Shin Force | Sega Saturn Review

Shin Force > Systems > Sega Saturn > Sega Saturn N-Z

Shin Force ~ Panzer Dragoon ~
Panzer Dragoon Zwei
Geoffrey Duke
Team Andromeda
1x CD
Import / Domestic
1996 (Japan)
1996 (USA)
3rd Person
Flight / Shooter
3D Pad
Backup 9
Mission Stick
     > Panzer Dragoon Zwei is a prequel to the original Panzer Dragoon, and improves upon the gameplay of its predecessor in every conceivable way. At its core, Panzer Dragoon Zwei is a rail shooter like the first game (where you flew along a fixed flight path), but Team Andromeda addressed the lack of freedom inherent to this type of game by putting multiple routes in each level. Every so often forks in the road will present themselves, offering different paths to traverse while aboard your dragon. Another improvement is that the dragon himself can now unleash powerful berserk attacks, as well as morph into different, more powerful dragon forms according to how well you play (the dragon literally sheds its skin and evolves), but since the dragon was only born recently, his wings will sometimes be too weak to fly, meaning you'll be running along the ground occasionally, too. Panzer Dragoon Zwei was intended to be a prequel for a reason: it provides the dragon first seen in Panzer Dragoon with a background story which it was previously missing (telling the tale of its humble beginnings). The story is more fleshed out with events unfolding from the first dragon rider's point of view who answers to the name of Lundi, and who unlike the hero of the first game, Kyle, who was the strong silent type, narrates all the cutscenes. Panzer Dragoon's introduction sequence is perhaps one of the best seen in gaming history, leaving a deep impression on many gamers at the time of the game's release, so as might be expected Panzer Dragoon Zwei begins with a similarly beautifully rendered cinematic cutscene (one of the trademarks of the series) to set the stage for the game.

     > The Panzer Dragoon series is set in a desolate world where humanity has fallen from grace. Many thousands of years ago human beings played god by creating their own lifeforms to wage war in their name. These creations turned on their creators and pushed humanity to the brink of extinction. Humanity slowly forgot all the knowledge that had helped it forge its once technologically advanced civilization, and struggled to regain the power it once held. Thousands of years after the downfall of the Ancient Age, a human empire rose to power by constructing fleets of anti-gravity warships out of the ancient technology and weaponry found in ancient ruins to fend off the nightmarish bio-weapons created by their ancestors. But of course, predictable human nature led to wars with rival nations. In a small village called Elpis bordering the frontier of the known world, mutants are killed on sight. In recent months, though, more and more mutant khourieats (later known as coolias), which are otherwise common two-legged beasts of burden, have been born... only to meet a quick death at the hands of the residents of Elpis. The blue-white light glowing on their necks is said to be ominous among the villagers of Elpis who understandably fear anything that reminds them of the mutant predators still running rampant in the world. However, Lundi saves one of these harmless creatures from death and hides it from the villager's wrath, because unlike other mutant khourieats, this one had a pair of wings. One year later, Lundi's newfound winged friend is, much to his surprise, almost fully grown, but while Lundi is riding the fledgling dragon he names Lagi, the dragon rider duo is blinded by a massive shockwave coming from Elpis. Lundi slowly opens his eyes to see a gigantic ancient rectangular airship hovering over the burning remains of his home. The mysterious vessel had burned his village to the ground with a vertical energy beam within mere seconds. Lundi naturally seeks to exact his own brand of vengeance on the airship responsible for destroying the only home he had ever known, but unbeknownst to Lundi, his dragon companion, Lagi, has his own reasons for wanting to see the ship destroyed. And so the story begins. Lundi and his dragon will fly through wastelands under siege by warring human nations, and delve deep into advanced ancient ruins full of robotic sentries still guarding them to this day, and soar over clouds while fighting against armor-plated predators grown in the past before wreaking revenge on the skyship.

