than a party of playable characters. It can also be completed in less than 20 hours, making it much shorter than most RPGs at the time.[7]

Battle system[edit]

A screenshot of Edge and his dragon battling a large creature
Edge and his dragon in combat, with the enemy's weak point exposed. Note the combat menu on the left, radar indicating safe and dangerous zones in the center, and the three action gauges, one depleted, in the bottom-right.

Panzer Dragoon Saga uses a random encounter system, in which battles are triggered at random intervals as the player rides the dragon.[1] Battles mix real-time and turn-based elements.[4] Three action gauges charge in real time; when a gauge fills, the player can perform an action, such as attacking or using items.[1] Waiting for multiple gauges to charge gives the enemy more opportunity to attack, but grants the player more options, such as making multiple moves in quick succession.[4][5] The speed at which the gauges charge is governed by the dragon's agility attribute; if higher than the enemy's agility, the player can act more frequently than the enemy, and vice versa.[1]

The player can circle the enemy by moving between quadrants[8] to expose weak points and escape dangerous positions.[1] A radar at the bottom of the screen indicates safe, neutral and dangerous areas, with the front and rear quadrants typically posing the most danger.[1] Changing position temporarily stops the gauges.[4] Enemies may also change position to force the dragon into vulnerable areas.[2] Weak points can sometimes be attacked only from dangerous areas, and enemy attack patterns may change mid-battle, forcing the player to adapt.[5]

The two primary attacks are the dragon's laser, which strikes multiple targets simultaneously, and Edge's gun, which focuses damage on a single target and is useful for striking weak points.[1] Edge's gun can be upgraded with power-ups including three-way fire and the "Sniper" modification, which deals additional damage to weak points.[1] The dragon's "berserks", the equivalent of magic spells in other RPGs, can heal, boost the dragon's attributes, or inflict powerful attacks. Berserks require berserk points and sometimes multiple action gauges.[1][4][5] Certain enemy attacks change the dragon's status: "stun" prevents it from using its lasers or berserks; "stop" prevents it from changing position; "poison" slowly drains its health points; "pain" slowly drains its defense attribute; "slow" increases the gauge charge time; and "bind" prevents all but the first gauge from charging.[9]

Players can morph the dragon to change its attack, defense, agility and spiritual attributes. Boosting one attribute diminishes another; for example, boosting the attack attribute reduces the spiritual attribute, which increases the cost of berserks,[3] and boosting agility fills gauges faster but lowers defense.[3] Certain berserks are only available in certain dragon configurations,[1][4] and the dragon learns some types of berserks more quickly in different forms.[9] After battle, the player earns a ranking based on their performance; better rankings reward the player with more experience points and items.[9]

Plot[edit]

Edge, a mercenary hired by the Empire, guards an excavation site filled with artifacts from the Ancient Age, a vanished advanced civilization. Fending off an ancient monster, he discovers a girl buried in a wall. The site is attacked by the mutinous Black Fleet, who seize the girl, kill Edge's companions, and shoot Edge. Edge survives, escapes with the help of a mysterious flying dragon, and swears revenge on the Black Fleet leader, Craymen.

Edge rescues Gash, a member of the Seekers, a scavenger group. Gash directs him to a nearby nomadic caravan, where he learns the location of the Black Fleet. Edge and his dragon defeat the fleet, but learn that Craymen has already reached the Tower, an ancient structure of tremendous power. He fends off an attack by the girl from the excavation site, who has sworn allegiance to Craymen and rides an enormous dragon called Atolm.

In the town of Zoah, Edge meets Paet, an engineer who offers information about the Tower in exchange for artifacts. Searching an ancient vessel for parts, Edge is captured and tortured by imperial soldiers but rescued by Gash. Paet reveals that the Tower can be reached via the ruins of Uru; there, Edge and the dragon are attacked again by the girl and Atolm. After the battle, Edge and the girl are separated from their dragons and fall into an ancient underground facility. They form a truce to escape. The girl explains that she is an ancient bio-engineered lifeform named Azel, created in the facility and designed to interface with ancient technology. After Edge's dragon rescues them, Azel warns Edge that she will kill him if he crosses Craymen's path again; she leaves on Atolm.

Craymen surprises Edge in Zoah and requests his help fighting the Empire. Paet tells Edge he can find the Tower by deactivating Mel-Kava, an ancient machine that obscures the Tower's location with fog. For destroying an imperial base, the Zoah leader gives Edge access to an ancient artifact that grants a vision of Mel-Kava's location. Edge and the dragon destroy Mel-Kava, clearing the fog, but are attacked again by Azel and Atolm. They shoot down Atolm and rescue Azel as she falls.

