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Panzer Dragoon Zwei
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The sequel to the stellar Saturn shooter Panzer Dragoon actually takes place many years before the first game, when the infamous armored blue dragon that would take down the empire was still just a youngster.  But everything that Panzer Dragoon did well, Panzer Dragoon Zwei did better.  Zwei is a seriously huge leap upward in quality from its predecessor.
 
But first a little backstory.  Zwei opens up on a tiny little village where our hero, Lundi, is dedicated to raising Coolias, Panzer Dragoon's reptilian version of cows.  There's a tradition in the village that mutant Coolias with glowing blue throats are bad luck and must be killed.  Lundi breaks tradition by keeping a mutant baby alive and nursing him away from the prying eyes of the villagers.  He names the baby Lagi and discovers that Lagi has a pair of wings.  Flash forward a few months, and the Empire has taken its war right over Lundi's village.  A huge ship from the Ancient Age completely obliterates Lundi's village.  It's at that point that Lagi unleashes the fabled "arrows of light".
 
Zwei takes everything that made the original so good and makes it bigger and bolder and better.  Zwei runs at a better framerate than the original, making the flying and blasting action even smoother.  Zwei also has a better story.  While the story still comes in short spurts in the form of movies in between the levels, the fact that you're controlling a dragon you've raised since birth and winding your way through the remains of your village makes for a bigger emotional impact.  The music has also been reworked.  Panzer Dragoon's soundtrack didn't really impress me, but Zwei's music is a curious mix of tribal drumbeats and rousing chase scores.  But it's the gameplay that received the biggest update.  Now included is the "berserk bar", which went on to be added to the final shooter Orta and to Saga as a spell.  If your bar is green, you can press the berserk button to unleash thousands upon thousands of lasers to get yourself out of a difficult situation.  Zwei also has hidden branching paths, which the best players can discover.  Zwei also has a points system in which the amount of enemies shot down and whether you found the branching paths translated into whether your dragon "grew" at the end of the level.  It is this intriguing element that went on to become dragon evolution elements in Saga and Orta.  But I could break down all the different elements of what makes a game and go on about them and still not come close to doing Zwei justice.  Zwei, put simply, is more intoxicating than the original.  The stages zoom and swoop and take you through mysterious and beautiful levels and past fearsome enemies.  It's simply a brilliant classic.
 
Grade: Superb

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