A Boy and his Dragon

   RPGs have always held out the promise of visiting another world. "Leave your quotidien life behind," whisper the designers, "and come share our dream." Unfortunately, the promise often falls short of the execution. Cliché characters, bland environments, and uninvolving storylines often remove the player from the experience. But ever since Dragon Warrior showed glimses of what was possible, RPG fans have been waiting for a believable world in which they could lose themselves completely. Team Andromeda's Panzer Dragoon Saga is the first title to fulfill this lofty goal.

   The care with which Team Andromeda has created the world is breathtaking (all the more so, considering that the first two titles in the Panzer Dragoon series were rail shooters). The environments just "feel" right -- the town is architecturally correct, the caravan seems suitably transient, and the ruins are permeated with a feeling of age and ineffability. The enemies and ship designs are wonderfully organic; they seem to have simply grown out of the environments. The world's history and ecology are equally sound. The characters are affable and interesting without resorting to generic fantasy stereotypes. The series' biological, futuristic design remains one-of-a-kind.

The enigmatic Azel

   The story begins with a young boy, Edge, unearthing a startling find at an excavation site: a young girl, Azel. No sooner is she discovered than a rebellious Imperial faction, led by the charismatic Craymen, appears to seize the crypt. Craymen kills Edge's master and leaves with Azel, abandoning Edge to his fate. Edge falls to find himself surrounded by monsters, unable to escape -- when a dragon appears from the shadows and fires upon the foes. Edge and the dragon quickly form an inseperable bond, and set out to find Craymen, Azel, and avenge Edge's mentor's death. Panzer Dragoon Saga builds on the mythology of the first two titles; Edge will seek explanations for the Empire's intentions, the origins of the dragons and monsters, and the mysterious Tower....

   The game pushes the Saturn to absolutely mind-boggling levels. Transparencies and lightning effects accentuate fully navigable 3D environments with a minimum of fogging and pop-up. Each of the game's four CD's are filled with FMV of key plot sequences. The FMV isn't just for flash and glitz, however; more often than not, it's simply of people talking or an otherwise "mundane" event. The video, unfortunately, is plagued by the Saturn's lousy compression. The music is also excellent, filled with ethereal, other-worldly choirs and sharp brass. Increasing the immersion factor is the excellent Japanese voice acting; every line in the entire game is rendered with high-quality spoken dialogue.

   None of this would amount to anything without the gameplay to back it up; fortunately, Panzer Dragoon Saga delivers in spades. When Edge enters battle (always on dragonback), he begins circling the opponents. The area around the enemies consists of four quadrants, and each quadrant can be either green (safe), clear (normal), or red (dangerous). Enemies can adjust their positions, altering quadrant status. Edge can move between the quadrants as his battle gauges fill up. Once one, two, or three gauges are filled, various attacks and spells can be unleashed. After the enemies are defeated, you receive a rating based on the speed, efficiency, and skill with which your foes were dispatched. A higher rating gives you more experience, more "Dyne," and the occasional rare item. The variety of different "level" abilities, the need to strategically position your character, and the impetus for peak performance all make the traditional RPG battle system much more enjoyable.

I Like To Morph It Morph It!

   The core of any Panzer Dragoon game, however, has always been the dragon. Panzer Dragoon Saga uses a revolutionary system to offer almost unlimited customization. Each of the four attributes, Attack, Spirituality, Agility and Defense, can be set to your specifications. Attack and Spirituality are linked, as are Agility and Defense (increasing one decreases the other). As you adjust your dragon's statistics, his physical appearance changes accordingly in real time! Defensive dragons are squat and blocky, for example, while agile dragons are sleek and streamlined. But your dragon can lie anywhere in between, leading to near-infinite possibilities. A graphical wonder that actually affects gameplay, dragon morphing is one of the title's most enjoyable features.

   Some gamers quibbled over the game's length -- only fifteen to twenty hours -- but the majority were so overwhelmed by the title that they didn't mind one iota. Unfortunately, even more players were never able to experience the game for themselves. Sega's initial run was only 6,000 copies; woefully inadequate, given the game's stellar reviews and word-of-mouth. Subsequent printings did little to alleviate the pain of finding a copy, and the title is still extremely rare. In May 1998, the Saturn was so busy dying a lonely death that many gamers missed what was quite possibly its greatest title. No RPG fan should go without playing this masterpiece.

Retrospective by Andrew Vestal.
Panzer Dragoon Saga
Developer Team Andromeda
Publisher Sega
Genre Traditional RPG
Medium CD (4)
Platform Sega Saturn
Release Date  03.98
Walkthrough and cheats
33 screen shots, 2 movies
Character, enemy, and ship designs
Posters and box