The Emperor's flagship, Grig Orig, destroys Zoah, but the Black Fleet intervenes before Edge and the dragon are killed. At the Tower, Craymen tells Edge that the Tower is one of several that manufacture monsters to combat humanity's destructive forces. He needs Azel to activate the Tower and destroy the Empire before they can use it for themselves. Imperials arrive and capture Edge and Craymen. After the Emperor forces Azel to activate the Tower, monsters emerge and kill Craymen, the Emperor, and their men. Edge and Azel escape on Edge's dragon. At the Seeker stronghold, Gash explains that the Tower will destroy humanity if it is not deactivated. He believes Edge's dragon is the prophesied Divine Visitor who will be humanity's salvation. Edge and the dragon battle rampaging monsters and destroy the infested Grig Orig.

Edge rescues Azel from monsters in the Uru facility, where she has returned to contemplate her purpose. They infiltrate the Tower and Azel prepares to transfer Edge and the dragon into Sestren, the AI network that controls the towers. She confesses her love for Edge and he promises to return. Inside Sestren, Edge and the dragon defeat the network's "anti-dragon" programs. The dragon reveals that it is not the Divine Visitor but the Heresy Program, a rogue Sestren AI. The real Divine Visitor is "the one from the outside world" who has guided Edge, the player, and must now destroy Sestren to free humanity from the Ancient Age. After the player presses a button, Edge and the dragon vanish. Gash awaits Edge in a desert. Azel, searching for Edge, asks directions across treacherous land.

Development[edit]

The Sega Saturn console
Panzer Dragoon Saga was one of the last games Sega released for the Saturn console.

In March 1995, following completion of the original Panzer Dragoon, producer Yoji Ishiji suggested making an RPG to explore the Panzer Dragoon world, as this had been praised in reviews.[7] Sega's president instructed the team to create an RPG to outsell Final Fantasy and help the Saturn beat the PlayStation in the console war.[10] Sega's Team Andromeda studio split into two teams: one worked on Saga while the other developed a shooter sequel, Panzer Dragoon II Zwei.[11] Saga had a staff of about 40, twice that for Zwei. Both teams used the Zwei engine and the 3D modeling software Softimage.[4]

Director Yukio Futatsugi said that Saga was the most difficult Panzer Dragoon game to develop, as many of its features, such as fully 3D environments, were unusual for RPGs at the time.[4] "No matter what aspect of the game we worked on, we had the challenge of making it entirely from whole cloth," he said.[7] The engine had to support free exploration, battle sequences, and real-time morphing and shading, pushing the Saturn to its limits.[4] Futatsugi felt the game would have been impossible to develop on the PlayStation console, as the Saturn's "cloudier" palette gives the Panzer Dragoon series its atmosphere.[5] The team did not use any of Sega's existing graphic libraries and programmed everything from scratch.[10]

Battle design[edit]

Akihiko Mukaiyama, who had worked on RPGs including Sakura Wars, was brought in to design the battle system, replacing Zwei producer Tomohiro Kondo.[10] Mukaiyama expected his job to be simple, but found problems with Kondo's prototype: there was no strategic element, as the player had no reason to change positions.[10] Some staff felt they should create a traditional RPG battle system in which players select commands from a menu, while others wanted to focus on shooting, similar to earlier Panzer Dragoon games.[10] Mukaiyama's compromise was to allow players to select menu commands or trigger them immediately with button presses.[10]

The system was recreated numerous times as the team struggled to combine the essential elements of shooters and RPGs.[10] The positioning system developed from an initial concept of fighting enemies for space;[4] this system was initially free-roaming, but was too slow.[10] Mukaiyama simplified it by having the player move between quadrants around the enemy; this better simulated flying and allowed the artists to create dramatic camera movements.[10] The gauge system added further strategy, giving more options to the player.[10]

The dragon's morphing ability was added to compensate for the lack of a large cast of playable characters with different skills common in other JRPGs.[4] The team estimated that having the dragon morph in real time would be too difficult to implement, but a programmer surprised them with a working prototype.[11] The dragon's unconventional design came partly from the need to morph smoothly between different models.[10]

Reworking the series' shooting gameplay into an RPG took about a year.[12] Once the team had settled on the core action of locking on to targets, such as enemies and NPCs, the rest of the design followed.[12] After the battle system was finalized, development proceeded smoothly and some staff were moved to help complete Zwei.[4]

