Tuesday, July 25, 2017

My 10 Most Influential Games: Panzer Dragoon (Sega Saturn)

Truth be told, I've never been a fan of rail shooters. You know, the type of shmup--or shoot 'em up--where the ship or flying character moves and shoots into the screen while the game pushes them along a set path.

A few examples, if the description above isn't enough: 1985's arcade classic, Space Harrier, 1987's Thunder Blade and 1988's Galaxy Force, among many, many others.

Don't get me wrong, I love the looks and even the general idea of each of those titles. Their gameplay has never appealed to me, though--or maybe I should say their gameplay has always confounded me. Moving around a screen while simultaneously shooting into it just feels weird to me.

Still, when I bought a Japanese Sega Saturn system in early 1995 (embarrassing aside: I paid about $600 for the console, one controller and a copy of Virtua Fighter), I also bought Panzer Dragoon.

Admittedly, I didn't realize Panzer Dragoon was a rail shooter at the time. I had a feeling that was the case, thanks to all the articles I'd read in magazines like DieHard GameFan and Electronic Gaming Monthly, but I wasn't absolutely sure.

I wasn't disappointed when I finally spent some time with this particular into-the-screen shooter, thankfully. Its softly colored visuals, dynamic camera positions and majestic soundtrack helped acclimate me to it, I'm sure, but they only would've taken me so far had Panzer Dragoon's gameplay been a total bore.

I guess some folks may describe this Sega product using that term, but not me. In fact, I've found its gameplay exhilarating since day one. Chiefly responsible for that, I think, is the fluid movement (for the time, at least) of the blue-and-pink dragon that serves as the protagonist's airborne "steed."

That movement gives Panzer Dragoon's gameplay an element of depth I thought was lacking in older rail shooters--I have a hard time judging where I am in relation to oncoming enemies in the vast majority of those games--and that was key to me finally enjoying one of this shmup sub-genre's offerings.

Did this surprising love affair prompt me to seek out, play and even lust after other into-the-screen shoot 'em ups?

To an extent, yes. I certainly found 1997's Star Fox 64 for the Nintendo 64 far more appealing than I would have if Panzer Dragoon hadn't pushed my buttons, so to speak. And the same could be said for 2000's Sin and Punishment and 2001's Rez.

Now, I wouldn't go so far as to say rail shooters have become one of my favorite game genres thanks to this early Sega Saturn title, but I definitely enjoy them a lot more than I did before I took it for a spin. For that reason alone, I think declaring Panzer Dragoon one of my most influential games makes perfect sense.

See also: previous '10 Most Influential Game' posts about The 7th Guest, Balloon Kid, Bubble Bobble, Final Fantasy V and Kid Icarus

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