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Classic game appreciation section: Panzer Dragoon Zwei

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Some things in life are so good, so beautiful, you wonder how they could possibly exist. 1996's Panzer Dragoon Zwei is one of those things. With it, Team Andromeda grabbed Sega Saturn by the scruff of the neck and forced it to work miracles. And while it's sad to see its graphical kick diminished by modernity, its spectacle and drama is timeless. Like the light of the mutant Khourieat at the heart of its story, its brilliance still shines in the darkness. It is an ominous light, someone once said…

The story revolves around a boy, Lundi, and his pet – a cute little dolphin-like creature that lives on land. Khourieats are harmless enough, but sometimes mutant offspring are born, with a light in their necks. It's the code of the villagers to destroy such mutants as soon as they are discovered, as we see in the heart-wrenching intro (which I'll spare you from - it'll scar you for life otherwise). But Lundi breaks his village's rule and hides his infant Khourieat away. Why?


Above: Surely you mean you couldn't kill him because he's just too damn cute, right? 

But while you're set up at the start to believe that it's the villagers who are evil, that soon changes. On the day our hero Lundi is determined to make the now-adolescent Lagi fly, his village is destroyed by evil Sestren. We know he's evil because he sits in a floaty throne and destroys villages. So Lundi and Lagi's partnership gets a baptism of fire and they take off after Sestren and his ship – and that's where you get control.

 

Hai, Rez

The game plays like Rez, with a certain number of lock-ons allowed, before you let go to fire your homing laser at them. This homing laser is the 'ominous light' within the Khourieats' throats, and damn, does it ever look cool. Shazam! Huge arcs of rainbow light burst from your dragon. Shazam! A wave of dead enemies fall from the sky. Shazam! Streaks of awesome all over the screen. It's a tour de force for the console's supposedly low-powered circuitry.


Above: Lock-on attacks look beautiful and, once the target's set, can be fired from any direction - like this

 

Wait, haven't I played this before?

Taking the game in context of its 1996 debut, it's actually the logical successor to After Burner II, which employs similar mechanics of basic gunfire with lock-on targeting for missiles. Likewise, while the game is a lot like Rez as I mentioned, it's arguably more like Child of Eden, which again features this lock on/tracer dual-weapon system. But what both those classics lack is laser-breathing dragons - and that's where Panzer Zwei wins out.


Above: From 1987, through 1996 all the way to 2011, these three classics all have the same lock-on/tracer fire

It's strange - logic suggests dragon games should be nothing less than amazing, yet there are very few that are anything above 'awful'. Perhaps it's that Panzer Dragoon Zwei never lets you know too much about your steed. Lagi is mystical, elegant... dignified. You'd never catch Lagi being controlled with Sixaxis.


Above: Panzer Dragoon Zwei is better than Lair, in art style, gameplay and feel of mysticism. Fact

Panzer Dragoon Zwei may be on rails, but you do get to choose alternative routes by holding a direction at a fork in the road, leading you to new areas and even new enemies. You can also look all around you in 360 degrees, which is essential. Enemies come at you from all angles and keeping an eye on your radar is of vital importance.

Oh, but these enemies. They're not your run-of-the-mill fantasy fodder. These are monsters and relics from a forgotten age of wondrous technology. Team Andromeda managed to create a full, vibrant game world, rich from a back-story that literally spans millennia. The basic premise in Panzer Dragoon is that ancient people held in their possession great technological power. But war destroyed them, leaving only their relics for the people of the new world to uncover.

The result is some of the most inventive and scary bosses in gaming's rich history. Seeing the fish boss appear beneath the waves with a gorgeous transparency effect that Saturn literally shouldn't be able to pull off is just phenomenal. Then there's the massive monster who chases you through the forest. They have an aggro system too – hold back on your attacks and they'll be more docile. Give 'em hell and they'll start smashing up the very floor you're standing on. If ever a game made you fear for your life, it's Panzer Zwei.




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14 comments

  • crumbdunky - July 30, 2011 11:03 p.m.