Story[edit]

Rather than create a "save-the-world" story with a large cast, Futatsugi wanted to concentrate on a small number of characters who the player would be "really close to", which he felt would make the story meaningful.[5] An early version had Edge as an imperial soldier who defects, but this made the story overlong; Craymen also had an extensive backstory explaining his motivations for betraying the Empire, but this was cut as it would have filled most of the first disc. Art director Manabu Kusunoki hoped to "leave space for players' imaginations" by not revealing everything about the world.[11] Although Edge is not a silent protagonist, Futatsugi minimized his dialogue outside cutscenes to focus on Azel's story, who he felt was the most important character.[5]

Saga features full voice acting; by contrast, the Final Fantasy series did not feature voice acting until Final Fantasy X, released three years later.[7] Sega estimated that the script amounted to more than 1,500 pages of Japanese text.[13] Like the other Panzer Dragoon games, Saga features a fictional language, "Panzerese", which combines elements of Ancient Greek, Latin and Russian; Saga only features Panzerese in the introduction sequence, with the rest of the dialogue in Japanese.[8] The localizers were given incomplete translations, and so inserted their own interpretations of the story, embellishing details and creating new names for monsters. The biggest change was in the depiction of the relationship between Edge and Azel.[7] According to Futatsugi, the romance is obvious in the Japanese version from a Japanese perspective, but would have been lost on a western audience, as emotions are expressed more directly in English.[10] The Japanese voice acting was subtitled rather than dubbed in English.[2]

The team wanted to keep some elements of the story open to interpretation. In Kusunoki's interpretation, Edge dies at the beginning of the story when he is shot, and is brought back to life temporarily by the player; when the game ends, Edge dies.[10]

Art[edit]

Kusunoki, the main character and art designer for the previous Panzer Dragoon games, brought in several new artists for Saga: Katsumi Yokota created the character and cover art, and Satoshi Sakai and Ryuta Ueda designed the dragons.[10] Yokota described the team as "avant-garde and anti-establishment". They resisted creating "spiky-haired" characters similar to those of Final Fantasy VII or Resident Evil, which were popular at the time, and competed to create unique designs.[10] The team credited the animes Nausicaä and Neon Genesis Evangelion, the Star Wars films, and the comic artist Jean Giraud as influences.[10][10]

Azel underwent the most revisions; the team did not want her to be a typical energetic anime-style heroine, and instead tried to make her simultaneously appealing and frightening, emphasizing her human and non-human traits.[11] Yokota said: "She couldn’t just be cute; there had to be something edgy about her. I struggled with questions like, what does it mean to be cute? What does it mean to be human?"[10] He spent months refining Kusunoki's design, creating dozens of concepts.[10] One early design had a hole in her torso.[11] Azel's oversized jacket, belonging to her master Craymen, was inspired by British mod fashion, which Yokota had seen in the 1979 film Quadrophenia. The team felt the image conveyed her identity and allegiance to Craymen and symbolized his protection.[10]

Soundtrack[edit]

The Panzer Dragoon Saga soundtrack was composed by Saori Kobayashi and Mariko Nanba and arranged by Hayato Matsuo. It includes South American, African, Celtic, classical and new age influences.[14] The Verge described it as blend of traditional European and Middle Eastern folk styles with "sci-fi"-like synthesizer sounds.[15] Kobayashi said that Futatsugi's only direction was to keep the ethnic sounds and compose something similar to Zwei.[10] Rather than using prerecorded music, the soundtrack is mostly generated via pulse-code modulation by the Saturn's sound hardware, as with Zwei.[4] Although the hardware imposed limitations on the compositions, such as reducing the number of possible loops, Kobayashi felt this helped convey the game's desolate world.[7] The orchestrated ending theme, "Sona Mi Areru Ec Sancitu", features lyrics in Panzerese.[14]

A soundtrack album was released by Marvelous Entertainment in February 1998.[14] In January 2018, an anniversary edition of the soundtrack, Resurrection: Panzer Dragoon Saga, was released by Brave Wave Productions on CD, vinyl and download formats.[16] It features rearranged and rerecorded versions of the original soundtrack; as the game's sequencer data no longer exists, Kobayashi recreated the music from scratch.[15]

Team[edit]

In comparison to the small, cohesive teams that had created Panzer Dragoon and Zwei, the Saga team was large, and many staff did not know each other. Kusunoki recalled "endless disputes", particularly between staff who had worked on the earlier Panzer Dragoon games and those new to the franchise and wanted to explore new ideas.[10] The project was delayed several times, creating the impression that it was struggling, and went through several directors before Kusunoki assumed the role.[10]

