As a community, the retro gaming scene often ponders on the idea of nostalgia. Heck, as a gaming enthusiast myself, who also enjoys the odd stint or two within the retro gaming realm, I talk about nostalgia a lot as well! You know, it’s that warm and fuzzy feeling you get when you play a game you remember obsessing over when you were young, or maybe it’s a game that brings you back to that one time you spent the entire summer grinding out levels in the latest and greatest JRPG.
However, nostalgia is typically associated with a particular game, or maybe it’s a specific console and the feeling of the controller when you hold it in your hand. Of course, there is one big caveat – you usually had to have played that game, or at least used that console in the past! So, what does it mean when you start feeling nostalgic for a game you’ve never played on a console you’ve never owned??
Well, with the latest remaster of the Sega Saturn classic, Panzer Dragoon: Remake, Sega and MegaPixel Studio are hoping to pull on our nostalgia heartstrings, even if you don’t have the warm and fuzzies for their 32bit console. With the hopes to remind us of the days when Sega could do what Ninten-didn’t… or something like that.
Back when the Sega Saturn was hip and new, it wasn’t as common to own each of the competing consoles, especially for a tweener like myself. You usually had to pick just one of them, and maybe Nintendo’s console because just like today, they were just as ubiquitous back then. So, during the 32bit era, I was all about the PlayStation. I mean, it had Final Fantasy and Resident Evil on it! Honestly it wasn’t even a choice.
With that being said, being a tweener and an obsessive video game fan, I didn’t only have eyes for the PlayStation. In fact being constantly bombarded with ads from my favorite gaming magazines, the Sega Saturn was at the forefront of my mind despite not owning one. There were many games that I recall drooling over, like Clockwork Knight, Nights into Dreams, and even Virtua Fighter – and this is coming from someone who wouldn’t even come close to calling themselves a fighting game fan. There was however one game that kind of went down in history as THE game I needed to play if I were to ever acquire the console for myself, and that was Panzer Dragoon. An on-the-rails shooter where you ride a funky looking dragon, gunning down even funkier looking enemies. Again, another genre I was never a big fan of, but this looked pretty awesome!
So, when I heard that Sega was rereleasing the game with updated graphics and modernized controls, there was no doubt I needed to play it! Nonetheless, I kept wondering to myself, would playing Panzer Dragoon: Remake now leave me disillusioned or would Sega bringing back this epic title leave me excited to dive deeper into the series?
First of all, I just want to say that the folks over at MegaPixel Studio did an amazing job of taking this 25 year old game and making it feel modern! Typically games like this, when ported to a new console, just get a bump in resolution and maybe a fresh coat of paint for its textures, giving them the appearance of a “modern” game. Aside from that, the game would play exactly as it would have on the original console it first appeared on. Well, if the port was done at least mildly well that is.
MegaPixel Studio on the other hand went one step further and basically recreated many of the assets from scratch so that Panzer Dragoon: Remake truly would fit in the modern age and boy, you can tell! The character and enemy designs still look and feel like they did in the original Panzer Dragoon, but just with that extra spectacular polish. For example, no longer does everything just look like a bunch of trapezoids glued together. That and the controls also got the same treatment with refinements in how you can aim and shoot while soaring through the many lush and beautiful environments. Of course, you still get the option to use the classic controls, which have you move and aim with a single analog stick, but I’d suggest you get over trying to “relive” the original experience. Just use the modern controls because they’re so much more convenient and make the game that much less frustrating and that much more fun!
Honestly, there is something to be said about how perfectly 90’s the Panzer Dragoon remake still manages to feel! Truly I commend MegaPixel Studio for being able to maintain that despite all of the upgrades. It’s everything from the pre-rendered FMV style cutscenes, to the cryptic dialog free story sequences that bring me back to a time of wired controllers, CRTs and consoles being measured by their bits.
Of course all of the coats of paint in the world, nor all of the tweaks and extra features added to a game can completely hide the quirks of the original and the same can be said about the Panzer Dragoon remake. Now, most of these criticisms are relatively minor, but some improvements in those areas would only make this game that much better!
The first and most obvious is the control scheme. Not that they were difficult to use, and the modernized control scheme did help, but when it came to aiming, it was a challenge to accurately hit enemies with your attacks. I mostly blame this on the 3D “depth” effect of the reticle and the camera perspective. Which also affected your ability to see exactly where enemy attacks were coming from, making them bothersome to dodge. Compounded with the fact that enemies could approach you from the sides and back, battle sequences didn’t always flow so smoothly.
Short of that however, the only other complaint I have regarding Panzer Dragoon is it’s length! Which was way too short! I think I completed the entire game in just a few hours in a single sitting. I only complain about that though, because it really was a joy to play. Even with the minor frustrations from the controls, there’s no surprise that Panzer Dragoon is and always will be considered a classic from the 32bit era. It was a showcase for what could be done with 3D in the gaming industry, especially on consoles, during a time when such an approach was still in its infancy. Panzer Dragoon had gorgeous environments, an intriguing setting and addictive gameplay. Especially once you get used to those controls.
So, should you dig up this gem from Sega’s 32bit past? Well, I think definitely yes, even if you don’t have nostalgia for that era of gaming. With all of the modern upgrades made to the original, Panzer Dragoon Remake could easily pass as a current gen offering and is a blast to boot. It may still suffer from the issues that many early 3D games suffered from, including camera woes and control frustration, but there’s definitely enough enjoyment to pull out of it’s cinematic on-rails shooting action to keep you entertained!