Panzer Dragoon Orta Review
Since Sega dropped the Dreamcast and focused all their efforts on game development, they've made many games that are hit and miss. They have mostly been hits, though, and they've got another awesome game on their hands with Panzer Dragoon Orta. Some players may not really get into this wonderful arcade-style shooter, though, as this type of game generally is an acquired taste.
The unique control aspect of the Panzer Dragoon games comes with the ability (and need) to fire in all directions around you - the full 360 degrees. Pressing either of the triggers will spin you 90 degrees in that direction, while pressing both will turn you around 180 degrees. This control system makes Panzer Dragoon unique, and players will need to swing around pretty often to win most stages.
On top of this, the game allows you to switch between three forms, which also changes the look of the dragon you ride on, your weapon abilities, mobility, and defense capabilities. For example, the big, slow dragon has the most firepower, but it cannot dodge attacks as easily. Switching is easy and an integral part of the gameplay, and it becomes second nature after a little while.
Panzer Dragoon Orta looks wonderful - not only does it harness the considerable graphics power of the Xbox, but it also puts it to good use with some really interesting art. Each of the game's levels has a unique atmosphere, and many of the enemies have some really inventive designs. Your own dragon and the character who rides it, Orta, also look really cool in a Japanese sort of way. Despite all this and the very unique character design, the game doesn't fall into too many of the standard anime stereotypes, which is somewhat refreshing for me.
While the game's first level is probably the worst-looking one in the game, the rest are really nice. The water and sky effects here are some of the best I have seen in just about any game; along with Splinter Cell and Halo, this game puts to rest all doubts that the Xbox is the most powerful console out there.
As is with most shooter games, there is a major boss at the end of almost all of the levels in PDO. In classic style, they're huge, complex, and will require a bit of study in order to beat them. Even though this game pushes a huge number of polygons for the backgrounds, Sega did not have to compromise much to get the bosses in there too; some of them are awesome just to look at.
In this game, the player will traverse lots of massive, outdoor levels that are chock full of enemies. They are spaced out enough, though, to where you can admire some of the scenery as it zooms past. The frame rate very rarely drops under 60fps, and you can see huge distances - even past the considerable range at which you can shoot enemies.
It's not all outdoor, though; the game will take you through tunnel systems and other caverns, and while these areas don't look half as good as the open-air levels, it's mainly because those other levels are just that breathtaking.
If you have never played an arcade-style shooter before, it might be a bit difficult to explain the gameplay without oversimplifying it. You control your dragon while shooting down hordes of enemies with missiles or rapid fire shots. Dodging the enemies' shots is sometimes difficult, though, as your range of movement is a bit small. Instead, you can use moves to speed up or slow down which can get you around attacks, and you can also shoot down many of the missiles or other projectiles fired at you.
Generally in shooter games like this, the major draw for replayability comes in the memorization of enemy patterns and the ability to execute a good run where you kill enemies quickly and rarely get hit. For those players that have zero interest in this kind of gameplay, Orta is going to be a short adventure. For those who love this style of game, there is plenty here to mess with: three difficulty levels, secrets to unlock, and ratings for your performance on each level.
PDO also has a pretty strange and interesting story to go along with the shooter gameplay. It's an offbeat plot that does seem a bit incomplete. All the voice acting is in a uniquely created language with English subtitles, which made it seem just that much more odd. The story itself takes a while to get into, but once you do, it is still better than what you would see in most games, much less shooters.
The game includes a ton of cutscenes to flesh out the story, and quite a few of them are done inside the game engine. They mix a bit of philosophical talk with some decent action, all to a pretty nice effect.
The best part about PDO is that the atmosphere and the scale of the fights you get into are that good. The bosses are also really cool - most of them are as big (or bigger) than the actual screen, and have several forms of attack. Since you can commonly also zoom around to all angles of bosses, it adds a new, more 3D angle to these huge fights.
There are quite a few secrets to unlock by performing well in the game, and some of them are really worth it. There is a bunch of history of the game's world, and even bonus missions to complete that have their own stages and everything. Sega and Smilebit really put forth some effort here, making sure that those who play a lot are rewarded well.
One of the major areas where this game shines is in the three forms your dragon can take. The change in firepower and maneuverability for a specific form can make the difference between life and death here, and it's kind of fun trying to figure out where and in what situations one will need each form.
I have to reiterate here that while Panzer Dragoon Orta is a great game, it is just one of those that some people are going to severely dislike. It is a simplistic game on the surface with lots of depth beneath; whether a player wants to put forth the effort to dig it out, well, that's something not everyone is going to be willing to do.
PDO has a pretty decent selection of music, and its sound effects are top notch. Many of the enemies have their own unique sounds, and the explosions and other major effects are all great. This is one game where the music can still get a bit grating if one has to retry a mission repeatedly, though, so there's the chance that players will turn it off.
The game has a pretty involved storyline, with lots of cutscenes and a good chunk of voice acting. As I said before, all of it is in a brand new language with English subtitles. The language sounds a bit like Japanese, but some keen readers have written in to tell me it is in the tradition of previous Panzer Dragoon games.
Panzer Dragoon Orta is a fine action game in a classic style with some new bits of gameplay thrown in. If you are a fan of arcade-style shooters, stop reading now and go buy this game. For those who are fence-straddlers, give it a rent and see. Finally, for those that detest this style of game, you may like the graphics, but that will probably be the end of it.