Mukaiyama found that whereas game development is usually driven by designers, the Saga programmers and artists had their own opinions. The programmers wanted to build on the technically sophisticated shooting of Zwei, whereas the artists wanted to explore the visual possibilities of 3D to showcase their characters. He said: "Their visions for the game would collide ... it was a constant battle ... I didn’t think there could possibly be a solution to satisfy both parties. It took about a year, and a lot of mistakes, to find a solution."[10]

The development strained the staff. The Ringer characterized Saga as "a game about a world in ruins, produced by a disintegrating development team haunted by heartbreak at a company in decline".[7] Sega lacked experience managing large teams; it was the largest team Futatsugi had managed,[10] and he recalled pressure to "domineer" over the staff.[7] Sega's expectations for Saga were high and the team faced intense pressure.[17] At the height of production, team members slept in the office or caught early-morning trains home to nap, and relieved stress by playing fighting games on a Neo Geo arcade cabinet.[7]

Two staff members died: one from suicide and the other in a motorcycle accident, which Futatsugi attributed to stress. "All we could do was carry on and finish the game – it was out of my hands," he said. "Part of me did want to stop though. That was definitely the toughest project I've ever worked on."[18] Mukaiyama became depressed during the period, and said it was "the hardest thing I ever experienced in my entire life".[10] Nonetheless, Futatsugi felt the project had benefited from having "someone who plays the bad guy role, someone who acts a little selfish, acts a little forceful to the team to achieve specific goals ... Having team members that will support that kind of bad cop is necessary, and if they don't exist then you can't get those kind of results."[5]

After Saga's completion, Sega disbanded Team Andromeda and reassigned some staff to Smilebit, which developed the final game in the series, Panzer Dragoon Orta (2002), for Xbox.[19] Ueda, Sakai and Yokota went on to work on the Sega games Jet Set Radio, Phantasy Star Online and Rez, respectively.[10] Futatsugi left Sega and joined Konami.[17]

Release[edit]

Panzer Dragoon Saga was released in Japan in January 1998 as Azel: Panzer Dragoon RPG.[20] North American and European releases followed in April,[9] making Saga one of the last Saturn games published by Sega and released outside Japan.[8] The game spans four CDs;[8] in the UK, the first disc was released as a demo with Sega Saturn Magazine.[21]

Sega planned Saga to compete with the PlayStation RPG Final Fantasy VII, believing that having the best RPG would win the "console war", and aimed to sell 1.5 million copies.[22] It was planned for release in the same year as Final Fantasy, but was delayed to 1998 to avoid competing with Grandia, another Saturn RPG.[22] Final Fantasy VII sold almost 10 million copies, but sales of Saga worldwide were poor.[7][23]

In the west, where the Saturn had been a commercial failure, Sega had shifted focus to its next console, the Dreamcast, and retailers were reluctant to stock Saturn games.[7] Localizer Chris Lucich said it was a "strange transitional period" for Sega of America, which had shrunk from over 2,000 employees to 200.[7] Sega initially produced only 20,000 North American copies of Saga; after these sold out in two days, a few thousand more were produced. In Europe, only around 1,000 copies were made.[7]

As the game received almost no marketing in the west beyond limited print advertisements, Lucich and Underwood sent screenshots to bloggers, hoping to generate word-of-mouth interest.[7] Sega allotted only ten copies of the game to give to the press, and focused on hardcore game media, as, according to PR representative Heather Hawkins, "nobody else would really care". As no mainstream media had Saturns, Sega had to provide consoles themselves, then retrieve them to give to other media.[10] IGN's Levi Buchanan characterized the release as an example of the Saturn's "ignominious send-off" in the west, writing that "sunset Saturn games like Panzer Dragoon Saga and Burning Rangers demanded far better launches. The way these games were slipped into retail with zero fanfare and low circulation was insulting to both hard-working developers and Sega fans."[24]

Mukaiyama said Sega was "confused" by the game's failure. At the request of Sega producer Yu Suzuki, who was developing an RPG with some similarities, Shenmue, Sega held a meeting with the developers to discuss why the game had failed.[22] Localizer Matt Underwood speculated that Saga's post-apocalyptic setting, "basically the polar opposite of [Final Fantasy] in tone", had been off-putting to players.[7] Yokota and battle programmer Shin Futakawame felt it would have sold poorly in any situation, as, in Yokota's words, the developers were "not the type of people who liked mass-market, mainstream products. They were niche, alternative, rock 'n' roll and avant-garde ... The game always had to be unique."[10]

