Saturday, September 04, 2010

Photos - Panzer Dragoon II Zwei

Some excellent photos from the spectacular Panzer Dragoon II Zwei on Sega Saturn.  Yes, I know the title repeats the number "two" twice...very strange.  Easily one of Saturn's greatest games and a classic shoot-em-up with atmosphere, skill and depth.

The gameplay is a direct descendant of Space Harrier, only with the ability to rotate 360 degrees while flying on dragons.  I enjoy how the game begins with your young dragon still unable to fly; you must run through your destroyed village, exacting revenge on various monsters and imperial ships.  Later, in a thrilling dramatic moment, your dragon leaps off a great cliff, then glides down to the distant ground below.

The Panzer Dragoon trilogy (I'm only counting Team Andromeda's games on the Saturn) is a textbook example of creating a vast, richly conceived video game world.  The fundamentals of the game - the precise controls and the fast, challenging action - are very, very solid.  Andromeda was able to build this great world, with its many locations and surprises, only because they had already mastered the basics.  They recognize that Panzer Zwei is an arcade shoot-em-up, and proceed accordingly.  Cinematic cut-scenes and story are secondary priority.  They are crucial in fleshing out this strange world, but they do not dominate.

This is the critical distinction between Arcade Games and Cinematic Games.  In the Cinematic Era, the movie scenes dominate, and the actual video game is swept under the rug, forgotten.  The "creative vision" of the director becomes  the primary focus, and not the game player.  I am not saying that this way is "bad" - this is simply a different paradigm.  But I would argue that this paradigm has run its course; video games have lost their spark, their challenge, their immediacy, and their fun.  The promise of deeper, richer worlds, the promise of games as a storytelling medium, has largely failed.

Panzer Dragoon Zwei is an excellent illustration of these two paradigms at the crossroads, Arcade and Cinematic.  With the Arcade values in charge, the result is a classic game that continues to challenge and thrill.  When Cinematic values are in charge, the result is a bloated, conceited mess, with little or no role for the game player.  There are countless examples of this on Playstation 3 and Xbox 360, and even on Nintendo Wii (Metroid: Other M).  The future of video games lies in a return to the Arcade values, to that immediacy and that excitement that classic games provided.  The new paradigm - the Social Games Era - will take us there, but only if we embrace these values and return to our roots.

I can't think of a better time to get a Sega Saturn and Panzer Dragoon Zwei.  Hint, hint.

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