With the unexpected discontinuation of the Dreamcast in 2001, Sega fans were wondering how Sega would go through their plans on operating as a third-party and what would be of all their IPs. Thankfully, Sega blessed the Xbox as the unofficial spiritual successor to the Dreamcast. For Sega fans, the Xbox was the console of choice. While the PS2 received the popular Sega IPs and Nintendo stuck with the IPs appealing towards kids. Not to mention, several titles in development for the Dreamcast including Halo, Fable, Ninja Gaiden, and Jet Set Radio Future. Although due to the short lifespan of the Dreamcast they eventually move to the Xbox. Releasing a tremendous amount of titles on the Xbox in their early days of being a third-party developer. However, none stood out than the final installment of the Panzer Dragoon series and possibly the best game on the original Xbox, Panzer Dragoon Orta.
The fourth and final installment of the Panzer Dragoon series, Panzer Dragoon Orta released on the Xbox in December 19, 2002 in Japan and January 14, 2003 on North America and developed by Smilebit whose name should be familiar with on Sega titles for Xbox. With this mind, they developed several outstanding titles during the Xbox days, including Jet Set Radio Future and Gunvalkyrie. Though Team Andromeda, the team originally responsible for Panzer Dragoon disbanded after the release of Saga, plenty of staff returned.
A fair warning to those interested in playing the game, to truly appreciate and understand the events that unfold during the game, I highly recommend playing Panzer Dragoon Zwei and Saga.
The story takes place decades after the events of Panzer Dragoon Saga. The protagonist Orta is a half-drone half-human imprisoned by the Seekers. Suddenly, the Empire attacks the Seeker’s village with their state-of-the-art weapon, dragonmares, genetically modified dragon-like creatures which is possibly the strongest weapon they’ve created. All of a sudden, a dragon appears to Orta and chooses her as its rider. Along the way, Orta meets with a drone, Abagg who appearance plays a significant role at another time, and Mobo, a wormrider whom Orta befriends. With this in mind, it’s up to Orta to save the world from the clutches of the Empire.
In the first place, Orta ditches the RPG adventure formula Saga debuted, and returns to the classic on-rail shooter that began with Panzer Dragoon and continued with Zwei. For veteran players, the weapon system has return shooting down enemies with a gun or lock-on to enemies with the dragon’s laser. Additionally, a berserk attack returning from Zwei, unleashing a fury of lasers to enemies . Returning from Saga, is the option to transform Orta’s dragon into different forms: Attack and Speed forms, and also the ability to fly to different areas during boss battles and observing what is safe. Furthermore, throughout the game, players can level up their dragon by finding power stones that giving the dragon experience points, collect a certain amount and the dragon levels up. Another mainstay is the ability to look forward, behind, left, and right since enemies can appear from anywhere.
Unlike the original or Zwei, the game has 10 levels instead of the 6 thanks to the capabilities of the Xbox. A majority being flying-based levels, yet fans of Zwei will appreciate the one ground-based level to spice the game up. Even though the game has 10 level, it’s a short game, on the other hand beating it is another story. The game’s core problem is how difficult it is even on Normal,even on easy, I struggled at times. Though the game is short, that’s not the purpose of it, instead beating it multiple times for reasons I will state later.
According to an interview with Akihiko Mukaiyama, director of the game for the website, The Next Level, the first goal in mind was to revive the series, next deciding on what genre the title would be. In another interview with Japanese video game magazine Famitsu, he mentions their plans to bring it on the Dreamcast yet, it did not meet the team’s technical specifications. The team had a multitude of ideas on the game. Whether it returns to an RPG, a simulation game, or return to the classic 3D shooter known throughout the series. Though, Mukaiyama mentioned that he did plan on producing another RPG. In the end, voting to return to the classic on-rail formula. Explicitly, key artist Takashi Iwade and Kentaro Yoshida envisioned Orta as a combination of the three. Also, the leap from 32-bit to 128-bit also gave developers further challenges to work with. One feature that they could finally implement was the ability to switch dragon forms in real-time, which was not possible and inspired by Magic Knight Rayearth.
The idea of making a female protagonist came from the fact that it represents an innovation in a series. the fact of having one is special in terms of the story. The word “Orta” has different meanings, in Panzerese (language spoken within the series), it means rebirth and dawn, while in German, it also refers to “the tip of the sword” according to Mukaiyama.
