The Panzer Dragoon series hasn’t seen many appearances since the Saturn days. Since then we’ve seen one game in the series with Orta on the original Xbox and it’s been nearly 10 years since that game’s release. The appeal of Sega’s on-rails dragoon simulator often comes from the great combination of unique atmosphere and setting with the simple yet addicting on-rails gameplay, a genre that doesn’t appear too often.
With the drought of true Panzer Dragoon games in recent years we’ve taken it upon ourselves to find 10 games that have something in common with the neglected Sega franchise, whether it be in tone and atmosphere or in the gameplay department.
Hit the jump to read on!
Josh Newey: There just aren’t enough simplistic, entertaining fantasy-based flight sim games these days, and very few titles manage to replicate that spot-on combination of exciting combat, intuitive flight mechanics, and unique atmosphere that the Panzer Dragoon series is known for. Only a few games even come close, and Atlus’s PS2 game Sky Gunner stands as probably the most criminally underplayed and underappreciated of the bunch. While not an on-rails experience by any means, the goal of this game is pretty simple—attack all the enemies until the skies are clear. But underneath its basic conceit and cutesy, anime veneer is some surprisingly engaging combat with a heavy focus on scores, chaining attacks, and strategic weaponry. Much like Panzer Dragoon, the combat forces you to utilize several techniques and maneuvers based on the enemies you’re facing, with certain weapons that only work in specific situations. As you’d expect from Atlus, the game is not afraid to challenge you, but never in a way that leaves you feeling cheated. Sky Gunner certainly deserves a lot more attention, and any fan of the Panzer Dragoon series is guaranteed to feel at home with the game’s fun and strategic control scheme, its exhilarating and undeniably fun flight mechanics, its pseudo-steam-punk vibe, and its emphasis on lock-on, multi-weapon combat.
9. NiGHTS Into Dreams
Scott Morrison: NiGHTS into Dreams and the Panzer Dragoon series both share in captivating level design, almost to the point of distracting players from the intended game experience. The background in both series seem to have a life of their own, especially in Panzer Dragoon Orta, as the living and breathing world can be difficult to ignore to the point of forgetting to attack on-screen enemies. One thing that may not be so obvious is the overall sense of flight being captured beautifully with each series to the point that everything flows so very naturally and can sometimes be overlooked. Even though NiGHTS and Panzer Dragoon both have relatively restrictive paths for players, they somehow provide a great sense of freedom, which again may be akin to the lively surrounding atmosphere. Each series can also provide much more to those who search for it. This is especially apparent in Panzer Dragoon Saga between collecting “D-Units” to form the perfect dragoon, and the ability to unlock an entire side-story from the enemies’ point of view in Panzer Dragoon Orta. NiGHTS has some similar in-depth secrets with an entire A-Life system of “Artificial Life” found in the cherub-like Nightopians that inhabit every level. Additions like these show just how much care and time was put into each game for those searching for something more than a quick adventure. Both games are also very emotive and artistic in their own style with the enemies, the level design, and especially the main characters. Games striving for a more artistic feel would do well to take a page or two out of the books of NiGHTS into Dreams and Panzer Dragoon.
8. Child of Eden
Alex Riggen: Child of Eden is the most recently released game on this list of Panzer Dragoon-ish games. Created by Tetsuya Mizuguchi (Space Channel 5, Rez), Child of Eden’s actual gameplay is extremely similar to Panzer Dragoon. You fly around on-rails targeting things to blow up before they go away or damage you. It’s very much a spiritual successor to Rez in that the soundtrack and visuals work together to create an amazing sensory experience. It has a few differences to Panzer Dragoon in that you don’t have an onscreen avatar that you can navigate to avoid obstacles and the setting itself is much more abstract and “techno” than Panzer Dragoon’s but this is a game no fan should miss and it looks gorgeous on today’s HD consoles.
7. Space Harrier
Tom Kyzivat: It makes perfect sense that this game would be on the list, considering that it’s essentially the father of rail shooters. Well, if not the father, than certainly the weird uncle that did too many drugs in the sixties. In any case, Space Harrier was a rail shooter before we had the term “rail shooter”, so that’s gotta count for something. Sure, the gameply is pretty different, considering Panzer Dragoon had a pretty nifty targeting system, whereas Space Harrier just shot his wad at anything that moved, but for my money, they will always seem similar. Both also sport really strange character designs, although Dragoon’s tend to lean more toward bio-mechanical/medieval/primitive warfare while Space Harrier is just plain ol’ bad acid trip. But possibly the biggest simularity was the dead wastelands for backgrounds, stretching to infinity (not alway the case for Dragoon, but you know what I mean). Both are a result of the lack of the game’s engine to produce anything more, but to me it really contributed to the strangeness and vastness of the environments. That’s something these two games can talk about at the next rail shooter family reunion. Just stay away from House of the Dead’s potato salad. Yuck.
6. Star Fox
Scott Morrison: The Star Fox and Panzer Dragoon series mirror each other in many ways both good and bad. The level design in both can sometimes be confusing and difficult to judge until you get smashed by a few falling trees or crumbling buildings. It is these difficulties that sometimes result in repeating a level only until it is memorized adequately. Swarms of enemies in both games seem overwhelming at first, but soon become the best target practice when the player has become accustomed to the basics. The targeting systems in both games are a bit different, but work in similar fashions. In Star Fox, you typically stay in one spot while firing at a trail of enemies, while in Panzer Dragoon the enemies are stationary as you make your way across a line to target each one. Boss battles can also seem rather threatening, but I would wager that the bosses in Panzer Dragoon are a bit more difficult even after you find the weak point – which in both games tend to be the giant red/glowing spot. Perhaps villains would finally succeed in their world-dominating plans if they didn’t expose their weak points like a bad rash?
