Damiani and Ben mentioned this game briefly in the last Q&A, and it reminded me of a blog post I wrote a few years ago when I was considering writing as a career. It's probably pretty terrible and overly long, so I question even sharing it... Maybe someone will find it to be an enjoyable read.
My earliest memory of playing a video game was standing on a step-stool so I could reach the controls of my mother's "Mappy" arcade machine. As a child born in 1985, I grew up during the resurrection of the games industry. The NES was released in the US just one month before I was born. My favorite games included Super Mario Bros. and Mega Man. NES era platformers were all I knew of video games, and I had only the most limited experiences with adventure games like Zelda or RPGs like Final Fantasy. Those were the kinds of games my sister and I would rent for the weekend but never be able to make any real progress.
Moving forward to the early 90's, a neighborhood friend invited me over to his house to play games. He had just received this system called the Sega Genesis and a game called Sonic The Hedgehog for his birthday. I was hooked from the moment I saw it. It would be another year or two before I would get my own Genesis, but in that time I became a huge fan of the character. I would draw him, read his comics, and watch his TV show. A friend of mine even hand painted a Sonic The Hedgehog t-shirt for me. By the time I got my Genesis, I was already a Sega fanboy.
The games on the Genesis generally had a different feel than the ones found on the NES and Super Nintendo. Sega was all about the arcade experience. It was only ever an accident if I should happen across a legitimate RPG experience among the shmups, beat'em ups, fighting games, and platformers. I didn't even really know what a role playing game was. Going into the mid 1990's when my family bought a Sega Saturn, I really didn't even care. I had Virtua Fighter, Virtua Cop, Tomb Raider, and Panzer Dragoon.
Panzer Dragoon was another one of those game series I became obsessed with in my childhood. I would play it every day after school, memorizing enemy attack patterns and trying to obtain 100% shot down ratio on every episode. When Panzer Dragoon Zwei was released, I rented it so many times my parents finally decided it would be cheaper just to buy it. Again, every day was spent learning the best routes through the game and how to unlock the best evolutions. It became my favorite game.
I was not the only person in the household who played games on the Saturn. My younger brother was growing up fast, and my Step-father was enjoying games like Resident Evil and Tomb Raider. Unfortunately, the Sega Saturn was not popular enough to warrant release of the sequels to those series. This lead to the purchase of our first PlayStation, as well as the first RPG I had ever owned.
At the local Game Trader was a copy of Final Fantasy VII. The store clerk raved about the game, and my Step-Father and I had seen the commercials. The title "Final Fantasy" stirred up long forgotten memories of those weekends renting games. We bought into the hype and purchased a copy of the game and the BradyGames strategy Guide. I remember excitedly popping the game into the drive and watching the opening credits in full. "Wow." I thought. "This must be something really special." I selected "New Game" and watched the gorgeous opening cinematic, followed by one of the most exciting first acts in RPG history. My response to this? "Meh."
"Why do I go to a separate screen just to fight people?"
"Why can I not see the things that are attacking me before the battle starts?"
"Why do I have to select 'Attack' to attack?"
"Why is everything just standing around?"
I didn't get it, and after an hour or so of playing I decided the game wasn't for me. It would sit on the shelf and collect dust.
That was 1997. A year later in 1998 saw the third entry in one of my favorite series, Panzer Dragoon Saga. I begged my parents to get it for my birthday. I worried they wouldn't be able to find it because the Saturn wasn't very popular. But on November 20th, 1998, I was delighted to receive my copy of the what would become my favorite game of all time.
With my game in hand, I excitedly reconnected the Saturn, popped the first disc in the drive, selected "New Game" and watched the gorgeous opening cinematic. I was finally playing Panzer Dragoon Saga! The game started proper, my character riding on a dragon through a canyon, when suddenly I was attacked by an enemy I couldn't see. I was moved to a separate screen just to do battle. I had a menu of commands. It was my worst nightmare! How could they do this to my favorite series?!
But then I realized they hadn't. The developers had taken everything I loved about Panzer Dragoon and lovingly crafted a wonderful RPG. I still had to memorize enemy attack patterns. I had to learn the best way to morph my dragon to handle combat effectively. The stunning berserk attack from Panzer Dragoon Zwei had been expanded into a series of beautifully animated and deadly spells. I wasn't just standing around either. I was soaring in the sky, circling my opponent to find the moment of opportunity to unleash my most devastating attacks.
Furthermore, the story was significantly expanded from previous entries. I had always wanted to know more about the world of Panzer Dragoon, and boy did I get what I asked for! The plot that was once relegated to opening and ending cutscenes was now the driving force in continuing the game. In addition to the basic narrative was a bestiary with 3D models of every enemy in the game and diaries that developed the mythos that continues to enthrall fans of the series.
And so, after completing Panzer Dragoon Saga, my taste in games changed. I still appreciate arcade action games and platformers, but it's RPGs that I have come to appreciate the most. Since my experience with Saga, I've gone back and played every Final Fantasy game, most of them to completion. I enjoy the deep mechanics and punishing difficulty of series such as Shin Megami Tensei and Demon's Souls. Most importantly, I've learned to keep an open mind when it comes to game genres with which I have limited experience.
There is one last note that seemingly every article about Panzer Dragoon Saga has to mention, and that is the rarity and monetary value of the game. I'll address that very simply. Yes, I still own that copy and know how much it is worth, and it's definitely worth more to me than the price you'll see on eBay.