During the early 90s, the PC space was seeing a huge revolution when it came to 3D graphics and the games that used them. Titles that included id Software’s Doom, 3D Realms’ Duke Nukem, Lucasarts’ X-Wing, and Origin Systems’ Wing Commander III continued to wage war over eyeballs with new graphics accelerators jockeying for everyone’s wallets at the same time. Console developers saw which way the wind was blowing and start building out the next generation capable of riding that wave. Sega’s temporary answer came in the form of the 32X, but the real beast arrived a few months later as the Sega Saturn.
One of the launch titles to accompany the Saturn on its North American release in ’95 was Panzer Dragoon. It quickly became one of those banner waving launch titles that pointed to the Sega Saturn’s capabilities and yelled “Look at what I can do!”. Yet the game wasn’t just “real-time 3D on a console”. It was also a great mix of solid gameplay and 3D effects making it feel as if I had a cutting edge arcade machine at home. A lot of other fans must have felt the same way because roughly a year later, the sequel came out.
Panzer Dragoon II Zwei arrived in 1996. Development on the game by Team Andromeda, the same team that worked on the first, began almost immediately after Panzer Dragoon had shipped out in 1995. Codenamed “Project Perseus”, Team Andromeda set out to raise the bar now that they had a firm grasp on how to do 3D well within the notoriously tough development space of the Sega Saturn. Now they could start adding new features to the formula, polish out the rough edges, and push the metal even further.
Although “Zwei” means “2” in German, meaning that the title was literally Panzer Dragoon II Two, Panzer Dragoon fansite, The Will of the Ancients, suggests that the “II” was simply added as clarification. Many fans, myself included, simply refer to the game as Panzer Dragoon Zwei.
Zwei was something of a prequel taking place several years prior to the events in Panzer Dragoon. This time, our story begins in a small village in Meccania (spelled Mechania on the back of the NA packaging), a nation that has risen up from the ashes left by by the legacy of the Ancients thousands of years earlier. The Ancients were masters of genetic manipulation and created wonders and horrors such as living weapons, but in a terrible war, extinguished themselves and nearly the world. The survivors now eke out new lives amidst the changed world and the mutant bioweapons left behind. It’s a place where technology exists only in what either Meccania or its rival, the Empire, can dig up from the bones of the past.
Kourieats are small, bipedal creatures raised in the village the player’s character, Randy, lives in. Those born with a “blue white light” glow on their throats are killed immediately for fear that they may herald the arrival of another mutant weapon from the past. But Randy decides to hide one that shows that sign, naming him Lagi, and raises him in secret.
Some time later, however, an ancient warship suddenly arrives over the village and destroys it in a single blast. Believing that it was the Imperials that attacked, Randy and Lagi go after the mysterious vessel, determined to stop it by fighting their way through seven episodes of mayhem as they get caught up in the crossfire between Meccania and the Empire who are also chasing the ship for the technology it promises.
The story above is essentially what happens in the opening cinematic and what is told in the manual, but as The Will of the Ancients have posted, there is a “world document” that came on the CD for the Japanese version of the game that goes in depth with even more detail. The Ancients, the background of the game, and the characters (Randy’s ‘original’ name, for example, is Lundi Jean-Jacques) are discussed in much greater detail (Kourieats are called ‘Coolias’ instead) going into detail on why Lundi is a loner — details that don’t directly impact the gameplay but add significant meat to the world of Panzer Dragoon in a degree that wouldn’t be seen in the series until Panzer Dragoon Saga’s story or Panzer Dragoon Orta’s in-game encyclopedia.
Game-wise, Zwei incorporated a number of significant additions to the formula. Panzer Dragon fans will find themselves right at home with the controls that have remained largely the same. Using the left and right shoulder buttons will quickly turn your third-person perspective 90° left or right into one of the four nearest quadrants (front, left and right flanks, rear). Conversely, you can also slowly turn completely 360° using the D-pad. Aiming is handled with the D-pad as well along with the direction Lagi can move around in forward view to avoid getting hit by everything from missiles to giant, bio blobs, though you can shoot a lot of these down as an alternative.
Speaking of alternatives, the game now incorporates multiple paths that players can opt for. For example, choosing to go left or right can determine not only what kind of enemies you’ll run into, but how tough a journey it can be. Scoring also determines how Lagi grows up. Performance is measured through Clear, Route, and Technical categories and depending on how well you do, can reflect how Lagi grows over the course of the game. Part of the reason for implementing this feature was the perceived difficulty of the first game — something that designer, Yukio Futatsugi, had even commented on changing in an interview with 1UP. These features together add in plenty of reasons to replay the game.
There’s also a “Berserker Attack” that fires Lagi’s homing lasers in a continuous barrage for as long as there’s energy in the Berserker gauge. Building up that energy is done through blasting enemies and can be a huge lifesaver — like its predecessor, there are no ‘power ups’ or ‘healing packs’ dropped by enemies. Damage is partially healed in between episodes, but unlike the first game, you now have unlimited continues and can pick up at which episode you left off by saving your progress and exiting.
In the end, our heroes manage to confront the mighty airship and bring it down unleashing its guardian dragon against them. Defeating it, Lagi left Lundi behind as he flew into the dying airship and ultimately destroyed it. Lundi also receives a vision from Lagi — of their adventures and of events yet to come in Panzer Dragoon — before waking up on a beach where he sees the wreck of the massive vessel. He ventures inside and sees a dragon crest with a mysterious green glow, perhaps all that is left of Lagi, and so ends this chapter for now.
In addition to the greatly improved art and fantastic illustrations that fade in and out during the credits, the soundtrack is again as solid as the first game’s with its unique mix of sounds and rhythm matching each episodic stage of the game. Cinematics also help tell the story in between a few of the episodes as Lundi and Lagi battle their way to the climax in episode seven.
Unlike Panzer Dragoon, unfortunately, Panzer Dragoon Zwei never found its way over to another system remaining a Saturn exclusive. Apparently it was expected to show up on Gametap along with Panzer Dragoon but it ultimately never happened. It also didn’t get its own anime, but that’s something else entirely. As a result, Zwei’s one of those Saturn classics that many may not get to experience without an actual Saturn — something that has also held back more than a few of its classics from finding a new generation of fans.