Though the Sega Saturn was largely a misfire of a gaming console, it was the home of many cult classic video games, including one that celebrates its 25th anniversary this month: Panzer Dragoon. The on-rails shooter mixed science fiction and fantasy for a story that instantly captivated its audience.
The game takes place over six levels, with the story being told through extensive cutscenes. The player controls Keil Fluge, who rides atop a powerful dragon throughout the story. Keil (who was actually totally unnamed in the North American version of the game) is one of many humans living in a distant future in which a large war has scattered much of the population. One nation, known simply as the Empire, has discovered ancient weapons to help them fight back against monsters – though this power eventually corrupted them, and they began to conquer the other humans as well. Keil discovers a ruin, where he meets an armored blue dragon and forms a connection with it. Together they fly through the world to confront the Empire and engage in recurring fights against a large black dragon.
Panzer Dragoon was the first game developed by Team Andromeda, which was formed by Sega when the company began developing the Saturn console. The team was headed by Yukio Futatsugi, who was at the time in his early 20s and had only been working in the industry for a couple of years. The goal was to make an on-rails shooter (in which the controlled character moves at a set pace along a set track, as if on rails), but to do so in a fashion that hadn’t been done before; most on-rails shooters at the time had a military theme or space theme, and instead they wanted to make something in which the player rode a dragon, allowing for more fluid and dynamic animations.
The title was one of the first Saturn titles, and was a standout in the console’s library. It was critically hailed upon release as the next step in both story and graphics in video gaming, and was called a must-buy for any Saturn owner. The soundtrack, composed by Yoshitaka Azuma, also received much praise. The success of the title in spite of being on a lackluster console spurred several sequels, with the most recent, Panzer Dragoon Orta, releasing on the Xbox in 2002. In late 2018, Sega announced that remakes of the first two games were in the works, with a remake of the original Panzer Dragoon planned for late 2020.