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Panzer Dragoon Orta
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Panzer Dragoon, one of Sega's most beloved franchises, began life with the Sega Saturn's rise and ended life with the Sega Saturn's final curtain call in one of the most glorious triumphs of all time.  Panzer Dragoon Saga ended with such finality that a sequel was just absolutely never expected.
Flash forward several years to the era of Playstation 2 and X-box, and I got the biggest shock of my life when pictures of a new sequel began to surface.  I was apprehensive.  The pictures were certainly drop dead gorgeous, but I was worried that the game would either 1) become vaporware or 2) be heretical like the 3D Sonic games.  Team Andromeda was no more and the new team behind the reins was Team Smilebit.  Would Panzer Dragoon Orta do justice to the series?  The answer, thankfully, was a glorious "Yes!"
While Saga was an RPG, Orta returns to the shooter format of the first two games.  Because Saga ended the way it did, Orta basically had to rebuild the world from the ground up and craft its own original story.  Some fans must've felt a sequel wasn't warranted, and I know a few who utterly resisted Orta's different art style(especially one incredibly dippy sub boss).  No sweat, though, because Orta doesn't lose anything that made the series so beautiful.  It takes some elements of Zwei and some of Saga and merges them together while injecting some surprising new, and perhaps better, content.
Like the original two shooters, Orta keeps that balanced blend of gorgeous, white knuckle blasting action and thought-provoking drama.  You'll be fighting terrifying monsters one minute, escaping villains who want to do you in the next, and taking down screen-filling bosses the next.  And the philosophical, head-scratching dialogue hasn't lost any of its bite.  Speed zones, awesome locations, 360 degree action.  It's all here.  Several things are different, though.  Whereas the first two shooters showed the story as movies in between the stages, Orta weaves the story in and out of the action in addition to showing movies.  It's not long before you feel like you're in a living novel and grow attached to the main character and the dragon and feel the bond between them.  Orta also takes the dragon growth of Zwei and Saga and puts a new spin on the concept.  Saga gave you the ability to alter your dragon's form in battle to change the balance of the dragon's four stats--attack, defense, spirituality, and agility.  Orta has a button that lets you cycle through three different forms, each with its own strenghts and weaknesses--normal wing, heavy wing, and glide wing.  Zwei had a point system that determined whether your dragon evolved or not at the end of the stage.  Orta has places where you can pick up genes to enhance the efficiency of the form you're currently in.  Orta takes the most interesting concepts of both Saga and Zwei and merges them together flawlessly.  The fun doesn't stop there.  Orta takes the positional system of Saga and converts it into real time via a dash and brake meter much like Star Fox 64.  And for those who thought the first two shooters were short and easy, Orta has more than twice the number of stages and a far more challenging difficulty level.  Finally, Orta provides tremendous replay value by giving unlockable encyclopedias fleshing out the world and story of the Panzerian universe, the PC adaptation of the very first game, and a set of mini-games detailing the life of one unfortunate soul caught on the opposing end of the dragon's wrath.  As much as some fans felt a sequel wasn't needed, clearly somebody at Sega remembered and loved fans of the original games.  It's a shame that Sonic Team has forgotten this attention to detail and care for the fans of old school Sonic.
For all this game's glory and underrated status, Panzer Dragoon Orta sadly didn't sell very well.  It's not surprising, though.  When Orta came out, it targetted only those fans dreaming about the good old days of the Saturn.  The mainstream gamers have either never heard about Panzer Dragoon or just didn't care, viewing it as a weird or unlikeable underground game.  The glory days of Panzer Dragoon ended with the Saturn, but if you have any love of shooters, Orta is the cream of the crop.  It's very rare to find a shooter that engages both the adrenaline and the heart strings.  Another sequel or a remake will probably never come, but it's perhaps best to leave the series as a landmark in the history of games instead of risking having someone ruining the series by pushing for a broader appeal and "hipper" attitude.
Grade: Superb

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