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Panzer Dragoon 2
Reviewed by Jason Falconer

Back in 1996, I was 15 years old, and in an issue of a game mag which previewed Final Fantasy VII, a very painful year and a half ahead of its North American release date, was a review of the unparalleled Panzer Dragoon Zwei - already released and ready to play. Insanity.

The story takes place thousands of years before the events recorded in Panzer Dragoon Ein. Imagine a Nausicaa-inspired world full of organic technologies, a vast and brutal militant Empire slowly crushing the last outposts of resistance using excavated weaponry from the ancient wars of eons ago. That is the setting for this game, the presentation is breathtaking and frankly, no other game quite captures it like this save for the original Panzer Dragoon and its sequels (and perhaps more recently, Ico).

The law of the land states that should any Khourieat (genetic mutant beasts of burden) be born deformed, it should be killed. But when a Khourieat is born deformed to the family of the main character, Randy, he can't bring himself to kill it - because this Khourieat was born with wings. And as it turns out, that is exactly the type of thing the Empire was trying to stamp out. He raises it in secret, calling him Lagi, and one day while trying to fly him on the outskirts of town, he sees an armored carrier ship hovering ominously, which proceeds to vaporize his village in a devastating blast, echoing the tragedy of Hiroshima. Did the Empire somehow discover that he was raising a deformed Khourieat? The game begins as you take control of Randy and Lagi, riding into the charred ruins of his village to find out...

Now, tell me that isn't cool.

The first thing I noticed about Panzer Dragoon Zwei in-game were the graphics. To put this into perspective, the game came out a full year before we got anything even remotely as good on the PlayStation, and with positively burning 3d characters and environments! Not only does the game run at a much smoother rate (30 fps +), the animation is fluid and life-like (as Lagi jaunts along), and the world is just so much more realized. Its not that there is a significant increase in the number of polygons being displayed, but they are used much more efficiently when compared to Ein. The distracting pop-up of the first game is nothing more than a distant memory; the textures are very detailed, possessing a delicate painterly quality (with much attention lavished on lighting; something almost completely unheard of for its time). Rounding out the graphical features are the best water effects of its generation, continuing the high standards of the original.

The targetting control is much improved, and they added a berserk meter which slowly fills up as you play, upon release causing massive solarized damage to whatever you target. On top of that, in many of the levels you can head left or right for two totally different areas. And last but not least after almost every episode, your dragon, Lagi, evolves from the flightless glider (similar to a Horse-claw or Chocobo) until finally becoming this majestic, armored, flying terror (a terror under YOUR control!), based on how well you did during the mission. Also added is a handy save feature, but removed is the mostly useless ability from the first game to change camera distance (there's simply too much shooting action going on to make use of it anyway!).

Finally, and this is a minor gripe but I have to say it - the soundtrack is by a new composer to the series (Junko Shiratsu), and its nowhere near as resplendant as that of Yoshitaka Azuma for Panzer Dragoon Ein. This being said, there are more music tracks overall, and amongst them are some very cool and beautifully composed songs, particularily the haunting final boss theme, and its all PCM (not streamed, like the first game).

This is truly a special game. To experience the joys of soaring atop a massive winged beast, discharging atomic blasts of energy in lethal doses to airships, gunships, and giant insects, is to be savoured and cherished (and not soon forgotten!). Even now, some SEVEN YEARS after its release, I am in love with the looks, the sounds, and the mechanics of this game. Time will tell, and what it tells me is that Panzer Dragoon Zwei is the best on-rails shooter ever made, period.