The Future of Panzer Dragoon

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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.

Digital Re-releases

Panzer Dragoon Saga-a
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.

PanzerDragoonscreenThat 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.

Digital Games

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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.

Mobile Games

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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.

369-Panzer_Dragoon_2_Zwei_(U)-11Though 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.

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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.

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21 responses to “The Future of Panzer Dragoon

  1. This article omits why Panzer Dragoon died, and why it’s one of the least likely of Sega’s IP titles to come back.

    Like so many, Sega lost the PD co-founder, Yukio Futatsugi , who left to join Microsoft-affiliated studios which gave birth to… Crimson Dragon.

    Crimson Dragon, much like PD, has been a stable but not roaring success over on Xbox and Windows Phone.

    I don’t see Sega reviving PD. If they did, it would likely be offered up as the typical outsourced IP fail that has led Sega to where it is today. Sega needs to insource IP’s that were clear winners and sold millions of copies. It needs a design language guidebook that it hasn’t had, arguably, since 2003.

  2. Nuckles87 says:

    The article omitted that because it’s presumptuous to say that.

    Yukio Futatsugi left SEGA before the development of Panzer Dragoon Orta, which was a high quality entry in its own right and much better than the games Futatsugi has made since he left SEGA. Crimson Dragon was an especially big disappointment, which, when combined with looking at how great Orta was without him, shows that he wasn’t the only talent behind the games.

    If we want to speculate why Panzer Dragoon died, I’d say it’s far more likely due to Orta simply not selling very well. I was actually going to quote a magazine that specifically stated that the future of the franchise hindered on Orta’s success, but I couldn’t find it.

    In any case, how likely Panzer’s revival is, or the cause of death, wasn’t really the point. I just wanted to give my own thoughts on how it could (or should in the case of digital re-releases) be done today.

  3. cube_b3 says:

    Panzer Dragoon has been ported to PC as well as X-Box, so bringing the original is completely possible…

    I can’t play the game on the Saturn cause it looks like a pix elated blurry mess but the PC version looks smooth and tolerable. I assume the PC version was the version that was ported to the X-Box.

  4. Lenticular Leo says:

    Just goes to show you how working with one company can totally affect the outcome of a project compared to another company, not even Fatatsugi, who was heavily involved in the excellent Panzer Dragoon Saga project for the Sega Saturn, could raise the quality of Crimson Dragon, coming from Panzer Dragoon developers, players and enthusiasts alike, we’d naturally expect much better, it’s not a terrible game, but for what was marketed as ‘the spiritual successor to Panzer Dragoon’ – a Sega IP, in the same way that Ikaruga on the Dreamcast was hailed as the spiritual successor to Radiant Silvergun on the Sega Saturn, it should have been better than it was if it was going to be compared to the Panzer Dragoon legacy. It shows who works with who and what, what company ect, all play their part on quality development. The same can also be said of Sega’s legendary Yu Suzuki and Yuji Naka, working for other teams in other companies does not necessary mean they will be held to the same standards of quality as they were when they were at Sega full time.

  5. Dharma says:

    Is it really necessary to obtain the source code for PDS in order to re-release it? Why can’t they just recreate the source code from a spare retail copy of the game or something, or create the game from scratch, can’t be that hard to get these things done, PDS could do with an overhaul anyway if it ever did come to the possibly of getting another release.

    • segababy88 says:

      No, it’s not. The PS4 remasters of GOW 2 and 3 actually reverse-engineered the code from the finished copy of the games. And there’s a decent amount of finished copies of PDS out there ;). Granted, PDS is a bit rougher in terms of polygons and texture work than the PS2 GOW games, but the point is this: it’s definitely doable even without the source code. I’d also imagine that it’s relatively cheap.

      Hopefully Sega is considering this and will bring more of their Saturn and Dreamcast games to modern digital storefronts, as there’s definitely money to be had there.

  6. Nuckles87 says:

    I have no idea. I only know what I’ve read. I couldn’t even find a direct quote from Futatsugi talking about losing the source-code, seems the article is no longer available, and whenever I try to look anything up on 1up I get an error, so I couldn’t attribute it. I did find an article saying that it was still possible to do SOMETHING with the games, it’d just be more difficult. But again, not a direct source from a developer.

    I do find it hard to believe that the game is completely lost.

  7. wiz says:

    Sega R&D1 stated many times that they don’t need to make another Panzer Dragoon, that’s why the series is finished.

  8. wiz says:

    Forgot to quote this:
    “It’s time for Panzer Dragoon to adapt to the times and give us something new.”

    ABSOLUTELY NO
    Panzer Dragoon is one of the greatest Sega IP, their 4 chapters were 4 masterpieces, games with no compromises, there is no need for PD to adapt to the times and become a crappy cheap digital game or worse a mobile F2P.
    Crimson Dragon was enought…
    If you can’t return with a full fledged high quality retail game, then leave it to the glorious past of Sega with the likes of Shenmue and Skies of Arcadia.

    • Gen says:

      @Wiz, I get what you’re saying, a masterpiece of the past once touched again, loses a sense of itself and original quality with it, but what’s against continuing the masterpiece series rather than try to ‘re-invent’ it as what happened with Crimson Dragon? – a game that did the same mistake as Resident Evil 6 did to it’s franchise roots – try to hard to appease players of a new generation and try to be too many other things and everything else at once other than itself, of course, the Panzer Dragoon series is luckier in the sense that Crimson Dragon was not a numbere entry in the Panzer series, unlike what Resident Evil 6 was for the RE series – Capcom can’t undo that, but Sega certainly diesn’t and isn’t forced to pretend that Crimson Dragon was officially related to their IP, they get a free pass pretty much, and could just continue off where they last left off if they get all the original staff united under the same division team.

