When Panzer Dragoon was released during the Saturn’s early launch, many people missed out on a very unique title. While everyone was playing the other launch titles (Daytona USA and Virtua Fighter), the unorthodox Panzer was the true showcase of the system, an impressive 3D Rail Shooter that truly brought out the power of the Saturn, and eventually became a cult favorite. An even more impressive sequel was released a year later which improved on the original in every conceivable way, followed by an RPG released late in the Saturn’s life cycle (so late in fact that I was unable to play it myself), which is valued over $100 now on eBay.
From there, no other Panzer titles were released during the Dreamcast days, sad to say, but finally there is a new game out for the Xbox that returns the Panzer series back to its glory. Panzer 4 takes place long after the Saturn titles, and centers on an imprisoned girl named Orta. During an attack by the Empire, she is broken out of her prison by the same dragon from the earlier titles. As she boards the dragon to stop the Empire, she will also learn about her past.
Panzer Orta once again returns to the original concept of the "rail shooter." The flow of the game might be on a set course, or "rail" but you have total control of the dragon (at least from the front view, you only control the gunsight from the sides and rear). Certain parts of the course may break into alternate routes, adding replay value, but most of the 10 stages follow the same formula.
While 10 stages might not be much these days, Smilebit decided to add more to the game to extend its replay value. A bonus section called "Pandora’s Box" includes extra features such as bonus pictures and video clips from all four Panzer games, plus background history and character files, as well as some additional missions taking place from the Empire’s perspective.
However, the best surprise found in "Pandora’s Box" is the original release of Panzer Dragoon. Actually that is not truly the case, as this is actually the PC remake, and not the Saturn version. But the good news is it plays as good as the original, and reliving the experience made me feel like I was back in 1995. Just watch out for the pixelization, after all, this was based on a Saturn title, not Xbox.
Fortunately the rest of the game is drop dead gorgeous. Never before has the Panzer series looked this beautiful, nor ran so fast (60 fps). I’ve been saying that many Xbox titles have been showing off the system’s power, this is definitely one of them. Widescreen and HDTV (480p) are supported, and Sound is also enticing as well. Though I’m still partial to the first game’s soundtrack, the exotic tracks of Orta sound as lovely as always. Much to the delight of Panzer fans, the unique "Panzerese" language returns and sounds as wonderful as before.
Five years between Panzer Dragoon titles is a long time to wait, but it was well worth it now that Orta is out. Smilebit brings Xbox owners one of the best shooters to come out in a long time, and it is a welcome addition to fans of the series. Now if they will just make a Panzer Dragoon Saga remake.