(Sega/Smilebit, January 16, 2003)

Although Sega is a fairly popular gaming company; it had its share of ups and downs over the past three decades. Sega's original Panzer Dragoon series was highly acclaimed for being some of the best video games for the Sega Saturn because of the game's rich story, unique 3D graphics, and fitting musical scores. The only problems with these games is not the way they were made but the ill fated system they were on, fewer gamers would be able to experience the Panzer Dragoon series because of the then very unpopular Sega Saturn (they had to go head to head with the Sony Playstation and Nintendo 64), a game system that only lasted a rocky three years. For many years, the only way you could play one of these great Panzer Dragoon games was to have a Saturn, that is until now.

Enter Panzer Dragoon Orta, a all new X box exclusive that returns the series back to it's pure 3D shooting action roots. "That's right; this game is an old fashioned shoot em up kind of like a Star Fox or a Galaxy Force!" Just imagine screaming across the skies on the back of a huge dragon while you shoot down anything that moves in a spectacular fantasy-like universe. Sounds cool does it not? The world of Panzer Dragoon Orta not only features some of the best scenery currently on the X box that is high lighted with excellent music and sound effects, plus you also get a brand new story line and tons of hidden goodies that will keep you clued to the TV. This isn't your parent’s type of video game shooter, this is a lot more!

Any Panzer Dragoon fan will tell you that the story is very important to the legacy of the series and Orta is no different. You play the role of Orta, a young woman who has been imprisoned and chained in a dark cell as long as she can remember. Things go from bad to worse for the poor jailed girl when the evil Imperial army decides to aggressively invade your village and they're sole purpose is to kill you. Just before their dragons (known as the Dragonmares) get a chance to finish Orta off, a strange armoured dragon comes to your rescue and the two of them make their escape and begin their deadly mission through 10 levels. Why did this dragon save you, why were you hidden from the world in such a cruel way, and who are these strange 'Drones' from the past that have a weird connection to Orta? You have to play the game to find out the answers to these questions.

Just like the first two Panzer Dragoon games, Panzer Dragoon Orta works on a fixed flight system, this means the game's path has been already pre chosen just like in simpler arcade like titles. Although Panzer Dragoon Orta is on rails you still have the chance to look around to the left, right, and behind by moving the camera view so Orta can shoot down any enemies in red on the radar before they can strike or you can get any bad guy that dare try to escape. This gives Orta a lot of freedom then the usual shoot em up and it can really in the game's strategy. The controls do need to be mastered before you into some big battles especially with three different types of Dragon morphs by using the Y button (remember the cool morphs from Panzer Dragoon Saga?) For example: the smaller green dragon can use up to three speed bursts in a row while the bigger red dragon can't even use this feature but packs more powerful lasers. Using the X and B buttons for quick escapes is not only good for avoiding enemy attacks but its also great finding a secret weak point on the stronger bad guys. Another thing to be a where of is the experience your three dragon types can earn during battles, just like in Saga adventure. I recommend using the digital pad before you use the analog stick because it feels too quick and that can make you miss your targets. I also recommend using the in game tutorials to help get the basics down or there may be some situations that Orta can't seem to get out of.

Although Panzer Dragoon Orta is a little on the short side and should only take a few hours to beat, Sega included several impressive extras to help increase the game's replay value. Pandora's Box is filled with tons of great side quests, biographies, and lots more goodies waiting to be discovered. Often these side quests feature alternate stories of the main game itself, Orta will meet a lot of unique friendly and not so friendly characters in the game and if you are lucky enough then you can unlock several mini games that actually go deeper into why some of these odd balls are doing here. Fans of Panzer Dragoon will also love all the background history that not only go into detail about this current game but you'll also learn a little about the previous three titles as well. PDO even has the original Sega Saturn Panzer Dragoon included for anyone either wants to play the award winning game all over again or for those that want to experience this adventure for the first time. Just be warned that this hidden game is a direct port of the Saturn version so there are no graphical improvements what so ever. I actually started to get a headache from playing the game because of its choppy frame rate and weak textures; maybe I'm just getting too old though.

Moving on to the game's graphics,
Panzer Dragoon Orta's looks are awesome to say the least. The game runs at a super smooth frame rate and you'll be hard pressed to find any background pop ups and slowdowns here (problems that plagued the original 32-bit Panzer Dragoon games). The world of Panzer Dragoon Orta is also the only fantasy game that has a unique enough design to dare compete with a strong fictional title like Squaresoft's Final Fantasy X. I love the giant sea ray like boss that just does not know when to die and the super realistic water effects. The only issue I have with the graphics is that huge red dragon can block too much of your view during combat, a minor complaint but it's still annoying. Just compare the Saturn's games to this, it's like night and day.

The sounds rules! Each stage has its own types of tracks to best suite a wooded area or Imperial armada. You get a nice balance of intensity and relaxing music that sure a refreshing change from the usual games out there. Sega gave a lot of attention to the sound effects too. The people of this strange world all have their own language (don't worry though there are sub titles so you know what's going on) and your dragon will just let out a good scream from time to time.

2003 is already off to a great start and the X box has another killer title for their machine. What I like most about Panzer Dragoon Orta is that this is a fusion of the furious arcade action of the first two Panzer Dragoon games and the RPG cult favourite Panzer Dragoon Saga. There is also enough story text here to fill a novel, you get some wicked fantasy graphics, great sounds, and super crazy arcade action that people are just bound to love. The game can be finished quickly but there is still so much to do in the game like fighting for the high score and Pandora's Box mini games, the replay is definitely there! PDO is an awesome experience!

Panzer Dragoon Orta
overall rating 88/100

Find Panzer Dragoon Orta on eBay here!

For 1 player only
Rated (T) for Teen
graphics: 9/10
sound: 9/10
gameplay: 8/10
replay: 7/10

(Ryan Genno) 2003

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