Game Review #3 - Panzer Dragoon 2 Zwei (Sega Saturn)
Updated: Dec 2, 2019
This has got to be a candidate for one of the worst game names ever. Did you know that "Zwei" is German for "Two"? That means the title of this game is technically Panzer Dragoon 2 2. I'm not sure why, but a lot of game developers, who come up with some of the most imaginative ideas, come up with the worst names.
Anyway, in my last review, I said that Panzer Dragoon had a solid foundation with some fun ideas, but an archaic system and imprecise aiming which hurt the game. Did the sequel fix any of this? For the most part, yes. I'd go so far as to say the sequel is better than the original in every possible way. Some improvements are more apparent than others, though.
The biggest upgrade in Zwei is probably in the graphics department. This makes some sense, as the developers got no help from Sega in regards to programming a Saturn 3D game. Just making Saturn 3D graphics was a huge issue for devs in the mid-90's, and Andromeda managed to pull it off. After Panzer Dragoon, the work put into improving visuals for the sequel is obvious. The game is significantly easier on the eyes. Water isn't as ugly, it's pretty clear when projectiles are headed for you, and the 3D models were improved. Now I'm not going to sit here and lie to you: the visuals have still aged poorly, but no more than the average 5th generation game. The first Panzer title was a special case where I honestly felt it looked worse than the average 5th gen game. I'm not trying to dump on it or anything, just want to clarify.
In addition to improved graphics, I felt the soundtrack was a step up. I found the tracks more catchy and spliced together better. I forgot to mention this in the previous review, but due to the new CD technology of the time, it's clear that the Andromeda team didn't know how to splice and loop tracks correctly in the first game. There would be long pauses between the end of a level's theme, and the boss theme. Zwei, however, does a better job. It's not completely seamless, but less noticeable for sure. Although I would still say this OST leans more toward the atmospheric side, I prefer it to the original.
But we all know what's most important here: Game play. Many parts of the previous game have stayed intact. Players ride a dragon in an on-rails environment, shooting down enemies with their laser/ dragon. Like before, you can change angles and aim your lasers at enemies coming at you from front, back, left, and right. At the end of each level is a boss for you to destroy.
There are two new (And welcome) additions to the mechanics. One is "Berzerker mode", which causes the player to become temporarily invincible while automatically targeting and shooting all enemies around. Players can't use it all the time though; there's a meter that fills up on the bottom of the screen from destroying enemies. Once the meter turns green, players can use the X, Y, or Z button to launch the massive attack.
The other new mechanic is a branching paths system. The first level does a great job of showing this feature off. Players are offered the ability to choose between going left or right, up or down, or anything of that nature. One will be a more difficult route, while the other is easier. The reward for consistently taking the more difficult route is the true ending to the game. Players who take the easy route get an ending where it's kind of bittersweet, then gives you a hint that there's something better after the credits roll. Although I appreciate the alternate paths, I felt they needed to be a little clearer. There were a few times where I was in one of the tunnel levels, and thought I spotted an alternate path. However, it was just there for show. Perhaps some red arrows indicating the different routes, or some better level design that helps lead players into it or gives them hints.
I mentioned in the previous review that some good analog controls would help Panzer Dragoon. Somehow, the analog controller for the Saturn is compatible with Zwei, despite it releasing after the game came out. I used the 3D controller for most of the play through, until realizing its problems.
Although analog does work, the control stick settings are far too sensitive; it's nearly impossible to shoot and fly accurately. It was almost like playing a "Hard mode" without me even realizing it. The 3D game pad also came with a glitch in Zwei. For some reason, any time I hit L or R to shift the views of my aim, Berzerker mode was triggered and I would end up wasting it on one or two enemies. This becomes infuriating later in the game because there are some pretty tough bosses/situations where you get swarmed, and Berzerker is invaluable.
After a while, I grew to suspect that it was a problem with the controller. After doing some tests, I found that only the 3D pad had these issues. For this reason, I highly recommend playing with the Saturn's 2D controller. The aiming has much more precision with the D-pad than in the previous game. Once I switched to the 2D controller, the game's difficulty became manageable.
I will say, though, that the reticle is still not 100% accurate. In the more hectic sections of the game, its lack of accuracy becomes apparent. There were some times where I was shooting right at an enemy projectile and it just wasn't hitting despite the reticle being right over it. It wasn't nearly as inaccurate as in Panzer Dragoon, though.
Perhaps my biggest complaint in the previous review was how cheap the credits system felt. To recap:
- Players start off with one credit
- They earn credits if they complete a level with enough skill
- 0 credits = game over and restart game
- If players finish a level with less than full health, their health doesn't regenerate for the next level. (This one pisses me off)
- No checkpoints
Does any of this sound appealing? Not really, especially when combined. It sounds like the game was meant for an arcade machine to suck up quarters, or at the very least to pad out the short length of the story.
Well, Zwei does improve on some of this. Credits no longer exist as a system, for instance. In fact, players have their progress saved as they complete each level. At no point can they get a game over. They're given the option to save and quit, or keep trying. I really appreciated this, although it's something that should've been in the original to be honest.
However, two of the above problems remain in Zwei: Players not regenerating health between levels and no checkpoints. I think the lack of checkpoints is forgivable here because levels generally aren't as long-winded, they're easier, and frankly don't feel like as much of a slog to replay constantly. I think the lack of regen between levels was a horrible decision, though. Think of how many games it would have killed the experience in without returning health to full between levels.
The levels in Zwei are generally superior to Panzer Dragoon, in my opinion. Not only are there more of those tunnel levels (Which I adored in the original), but they usually felt more alive, better to look at, and fun. The added bonus of multiple pathways doesn't hurt, either. I can't say there was any particular level that I didn't enjoy. I think my favorite was level/episode 6. The player flies into a base, which then goes airborne, and they have to take out a giant hovering ship wing-by-wing. It also had some cool tunnel sections to navigate the ship. I just wish it were longer.
This game does its story a bit more justice than the original. The FMVs are better looking; still not great, but not an eyesore. The story is mostly told through dialogue on-screen, which is helpful to understand more of what's happening. The game attempts to make more of a connection between the player character and his dragon, Lagi. It still feels like a lot of fleshing out needs to happen, but I suppose that's what their big-time RPG is for, right (Hint, hint!)?
I must say that early on in my game play experience, I was considering scoring the game a B- just like the original, despite its obvious improvements. However, this was only because the buggy 3D controller was ruining the game for me. If you play this with the standard Saturn controller, it's a very good experience and better than the original in every way. The grandiose vision of the original feels much more realized and fun here. Although it's still a short game, I found myself wanting to go back and get better scores. To me, that's the mark of a good game.