I remember gaming in the 90s, and the shear enjoyment that consoles gave me as a teenager. I can recall the rumours, and the hype that surrounded the Sega Saturn. As a young man I should have been put off by the price tag, but the draw of Sega made me determined to own the next big thing. One of the launch titles that I was obsessed with was Panzer Dragoon; the colourful world, amazing audio and the lore that surrounded the gameplay was fantastic. The series is synonymous with the Sega franchise, so when I heard that a remake was being worked on for modern consoles, I admit I was giddy with excitement.
Panzer Dragoon Remake has been developed by MegaPixel Studio S.A. and published by Forever Entertainment S.A. this new version of the game retains the soul, and arcade playstyle, while allowing its new, and existing fans to enjoy a polished environment, and smooth cut scenes. Now, I remember playing through this as a teenager, but I couldn’t recall the fundamentals of the storyline, or the characters. The cinematic does very little to clarify this, so let me give you a quick overview. You play the role of Keil Fluge (thank you Wikipedia), he is a member of a hunting party who observes a fight between 2 dragons, a black and a blue one. The rider of the blue dragon is mortally wounded in battle, and his last dying wish is that you complete his mission, and destroy the black prototype dragon, thus begins your adventure. The story is based in a post apocalyptic world, where the empire uses the technology of the ‘Ancients’ to maintain power. The machines they created were used for both war and work, and are used against you throughout to prevent you from completing your objectives.
A 3D shoot ‘em up, adventure game that asks the player to complete 7 short, but hectic episodes. You fly through each level on a preordained path. Just like a roller coaster, once you are strapped into your seat, you can’t get off until the ride is over, so think of each playthrough as one ride on this post apocalyptic roller coaster of doom. 6 of the 7 stages asks you to dodge, float, and destroy any enemies you face. You are armed with a gun that has two settings; single fire with an auto aim function, and when unlocked, you can use rapid fire. At the end of each chapter you must face a different boss. Each of these gigantic foes has its strengths and weaknesses, it is up to you to work out the best way to take down each opponent, while surviving the fight. 99% of the time, if you simple spam the fire button, you will be victorious, with little risk to your life.
Once you have finished an episode you are awarded credits, these are used to allow you to continue if you die (this won’t happen that often). The game has 3 difficulty settings; easy, medium, and hard. If you play without using cheats, or the auto aim function, the hard mode is brutal, and you will have to have the reactions of a cat, and accuracy of a sniper to survive the full 7 levels. Things can be made much easier with a classic arcade hack known as god mode. With this activated, you can float through each stage taking no damage, and completing your run with little skill required, and no stress incurred. It’s a great mode if you want to observe the world around you, and to take in the old-school art style.
As the game runs on a rail with no ability to control the path of your flight, some players will not like this restrictive approach. It can frustrate, especially when you crash into objects, and your opponents fly out of sight. The developers have solved some of these issues by allowing you to pan around your own body with 4 different camera angles. Though it’s not perfect, it allows you to observe your surroundings, and carry on blasting your foes.
Though the game has been enhanced for next gen gaming, and looks much more polished than it did in the 90s, it still retains much of the Sega charm that we have all come to love. Bold colours, massive landscapes, and unusual character models make up the core elements of the art style. A distinct Asian influence can be seen, with the protagonist having an obvious Samurai style. The fast-paced nature of the gameplay makes it hard to follow all the action, and at times the amount of enemies was overwhelming and hard to follow. Even with so much going on, I suffered no issues, and there were no drops in frame rate. It won’t wow modern audiences, but I had to admire how improved it was over the original, and I was in awe of how good the game looked compared to many other titles that were released in the mid 90s. If you have played the original, you will notice that there is a lack of reflections in the water, and the shadow effects have been reduced. I also noted that the new version is much brighter and colourful than the original. It doesn’t affect the gameplay, but it’s odd that a definitive art style has been eliminated from the latest version.
When you combine the words; arcade and Sega in the same sentence, you know that you are going to be in for an overwhelming audio. The sound effects are basic, and sound like they belong in the Sci-fi genre. Shots from your gun fly across the screen with a whining squeal, the flap of your dragon’s wing makes a delightful whooshing noise as it flaps through the sky. The sound effects bring the game to life, this combined with the upbeat, and folksy style musical score gives Panzer Dragoon Remake a sense of both an old world fantasy setting, and dreamlike futuristic world.
Because you have no major control over what your dragon does, over than the occasional bit of dodging and weaving, the control system is easy to pick up and learn. The panning of the camera is easy to perform, with several buttons mapped to complete this task. Shooting is also a simple task, the only downside to the controls is the lack of being able to alter them during a playthrough. Any setting changes must be implemented before you start your journey, which can annoy you to begin with, but once you have your setup completed, it matters not.
It takes approximately 1 hour to complete all the episodes, and the action repeats the same sequence no matter the difficulty. The bosses will not challenge you, and once you’ve completed the game once, there is little reason to want to return. Yet, you still will want to play again! The arcade nature of the game gets under your skin, and the pace at which you can finish a run will inspire you to return. Each episode has a hit percentage for you to try to improve on, and the addition of the cheat modes adds a fun element to the gameplay. The achievement list is easy to unlock except for the final achievement, which requires a ridiculous 100 hours game time to add to your Gamerscore. The replay value is limited, but the action is fun and addictive.
I had to be careful when I reviewed this to ensure I wasn’t biased as I love the franchise. What I found was an enjoyable, nostalgia filled game, but it wasn’t perfect by any stretch. The graphics look great, yet the developers ripped out a part of its soul when they took away the shadows and reflections. The audio is fantastic, and the controls make this arcade game easy to play. Do I recommend that you play this? Yes! If you have played the original, then you will undoubtedly love it. If you are new to the franchise, then you will enjoy a fast-paced shooter that will transport you to one of the best 90s titles. Though it doesn’t keep all the heart and soul of the original, its new polished look does a darn good job at allowing new gamers to experience a classic Sega title.