#67 Panzer Dragoon Saga

pds

  • Original release year: 1998
  • Consoles: Sega Saturn

Panzer Dragoon Saga is considered by many to be the holy grail of Sega Saturn games. It commands a ridiculous price on auction sites like Ebay. But why is it so sought after? Well, besides being a Sega Saturn game (what Saturn game isn’t ridiculously expensive in the West?), it is considered by some Sega fans to not just be the Saturn’s answer to Final Fantasy VII, but also superior to it. It’s a huge, sprawling adventure RPG cut across 4 CDs, making it even larger than FFVII (at least, in terms of number of CDs – it’s actually shorter than FFVII), it was released late into the Saturn’s life and it had a low release number. As it has never been re-released, the Saturn is the only place to experience this great game. Thus, this is why Panzer Dragoon Saga is such an expensive game to buy now.

Most of the game is spent flying around on the back of the dragon.
Most of the game is spent flying around on the back of the dragon.

Admittedly, despite the comparisons to Final Fantasy VII, other than being an RPG, Panzer Dragoon Saga is actually radically different. For one thing, rather than playing as a party of different characters, you just play as one character, known as Edge. As Edge, you will explore 3D environments on foot (mostly villages and towns etc.), but mostly, you will be exploring the world by riding on the back of your dragon. You also only encounter battles whilst riding on your dragon. There are random battles like most RPGs from the 90s, but unlike other RPGs, they aren’t too frequent and aren’t annoying. Panzer Dragoon Saga also doesn’t require much grinding in order to level up.

The battle system is what really stands out in Panzer Dragoon Saga. Unlike most RPGs from that era, PDS has its battles in real-time. There is a turn-based system in place, but it’s very different to the norm. What happens is, you have three bars at the bottom that fill gradually with time. If you let one bar fill up, you can use your gun or your missiles. Your gun can be used to target a specific monster or part of a monster. The missiles, on the other hand, will shoot multiple areas/foes, but you cannot target. Finally, there is the berzerk options (magic basically), which can be used with two or three charged bars (I forget… I think some special berzerk options require 3 bars, whilst require 2). In addition, instead of being fixed to one location, you can actually move in PDS. Generally, there are four areas you can move to. Either at the front, either sides or the back. This adds to the strategy as areas are outlined on the map as being danger zones, normal zones and safe zones, as well as movement allowing you to try and find weak zones on the enemies. Watch out though, because many of the monsters can move too. This really adds depth and strategy to the fighting mechanics.

When not exploring vast areas on the back of your dragon, you're exploring towns on foot.
When not exploring vast areas on the back of your dragon, you’re exploring towns on foot.

The story and presentation in PDS is also really good. Edge, a mercenary hired by the Empire, guards a site where artefacts from an ancient advanced civilization are being excavated. Fending off an ancient monster, he discovers the body of a girl buried in a wall. The site is attacked by the mutinous Black Fleet, who seize the girl and kill Edge’s companions. Edge escapes with the help of a flying dragon and swears revenge on the Black Fleet leader, Craymen. This is where Edge’s adventure begins. Along the way, Edge discovers many dark secrets, there are plot twists and a number of characters that help Edge on his way. It’s a great story and still stands up to today’s standards.

If you remember, I said the game is four discs long, but it’s actually fairly short (clocking in at about 16 hours long, give or take a couple of hours depending on how you play through it). The reason for the number of discs is down to the number of cutscenes and the use of voice acting for its characters. I don’t mind the relatively short length, because I feel it keeps the game streamlined and accessible. PDS is light on side-quests, but there are still a few for those who like that kind of thing. Really, the world of PDS is kind of barren, but for me, that just adds to the atmosphere…

You see, PDS is set in an almost post-apocalyptic world. The sense of loneliness is an intrinsic part of the game and it works really well. It also allows a greater bond and connection to form between the player and Edge’s dragon. The first two Panzer Dragoon games were on rail shooters that successfully formed a lore to the world and making this, the third game, a RPG allowed the makers of PDS to flesh out and develop the world of Panzer Dragoon.

The graphics are simply stunning for the Saturn. I wish I could find a decent shot of some of the boss fights.
The graphics are simply stunning for the Saturn. I wish I could find a decent shot of some of the boss fights.

Overall, PDS is a stunning and unique RPG. Frankly, despite the unfortunate price, it is one that every RPG fan should own. So is it worth it even at a high price? Well, consider this. I stalked auctions on Ebay and eventually I paid £80 for it (granted, this was back in 2009), and to be honest, I love it! At the end of the day, £80 may seem a lot to some people for an “old second hand game”, but that’s less than twice the price of 2 brand new PS4 or XBOne games here at RRP (even if you pay £120, it’s still just about two brand new games), and for a game so legendary and one I had wanted since I first heard about it in 1998, it doesn’t seem so silly to me. If you’re a Saturn owner or want to get into Saturn collecting, it’s worth considering paying the price.

 

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