Panzer Dragoon Saga is not a game you would think would be fun, let alone one of the crowning achievements of the console it’s on. I mean, just look at its heritage. The Panzer Dragoon games that came before it were rail shooters. Good rail shooters, but that’ a genre that’s pretty far from RPGs. On top of that, there’s no real party system, (it’s just you and your dragon,) and the number of NPCs to talk to in the game is extremely low. That all just sounds so odd. But, it is these odd traits and influences that helped make Panzer Dragoon Saga one of the best RPGs of the 32-bit era. Panzer Dragoon Saga has unique and exciting gameplay, beautiful worlds, interesting characters, and a story that is emotionally engaging and fun to follow. It is one of my favorite games of all time and it does not get nearly enough recognition or love. Released at the end of the Sega Saturn’s life in the West, Panzer Dragoon Saga is a swan song for the under-appreciated system.
The first two games established a unique post apocalyptic sci-fi/fantasy world, with enticing game environments like city ruins over water, the inside of an airship, and a crowded forest, but in those games you were restricted to a rail. Saga allows the player to explore this well crafted world at his or her own pace and it really sucks you in. The graphics may not be the best of the era, and they might not have aged perfectly but the art design and creative environments still enchant the player and pull them into the game today. The music is also excellent and easily fits every moment of the game. Just one more way it pulls at you.
The Panzer series roots as a rail shooter lead to an interesting and unique battle system that is unlike any other RPG I can think of. Random battles pop up while flying on your dragon and you are in a fighting space divided into four quadrants to move around in. Enemies will frequently change their position and causing safe and dangerous zones to change places. You must move around the area and try to find weak spots to attack with your gun, your dragon’s mutli-shot homing lasers, or the dragon’s Berserk attacks, Saga’s equivalent to magic. This system keeps you on your toes at all times and makes for a consistently engaging experience throughout the game. The little grinding there is to do is never a chore.
But how can the combat stay interesting with just you and your dragon? You might be thinking. Well, the Dragon can morph into different types in real time at almost any time. Need to be fast? Shift to agility. Need more powerful Berserks and berserk points? Shift to a spiritual type. You may only have one true party member, but he is totally customizable.
The characters in this story are some of the best in an RPG, Dare I say even better than Final Fantasy 7? (The answer is yes. A thousand times yes.) The main character Edge behaves realistically for one in his situation and the characters he encounters along the way have charm and personality, event the minor characters who never really do much. The game may not be overflowing with NPCs like Chrono Cross, but the ones that you meet all matter. It makes you care for their fate instead of just repeatedly tapping “A “to find out what to do next. Azel the mysterious girl you meet early in the game luckily avoids falling into the typical TPG girl tropes. She has a complex personality, motives, and pretty much anything else I could say will ruin pivotal points in the game. She is strong and wonderful.
Panzer Dragoon Saga is one of the most valued treasures in my game collection. It’s one of the few games where I wouldn’t change a single thing. It fetches a high price online these days, but if you can ever find a copy at a price that doesn’t require a second mortgage, pick it up. It’s unique, fun, and overall enchanting.