Voice Module








In Memory
Sean Pettibone




Sega's legendary Panzer Dragoon series has finally made its rabidly anticipated comeback on the Xbox. Its vastly improved graphics makes the experience even more amazing with incredible environments and characters that take the series forward substantially. The overall feel and controls are faithful to the original games, though there are some new twists that keep things interesting. While the main quest itself is relatively short, there are tons of extras including sub-quests and even the entire first game, that extend its appeal. Join us as we examine the elements that have led to the Panzer Dragoon legend's impressive rebirth.

Set many hundreds of years after the events of the first PD trilogy; the new installment follows the adventure of Orta, a young and mysterious girl who's been locked in a tower for many years. Her existence is an omen of darkness and destruction for the world. On a dark night, the Empire sends its Dragon Mares (mechanical beasts) to kill her. Suddenly, a legendary Dragoon shows up, killing all the Mares and rescues her from certain death and imprisonment. Thus, the game begins in dramatic fashion and you take control of Orta. From this point on, it's up to you to guide her to on the journey to her final destiny.

Unlike the RPG style of the legendary (and highly valuable) Panzer Dragoon Saga, Orta is more reminiscent of the first two games' approach and is an ambitiously designed on-rails shooter. This might disappoint some players who wanted another Panzer Dragoon Saga, but the keep-it-relatively-simple. approach makes sense, since the series is beign reintroduced after a long hibernation. The controls are reminiscent of the other games, so series veterans will feel right at home especially since you can use either the standard or digital pad to fly, just like the Saturn editions. The first thing you'll need to keep an eye on is the radar, which shows the location of enemies along with the direction you're facing. When they come into view, you can move yourself around either manually or automatically though the transitions are seamless for both methods. The game's intuitive 360 degree shooting system allows you to change the viewpoint quickly. This gives you a much greater sense of freedom, letting allowing to concentrate on shooting enemies without the flying getting in the way. You can either shoot manually or lock-on to target multiple enemies by holding down the fire button and moving the cursor over them. PZO's lock-on system is intuitive and makes it easy to target and shoot multiple enemies with little effort. In addition to her standard shots, you can call up a devastating Berzerk attack, though you need to use these wisely since the power-bar moves up very slowly. Finally, in addition to being able to move in 360 space, PZ Orta adds the ability to Glide. Using Glide allows you to move in front of, beside, or behind enemies. This is very important during boss battles because you can only damage them if you're positioned correctly. This is tricky at first, but once you get the hang of it, it adds a new dimension to the gameplay. While new players may be a little confused by all these seemingly complex systems, Orta includes an extensive tutorial that lets you learn the basics painlessly.

In addition to these weapons, Orta can utilize the Dragon's many different forms to take out enemies. During flight, Orta's Dragon can morph into three different forms: Base, Heavy and Glide. Taking on these forms gives you different abilities and weapons. For example, when the dragon takes on its Base form it can perform locking berzerk attacks, lock on to enemies, and has a decent glide function. In Heavy Mode, the dragon has powerful attacks but cannot use the glide. Each of these modes is best suited for different situations and you'll probably have to switch between these frequently, especially during boss battles. Knowing when to switch is somewhat difficult, due to the overlapping functions, but finding the ideal form adds yet another layer of strategy to the gameplay. Another huge factor to consider is that the dragons evolve into more powerful forms when you defeat levels, which gives the later levels and added intensity and excitement.

The gameplay is intense with non-stop battles and action, with an unrelenting pace that keeps you constantly challenged at even the lower difficulty levels. Panzer Dragoon Orta rarely lets up and players will find themselves under constant assault from enemies. The game's creative bosses are some of the most impressive ever seen in an Xbox title and will take plenty of perseverance and skill to defeat. These are extended campaigns and you probably won't defeat them the first time through, but the game allows you to continue at the beginning of these battles, which helps a great deal in mitigating frustration. It starts out tough but Panzer Dragoon Orta gets progressively more difficult as you move along, with smarter, more powerful foes making for tough adversaries.

