Video Game: Panzer Dragoon
aka: Panzer Dragoon Saga
"The fate of the world rests on the wings of an armoured blue dragon..."
— Opening narration to Panzer Dragoon
is a tetralogy of games made for the Sega Saturn
. The first, second, and fourth games are dragon-riding rail shooters
, while the third is a unique Eastern RPG
. The series is famous for its beautiful soundtrack, After the End
plotline and surreal Science Fiction
atmosphere, owing a lot to Dune
, French artist Moebius
(who drew the box art for the first game in Japan and is credited with some design inspiration), and Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind
(more of the manga than the anime).
Far in the distant future, mankind colonized another unspecified planet (Wild Mass Guessing
makes it likely it's Mars), thanks to harnessing the power of terraforming
run by artificial humans
called "Drones", created from giant Towers that spit out streams of artificial creatures. The people who actually knew how to work the things, the "Ancients
", put themselves to sleep for a couple thousand years to wait for the terraforming to complete itself and left everyone else to fend for themselves. Flash forward centuries later, and everything has gone to pot
: the Towers never completed the terraforming, instead spewing out hostile monsters constantly. The Ancient's cryogenics failed, leaving them all dead. Mankind is forced to attempt to live on a halfway barren scavenger
, Death World
, filled with Everything Trying to Kill You
. In the midst of this, The Empire
ruthlessly seeks to harness the power of the Lost Technology
from the Ancients to unite all humanity and its colonies but are prevented by general fear and confusion, as every so often, a single dragon and its Rider appears from almost nowhere to combat them.
The games which comprise this series include:
- Panzer Dragoon, released for the Sega Saturn (and PC) in 1995, players take control of Keil/Kyle, a mutant hunter whose excursion into the desert is interrupted when he witnesses a battle between two dragons, the most powerful genetically engineered monsters spoken of legend. The black dragon kills the blue dragon's rider, who urges Kyle to mount his creature to one of the Towers so it can be destroyed.
The game was notable for being a rail shooter that allowed a full 360-degree camera rotation to fight enemies in all directions. There was also a Sega Ages version of the game for the PlayStation 2, which spruced up the visuals and smoothed everything out (including bumping the frame rate to a more natural 30 FPS). Naturally, this version stayed in Japan.
- Panzer Dragoon Zwei, a prequel released for the Sega Saturn in 1996, gives more insight as to the origin of the blue dragon from the first game. A mutant Coolia is spared by a boy named Lundi from the ritual killing of all mutants, as he couldn't bring himself to do the deed, especially when he noticed the Coolia in question had the especially rare mutation of wings. Adopting it as his own under the name "Lagi", Lundi attempts to teach it how to fly on the outskirts of town one day, when suddenly a flying Tower, dubbed "Shelcoof" by the Empire, destroys his home in a blinding flash, leaving the two with naught but the desire to take revenge.
Zwei introduced the Berserk Meter, which could unleash a barrage of lasers on sight, and the concept of dragon evolution: Lagi had various forms which it would mutate into at the end of each stage, according to score and play style, with a perfect run yielding the series' iconic blue dragon. The music also had a more ethnic feel to it than the orchestral/techno feel of the original game; the series would continue to use this style in later entries.
- Panzer Dragoon Saga, also known as AZEL: Panzer Dragoon RPG, is an RPG released for the Sega Saturn in 1998. It tells the story of Edge, a boy who finds female Drone named Azel at the dig site he's assigned to protect, only to be double-crossed and killed by the Black Fleet, the Empire's elite soldiers. Led by a man named Craymen, they claim the girl for their own in their rebellion against the Emperor, who has gone mad with power and intends to harness the Towers for his own nefarious purposes, of for which he needs Azel. Edge is mysteriously revived and rescued by a strange, but powerful dragon, who seemingly has its own agenda concerning the Towers. Together, they set out to exact revenge on Craymen, unwittingly thrusting the pair into the conflict between the two factions.
The game was praised for its very unique art direction, eclectic soundtrack, interesting combat engine (for an RPG, mind you), engaging story, and gameplay that managed to avoid many (although not all) of the more common RPG tropes. It also expanded the mutation concept from Zwei to allow real-time transformations of Edge's dragon. Four stats were separated into two inversely-related pairs, and allowed the player to boost one of each pair while making the deficiencies in the other more pronounced (Attack boosts the power of the dragon's Homing Lasers, while Spiritual increase damage of special attacks; Defense decreases the amount of damage taken and Agility allows the Active Time Battle-like gauge to charge faster and dodge faster).
Only a handful of copies of the game were made, as the Saturn was on the way out to pave the way for the Sega Dreamcast. It remains highly sought after to this day, and commands extreme prices on online markets. As such, having a copy's considered a badge of honor for Saturn owners.
- Panzer Dragoon Orta is the epilogue of sorts for the series. Developed by Smilebit (who had many of the original Team Andromeda developers, after they split up following Saga) and released on the Xbox in 2002, it stars Orta, the daughter of Edge and Azel, who is fought over by various factions because of her unique nature. She's taken prisoner but rescued by a dragon and flies her way to freedom away from a villainous Drone called Abadd, who believes she's the key to restoring the Ancients. Orta ends on a bit of a more positive note as human civilization and mutated creatures begin to bond with each other to form a real working ecosystem without the influence of the Towers. It also includes a separate story mode that follows an Imperial boy named Iva Demilcol as he fights for the Empire, as well as his encounters with Orta.
Orta took the Berserk System of Zwei and the transformation mechanics from Saga and adopted it to the series' original shooter formula, with a dragon that could mutate into three different forms on the fly: "Base Wing" (a standard form with no noticeable strengths/weaknesses), "Heavy Wing" (powerful offensive form with limited mobility) and "Glide Wing" (most nimble form, but lacks Homing Lasers, yet can shoot down enemy Macross Missile Massacre with ease and carries a unique Healing Factor via its Berserk Attack). In order to increase each form's capabilities, "gene bases" must be acquired by either destroying enemies or the environment. Orta was lauded critically for showing off what the Xbox was capable of (and, to this day, still looks gorgeous), tight controls, numerous throwbacks to the original trilogy, and a veritable slew of bonus content that could stretch the replay value for hours (including the original Panzer Dragoon as an unlockable bonus). Alas, as with most of the series, it went by relatively unnoticed.
- There's also the Sega Game Gear Spin-Off Panzer Dragoon Mini, which takes the series and creates a Fun Size variation. Mini was basically Panzer Dragoon, minus the rider, but with extra "cute" added in place.
The series went dormant following Orta
, especially after Smilebit was folded back into Sega in the mid-2000s. The creators, however have never been anything short of enthusiastic about the potential future for the series, and the fan following for the series remains very strong. In 2011, a Spiritual Successor
, headed by the creator of the series, was announced for the Xbox 360
and the Kinect. Entitled Project Draco
, this is the closest thing fans will have to a new Panzer Dragoon
game. As of E3
2013, it has been rebranded as Crimson Dragon
and is set to launch alongside the Xbox One
. Sega also threw the series a bone when they included "Dragon Valley" in Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed
Definitely not to be confused with The Legend of Dragoon
The Panzer Dragoon series provides examples of: