Battle of the Backlog Episode 10 & 11: Lonely Dragoon

Not my pile of shame, but not far off.

Not my pile of shame, but not far off.

One man, Harry Nezumi — some say brave, others foolish — stands against his backlog. With but five months between now and a move some 9,000 kms from home, does he have what it takes to complete all the outstanding games in his collection? Follow his quest, his Sisyphean toil, here on Sega Addicts as he tackles one hundred and seven games over twenty weeks. The journey will not be easy, the day grows dark and the hour late. Yet there is hope. After one week off, is intrepid Harry back in the swing of things? Just how many games did he manage in two weeks and just what did he make of Jet Set Radio Future? Find out below.

Completed: Panzer Dragoon (Sat).
Postponed: Dark Savior (Sat); Super Magnetic Neo (DC); Jet Set Radio Future (oXb); Wonderboy in Monster World (XBLA); Chrome Hounds (360).
Retired: N/A.

As even a cursory glance at my ‘completed’ list will show, the last fortnight has not been productive when it comes to games. I have, in short, been doing a passable impression of a blue-arsed fly dealing with the mountain of demands on my time. In between my nearest and dearest getting a PhD, taking an intensive driving course (I passed!) and the organization of the small mountain of paperwork for my (rapidly approaching) move to Japan, I could only squeeze in a few hours of play. It was, at least, a few hours that were very worthwhile. Panzer Dragoon is rightfully lauded as a classic and its compelling gameplay feels as exciting as it did in 1995. At this point, I sound like a broken record, but I am looking forward to really getting back in the swing of things next week… the week when I might finally tackle Jet Set Radio Future… but don’t hold me to that.

Game of the Week: Panzer Dragoon (Sat).
Nightmare of the Week: N/A.

Panzer Dragoon (Sat) — The genius of PD lies not in boldly smashing down the genre to remake it anew, nor is it a game that can be considered a quantum leap forward for shooters. Rather, everything the game does right — and that is a huge amount — comes from overcoming limitations. The set-up seems traditional enough: a boy comes across a friendly dragon left over from a bygone era of crazed biotechnology. An era that brought about the collapse of civilization. From here, you embark on a journey through a tortured landscape facing off against, and defeating, those self same horrors. So far, so Sci-Fi shooter… yet, PD had to overcome the limitation of being a launch title on new hardware, the restrictions imposed by the hardware itself and, of course, the constraints of the genre.

As ever, Japan gets the best cover art. This one is clearly inspired by Moebius' Azrach.

As ever, Japan gets the best cover art. This one is clearly inspired by MoebiusArzach.

In overcoming the issues of the Saturn’s unfamiliar and idiosyncratic hardware, PD adopted a spartan yet evocative graphical style that never once looked like a compromize. Similarly, in adapting the shooter to full 3D, bold choices needed to be made. Simply flying into the screen had been around since the Super Scaler days, but PD’s choice of panning the camera around four compass points — effectively quadrupling the action — takes unique advantage of its polygonal world in an accessible fashion. The final stroke of genius lies in the controls, which provide a level of interaction and variety not often seen in shooters. The solitary shoot button allows a surprising range of actions to be carried out, with individual blasts, rapid firing and the famous lock-on attack all being deployed throughout. There is a breadth to the action that few shooters in 1995 possessed, executed in the most welcoming way imaginable without foregoing the frantic, challenging action that characterizes the genre.

'Lonely, haunting and beautiful'

‘Lonely, haunting and beautiful’

On top of these quantifiable design choices sits the indefinable ‘feel’ of the game. Its setting in a world awash with sorrow is communicated in subtle ways. You are the only person you see in your journey across an ancient, crumbling wasteland, and the controlled ‘on-rails’ movement of your dragon allows for tight orchestration of the action. The superb matching of the game’s pacing to the wonderful musical score gives both a cinematic and emotional dimension that few titles in the genre possess. That this goes hand-in-glove with some of the finest shooting of the 32-bit era shows that Panzer Dragoon is rightly lauded as a classic. It is lonely, haunting and beautiful, and only bettered by its sequel. 4/5

Next week, on Battle of the Backlog: JSRF... maybe...

Next week, on Battle of the Backlog: Like last week, but with less Panzer Dragoon.

  • Cool

    SEGA is concentrated now on PC. 😀

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