     > The first thing you'll notice in this game is that the graphics have been significantly improved when compared to the original Panzer Dragoon. Instead of using the Saturn's 320 x 224 resolution mode that the first game did, the resolution has been increased to 640 x 224, meaning the textures seem much sharper to the naked eye (and also keeps blocky-ness to a minimum). You'd think that the frame rate would suffer due to the higher resolution, but that isn't the case here. Team Andromeda increased the frame rate from the 20 frames per second seen in the first game (which didn't make for the smoothest ride in the world) to a brisk 30 frames per second with no slowdown whatsoever no matter how many enemies appear on-screen at once. And that's not all. This game is full of lovely special effects that no one thought the Saturn was capable of. There are beautiful rippling rivers running throughout the caverns in Episode 4 that really bring the level to life. The waterscape seen here was a special effect way ahead of its time and is truly a sight to behold. The end of level boss, a giant bio-mechanical fish which fires laser beams in your direction that slice through the air, dives under the water and is fully transparent. Team Andromeda made clever use of the Saturn's VDP 2 background chip to overlay the 3D water with a 2D scaling VDP 2 plane to create the transparency (to the best of my knowledge). The planes are only ever flat and one-sided, apparently. A 2D trick perhaps, but a transparency effect nonetheless. And one that is nothing short of conspicuous. Of course, a Panzer Dragoon game wouldn't be quite the same without the traditional screen-filling bosses, and this game maintains that tradition. The in-game graphics, which are a step above the first game (including creature/ship models), are used to render the game's cutscenes. Surprisingly, the in-game graphics do a good job as substitutes for CGI sequences; the creature/ship animations are fluid, everything (from creatures to ships to 3D terrain) is solid, and  the texture mapping is also some of best seen in any Saturn game. Team Andromeda proved that when in the right hands the Saturn was more than capable of rendering some great 32 bit graphics (even with its notorious dual processors that many developers shied away from). In fact, Panzer Dragoon Zwei is one of the best looking 32 bit games of its time (note that I said 32 bit games and not just Saturn games).
     > The L and R buttons shift your point of view by 90 degree increments left or right within a 360 degree scope. These controls are far more responsive than the first Panzer Dragoon,  which seemed to take its time moving from one angle to the next. So overall, the controls are far less sluggish by comparison and allow you to track incoming enemies (wherever they are coming from) much quicker. A radar in the top right corner of the screen indicates the position and number of enemies on-screen. It also indicates your current line of sight. Holding down the fire button allows you to lock on to multiple opponents at once, like the original game, and letting go unleashes powerful spiralling laser beams called arrows of light that always seek out their target. The number of enemies you can lock onto depends on how powerful your dragon is. And how can we forget the dragon's gun toting rider whose attacks will miss more often than not but are much more damaging when they hit their intended target? The dragon's new berserk attack is basically a barrage of lock-on laser beams that target any and all enemies on screen at once until the dragon's berserk bar reaches zero (the dragon is also invincible while a berserk attack is in effect). The berserk bar (at the bottom of the screen where the life bar is) can be charged up simply by attacking enemies; the more the berserk energy available, the longer a berserk attack will last. The extra close-up and farer-away third person dragon views seen in the first game were removed, unfortunately, but it can be argued that they were redundant anyway.
     > The music is subject to debate really. Panzer Dragoon Zwei is home to music generated by the Saturn's sound chip as opposed to the dramatic orchestral musical score heard in the original Panzer Dragoon. The question is: was this a change for the better or for the worse? In my opinion, the synthesized music reflects the futuristic nature of the game world better (while not costing Sega an arm and a leg to compose). I suppose it's a matter of taste. While the music has its fair share of techno beats (what do you expect?), it also synthesizes bells, tribal drums and woodwind instruments (to a much greater effect than an orchestra), which gives you a real audible sense of a world littered with advanced technology and filled with primitive human tribes who couldn't hope to fathom it. The music is also timed for each stage of the game, and changes at certain points during the game like when you see the giant airship Lundi is chasing flying across the screen halfway through Episode 5 (which is another sight to behold I might add), or when you take different routes through a level. It falls nicely under the definition of situation-changing music if you ask me. Personally, I loved the Panzer Dragoon Zwei OST so much that I used to listen to it in the options screen for hours.

     > The sound effects are as clear as they were in the first game (i.e. very clear) and similar in many respects. The laser blasts et al are perfectly synchronized, not to mention there are plenty of sounds of fleshy or metallic creatures and ships being blown to smithereens to put you in the moment (to give you the sense of being there). The voice acting is spoken in a fictitious language known as Panzerese (the indigenous language of the people living in Panzer world) created by Team Andromeda from a number of different real-world languages including Latin and German. The voice acting itself is very good mainly because it's spoken in an appropriately serious tone by the narrator. This area of the game shouldn't disappoint anyone.

     > The most fun consists of shooting enemies and enemy fire out of the sky before they harm you or dodging enemies (within a limited area) while navigating through detailed stages (called Episodes). Of course most of time, you go wherever the game takes you (hence the term "rail shooter"). The pace of the game speeds up and slows down to give you an epic sense of flight especially in the later stages (remember in the first game when you had to fly through the cracks in huge doors as they were closing?).

     > Even with multiple routes, this game is too short. Team Andromeda regretted not including 3-4 extra stages, and I can understand why. On the bright side, there are plenty of unlockable dragon morphs, weapons and even a target practice stage to keep the game enjoyable long after completing it. I actually prefer the original game in some respects over this because you encounter more Imperial anti-gravity warships and flagships (mainly due to the fact that the Empire is far more powerful in the original Panzer Dragoon which takes place afterwards). Even without as many of these flying fortresses, the bosses are still as imaginative as they come. The game also has five different endings too depending on which dragon you finish the game with. The dragon will morph depending on how well you play, and if you shoot down every enemy in every stage and take all the hardest routes, you'll be rewarded with a dragon fans of the original game will instantly recognize, as well as the game's (cryptically short) true ending.

     > Unfortunately, the entire Saturn Panzer Dragoon trilogy suffered at the hands of questionable translations. In a Panzer Dragoon Zwei cut-scene between Episode 2 and Episode 3, Lundi is being pursued by Imperial warships, but in the subtitles Lundi says he's being chased by Meccania (a rival nation of the Empire) even though we actually hear Lundi say "Impenia", the Panzerese world for Empire, and even though the warships chasing him are marked by the Imperial insignia. And as if that wasn't enough... apparently whether or not the ancients were actually said to be human in the Japanese games is open for debate, but that's a story for another day. I'm just glad that Sega is no longer as prone to screwing up translations as it once was.

Bottom Line
     > Whether you will like this game or not will entirely depend on whether or not you're a fan of rail shooters. In 2004, Panzer Dragoon Zwei amounts to little more than an aging piece of history. When compared graphically to other Saturn games, however,  it can easily stand among the best of them (even next to Panzer Dragoon Saga). If you want a rail shooter with gorgeous modern day graphics, then buy yourself a copy of Panzer Dragoon Orta for the Xbox. The original Saturn Panzer Dragoon trilogy, however, will always hold a special place in any Saturn fan's heart.
Overall: 9.3 | Graphics: 9.5 | Control: 9.3 | Sound: 9.6 | Fun: 9.0
~ Geoffrey Duke ~

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