Back when I first bought my original XBox, sometime in 2003, there were two games I wanted for it more than any others, the first was Jet Set Radio Future, the other was Panzer Dragoon Orta. I’d only ever played a tiny little bit of the original Panzer Dragoon on the Saturn (it may have even been Zwei) and I barely remember any of what I played, but the feeling of riding a dragon and shooting stuff out of the sky stayed with me, as did the games visual design, in particular that of the dragons which (apart from the wings and tail) don’t really look anything like what you or I would describe if asked what a dragon looked like.
The XBox was the second of that generations consoles that I owned, I got a Gamecube of my own a little later when everywhere was selling it off really cheap, and whilst most people bought the system for Halo, I was interested in SEGA’s output coming off the back of the Dreamcast bombing. With titles like the two already mentioned, plus SEGA GT and Crazy Taxi 3, Microsofts (then) humongous console felt like the perfect console for me. That it later got other key SEGA games was further proof of that.
Onto Panzer Dragoon Orta though, as mentioned, I’d had a very brief play of a previous title in the series and knew of the rarity of SEGA’s RPG entry into the series. I’d also played alot of Rez via the PS2 version (because the Dreamcast version was hard to get for someone who’d recently left a big city and moved to a medium sized town). All that magazines were saying how stunning it was visually, so after being payed one day, I left work out the back door and headed to the independent games shop that was on the road behind the shop I worked in at the time. Handed over my cash and walked out with a very heavy bag containing an XBox, Jet Set Radio Future and Panzer Dragoon Orta.
I played the latter through until completion and loved it at the time, but never really returned to it. That is until SEGA unveiled they were remastering the original Panzer Dragoon for Switch at this years E3. I checked the XBox One backwards compatability list, saw that Orta would work on my One S and got the ladders out to go search the loft and soon came down with my copy.
Straight away I’m genuinely blown away by just how good it looks, it was a looker at the time and I was expecting it to have aged a little in that time but it really has stood up to the test of time. Okay, its not of the quality of a AAA game released today but its still a stunning looking game. Which it doesn’t have any rights to be. Panzer Dragoon Orta was released between December 2002 and March 2003 depending upon where in the world you live. Thats roughly the same time frame as Devil May Cry 2 and The Getaway were released on PlayStation 2 which haven’t aged well at all, and whilst yes, I understand the XBox was more powerful than the PlayStation 2, there’s a certain level of fidelity, not to mention design choices, that really make Panzer Dragoon Orta really stand out.
It’s not worth much if it only looks good though, so thankfully Smilebit knocked it out of the park with the gameplay too. What we have here is an on-rails shooter, like Rez, Afterburner, Space Harrier and Lylat Wars. You follow a pre-determined route and move the player character, in this case the titular Orta riding a dragon who breaks her out of prison cell, around the screen, dodging parts of the environment and enemy fire whilst unleashing plasmoid hell on anything that gets in your way. You can move the camera through four different viewpoints (forwards, backwards and each side) much like in Rez and have a few different attacks available to you.
One thing is for certain, its not as easy as Rez. The two share alot of similarities, but Mizuguhi’s shooter is very definetly about the combined experience of the visuals and creation of music. Panzer Dragoon Orta is very old-skool in its styling, a near perfect evolution of some of those 80’s arcade games that have become synonymous with the SEGA name and thus its aged incredibly well as a game, the visuals just add to that.