5. Mega Man Legends
Flake: I bought a Playstation to play this game. True story. My Super Nintendo was all I needed in life until I found out about Mega Man Legends. I gathered my money, combined it with my Christmas haul one year, and risked life and limb the next day walking across icy bridges to get to a Best Buy just to make this dream come true. The dream was everything I hoped it would be and I have never looked back.
I also bought a 3DS in anticipation of Mega Man Legends 3. I’d rather not talk about that though…
Megaman Legends is insanely fun – in practice it combines the gallery shooting aspect of a game like Panzer Dragoon with the run and gun level design of a traditional Mega Man game. The result is a 3D dungeon crawler that sees you battling hundreds of robots, upgrading weapons, and exploring caverns that connect to form a maze that even a Metroid or Castlevania fan can admire. Tying the whole thing off is a cast of characters so full of charm that the world of Kattelox Island comes to life in a way that few games have ever managed.
Unfortunately, Megaman Legends, Legends 2, or the Mis-Advenutures of Tron Bonne have never found their way to the Playstation Network outside of Japan – and given Capcom’s recent treatment of the Blue Bomber, that is likely to never change. If a game that is an amalgam of Panzer Dragoons shooting and Megaman’s run and gun style appeals to you, you might need to head over to Ebay and have your credit card ready to go.
4. L.A. Machineguns
Mike Kyzivat: L.A. Machineguns is very much like Panzer Dragoon if it had been directed by Michael (may he burn in hell) Bay. Fantasy world replace with futuristic L.A., check. Dragoons replaced with futuristic hover bikes, check. Unintelligible dialogue replaced with unintelligent dialogue, check. Strange creatures and flying machines replaced with agile robot militants, check. Explosions replaced with twice as many explosions, double check.
Now don’t get me wrong L.A. Machineguns is a great action arcade game. It just doesn’t have the depth or creativity of Panzer Dragoon, but it is very similar in game play. Really, the only differences is that it is from a first person view like Virtua Cop, instead of the behind the dragoon view of Panzer Dragoon. Also, you can’t lock onto enemies and fire homing bolts. And lastly you can not rotate your view at 45 degree angles around your character. Like Panzer Dragoon though, you aren’t really in control of where you are going you just point and shoot, and you fly around at dizzying heights. There is one thing that L.A. Machineguns has over Panzer Dragoon and that is since it’s an arcade game you get to hold actual giant machine guns when you play. And nothing is better then blasting robots to robot hell then with a second player, except maybe paying for two players and then dual wielding both machine guns yourself. Priceless (unless you’re at GameWorks then it’s about 7 credits a piece).
3. After Burner
Josh Newey: Come on, you can’t act surprised with this one. It only makes sense that Sega’s other major on-rails flight simulator made it somewhere onto this list. If you are fan of the early Panzer Dragoon games and you’ve never gotten to try an After Burner game, I don’t know what the hell is wrong with you. One of the many ideas by the great Yu Suzuki, After Burner puts you in the cockpit of a fighter jet and sets you out on a searingly fast, on-rails flight through various stages, in which your only real goal is to lay waste to the enemies in front of you. After Burner is even more restrictive than Panzer Dragoon, with extremely accessible arcadey gameplay that puts almost all the focus on dodging environmental hazards and locking onto as many enemy targets as possible. Controlling your plane is enormously satisfying and appropriately intense, with a legitimately exhilarating sense of speed. Add in the “Climax” mode from the most recent arcade entry, which allows you to slow down time to target your enemies, and you’ve got one hell of an empowering experience. Sure, the series may not be particularly deep, long, or accurate to real life, but like many of Sega’s best games, it offers an intensely fun, pick-up-and-play experience that makes it a perfect arcade game and a wonderful counterpoint to the Panzer Dragoon series’ sweeping and difficult stages.
2. Sin and Punishment
Flake: The Sin and Punishment games have a lot in common with Panzer Dragoon. Both are known for art assets that surpass the limitations of the systems they are on. Both are franchises beloved by everyone except the company that holds the rights. In terms of game play, I cannot think of many games that could be more similar.
The Sin and Punishment series is Nintendo’s on-rails, fast paced shooter franchise. The camera follows the protagonists from closely behind as they run forward. Your ability to affect the movement of your character is limited, especially in the N64 original. Your best option to avoid running into enemies is usually to just go ahead and shoot them to death before you close the gap. Rapid fire shots, homing shots, and precision aiming are your tools for making it through an esoteric, cyber-punk drama.
The original game never made it outside of Japan but it is available for download from the virtual console. The game was not translated but all of the voice acting is in English. Serendipity! The sequel, Star Successor, breaks from the formula that Panzer Dragoon and Star Fox before it created: It is a bit more of a shooter but the spirit of the game is much the same. Between the beautiful visuals, intense game play, and insanely low price tag, Star Successor is one of the best deals you can get on the Wii.
Alex Riggen: Rez is probably what playing Panzer Dragoon looks like to someone on LSD. Replace the visuals of Panzer Dragoon with brightly colored wireframe enemies and environments and make everything pulse and move to the soundtrack and you’ve pretty much got Rez. The gameplay is incredibly similar as you move your flying avatar around the screen and you travel through the levels on-rails while locking-on and destroying every enemy in sight. Rez was originally released by Sega for the Dreamcast in Japan but it did eventually make its way to the PS2 in the US but that version is quite rare to find. Luckily, a few years ago Sega released a definitive HD version on XBLA and if you haven’t played this game yet and you consider yourself a fan of Panzer Dragoon and/or LSD you should definitely check this game out.