Part 1: The Game BeginsIn 1995, when Sega unveiled their disastrous surprise launch of their new Saturn console, one of the few games available was a 3D rail shooter called Panzer Dragoon. Featuring challenging, exciting gameplay in the vein of Space Harrier, the original PD's main appeal was its unique art direction, which combined an odd mix of "organic technological" creatures & settings with a great soundtrack and deft storytelling to create a wholly original and compelling universe.
Undaunted by the myriad mistakes that had been committed in the design, marketing, and production of the Saturn which were causing it to get mauled in the marketplace in comparison to the PlayStation, Team Andromeda (Sega's internal development team responsible for the original) produced a prequel in 1996 called Panzer Dragoon Zwei. Zwei expanded on the gameplay of the original quite a bit, introducing a dragon that grew in both size and power during the course of the game, a "berserk gauge" that you could build up to unleash powerful attacks, and a branch system to allow the player some direction in the course the game took. Zwei maintained the series' eerily beautiful art direction and soundtrack while expanding on the Panzer universe's mythology further.
As the Saturn's life was winding down in the spring of 1998, Team Andromeda was putting the finishing touches on the English translation of its masterpiece, Panzer Dragoon Saga - which, instead of a rail shooter like the previous games, was actually an RPG. Magazines like EGM gave PDS rave reviews before it was released, and Panzer fans eager for a continuation plunked down pre-orders. However, Sega was stinging from the failure of the Saturn in America and only produced 6,000 copies for its initial launch, causing many retailers to fail to meet all of their preorders. Eventually, another 24,000 copies of the game were produced, but because of the game's universal praise and its continuing scarcity, Panzer Saga still routinely goes for over $200 on eBay.
Fortunately, since I was one of the lucky 6,000 Americans who walked out of a game store with a copy of PDS on its launch day back in May 1998, you don't have to worry about that any more. My new video capture device is working, and I replaced the internal battery in my Saturn so I don't have to worry about losing my data.
Let's do this thing.
Now first, you're going to have to go to YouTube and watch the opening cinema. Not only is the freaking thing over 8 minutes long with a lot of dialog, you also get to hear some of the amazing soundtrack, not to mention the language Team Andromeda created for the game's major cutscenes which was a mixture of Ancient Greek, Latin and Russian (the majority of the voice work in Saga was in Japanese). When you're done that, come on back.
When we last left our hero, he was getting shot and falling off a cliff - now he's been turned into a ball of light falling down a colorless shaft. I'll call it a wash.
I know the saying about oil and water, but when it comes to balls of light and water I'm as as you are.
Hey, color! (I don't think we're in Kansas any more.)
You have to get pretty drunk to wake up six feet underwater.
You need to breathe to live.
Well, when a man and a woman love each other very much...never mind.
Right. I'm sure you can just un-float yourself up there. It'll be a snap!
The first moment of gameplay in Panzer Dragoon Saga. Enthralling, isn't it?
One of the cool things I liked about Saga was the way it incorporated elements from the first two games. The cursor you see here is what the player uses to interact with objects and people in Saga, and it both looks like and shares the same name as the Lock-On cursors from previous Panzer games.
Anyway, while on foot the lock-on cursor is Edge's tool to inspect the world around him more closely.
Depending on Edge's distance from an object, the lock-on cursor will register it as either Near or Far. See, the one on the left is Near, and THE ONE ON THE RIGHT IS FAAAAAARRRRRRR!!!
In gameplay terms, Near lets you do the actual interaction with most objects, while Far will usually give you a more descriptive passage regarding the object (or, in the case of a conversation between NPCs, will allow Edge to listen in).
Or, as another option, say something blindingly obvious. Thanks, fucker.
Before we end up getting closer to those inviting box-like structures, let's check out the decor.
Lovely, beautiful, inspiring, whatever. Now what about them item boxes?
Hm, the one on the left contains something called a "Shell Plate"...how about the one on the right?
Woohoo! Hopefully Edge won't have to duct tape this one together like his last lovely gun.
I'm beginning to detect a motif.
What, indeed? If it's a plush dragon-shaped suit with a hole cut in the crotch I'm so out of here...
Phew! Let's move on.
Conveniently enough, this is no more than ten feet from the chest where the key was located. Whoever built these ruins really knew how to organize.
Using the newly acquired Elevator Key, Edge releases the locks on either side of the elevator and starts riding it up...
When a single, sinister red eyeball blinks in the darkness. "Great," Edge thinks, "another one of those monsters I fought in the mine. And me without my bazooka."
At least there's only one of them.
No better time to take the new Dragon Gun for a spin! Anticipating a , Edge aims, squeezes the trigger, and...
The tried-and-true method of "shaking a gun that won't fire" ends up being tried-and-false here, and the pack of giant thundering beasts is getting far too close for comfort.
Suddenly, there comes from above an unearthly scream and a bolt of lightning...
...which on the way down splits into a multitude of laser bolts...
...and positively annihilates the oncoming monsters.
But what the heck was the source of the bolts? Edge hears a loud swooshing noise behind him, and something big goes divebombing past the ledge he's standing on, too fast to see. He peers over the ledge, and then all of a sudden,
AAAAHHH WHAT'S THAT
Once the dragon alights in front of him, Edge starts glowing...
And then goes on an acid trip. Groovy!
Images flicker in Edge's mind - the mysterious girl he saw in the ruins, the man Craymen who took her...
...previous dragon riders (this is a shot from the opening cinema of Panzer Dragoon)...
...and a strage tower in the middle of an ocean, with an entirely different-looking dragon approaching it.
Edge comes back to reality and asks a question of the dragon,
who replies with a long, wailing cry that seems to answer in the affirmative.
Edge holsters his gun (we don't even know whether it works yet!) and climbs aboard his new friend...
to begin what is sure to be an amazing adventure.
That's all for this first installment. Due to the heavy plot nature of the game and the fact that so few people have actually played it, I'm currently obsessively screenshotting just about everything, including every line of dialogue. If folks want more/less detail, more/fewer screenshots, and more/less commentary, let me know and I'll try to change my style as I go along. And don't worry, the next update is going to have a lot more gameplay shots and descriptions for those of you who've always wondered how Panzer Saga actually played.
Also, this isn't going to be a strictly conventional Let's Play. Since I'd like to keep updates coming somewhat regularly I'm going to be playing well ahead of where I am in the thread, and IIRC, PDS is reasonably linear anyway. I'll take comments and feedback into account, but there probably aren't going to be any posts where I say "Okay guys, I'm at this point now. What do I do next?"
Finally, I'd just like to say how big a fan of the Panzer games that I am. Team Andromeda and Smilebit went the extra mile in creating the three Saturn games and Orta for Xbox, and they were all excellent games that had everything a player could want - great graphics, music, sound, and gameplay. But it was the art direction and storytelling that really sucked me in - I don't know how they did it and I can't adequately describe it, but the Panzer universe is one of the most intriguing and believable alternate settings I have ever come across in any medium.