It’s hard to believe Panzer Dragoon Orta is more than 12 years old. Looking back, Orta has aged incredibly well. Its visuals are still gorgeous and its gameplay still feels just as smooth and polished as it did in 2003. In an age where all sorts of obscure games are seeing digital re-releases and all sorts of franchises and genres are finding new life in the realm of digital, I think it’s a missed opportunity that Panzer Dragoon hasn’t received any sort of new release while digital gaming has been booming.
So today I thought I’d write up an article exploring the many ways Panzer Dragoon could (and should) fit into SEGA’s renewed focus on digital and mobile gaming.
This may be tricky for some of Panzer’s games, if the rumors of lost source code have any truth to them. While the original Panzer Dragoon was ported to the PS2 back in 2007, its sequels Zwei and Saga have yet to receive similar treatment.
It’s been rumored that the source code for these games may have been lost or misplaced, which would make it impossible to port the games over. Though emulation is a possibility, the SEGA Saturn is a notoriously difficult system to emulate. Though some solid Saturn emulators have come around in recent years, I imagine one made by SEGA may simply not be worth the company’s time.
That doesn’t mean digital rereleases are a lost cause. I’m amazed that Panzer Dragoon Orta was never released on Xbox Live when companies were still releasing original Xbox games on the service, especially given that Orta was one of the highest rated exclusives on the system. As far as I’m concerned, failure to release that game was simply leaving money on the table. Both Panzer Dragoon Orta and the enhanced SEGA AGES release of Panzer Dragoon would make sense for release on Steam if nothing else.
The Panzer Dragoon games deserve to be more accessible to every day consumers. They won’t set the digital world on fire, but given their enduring quality I don’t understand why none of these games were an early part of SEGA’s digital re-release initiative. I hope that one day soon, someone at the company decides it’s time to bring some of these lost gems back to the public.
The early Panzer Dragoon games weren’t exactly big budget. Both the original and Zwei were rail shooters, with limited scope and only a few hours of content, book-ended by a few minutes’ worth of CGI cutscenes. Though Saga expanded upon its predecessors significantly by building an entire RPG around the world they created, and Orta contained spectacular production values and hours of additional content, a new Panzer game wouldn’t need to be a big budget retail game.
The short, replayable nature of Panzer Dragoon games makes them almost tailor-made for digital, which tends to focus on simpler, retro focused experiences rather than delivering anything ground breaking or modern. A short, low budget Panzer Dragoon game certainly won’t break SEGA’s bank, and though it would probably lack Orta’s production values and Saga’s depth, this wouldn’t stop a new Panzer Dragoon game from being just as good as its predecessors.
The Panzer Dragoon games, like most mobile games, have very limited movement and simplistic controls. The game directed your movement while you targeted the enemies, moved the camera around your dragon, and move the dragon itself (though this is only possible when the camera is centered behind the dragon). In the later games extra buttons were used to fire a special “berserk” attack and transform into different kinds of dragons. Going by my experience with mobile games, particularly on the iPad, I see no reason why this gameplay can’t translate well to a purely touchscreen interface.
You could simply move your finger around on the screen to target enemies with dragon’s laser, then release to fire. Quick taps on enemies can fire the dragon rider’s manual laser, and quick swipes to the right and left could control the camera. When the camera is behind the dragon, simply touch the dragon and drag it to move it around the screen. Separate buttons in the corners of the screen can be used for dragon transformations and the berserker attack.
Though I’d prefer the game to use the old fashioned “pay once to play”, a mobile Panzer game could even function as a freemium title. Panzer Dragoon Zwei and Orta utilized a leveling up system that made your dragon more powerful over the course of the game. Though it should be possible to earn XP without spending a dime, SEGA could also just sell XP for people who don’t want to take the time to farm it. Hell, SEGA could even expand on Orta’s dragon transformation mechanic and sell additional transformations that go beyond Orta’s base wing, heavy wing, and glide wing forms. Then players can be encouraged to spend even more money on XP to level up these additional transformations.
Now, I wouldn’t blame anyone here for being irritated over me suggesting that SEGA could make a mobile, free-to-pay Panzer Dragoon game. I personally have my own reservations, which is why I said Panzer “might” work well for mobile. There are certain critical elements of the franchise that might be lost in transition.
Panzer Dragoon was never just a simple rail shooter. It has always had above average production values going back to the very first game, which was bookended by long CGI cutscenes and featured a beautiful, orchestrated soundtrack. Later games would introduce and utilize the unique “Panzerese” language. Orta was a large game with loads of extra content that extended its value far beyond the main game. There’s a good chance much of this would be lost, since any mobile project would likely be a low budget affair, and I doubt developers would be interested in spending what little resources they have on translating the spoken dialogue into a language no one can understand.
There’s also the loss of physical controls, which would make any Panzer game feel completely different. Though I think the game could work perfectly well on a touchscreen and may even be a lot of fun, it still won’t be the kind of game a lot of us fell in love with on the Saturn and Xbox.
It’s been over 12 years since the last brand-new Panzer Dragoon game. The only game since then was a Japanese-only PS2 port. At this point, it’s pretty clear that the franchise will never return as a full-fledged retail release. I would gladly take something over nothing, so long as it’s still a great experience. It’s time for the old Panzer Dragoon games to become more accessible. It’s time for Panzer Dragoon to adapt to the times and give us something new. I’d hate to see such a high quality franchise disappear from the gaming landscape forever.Ad: