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"The fate of the world rests on the wings of an armoured blue dragon..."
—opening narration to Panzer Dragoon
A tetralogy of games made for the Sega Saturn and Microsoft Xbox. The first, second and fourth game are Dragon Rider Rail Shooters, while the third is a unique Eastern RPG. The series is famous for its beautiful soundtrack, After the End plotline and surreal Science Fiction atmosphere, owing a lot to Dune, French artist "Moebius" (who drew the box art for the first game in Japan and is credited with some design inspiration), and Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (more of the manga than the anime).
Far in the distant future, mankind colonized another unspecified planet (Wild Mass Guessing makes it likely it's Mars), thanks to harnessing the power of Terraforming run by Artificial Humans from giant Towers that spit out streams of artificial creatures. Then the people who actually knew how to work the things, the Ancients, put themselves to sleep for a couple thousand years to wait for the terraforming to complete itself and left everyone else to fend for themselves.
Flash forward centuries later, and everything has gone to pot: the Towers never completed the terraforming, instead spewing out hostile monsters constantly. The Ancient's cryogenics failed, leaving them all dead. Mankind is forced to attempt to live on a halfway barren Scavenger World. In the midst of this, The Empire ruthlessly seeks to harness the power of the Lost Technology from the Ancients to unite all humanity and its colonies, but are prevented by general fear and confusion, as every so often, a single dragon and its Rider appears from almost nowhere to combat them.
The games which comprise this series include:
- Panzer Dragoon, released for the Sega Saturn (and PC) in 1995, players take control of Keil/Kyle, a mutant hunter whose excursion into the desert is interrupted when he witnesses a battle between two dragons, the most powerful genetically engineered monsters spoken of legend. The black dragon kills the blue dragon's rider, who urges Kyle to mount his creature to one of the Towers so it can be destroyed. Notable for being a rail shooter that allowed a full 360-degree camera rotation to fight enemies in all directions. There was also a Sega Ages version of the game for the Sony PlayStation 2, which spruced up the visuals and smoothed everything out (including bumping the frame rate to a more natural 30 FPS). Naturally, this version stayed in Japan.
- Panzer Dragoon Zwei, a prequel released for the Sega Saturn in 1996, gives more insight as to the origin of the blue dragon from the first game. A mutant Coolia is spared by a boy named Lundi from the ritual killing of all mutants, as he couldn't bring himself to do the deed, especially when he noticed the Coolia in question had the especially rare mutation of wings. Adopting it as his own under the name "Lagi", Lundi attempts to teach it how to fly on the outskirts of town one day, when suddenly, a flying Tower destroys his home in a blinding flash, leaving the two with naught but the desire to take revenge. Panzer Dragoon Zwei introduced the Berserk Meter (which could unleash a Limit Break attack on everything in sight), and the concept of dragon evolution; Lagi had various forms which it would mutate into at the end of each stage, according to score and play style, with a perfect run yielding the series' iconic blue dragon. The music also had a more ethnic feel to it than the orchestra/techno feel of the original game; the series would continue to use this style in later entries.
- Panzer Dragoon Saga, also known as AZEL: Panzer Dragoon RPG, is an Eastern RPG released for the Sega Saturn in 1998. It tells the story of Edge, a boy who finds an artificial Girl in a Box named Azel at the dig site he's assigned to protect, only to be double-crossed and killed by the Black Fleet, The Empire's elite soldiers. Led by a man named Craymen, they claim the girl for their own in their rebellion against the Emperor, who has gone mad with power and intends to harness the Towers for his own nefarious purposes... but to do that, he needs Azel. Edge is revived and rescued by a strange, but powerful dragon, who seemingly has its own agenda concerning the Towers; together, they set out to exact revenge on Craymen, unwittingly thrusting the pair into the conflict between the two factions. The game was praised for its very unique art direction, eclectic soundtrack, interesting combat engine (for an RPG, mind you), engaging story, and gameplay that managed to avoid many (although not all) of the more common RPG tropes. Only a handful of copies of the game were made, as the Saturn was on the way out to pave the way for the Sega Dreamcast. It remains highly sought after to this day, and commands extreme prices on online markets. As such, having a copy's considered a badge of honor for Saturn owners.
- Panzer Dragoon Orta is the epilogue of sorts for the series. Developed by Smilebit (who had many of the original Team Andromeda developers, after they split up following Panzer Dragoon Saga) and released on the Xbox in 2002, it stars Orta, the daughter of Edge and Azel, who is fought over by various factions because of her unique nature. She's taken prisoner, but rescued by a Dragon and flies her way to freedom away from a villainous Artificial Human called Abadd, who believes she's the key to restoring the Ancients. Panzer Dragoon Orta ends on a bit of a more positive note as human civilization and mutated creatures begin to bond with each other to form a real working ecosystem without the influence of the Towers. The game introduced a dragon that could mutate into 3 different forms on the fly. It also includes a separate story mode that follows an Imperial boy named Iva Demilcol as he fights for the Empire, as well as his encounters with Orta. The game was lauded critically for showing off what the Xbox was capable of (and to this day, it STILL looks gorgeous), tight controls, numerous throwbacks to the original trilogy, and a veritable slew of bonus content that could stretch the replay value for hours (including a full copy of the original Panzer Dragoon). Alas, as with most of the series, it went by relatively unnoticed.
- There's also the Sega Game Gear Spin-Off Panzer Dragoon Mini, which takes the series and creates a Fun Size variation. Mini was basically Panzer Dragoon, minus the rider, but with extra "cute" added in place.
The series has pretty much died off following Panzer Dragoon Orta, especially after Smilebit was folded back into Sega in the mid-2000s. The creators, however, have never been anything short of enthusiastic about the potential future for the series, and the fan following for the series remains very strong.
Recently in 2011, a Spiritual Successor of sorts, headed by the creator of the series, was announced for the Microsoft Xbox 360 and the Kinect. Project Draco (revealed in 2012 as Crimson Dragon), although not a direct sequel and still a working title, is at present the closest thing fans will have to a new Panzer Dragoon game.
Due to the obscure nature of the series (the majority of its titles being exclusive to the notoriously-difficult-to-emulate Saturn, after all), this is very much an example of a series which Needs More Love. Definitely not to be confused with The Legend of Dragoon.
- After the End: Panzer Dragoon Orta: its encyclopedia even refers to the events of Panzer Dragoon Saga as "The Great Fall". Even before that, the original game opens "thousands of years" after a "once-thriving human civilization perished into dust."
- Always Accurate Attack: The arrows of light will always hit an enemy, so long as the targets don't go behind cover of some form (like the clouds in the final level).
- The Anime of the Game: Based loosely on the first game; included some Calling Your Attacks by Kyle and a love interest named Alita who became the Black Dragon's rider.
- Another Side, Another Story: Iva's missions, as mentioned.
- Anyone You Know: Panzer Dragoon Saga loves this trope.
- Artificial Human: Panzer Dragoon Saga and Panzer Dragoon Orta revolve around these creatures, which are known as "Drones".
- Badass: The Dragon (in all its forms... even as a baby, evidenced in Panzer Dragoon Orta), and its chosen riders all qualify.
- Beam Spam: Berserk attacks.
- Bilingual Bonus: Only the intro and ending to Panzer Dragoon Saga are in Panzerese; the rest of the game is in Japanese. Easy to tell when the switch occurs, as Edge's name starts being pronounced "Ejji" rather than "Edge" by the characters.
- Iva's missions are introduced and concluded in Greek.
- Broke the Rating Scale: Type 0. IGN told their readers to ignore the 10 in Panzer Dragoon Orta's "Graphics" score and mentally overwrite an 11 in the box.
- Capulet Counterpart: Azel, although the official English translation had Azel's feelings lying more with Edge than the original story, where she clearly cares more for Crayman. See Promoted to Love Interest below for more.
- Character Title: The Japanese version of Panzer Dragoon Saga, and Panzer Dragoon Orta.
- Collector of the Strange: Both the Empire and the Seekers, who quest after the technology of the Ancients in their own ways.
- Cool Airship: The Shelcoof. The Empire has tons of these as well, like the Vermana.
- Cool Hat: Keil/Kyle's hat is pretty distinctive... and comes with goggles to boot! Orta's as well, which is combined with Scarf of Asskicking due to it being a turban.
- Crapsack World: The only way to be (somewhat) safe from giant mutated horrors is to live in the Empire. Unfortunately, there's a good chance of you being conscripted to fight said horrors, anyway.
- Creating Life: The Ancients did it first, then the Empire learned to reverse-engineer dragons, creating "dragonmares" in the process.
- Cyberspace: When Edge and Orta are digitzed into Sestren in their respective games.
- The Dev Team Thinks of Everything: In addition to the Old Save Bonus, Panzer Dragoon Zwei has an option to format its picture for widescreen displays.
- Disc One Final Dungeon: The Tower (...okay, technically disc three).
- Disney Death: In Panzer Dragoon Saga, Mustava shoots Edge in the stomach, which blows him backwards and makes him tumble down into a deep crevasse. Subverted because Edge did die from, if not the blast, definitely the impact with the water below, but he's restored to life to become the Divine Visitor's avatar.
- Downer Ending: Panzer Dragoon, Panzer Dragoon Zwei and Panzer Dragoon Orta end with the dragon's Heroic Sacrifice, but Panzer Dragoon Saga is the worst offender, ending with the revelation that Edge was Dead All Along, kept alive as a No Fourth Wall avatar for the player, the Divine Visitor, and leaving the fate of most of the supporting cast uncertain.
- One must wonder how the dragon's Heroic Sacrifice at the end of the first game and Panzer Dragoon Zwei factors in with the fact that the same dragon is ridden in all four games...
- Note it's not the same dragon in each game; at least, not biologically speaking. It's different manifestations of the Heresy Program, which is making use of various hosts to carry out its ultimate mission of destroying the Towers.
- Panzer Dragoon Orta does place a Hope Spot: The Stinger shows Orta walking into the wilderness with a new dragon pup by her side, a tone that's quite a bit less somber than it seems. Recall in the beginning of the game on the amount of angst she had on being alone for all her life, until the dragon rescued her.
- One must wonder how the dragon's Heroic Sacrifice at the end of the first game and Panzer Dragoon Zwei factors in with the fact that the same dragon is ridden in all four games...
- Dragon Rider: Justified as the Ancients engineered them so they specifically would not work without a human rider, so they wouldn't go berserk. Riders can at least help the dragons by deflecting shots with their laser guns. Also ties into the Meaningful Name. The Guardian Dragon in Panzer Dragoon Zwei seems to be the exception as we never see a rider.
- Dude, Where's My Respect?: Kyle is easily the most forgotten rider of the games. See The Unchosen One below for more.
- Embedded Precursor: The original Panzer Dragoon is included in Panzer Dragoon Orta and is playable after beating the game once.
- The Empire: Subverted.
- Evil Tower of Ominousness: The Towers, obviously.
- Falling Into the Cockpit: Kyle, Edge and Orta. Lundi subverts the trend by not immediately flying on Lagi.
- Featureless Protagonist: "The Divine Visitor" in Panzer Dragoon Saga.
- Fictionary: "Panzerese", a fictional language which appears to be based off Latin with the syntax of Japanese.
- Fight Woosh: Panzer Dragoon Saga uses a Fade to White effect.
- Fun Size: Panzer Dragoon Mini is presented entirely in a Super-Deformed manner.
- Game Level: Referred to as "Episodes".
- Gotterdammerung: The Ancient's lost terraforming technology.
- Half-Human Hybrid: Orta.
- Heel Face Turn: Arguably the Ancients, who introduced the Heresy Program (which itself is responsible for the player-controlled, mutating dragons seen in the series) into Sestren with the task of destroying the Towers that asserted their control over the planet's development.
- Horse of a Different Color: Coolias, which are lizard-fish things that can mutate into dragons.
- In-Universe Game Clock: Used in Panzer Dragoon Saga to cycle between day, dusk and night in towns or at camp.
- Incredibly Durable Enemies: In-universe example with "Pure-type" monsters, which have a much more advanced form of armor that human weapons are unable to damage. It's only when the player characters acquire their dragons and special guns that they can start battling them on equal footing.
- Insignificant Little Blue Planet: It's obvious the world is half-way colonized, but nobody remembers what planet they originally came from or how the hell they got there.
- Kleptomaniac Hero: Subverted in Panzer Dragoon Saga: a lot of the doors in towns are locked.
- La Résistance: Subverted: while the Empire is corrupt, it's Necessarily Evil.
- Littlest Cancer Patient: Deconstructed with Iva: nobody ever lets him off easy due to his illness, and he's fully expected to perform as a soldier of the Empire, until the Seekers take him in. Even then, he provides them false information in a lack of trust. His father left him a note explaining the truth about his condition (he'd drank polluted water as a child and was taking pills made from dragonmare-sourced serum to stave off the infection), and when he finds out that he's out of medicine, he rushes off on a suicide mission to accomplish one last good before he dies. Which he does, in his new friend's arms.
- Living MacGuffin: Azel and Orta.
- Meaningful Name: The series' title arguably qualifies: at its most bare bones, it effectively becomes Panzer = Tank, Dragoon = Mounted Infantry. On a deeper level, it really makes more sense (see here for a better explanation).
- In Panzer Dragoon Saga, the Emperor's ship, the Grig Orig, translates into "Iron Fist".
- In-universe example: "Orta" is Panzerese for "day".
- Mind Screw: The ending of Panzer Dragoon Saga has the Divine Visitor, who is revealed to be the player. Read it here.
- Moebius: Let it be clear that there is no direct connection between Moebius and Panzer Dragoon outside of being one of the big influences for Team Andromeda during initial designs. However, regardless of that, the motifs stuck and the style of Panzer Dragoon would remain as such. His only true contribution was the Japanese box-art of the original games... which the US did not get; said pieces he produced after the design work was already completed.
