Every once in a while there comes along a game that really leaves its imprint. A game, that in its own way, changes the future. Maybe on a personal level, or maybe shifting the times within the gaming industry.
On some level, the Panzer Dragoon series did just that, not least because of the sublime and now extremely rare Panzer Dragoon Saga cementing itself as one of the greatest role playing games of its time. For me though, it began with the original. Panzer Dragoon, an on rails shooter.
In 1995, as one of my first Sega Saturn games, Panzer Dragoon became my first leap into the full 3D environments 32-bit consoles could offer. It was an astounding experience,.. coupled with the one of the most beautiful art-styles I’d seen, and musical scores I’d ever heard.
To this day, I place Panzer Dragoon as a standout in my games collection, and remember it fondly as a highlight on the Sega Saturn.
It was announced in 2018 that Panzer Dragoon, and it’s sequel, will be receiving remakes to allow us to experience these ground-breaking games once again.
And now –
The original was a masterpiece. So I loaded up Panzer Dragoon Remake with high expectations, but I did not think it would capture the feeling of playing the Saturn all those years back. With a few exceptions aside, I was actually pleasantly surprised at what I was witnessing.
It starts with a reworked opening cutscene, timed almost perfectly to the original. You play as a hunter… and you and your group is suddenly attacked. A chase ensues, resulting in a meeting with an even bigger creature, and then a dragon. While this introduction is different from the Saturn version, using a modern graphics engine, it’s a nicely made modern recreation, accompanied by the original music, which certainly still gives it the Saturn feel.
Straight into the first level and I feel memories flood back to me as I hear the music, called Flight – one of my personal favourite pieces of music in gaming. The graphics look great, a modern interpretation of the levels, and while I wouldn’t say they are up to the standards in what some may expect in modern games, the environments are a delight to fly through, and the dragon moves fluidly about the screen. The environment does appear different, but you can see the detail the developers have put into the levels.
The game has a story, of course, where an enemy has discovered a tower, which holds great power. I don’t want to give away more of the story, as there really isn’t too much there, but it’s a short adventure through a post-apocalyptic world, and worth experiencing for yourself.
This series is not known for being easy, and the control system doesn’t make things easy as you fly about shooting at enemies. Traditionally, with the first Panzer Dragoon, a d-pad is used for both aiming and moving to avoid projectiles shot at you from the many vehicles and creatures you encounter. It’s not always easy to avoid enemies and shoot them at the same time using one d-pad. The remake does offer up a modern control solution allowing you to use an analogue stick to move your dragon and the other to aim your cursor, and firing by using the trigger buttons. Being the old-school Panzer Dragoon gamer that I am, I quickly gave up on these modern controls, and went back to the original design, which, just felt more authentic. It is great, however, for this modern control setup to be included, as it may make the game a little more accessible for those used to two thumb-sticks in shooting games.
The game runs “on rails”, so you have no control of the forward momentum of your armoured dragon, but this does mean that the pace of the level is already set, and most of the flow of the action is great, leading from one set piece, mini-boss, or groups of enemies, to another. And the music ramps up and quietens down according to the action, which really adds to the immersion.
I’m impressed at how much attention to detail has been put into the remake. The controls feel smoother, and of course the frame rate is higher, and it’s easier to see what’s going on, on the screen compared to the much less powerful, but still mighty 32 bit Saturn.
Check out this direct comparison between the versions
But it’s a remake, and not a remaster. And some aspects of this game have been remade really well, such as the graphics – though that’s up to you to decide if you appreciate the aesthetics more than the barren worlds and earthy graphics of the original – and the exceptional musical score is here in all its glory. But as you might expect, some aspects are not as good as the original.
