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Retrospective: Panzer Dragoon II Zwei

Source: Gemakei.com

Source: Gemakei.com

Developer: Sega

Publisher: Sega

Released: March, 1996

Systems: Sega Saturn

Played before? No

Panzer Dragoon was the closest thing to a killer app that the Saturn had at launch. It ran at a consistent framerate, and showcased the Saturn’s 3D capabilities and was just a good rail shooter in general. Zwei was released a year later and made many improvements; an even better framerate, your dragon can change depending on how good at playing you were, and alternate paths through stages. The question is just how well does Zwei hold up after seventeen years?

Zwei opens with a narration detailing how when mutant beasts of burden are born, identifiable via a glowing neck, it is village tradition to kill it. Our protagonist decides not to slay a mutant when he realizes that it has wings, so he names it Lagi and takes care of the creature away from the village’s eyes. Months later when it has more or less fully grown, he tries to teach Lagi how to fly when a flying biomechanical battleship called Shelcoof destroys his village, presumably to kill Lagi. Thus our dear protagonist picks up a rapid fire laser pistol from the village’s smoldering remains and set out to destroy Shelcoof and indirectly set the rest of the series into motion.

Source Gamefaqs

Source Gamefaqs

Gameplay is a railshooter in the same vein as Nintendo’s Starfox.  The twist is that you can aim all around yourself instead of just in front. You can use the shoulder buttons to turn your line of sight 90-degrees so you can meet enemies in any direction quickly. If you hold the fire button your dragon will lock onto enemies, otherwise you shoot a rapid fire laser. You have a berserk bar above your health that unleashes constant attacks on all lock on targets for a time, run out and you have to use the manual laser to refill the bar, though you can still use lock on attacks.

Some shooters emphasize accuracy, speed, and avoiding damage Zwei only cares about how many enemies you destroy. Unfortunately, while you and your dragon can take out goons like a super hero, you yourself really can’t take much. The dragon is something of an easy target, while you can move about the screen just fine when you’re looking to the front of back, when looking to a side it feels a bit awkward, not helped by the fact that the dragon is fairly large on the screen and only takes more space when you look to the side. You can only move up or down and the camera angle shifts in such a way that it can be difficult to see much of what’s in front of you.

The better option is to just shoot everyone down before they hit you. While your faithful, flying, mutated, post-apocalyptic donkey is great at taking out fools with his lock on, he can’t lock on to most projectiles. That’s when you switch to the manual shot and make sure you don’t come tumbling down to the earth. Actually, when your dragon isn’t berserk the manual shot has a somewhat better damage output, especially on bosses, but enemies move around constantly making the lock on essential.

So say you do everything right in a stage; you take the alternate path, you gun down everybody and you do it in style, what do you get beyond a rising grade at the end, you get a better dragon that’s what. The better you do at a stage the more points you earn for your dragon, cross certain thresholds and your dragon will evolve, radically changing appearance while increasing attack power and raising health. Health is especially good because there is no way to recover during a stage, in fact if you got your health low enough in a previous stage you might not start at full. However, you have unlimited continues so if you die, you start at the beginning of the stage with full health, full berserk, and no penalties; not to your end of level or end of game score so while the stages themselves can be fairly difficult especially to get a perfect on, It never becomes truly frustrating.

Source: Gamefaqs

Source: Gamefaqs

Look, time has not been kind to early 3D graphics. Some like the PS1 Final Fantasy’s or Chrono Cross have good enough art direction, environmental and character wise, that they manage to somewhat retain their visual appeal.  Zwei’s art direction of a barren, barely living world haunted by the biomechanical sins of the past manages to deliver some honest to god atmosphere to the game, helped by the monster and dragon designs being striking yet alien, all despite how bad the graphics have aged technically. The FMV’s, which is how most of the story is conveyed, are not so lucky.  What was once impressive is now almost horrifying in just how deep into the uncanny valley they go, and it should be stated that the only thing worse than most PS1 FMV’s are most Sega Saturn FMV’s. Overall, not truly ugly, but brace yourself for those awkward human faces. (shudders)

The sound is average. Your laser gun has the appropriate laser sound effect and the lock on has just barely enough punch to feel satisfying. Enemies can be surprisingly quiet considering most of what you fight are feral creatures, hell, even when you catch up to Shelcoof and blow up the ship it isn’t overly loud. The sound shouldn’t be blaring but a little more punch to some of the sound effects would have been nice. The Background tracks are nice and add to the atmosphere, but aren’t very memorable in their own right.

Of special note is the Pandra’s Box feature. When you achieve a special condition (beat the game twenty times, play for thirty hours, get  100% destruction on every stage etc.) you unlock Pandra’s Box, though don’t worry you only have to achieve one of these conditions. What this does is allow to modify how the game is played, you choose what form of dragon you start with, how strong your attacks, what episode you start in, etc. It adds some good replay value to a short game (1-1.5 hours)  though the conditions to unlocking are a pain, if you really get into this game it can help to make it feel fresh again. Though if you do manage to unlock it, just how much more time you want to put into the game is debatable.

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Source: Gamefaqs

Panzer Dragoon 2 Zwei is a fine, if imperfect, rail shooter. The controls work well though when your facing your side it might fell a bit awkward moving around but you adapt and learn to live with it easily. The enemy variety is good, with a special mention going towards the bosses; it never feels like your shooting down the same four enemies over and over again. The alternate paths through stages are nice though the triggers for said alternate paths require you be on one side of the screen and all the way on that side. Even the world manages to capture a certain mystique to itself, though one you won’t get to explore until the sequel Saga. All in all, Zwei is a fun, worthwhile game on the Saturn that once you get good, just might have you coming back for a round now and again. Lets just hope that the upcoming spiritual successor, Crimson Dragon, stays this fun after seventeen years.3-5stars

The reviewer is aware that you can play Zwei with the Sega Saturn Mission Stick, but didn’t mention it because it wasn’t available.

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Categories: RetroSpective, Video Game Reviews, Video Games

Author:Abdullah

From the tender age of two when my ma put a snes controller in my hand and let me fool around in Super Mario Kart I have been playing video games. I want to share my opinions with people willing to listen. Original I know...

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2 Comments on “Retrospective: Panzer Dragoon II Zwei”

  1. 08/30/2013 at 9:36 PM #

    Reblogged this on arkhamjester.

  2. 12/10/2013 at 2:46 PM #

    Best way to play it IMO is with the analogue controller. Much more responsive than the d-pad, which makes getting those high kill ratios slightly easier. The atmosphere and the music are just fantastic. It’s such a mysterious and beautiful world. It’s hard to imagine Ico and Shadow of the Colossus without Panzer II. And the final boss in this game is remarkable, such epic music and visuals. For me this game really stands up. It’s pretty cheap to get hold of too on Saturn.

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