Reception[edit]

Reception
Aggregate score
AggregatorScore
GameRankings92% (7 reviews)[25]
Review scores
PublicationScore
Edge9/10[2]
Game Informer9/10[26]
GameSpot9.2/10[3]
Sega Saturn Magazine96%[1]
RPGFan94%[25]
Game RevolutionA[25]
EGM9.5, 9.5, 9.5, 10/10[27]
CVG5/5 stars[9]

According to the review aggregator GameRankings, Panzer Dragoon Saga is the most critically acclaimed Saturn game, with an aggregate score of 92%.[25] In 2007, Game Informer wrote that "critically, the game was a smash hit, lauded as one of the year's best, and generally considered the Saturn's finest title."[28]

The battle system received particular praise. Electronic Gaming Monthly wrote that whereas other RPGs had players selecting menu options, Saga's positioning system forced them to strategize, producing "much more exciting" battles.[27] GameSpot's James Mielke described the system as a "revelation" with more strategy and challenge than traditional turn-based systems, and menus that "become more and more intuitive with every counter". Edge praised the range and design of enemies as "consistently superb",[2] and Sega Saturn Magazine praised the depth and quantity of boss encounters.[1]

The graphics were also acclaimed. Though Mielke noted occasional slowdown and "rough" textures, he felt the use of techniques such as gouraud shading, transparency and light sourcing created a "graphic level of excellence on a par with anything available on a home console". He also praised the "fluid easy grace" of the art direction, and the environment design, whose "every exotic location retains a place in your memory".[3] Computer and Video Games critic Steve Key and Sega Saturn Magazine wrote that Team Andromeda had created visual effects that matched other home consoles.[1][9] Next Generation described "some of the most beautiful locations ever seen in an RPG ... it's almost unbelievable that they could come from Saturn."[29] Edge praised the extensive FMV cutscenes, whose "cinematic quality ... shames the work of almost every other developer" and creates an "RPG of true creative integrity".[2]

Mielke likened the sound and music to the quality of Hollywood productions.[3] Though it identified the subtitles as a cost-saving measure, Edge felt it was "infinitely preferable to the alternative of B-list actors reciting words they have little feeling for ... this dual-language approach keeps Panzer Dragoon Saga's strong story lucid and, with only a few exceptions, articulate."[2]

Several critics considered Saga a worthy rival to Final Fantasy VII and lamented that it would reach a smaller audience. Key felt that if the game were released on PlayStation it would "fly off the shelves".[9] Edge wrote: "It's a tragedy that the Saturn's standing will ensure Team Andromeda's adventure, with a radically different approach to FFVII, will enjoy a fraction of its rival's success."[2] Mielke concluded: "Saga, in its own way, is so much more than Square's ultimate RPG. It is a worthy successor to a series that with each installment has grown in stature and scope. It is flawlessly executed, limited only by the hardware (and barely that at all) and medium."[3]

Criticism focused on the game's short length.[1][3][27][29] Sega Saturn Magazine felt it was too easy, especially the puzzles, though achieving "Excellent" ranks in combat was the "real test".[1] Computer and Video Games noted that like the other Panzer Dragoon games Saga rewarded players for full completion, with "astounding" bonuses.[9]

Many publications praised Panzer Dragoon Saga as one of the best RPGs of the year and one of the best on Saturn. Mielke concluded that the game was "possibly the finest RPG of 1998",[3] and Game Informer called it "easily" the best Saturn RPG.[26] Electronic Gaming Monthly reviewers unanimously commended the game as one of the best RPGs of all time and awarded it the "Editor's Choice Gold Award".[27] Sega Saturn Magazine described it as "a monumental effort, a work of art, and quite clearly a labour of love", and the best Saturn adventure.[1]

Retrospective[edit]

