When most gamers think back to 1995, the first generation 32-bit games, they think of WarHawk, Destruction Derby, and Ridge Racer. But for many Sega loyalists, the early 32-bit era was a time of Clockwork Knight, Daytona U.S.A., and more importantly, Panzer Dragoon.
At a time when stores were littered with shooters and action games, Panzer Dragoon stood apart by offering a world filled with style and personality. It was an action game, but also had a deep story, and some amazing visual effects. It was easily the most impressive first generation Sega Saturn game.
While it didn't do especially well stateside, Sega had enough confidence to stick behind the product and create an impressive sequel, Panzer Dragoon Zwei. And if that wasn't enough, the Saturn was once against blessed with a role playing game modeled after the series, called Panzer Dragoon Saga.
Even after all that, the Panzer Dragoon series was not a hit, if anything it had more of a cult following. But I'm one of those rare gamers who hangs on to games like this, and have been engrossed in the series for many years now. Not only were they fun adventures, but they also offered imaginative visuals, great music, and a grade A story.
I could probably reminisce about past Panzer Dragoon games all day given the chance, but I would be forgetting about the reason I started talking about Sega's legendary series in the first place. It is, after all, the newest title in the franchise, Panzer Dragoon Orta, which gives us reason to remember Sega's past exploits.
In many ways Orta stays true to the Panzer Dragoon legacy, it's a shooting game set on a specific track, one that you, generally speaking, have no control over. But unlike a light gun game, like House of the Dead III, Panzer Dragoon Orta offers much more interaction with the surroundings.
Unique to the genre, Panzer Dragoon has always offered gamers a complete 360-degree view of the action. Of course, you could only look at a quarter of that at a time, but still, it made you use both your skills and reflexes in a way no other shooting game has ever done. For the first time you ever, you had to not only pay attention to what was ahead of you, but also what was behind and on each side of your flying creature.
While you have the ability to look around in every direction, it does need to be made clear that when it comes down to where you go, you are mostly at the whim of your trusty dragon. You can move around the screen to avoid on-coming attacks, but outside of a few choice moments, the game plays like a roller coaster ride.
This is not a bad thing. In fact, it's done so well that you hardly notice. After all, you almost always have your hands full with enemies and obstructions to dodge. And when you aren't fighting other flying dragons, you have some of the most awe-inspiring background visuals every made to look at. Not only are they highly detailed, but also artistic, bordering on fine art. It's a shame you fly by them so quickly, and have to look away so frequently, most gamers will miss out on most of it, and frankly my words cannot express how amazing the level of designs are.
The game is extremely easy to get into, as well. It starts as a simple story of a caged girl, Orta (who looks like a cross between folk/rock singer Aimee Mann and Daryl Hannah in Blade Runner), who in her most vulnerable moment, is saved by a mysterious dragon. You see, Orta has lived her entire life a prisoner, until one day she is attacked by a bunch of Dragonmares. This, and other finer details, are all explained in one of the most exciting cinemas I have seen recently. It's hard to imagine an opening that will better prepare you for what's in store for the rest of your adventure.
Once escaped, Orta finds she has enough time to ponder the importance of her being, and more perhaps more pressing, whether or not she is a manufactured war machine. Told through impressive, and non-intrusive cinemas, Orta's story twists and turns back and forth in epic fashion. Even gamers new to the series should have no problem seeing how this franchise could be made into a Role Playing Game.
The tale of Orta is split into ten different levels, each getting crazier as you go along. And while the action might not change much throughout the game, the level designs certainly do. In one level you may be running through a blizzard, while in another you are flying over a desert. Yet, in another stage you will be taking out an entire on-coming air force, complete with wacky technology, bioengineer dragons, and extremely large airships. And the backgrounds don't just change from level to level; sometimes you take a turn to something completely unexpected right in the middle of the level. You never really know what you are going to see next.
Most of the levels offer at least one multiple path you can take, though a lot of the time you won't even know you took one until the level ends. These cleverly hidden path changes add some depth to the game play, even if they are few and far between. In some levels, especially towards the end, you can change paths several times before getting to the level boss.
Much of Panzer Dragoon's game play has remained the same, but there are quite a few changes that have been made to improve the feel of Orta. Like the past games, players control a crosshair-style icon all over the screen to indicate where you want to shoot. The dragon you ride moves to correspond with where your icon is, and thus gives you limited, but manageable control over yourself.
Like the original Panzer Dragoon, you can shoot enemies one at a time, or hold the button down to target a number of baddies all at the same time to get the job done faster. Yet, this game isn't really about shooting everything on the screen. Instead it forces you to cycle through three different types of Wings, each with their own strengths and weaknesses.
There's no reason you should miss Panzer Dragoon Orta. There simply isn't anything like it on the Xbox, and frankly, it sets a new standard for the genre. Rich with story, great graphics, and overflowing with style, this Panzer Dragoon has something for everybody.
This product was submitted by the publisher for review. As a rule, Defunct Games does not review games we spent money on. However, that does not always apply to classic/retro games. This specific product, however, came straight from a PR guy for the purposes of being reviewed!