    Great game, for sure, and even Orta was pretty cool but as I knew you couldn't resist wailing on Lair(and I was right. you couldn't)I feel a bit let down. Sure, it was a mistake not to release Lair with both sets of controls(I actually LIKE the Sixaxis ones best myself,mind, though I can obviously see why people hated them as they're very twitchy and only someone a bit odd, like myself(and I'm not professing any skill goes into it-I'm purely a bit odd)will prefer them to "normal"pad inputs)but had Sony done that, had the game also had a mini-map or "radar" of some kind to tell you if you'd got turned around in flight combat and re-released it wth a trohy patch I fail to see it getting the bad reputation it now has. Lair isn't as good a game as this, certainly not for it's day, but it's not the disaster it's made out to be and is eminently playable for ANYONE now they patched the controls and a patch for trophies could and would allow a new appraisal of the game which was a bit unfairly tagged a fail of the Haze variety and I thin there's some good in there-some of the levels from stealth to balls out attacks are good, it looks good even today and sounds AMAZING. I guess I expected a dig,it came and seemed a bit unnecessary to me, that's all. Not putting cold water on the Panzer Dragoon parade at all-one of my fave games on Saturn and, yeah, there aren't many good dragon games and there should be-it's just that Lair was a better effort than most give crediot for and but for a couple of, admittedly big, oversights it could have been respectable at worst and others would find it, as I do, a pretty cool game. Not what was promised but, equally, not the mess it was made out to be either, not in my book.
  • philipshaw - July 29, 2011 10:47 a.m.

    Yeah this game is awesome, good to see appreciation for it
  • Rowdie - July 28, 2011 8:20 p.m.

    @cresta, oh man I got jobbed by a third party mem-cart too. I'm pretty sure I haven't bought a third party accessory since. Panzer Dragoon set the bar for rails shooters more than once. I'd also say Saga set the bar for JRPGs and it hasn't been met till this day.
  • thecresta - July 28, 2011 8:12 p.m.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7JdKTnIMP5g < Better quality version of the final boss theme. Was on the verge of achieving all the extra's in Pandora's Box, then my memory cart got wiped (it was a cheap one) and I lost the lot :( Bought an official Sega cart after that, but couldn't put in the hours to get it all back. That's one of the things I miss the most in the current generation. Points and trophies are only good for showing off, the extra's you used to achieve from perfecting the game were far more rewarding. Paid-for DLC has almost completely destroyed that though...
  • Gob - July 28, 2011 5:50 p.m.

    I played the hell out of Orta, but never beat the final boss. Must correct that, seeing as how it might be my favorite game of all time.
  • thecresta - July 28, 2011 5:49 p.m.

    One of my favourite games of all time. But as that YouTube video proves, playing the game through an emulator completely ruins the amazing soundtrack!
  • DirkSteele1 - July 28, 2011 5:33 p.m.

    I own a Saturn (only recently acquired through eBay, mostly for 2D stuff) and I picked up a copy of this. Excellent game.
  • Sy87 - July 28, 2011 4:44 p.m.

    Back in the day no matter how good the games of today seem. I still have a heart for the older one from the days of saturn to playstation 1. I think it has something to do with the fact that Japanese company's made good games back than with story and art. Oh well if only a new one gets made. Why don't they they should remake lots of the old games I mean we get lots of resident evil remakes ,which I don't mind, but they are remaking Halo 1 which is not that bad but its not that old. I know there are plenty of the great past ones that will make a good following. If only, but hell yeah Panzer Dragoon series rules. Sorry, but I don't have an infinity symbol on my keyboard.
  • Pytor - July 28, 2011 3:47 p.m.

    LOVE the Panzer series all around! I feel like busting out my Saturn now and getting my dragon on. And yes, WTF!? on that final note!
  • mothbanquet - July 28, 2011 3:35 p.m.

    Saga is probably my most-played demo of all time. The entire Panzer Dragoon universe still stands out as one of the most imaginative, well thought out and downright ingtriguing worlds ever created. Everything, from the monsters, technology, right to the houses the human inhabitants lived in were so uniquely designed and really did transport you to another world entirely. Not only that but, at the heart of it all, was rock-solid gameplay and simple yet elegantly told stories that brought the whole thing to life. Cheers Justin, you've made my day with this! :)
  • GR_JustinTowell - July 28, 2011 3:34 p.m.

    @FauxFurry - Project Draco? There's nothing yet to say that it will be exactly like Panzer Dragoon. And besides, a Kinect game isn't quite what I have in my mind as the ideal next Panzer Dragoon... Still, fingers crossed it'll be awesome!
  • FauxFurry - July 28, 2011 3:31 p.m.

    Sega is adept at repackaging the same thing for new generations of gamers so why not put together a Panzer Dragoon complete collection with snazzy new graphics (and maybe the second ending for Panzer Dragoon Saga)but no other new assets whatsoever?
  • Darkhawk - July 28, 2011 3:22 p.m.

    Panzer Kinect is coming out! The Rez/Child of Eden evolution comes full circle.
  • reson8er - July 28, 2011 2:36 p.m.

    "Panzer Dragoon Zwei is better than Lair, in art style, gameplay and feel of mysticism. Fact" Couldn't have said it better myself. I still love this franchise, and still own PD, PDZ, PDS, and PDO. I wish SEGA had the ability to rekindle the majesty of the series. PDS showed that the series can most certainly be taken in directions other than "shooter". It was so distinct, very much Ico/SoTC asthetically before those games ever existed.

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