For me, I feel that the boss fights are a little lacking, and over quickly. I don’t remember the Saturn version being so easy to complete – although that was a criticism levied at it in 1995 – where traditionally, on rail shooters like this, were very much arcade-game in style, and while usually having a good replay value, were short. Challenging, but short. I feel that the boss battles in the original were a bigger spectacle and more of a challenge, and in the Remake, at least when I played on normal, some didn’t put up a challenge or quite provide the excitement I remember. It’s when these sorts of things occur, when I realise that something is a little off about the experience I’m having in this game – that I see the game isn’t always on target to hit the heights of the original.
The original version on the Sega Saturn
Shooting is pretty simple. You can fire your handgun as single shots, or lock on with a laser, depending on what you are fighting. Some enemies and projectiles are best taken down with a single shot, as some you can’t lock on to at all. This does give an element of strategy to the gameplay, as you decide what weapon to use when. It’s simple to swap between them, as the handgun is a simple tap of the button, whereas the lock-on laser is a long press with the same button and a swipe over with the reticle and release. The camera can be rotated 360 degrees, in 90 degree increments, to give you a better view of the action, as enemies will be heading your way from all directions. Keep your head about you, otherwise you’ll be swarmed. Accurate aiming and taking out the enemies quickly is necessary.
With frequent ventures into Panzer Dragoon, you will soon learn where and in what pattern many of the enemies appear, and it becomes second nature to take them down without getting hit by their attacks. It really is a game you can get lost in for an hour, and enjoy the experience.
Panzer Dragoon Remake is exactly the same length as the Saturn version, with 6 main levels, and a final level where you finally get to take on the dragon you met earlier, but in its final form. It’s over in a little over an hour. And while that hour is short, and passes quickly, as you don’t get much respite from the action, and concentrating on what you are doing, perfecting your reaction times, is key to victory – it’s all done too soon.
I really do wish that after the main game was over, there was an additional mode, with a selection of new full levels to play. Unfortunately, there is very little to do afterwards. There are some unlockables, in the form of artwork, and the option to play the game with an all new remixed musical score, which is a nice addition.
But, of course, a huge part of this game is the music, and sitting down for an hour long playthrough of Panzer Dragoon, is a delight, regardless if it’s the Remake, or the, I’d say, still superior Saturn original, that you are playing. It is almost like listening to an album of music, which is timed to the pace of the levels and the action. The original score certainly is a reason to play the game, and to play it again.
Panzer Dragoon Remake was first released on the Nintendo Switch, to mixed results. It absolutely did capture the feel of the original, but was not perfect. Not a replacement for the Saturn game, it was initially released with a few issues. Thankfully, through patches, already in place before being released on PC and PS4, many of the control and graphics issues have been fixed, making it play more authentically to the original, and meaning that the game has improved over the first reviews.
A welcome addition is the save game feature, not present in the Saturn version,.. but less welcome is the load times, which are not great on the Switch version in particular – whereas the Saturn version had much shorter load times – keeping the action going. And interestingly, the shooting reticle is positioned over the dragon as standard, however, there is an option to change it to the same style as the Saturn version, where it is positioned in-front of the dragon. This does obscure the reticle at times, but it gives it a more authentic feel to the original. I got to admit it does seem a little unusual having the reticle over the dragon, as it’s not the dragon I’m trying to shoot!
As a self-proclaimed Saturn fan, with memories of such an experience that was Panzer Dragoon, I’m really happy to say that Panzer Dragoon Remake is great. It has surpassed my expectations. Though, this game isn’t for everyone. It has its limitations. Your replay value will depend on how much you love Panzer Dragoon, the world that you enter and fight through, and your drive to get a better rank through defeating a higher percentage of enemies. At being available for under £20 (or a little over $20), it’s still not the cheapest game for what’s on offer. Though I do know that it’s a game that I’m going to replay from time to time, as I do with the original.
Watch the full video review by Melton the Gamer
Have you played Panzer Dragoon: Remake yourself? Be sure to leave your own Quick Review with star rating by visiting the games page: Panzer Dragoon: Remake – SEGA Universe, and leave a Comment about my review below!