During the game, you'll traverse many different areas and each is massive in length and scope with unique strategies and enemies. There are 10 levels in all are divided into standard battles and boss battles. To help in the longevity, branching paths are included and these junctions give PDO a lot more depth. The rewards for success are numerous and impressive. When you defeat a level, you unlock additional items in the Pandora's Box screen. While other games would be content to just give you a few tokens, in Orta, you can unlock entire side-quests and missions with other characters including the enemy, adding more to the game. This definitely adds to the longevity and addictiveness of the game. While the main quest is relatively short, these bonus levels add to Panzer Dragoon's addictiveness making you want to play more to unlock more. These extras include background information on the Panzer Dragoon world, concept art, movies from the game as well as it's prequels and more. The biggest extra in the new game is the inclusion of the original Panzer Dragoon, which can be unlocked as well. Despite its age, the game has held up well over the past seven years and remains thoroughly enjoyable. Unfortunately, you can't save your progress in the original game to the hard drive, which is annoying.

As players have come to expect from the series, Panzer Dragoon Orta is an aesthetic tour-de-force that transports players majestically into a world that encompasses both dream-like, ethereal fantasies of flight and ominous, darkly oppressive areas where danger lurks constantly. The mix of both day and night missions allows you to get a true sense of the world. One of the key elements that has made the series such a cult success has been it lusciously detailed design, that's nearly unrivalled in scope. Refreshingly imaginative character design is evident throughout and the legendary Dragon has never looked better. It seems almost alive and moves with a surreal yet plausible appearance that helps you suspend your disbelief. The enemies as quite imposing and you can sense their evil intentions the moment they come into view, and even the smaller ones have a distinct look that allows you to pick them out immediately. The mix of technological and natural elements is seamless, giving the game a unique all its own. It doesn't just look good in screen shots, because the game's graphic engine pushes the Xbox hardware to another level. The animation is brilliant, and the environments seem alive with incredibly detailed light-sourcing and weather effects making for one of an arresting deluge of powerful imagery. PZO's soundtrack is up to the visuals, and ranges from imposingly dark to epic grandeur, enhancing the atmosphere of the plotlines and gameplay perfectly.

This game is unforgettable and includes many breathtaking sequences. Some highlights include Orta running through claustrophobic dark canyons with dozens of enemies in pursuit. Another unforgettable moment occurs when she dives into dizzying spins through massive cloud formations hot after the trail of Empire foes. Another great sequence occurs while she runs over a seemingly endless bridge while a massive boss attacks her, with only the moon to light her way, perfect in design, implementation with subtlety and nuance. This is as good as it gets as you face massive boss characters moving with an eerie beauty, ominously circling you in gorgeously rendered skies. There's a remarkable level of detail and imagination evident in every element of the game, which gives Panzer Dragoon Orta a consistency and coherence that's rare in most games. Further adding to the game's cinematic appearance, elaborate and poetic cut-scenes move the plot forward and introduce other characters. These also look quite amazing and immerse you even deeper into this astonishing world. All of these elements are flawless, and make this one of the best-produced Xbox titles to date, rivaling Halo in terms of sheer impact.

Despite the glorious aesthetics, some difficulties result from its approach to on-rails shooting. While there are loads of boss-battles, these tend to become a bit of a drag, especially when you face them one right after the other. In addition, while the controls are decent, morphing the dragons can get confusing, especially during the heat of battle, since the changes in the display and targeting HUD between them are subtle. The somewhat awkward controls can also make it frustrating to implement glides when switching Dragon forms, since each one has a different power-level for this. However, these are mostly minor quibbles with what is otherwise, one of the best Xbox titles to date. True, the gameplay becomes extremely difficult after awhile, but most players should be able to build up enough skill that it is not overly frustrating. What's most impressive is how well the game retains the original feel and the new glide system feels organic to the existing conventions. While fans of the Saturn games will definitely love being immersed in this evocative world once again, those who are new to the series shouldn't be intimidated because the story is self-contained to a large degree. The creativity and spirit that gave the first three Panzer Dragoon titles such a large cult following is here in spades and this installment represents is a welcome return to a series many have wished to revisit. With a rich back-story, incredible design, evocative environments, and intense gameplay, Panzer Dragoon Orta is an immensely satisfying and challenging experience that makes it an essential purchase for all Xbox owners.

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