    • Hitrax says:

      I don’t like these cliche sayings people in the industry say “It’s time for ‘insert franchise name here’ to adapt to the times and something new” – it’s that kind of statement that has seen several once respectable names and franchises lose it all, it’s the perfect way to wreck a perfectly good franchise that came to be where it is because we liked it as it was, but corporate culture thinks more in ‘brand terms’ rather than the intrinsic value of that particular brand itself, Capcom was the most recent big name to do this a few years ago with the disappointing Resident Evil 6, as said, they tried to ‘adapt to the times’ by going after the Call of Duty (COD) and Gears of WAR (GOW) fan base and sacrificing their own fan base in the process.

    • wiz says:

      Sega wasted many IPs trying to appeal other non-sega audiences, sacrificing their fanbase in the end, Sonic too is a victim of this trend.
      There is no need to transform Panzer Dragoon in crappy IOS/digital game, Panzer Dragoon needs to return as a full fledget retail title that expand on the previous PD games (unlike Crimson Dragon that is just a downgrade of PD).

      If you can’t do it’s fine, but use games like Chain Chronicles to exploit the mobile and digital market, don’t ruin the Sega legacy for some fast cash.

  9. Cerv says:

    About Crimson Dragon, you people have to take into account that Microsoft intervened pretty badly in the development of that game: it was initially made as a small, XBLA title for the 360 that utilized motion controls; then Microsoft cancelled it on the week of its release (it was already completed!), and demanded that the game was reworked to be released as a full Xbox One game with standard controls and tons of microtransactions – and the developers had less than a year to completely rework the game around the new console and controls. Then the game was criticized for being short, having “last-gen” graphics, bad controls and microtransactions… All these things are the direct result of Microsoft meddling with it. They even remixed the original songs to make them “more accessible”, making them worse in the process.

    Futatsugi had already developed Phantom Dust as a proof that he was, indeed, capable of producing games as great as the Panzer series (I think he was also the producer of Lost Odyssey, if I’m not mistaken, another great game). But I also agree that, while he was an important developer to the series, new Panzer games can be good even without him, as Orta has proven.

    I also remember that Sega actually released PD Zwei in a downloadable service (like Steam, but before Steam became the “standard”). It was an emulated version. So, it’s entirely possible to release the Saturn games in this manner, and I imagine Orta wouldn’t be too hard to port. The problem is just that Sega doesn’t seems to be interested in most of their old IPs – they had that brief revival time (Dreamcast ports and Nights into Dreams), then forgot all about it. I still think that’s really strange how they released Jet Set Radio but not the bigger, even better sequel (and probably just as easy to port), Future, or highly regarded series as Shenmue.

    But considering how their pc ports of games that hadn’t sold much on their original releases have been surprising them by selling a lot (The Typing of the Dead: Overkill and Valkyria Chronicles were their big surprises), maybe they’ll be looking more into it, trying to give a new chance to other “failed” games. Maybe that’s what they meant by their increased focus on digital?

    Last but not least: have you guys played “Liberation Maiden” on iPad/iPhone? It controls like the Panzer games (although not on-rails), and, holy cow, the touch-screen controls are surprisingly excelent for this. The game has no microtransactions and is actually a port of a 3DS game, and I really recommend it: it’s my favourite iOS game ever. It shows that the Panzer series would definitely work with touch-screen controls if that’s a way to revive it, so I agree with the article (although the microtransaction idea looks like a path to disaster).

  10. fernandeath says:

    ‘Orta’ should definitely be re-released on XBLA.

  11. Ziming says:

    A PC port of Panzer Dragon Saga does exist. GameTap originally planned to release the game but for some unknown reason they decided not to.

    http://neogaf.com/forum/showthread.php?t=469023

  12. landman says:

    “Typing of” presents: Panzer Dragoon. Do it Sega 😀 Rail shooters will always be rail shooters, there is no place for them in full fledged releases, they will fail. Panzer Dragoon Orta is an example of awesome extra content and game progression, but still it’s a rail shooter. Typing of the Dead Overkill contains both the typing and the original rail shooter so it’s basically the original game + the added fun of typing some weird and well placed words.

    Oh and btw: “The early Panzer Dragoon games weren’t exactly big budget.” Panzer Dragoon was the most expensive game ever on its time, the redactor may check this kind of things before writing next time.

    • PDFan says:

      “most expensive game ever on its time” WHAT? Do you have a source for the budget of the original PD?

    • Timm says:

      The budget was around 1.000.000$. That is what I have read in a gaming magazine special back in the time as I remember well, and they also claimed that it was the biggest budget ever for a game. I am not sure if they meant console game, but in 1994 (it was a launch title after all!) most people still played on 16 bit, and I have not heard of any sfc/gen/3do game costing that much. Maybe Wing Commander on PC? I have no idea. The big titles for PSX all came later.

  13. MONTE says:

    Saga is going for $300 to $700 if not more used. That is simply ridiculous. It needs to be re-released and if it is to be re-released of course the graphics need and update. We are now in the next gen of PS4 so imagine the possibilities let alone with the power of Xbox 360 or PS3 for the matter.

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