Playing it today, it's clearly aged. With the game engine stretching every polygon to breaking point to create the huge draw distances, everything looks paper-thin in the light of 2011, which is a real shame. But what does hold up is the 30fps frame-rate, meaning if you can find a screen small enough, it still moves like a dream. I wish I could say it still looks sensational on a 40in TV, but I can't. However, it is one of the few Saturn games to support Widescreen, so it at least has the correct proportions on modern TVs.
Above: Here's the incredible final boss fight. Only... it looks shocking when blown up this big. But wait!
Check out a small-windowed video and hopefully you can still appreciate the magic that's happening here:
Rotation on the background, sprites used for special effects over beautifully animated 3D models... it's a masterpiece.
And beauty that's more than skin deep
For a game that seems to be a rather hands-off, on-rails shooter at first, it's only your dragon's basic flight path that you don't have control over. There's loads to get involved with once you get over that fact, from the berserker attack that charges as you shoot enemies to working the 360-degree camera and using the right weapon for each situation.
Lagi evolves, too. There's a transformation scene at the end of each level based on how many play points you accumulated (based on route taken, enemies hit etc), the new form exploding from within its old skin in front of your very eyes. Lagi truly is a mystical creature and you end up having a great respect for your steed as a living creature, rather than a mere vehicle in a videogame.
Above: The play points after a particularly impressive run on YouTube... and there goes Lagi's old skin
To the end
You would think that the game's relative brevity, packed though it is with standout moments, would only hold your attention for so long. But even if the alternate routes don't make you want to come back, Pandora's Box will. It's a bit like a debug menu, which unlocks at the end of the game, but it's full of so many extra features you can easily spend hours trying them all out. A screen rolling camera effect, extra scoring displays… even a sweet seven-way shot.
I may be doing a lot of devs a disservice when I say this, but the attention to detail and consideration for the player in Panzer Dragoon Zwei is head and shoulders above most games today. And yet it just sits there in its understated box, contained on a single optical disc that only plays on a console nobody owns.
It's a thing of beauty, precursor to some of this generation's best games and without question one of the best-realised game worlds and art styles ever committed to disc. And the impression it leaves on the mind is indelible.
Above: Lundi's statement at the end of the game still rings true for Saturn gamers
But there's a sad end to the story. Team Andromeda, who developed Panzer Zwei, Saga and the original Panzer Dragoon were absorbed into Smilebit in 1998. Smilebit did go on to make the excellent Panzer Dragoon Orta on Xbox in 2004 (and Jet Set Radio!) but has since been moved away from such games, having been turned into Sega Sports Japan. Currently making? Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games.
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