Retrospective reviews have been largely positive. In 2007, Game Informer called Saga one of the greatest games ever made, and praised the use of dramatic camera angles and animations to make the battles "very cinematic even by modern standards".[28] In a 2007 article for 1UP.com, James Mielke rated the game 9/10, describing it as "the greatest RPG you've never played" and one of the "most unique" RPGs of all time. According to Mielke, "for a 3D shooter to suddenly make the unexpected jump from shooter to RPG so gracefully was a major accomplishment."[5] Retro Gamer's Phil Harrison echoed this sentiment, praising the fusion of action and RPG elements.[30] In 1001 Video Games You Must Play Before You Die (2013), Jason Brookes wrote that only the cutscenes had aged poorly and that "many aspects of the game impress above and beyond even many of the RPGs produced nowadays".[6] Mielke, Harrison and Brookes all praised the story's restraint and lack of cliché.[5][30][6] In 2018, The Ringer praised the complexity of its characters, none of whom are "truly heroic".[7] John Szczepaniak, author of The Untold History of Japanese Game Developers, wrote that "I genuinely cannot think of a game whose story impresses me more" and argued that the primitive graphics assisted the sense of an ancient, alien world.[7]

A 2008 Gamasutra article was more critical; writer Kurt Kalata felt that while the visual design was "still lovely", the graphics showed the Saturn's 3D limitations, with low-resolution textures, "boxy" character models, frequent slowdown, and compressed video. He wrote that the FMV cutscenes, while well directed, were inferior to those of Square RPGs and illustrated the Saturn's shortcomings compared to PlayStation. He also echoed contemporary criticisms that the game was too short and lacked difficulty. Nonetheless, Kalata concluded that Saga was "still thoroughly entrancing" and that its battle system made it "completely worth it".[8]

Panzer Dragoon Saga was named one of the best games of all time by Computer and Video Games in 2000, Electronic Gaming Monthly in 2001 and 2006, IGN readers in 2005,[31] IGN in 2007[32] and G4 in 2012.[33] In 2005, 1UP.com placed it #1 in its list of cult classic games.[34] Game Informer ranked it #1 in its 2006 list of the "top 10 rare RPGs you need".[35] In 2008, IGN named it the greatest Saturn game, and wrote: "Panzer Dragoon Saga was the swan song to end all swan songs ... this dark, solemn game [is] wholly unique. It is the gem of the generation."[36] The following year, in its list of the "Greatest Gameplay of All Time", IGN named Saga the "Best Game No One Played".[20] In 2017, Jeff Grubb of VentureBeat said Saga was "arguably" the best Sega game and expressed hope for a rerelease.[37]

Legacy[edit]

Because of its limited release, English copies of Panzer Dragoon Saga are rare. Used copies sell for hundreds of dollars, and factory-sealed copies sell for over $1,000. According to The Ringer, "Its scarcity has conferred a cult-classic status that's become part of its appeal ... to play it is to enter an exclusive, clued-in club."[7] Japanese copies are far cheaper, but have no English translation and cannot be played on western Saturn consoles.[8]

The game has not been rereleased.[5] In 2009, a spokesperson for the game-downloading service GameTap stated that GameTap had non-exclusive rights to distribute the game, but as Saturn emulation is difficult, there was not enough demand to make it a priority.[38] According to Futatsugi, the game's source code has become lost for unspecified reasons, making porting the game difficult.[5]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p "Panzer Dragoon Saga review". Sega Saturn Magazine. EMAP (30): 62–65. April 1998.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "Panzer Dragoon Saga Review". Edge Online. Future plc. 25 March 1998. Archived from the original on 4 April 2013. Retrieved 29 November 2017.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Mielke, James (20 May 1998). "Panzer Dragoon Saga Review". GameSpot. CBS Interactive. Archived from the original on 17 May 2017. Retrieved 29 November 2017.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Torres, Ricardo (1 July 2005). "GameSpot Presents: The History of Panzer Dragoon – GameSpot". CBS Interactive. Archived from the original on 22 September 2004. Retrieved 11 December 2015.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Mielke, James (11 September 2007). "Panzer Dragoon Saga Sega Saturn Retrospective from 1UP.com". 1UP.com. Ziff Davis. Archived from the original on 23 November 2012. Retrieved 7 December 2017.
  6. ^ a b c Mott, Tony (2013). 1001 Video Games You Must Play Before You Die. New York, New York: Universe Publishing. pp. 361, 950. ISBN 978-0-7893-2090-2.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r Lindburgh, Ben (29 January 2018). "The Ruinous Road of Gaming's Missing Masterpiece". The Ringer. Archived from the original on 2 February 2018. Retrieved 7 February 2018.
  8. ^ a b c d e f Kalata, Kurt (16 April 2008). "The History of Panzer Dragoon". Gamasutra. UBM TechWeb. Archived from the original on 11 November 2014. Retrieved 21 November 2014.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h Key, Steve (April 1998). "Panzer Dragoon Saga". Computer and Video Games. Future Publishing (97): 62–65.
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