- Monster Is a Mommy: Invoked when Orta defeats the boss of Eternal Glacies... who is then slaughtered, along with her offspring, by Abadd.
- Named Weapons: The dragons'
lasers"Arrows of Light".
- Narrator All Along: Either Sestren or the Heresy Program; whoever it is, it's not human. Also, Abadd in Panzer Dragoon Orta.
- New Game+: Box Game in Panzer Dragoon Zwei and Panzer Dragoon Orta.
- Not So Different: Iva's scenarios demonstrate how the Empire views Orta and her dragon: as a witch hellbent on destruction.
- Oddly-Named Sequel 2: Electric Boogaloo: Of course, the series has no real consistent Theme Naming, but Panzer Dragoon Orta subverts this in the alternate closing credits, which identifies it as Panzer Dragoon Vier. "Vier" is German for "four".
- Old Save Bonus: Panzer Dragoon Zwei and Panzer Dragoon Saga can actually affect each other with their saves, as they were developed concurrently.
- Organic Technology: Almost all technology is organic, including the guns. Yes, the guns are snail-sized and shaped living organisms.
- Our Dragons Are Different: The dragons are only dragons in the most general sense: they perform more like living X-Wings and shoot lasers and tend to look more like giant armored fish with horns crossed with an H. R. Giger doodle. They're really only "dragons" in title. The Ancients simply referred to any biological creature with the highest tier of power to be referred to as a dragon. In-universe, the modern day usage is on par with using the word "dragon" to mean a god or an instrument of god.
- Considering almost all the wildlife presented is spectacularly alien with the exception of the "humans", this really isn't that far of a stretch.
- Please Wake Up: Orta to her dragon after defeating Abadd.
Orta: "Hey... what's wrong? Open your eyes... please..."
- Point and Click Game: The non-battle portions of Panzer Dragoon Saga, while still maintaining the series' lock-on control scheme.
- Promoted to Love Interest: Azel in the English translation of Panzer Dragoon Saga. Apparently adopted as canon in Panzer Dragoon Orta, as she becomes the mother of the titular character for the game.
- Psychic Link: All dragons form a mental bond with their riders which presents their mission of destroying the Towers. Orta is the exception, as the dragon is merely there to guide and protect her.
- Psycho for Hire: Evren and (to a lesser extent) Cavalry and the Dragonmares in Panzer Dragoon Orta.
- Rail Shooter: All games except Panzer Dragoon Saga.
- Recurring Character: The Blue Dragon is an available form in all four games; it's referred to as "Solo Wing" in Panzer Dragoon Zwei, Panzer Dragoon Saga and Panzer Dragoon Orta. By default, it's considered the highest form the dragon can assume: being the single most powerful form in each game its in, save for the first, since it was the only form available.
- Red Baron: The Empire has taken to calling the dragon the "Dragon of Destruction", which pretty much sums it up. Granted, its technical title of "Heresy Program" isn't any better.
- Scenery Porn: When the game launched, Panzer Dragoon Orta was critically lauded for its gorgeous graphics which showcased a wide range of locations. Even by today's standards, it could be mistaken for a first-run Xbox 360 title.
- Shoot'Em Up: The far more common gameplay variety in the series.
- Story to Gameplay Ratio: The first game, Panzer Dragoon Zwei and Panzer Dragoon Orta have almost none. The entire story has to be pieced together from Panzer Dragoon Saga and Panzer Dragoon Orta via the bonus material world bible.
- The Unchosen One: Kyle: at the start of Panzer Dragoon, the Blue Dragon's original rider is killed by the Dark Dragon, and he just happens to be there to see it. The unnamed rider gives him his mission as his dying wish, then just keels over.
- This also leads to the rather unfortunate side-effect of Kyle being the one rider just about everyone seems to forget, since his place in the series is seemingly nominal at best when compared to the other heroes. However, some DO note that for the dragon to fight at maximum capacity, it NEEDS a rider; without Kyle, it could never have accomplished its mission.
- Unwitting Pawn: Oh, dear god, Edge.
- Vendor Trash: All sorts of it in Panzer Dragoon Saga.
- Vestigial Empire: Simply called "The Empire". It's been crumbling for quite a while and every-so-often, some kid with a dragon comes along and kicks the crap out of it a little more each time.
- As of Panzer Dragoon Orta, it was making somewhat of a comeback because it started integrating the colonial cultures into it instead of driving them into the ground. Lord only knows what Orta blowing up their airforce again did to them though.
- Voluntary Shapeshifting: Lagi, Edge's and Orta's dragon, can remold their bodies to enhance their battle effectiveness in terms of strength, defense, speed and "spirit power".
- Welcome to Corneria: Played with in Panzer Dragoon Saga, as some people will simply refuse to talk to you because they don't know you. You also have the possibility to listen to conversations from afar.