Image credits: Will of the Ancients
As one of my favorite video game franchises, Panzer Dragoon contains many memorable experiences for me. From my first time flying through the sunken ruins in the original to my final battle in Saga, this series will always hold a unique place in my collection of gaming experiences.
With Team Andromeda Month winding down, I wanted to share some of these experiences. In the interest of keeping things interesting, since most Panzer games tend to end on a high note, I won’t be talking much about final stages or boss battles. I will also be spreading them across all of the games in the franchise in order to avoid favoring any one game too much over the others, as they are all worth talking about. Keep in mind this is a personal list, so feel free to chime in with your own top five moments in the comments!
Flying through the first episode of Panzer Dragoon
Out of all the games in the franchise (aside from Mini), I’d say the original is easily the least impressive. The controls are not quite as tight, the graphics are a little rough even by the standards of early Saturn titles, and the game is a little too difficult, at least for me. It remains the only game in the series I haven’t beaten.
Even so, I’ll be damned if the first stage isn’t impressive. This was my first taste of the franchise when my Saturn arrived home from eBay in 2002. From the very first moment, it establishes the tone of the franchise: elegant, beautiful, and action-packed.
Though the graphics are kind of rough, the game’s amazing art style still manages to shine through. The stage is beautiful, featuring an endless expanse of water dotted with blue-green pillars and broken walls, leading to an abandoned palace. Colorful mutant reptiles and flowers assault you constantly, and it all ends with a surprise attack from an Imperial airship. All of this is accompanied by Flight, a beautiful orchestral piece that still stands as one of the most breathtaking pieces of music to come out of SEGA.
The first few minutes of exploring in Panzer Dragoon Saga
Due to its price and rarity, Panzer Dragoon Saga was the last of the Panzer games that I played (aside from Mini, if that counts). I went into the game knowing it’d probably be the last “new” Panzer game I’d ever play. Luckily, I saved one of the best for last.
After seeing the world of Panzer exclusively through on-rails games on the back of a dragon, it was something else to finally be able to fly around the world freely and explore the world’s ruins on a human scale.
As much as I loved the on-rails games, Panzer’s world was one I had always wanted to explore and see up close, without a dragon ushering me past ruins and through waves of enemies. The game opens in the old, high-tech, bone-white ruins Panzer fans are familiar, letting me do just that. The depth that Saga gives Panzer’s world is one of its best contributions to the franchise, but few moments in the game compare to simply seeing the world in a way I’d never seen it before.
Battling the Shelcoof in Zwei
Panzer is filled with massive battles against large enemies, but few are as epic as the fight against the Shelcoof in Zwei’s climax. The Shelcoof is massive airship, so large it fills the entire screen and makes up a whole level in and of itself.
I do personally consider Zwei a huge step-up from the first game, but few moments make that more apparent than this one. I wasn’t just flying through a stage here: I was taking on an ancient weapon of mass destruction covered in turrets and filled with hordes of mutant monsters. Taking the massive monstrosity down piece-by-piece is one of the most epic 32-bit experiences I’ve ever had. It’s an encounter that has only been surpassed once in the Panzer franchise since.
Seeing Uru for the first time
The Uru ruins in Panzer Dragoon Saga are gorgeous. After spending hours flying through locations filled mostly with muted colors, the blues, greens, and purples of Uru practically burned my retinas…in a good way.
Uru is a massive ocean, dotted with interesting looking ruins and strange coral formations. The landscape is beautiful and alien, in some ways reminiscent to the first stage of the original game, and in others completely different from anything else we’ve seen in Panzer. There’s even a purple whale to mess with.
Uru is a perfect example of art style trumping graphics. I first saw Uru in 2005 on an ancient 32-bit machine, and even then it impressed me. A part of me kind of wishes Saga had more locations like this, but the fact that Uru stands in such contrast to the rest of the game is part of what makes it so memorable.
The Gigantic Fleet Battle from Orta
I consider Panzer Dragoon Orta to be the apex of the rail shooter genre, and “Gigantic Fleet” is easily the best episode in the game. Everything the game’s developers learned from their time as Team Andromeda must have been put to use in this level, because it’s about as close as you can get to the perfect rail-shooting stage.
The episode has an epic scale, with waves of enemies of every shape and size constantly coming at you while a massive, city-sized battle ship surrounded by an entire fleet of ships loom in the background. The feeling of my dragon darting and diving around a massive fleet of ships was exhilarating. Variations between small enemies and heavy battleships forced me to constantly switch between the game’s three dragon forms on the fly in order to maximize my kill-count and minimize my damage.
The latter is something I’m still working on honing to this day. In this stage every single action is important, since even one screw up can either cost me a kill or leave me too damaged to face the two successive boss battles at the end of the stage. Those rare occasions where I manage a near-perfect run are some of the most rewarding gaming experiences I’ve had, not for the score at the end of the stage, but for the sheer experience of making it through such a beautiful looking battle so flawlessly. It ends with a battle against a flameball-shooting, laser-firing statue atop the aforementioned city-size battleship, followed by a dogfight against a squadron of enemy dragons. If anyone can get out of this with more than a sliver of health on normal difficulty, I’ll commend you!
I’ve missed Panzer Dragoon. It’s remained my favorite video game franchise for more than decade now. Even without another game, I’ll always have my memories of the four spectacular games the franchise has under its belt.