3. Panzer Dragoon Saga
Developer: Team Andromeda
When you read articles about the early years of film, you sometimes get musings on how many lost classics there must be, films that were amazing but have all rotted or been thrown away and now can’t be reclaimed because there was no way to back up the prints. It’s a problem that still affects gaming pretty much up to the present day. Sega have said that the original master copies of Panzer Dragoon Saga are dust in the wind. Unless someone sits down and perfectly recreates the programming, the only way to play it is to have the original Saturn game and a Saturn to play it on. Which is, to put it mildly, a massive shame, because Panzer Dragoon Saga is – well, it’s the third-best game I’ve ever played.
An unexpected left turn, the previous two Panzers were pretty but rather shallow and short shooters. Saga junks that in favour of a semi-turn-based RPG with an epic scope. You’re still flying a genetically-engineered dragon over a post-apocalyptic landscape slowly crawling out of the long shadow of an advanced civilisation, but now you’re doing it at your own pace and taking on opponents in deeply satisfying turn-based-but-with-real-time-elements battling (not a million miles from Final Fantasy VII, which this was specifically rivalling) where positioning was as important as what you did when.
As well as being great to play, the game really pushed the Saturn almost to breaking point (it was one of the console’s last releases). A machine not known for its 3D capabilities, Saga was polygon and proud, and frequently very beautiful. It was spread over four – four! – discs, but wasn’t that big as RPGs go because a lot of space was given over to graphics and cutscenes. Probably should be annoying, wasn’t. This was a game of heft and class and anything less wouldn’t have done.
MAGIC MOMENT: hard to decide. The fourth-wall breaking ending? The bit where the Empire’s flagship razes the city you’ve spent half the game defending? The surprise appearance of Panzer Zwei’s final boss? Too many options.