Graphically, it’s an incredibly gorgeous game I’ve seen on the Xbox, correction, the entire 6th generation, unlike Shadow of the Colossus, Orta can run 480p, 16:9 Widescreen, and 60 fps with no slowdown (sorry, no disrespect to Team Ico, except let’s face it, the PS2 is an under powered machine yet you and Polyphony Digital were a few developers to TRULY harness the console’s power). The game’s speed is fluid and never feels out of place making it feel like the best roller coaster ride experience. Yes, several games on the Xbox that output at 720p and 1080i resolution aside from, paling in comparison to Orta. Everything in the game is rich, detailed, and emphasizing quality over quantity with everything polygon making a difference. Whether it be the appearances of past enemies or the light show that happens when the dragon performs its berserk attack. The leap from the Saturn proved wonders,astonishing players. Playing the game with component cables and watch how staggering it’ll be.
Even the FMV scenes remain breathtaking. Smilebit truly pushed the limits of the Xbox! Seeing this game in motion proves my point.
Don’t believe me, IGN’s Hilary Goldstein backs me up on this, “If I could give this game an 11 in graphics, I would. Actually, forget the number you see below. Consider it an 11. This game is unbelievably gorgeous and the screenshots don’t do it justice. If this is the tip of the iceberg for Xbox, I pray I never go blind.” Even today, the game still shines as one of the greatest games of the 6th generation and I highly doubt people will complain about the graphics.
The music is also another addition to the game thanks to returning composer Saori Kobayashi and new composer Yutaka Minobe. The game has the atmospheric mood which fits the game’s world perfectly, having tribal influence mixed with electronic music and orchestrated music similar to the first game. No track seems out-of-place and feeling intense throughout. The ending song is absolutely stunning! The best of all is listening to this on Dolby Digital 5.1.
As mentioned before, the game is short, except not the cake walk many were expecting. In fact, that’s the fundamental point of the game, to replay the game multiple times, why? Because
another returning feature from Zwei is Pandora’s Box. But unlike Zwei’s Pandora’s Box, this one is deeper than its predecessor, it features cut scenes from the previous games which unfortunately still in their original format and let’s not forget that the Saturn’s stock video encoder is not necessarily the best. Additionally, there is concept art from the series to unlock, bonus levels featuring Iva’s story, a boy from the imperial city, bonus games involving Orta and Mobo, and an encyclopedia offering heaps of information regarding die welt von Panzer Dragoon. But Pandora’s Box has it mainstay features returning from Zwei, which works similarly to a debug
mode with features including playing with the blue dragon, playing with Azel from Saga, and having infinite health to name a few. Finally, completing the game once on either difficulty, unlocking an enhanced port of Panzer Dragoon.
For those also interested in collecting there is a white Panzer Dragoon Orta Xbox released exclusively in Japan that comes included with the game, HD AV Pack, component cables, Orta’s soundtrack, and a dragon necklace. In essence, a prototype Xbox 360 with its all-white design. Releasing 999 units of this console and selling around 800-1000 dollars online.
Overall, the game is an absolute must for the 6th generation, it not only showed what Sega’s potential during their post Dreamcast years. One of the final entries Sega made before they finally died (to us the fans) when they merged with Sammy in 2004. With this in mind, Smilebit mentions in countless interviews that they’re proud of all their persistent work done with the game and how thrilled they were to revive the series even if the market was in their favor due to the raise of FPS and GTA clones.
The game truly pushes the limits of the Xbox and The game itself is still affordable though, it’s slowly rising in price as of the time I’m writing this, it goes for around 8-20 dollars online. This is also compatible with the Xbox 360 though the PAL version has minor issues that, thankfully an issue that many can work around.
Above all, I was overjoyed finally able to play this.Even though it’s a shame seeing that this is the last game in the franchise as Sega stated that they do not recognize a market for a future titles and that’s unfortunately true.
There is a spiritual successor titled Crimson Dragon which was a launch title for the Xbox One developed by the original creator of the series Yukio Futatsugi, who also worked on Phantom Dust, with other members of Team Andromeda, although it did ok to say the least with critics and there was a spin-off for Windows Phone still assuming Sega noticed how this did and decided to stay away from Panzer Dragoon.
This is a type of game intended for the player to dive deep into, to understand the Panzer Dragoon lore, for us to truly appreciate what Smilebit was trying to accomplish. Thank you much Smilebit and Sega for bringing to fans what fans wanted and went against the norm of a changing market continuing to bring quality entertainment for a loyal fan base.
Brookes, Jason. “Chasing the Dragon.” Xbox Nation 24 June 2002: 34-41. Web.
Goldstein, Hilary. “Panzer Dragoon Orta – IGN.” IGN. J2 Global, 10 Jan. 2003. Web. 12 Jan. 2016.
Translated Famitsu interview with Mukiyama and Kawagoe
Brooks, Jason. “Worldbuilders.” Xbox Nation 15 Feb. 2003: 98-101. Web.