Panzer Dragoon II Zwei

released on Mar 22, 1996

A rail shooter released exclusively for the Sega Saturn. A PC version was planned for release on GameTap, but was never released.

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still a fantastic game, even if it didn't feel quite as magical as the first

this is probably the perfect sequel for any game ever. it's smooth as butter, has a ton of great cinematics and gameplay improvements (they fixed the controls🙏) and has a pretty solid story as well. as a saturn game, it feels wayyy too ahead of its time. definitely a must-have for owners of the console.
the only real complaint i have is that the berserk meter would randomly go off, and always at the worst times. having the X button set to nothing fixes this issue, but it's so weird how something that bad got past all of the devs.

Greatly expands on the mechanical foundations of the first game, while also managing to be more inviting for first-timers as well. You no longer have to worry about running out of credits or clearing the game in a single sitting, and even if you do restart, the scoring options and multiple routes make replays much more inviting. The addition of a fast-recharging bomb really opens up the game as well, your meter building quickly enough that you can aggressively use it to get through some tough sections without worrying that you’re eating into some painfully finite resource. Bosses are a particular highlight, beautifully animated and home all the same considerations of the stages themselves, and combined with dynamic difficulty, there’s a real spark to the game- never something I could play purely on autopilot. Even with the first game, the developers were open about their shmup influences, but I think it’s here, when you're refining your routes, debating whether to risk going for score or survival, that the evolutionary link between the two genres is the most pronounced.
And it’s a minor thing, but the inclusion of a more detailed scoring system (need to set “instruments” to full in the options) also seems like a good indication of what a balance this is able to strike between the different appeals of the game- your first couple of playthroughs can be totally focused on the ride, and then there’s a switch you can flip to get all grimey arcade stats as you optimize your score, unearthing considerations that were always there. Even the various routes get telegraphed in a way I really appreciated- allowing you to dig into the mechanics without having to consult the gospel of Superplayers or walkthroughs (though that’s still appreciated!) Kind of remarkable how modern this one feels- and maybe just as true of its narrative as well?
Seems a little overburdened with the way it has to tie into other entries in the series, and instead of this just being this singular journey, it also has to do some more explicit worldbuilding- setting up and tying into the events of the other games in a way that’s much less elegant than its predecessor. This probably says as much about me as it does Zwei, but it was definitely a title that had me looking up stuff online to piece together what I was seeing, less a sense that it was something that was simply meant to be evocative, but now a title that hints at having concrete answers. The mood is phenomenal, and it totally works as a standalone game, but I do think you can see the side-effects of its concurrent development with Saga: Not just a sequel, but part of a franchise.
Quietly excellent regardless; we desperately need more melancholic, arcade rollercoasters.
The Making Of... Panzer Dragoon Saga Part 1,
Panzer Dragoon’s on-rails style of play, propelling the player forwards into the screen while introducing enemy targets from all directions, would seem to have been an obvious evolution of the Space Harrier template, but Kentaro believes other games had a greater influence on the direction of the first Panzer game: “I suppose [Space Harrier] did have some influence on the design of Panzer Dragoon, but in terms of games as inspiration, probably Namco’s Starblade, Nintendo’s Star Fox, and Taito’s 2D shoot-’em-ups – particularly RayForce – had more of a bearing on how Panzer was put together. Team Andromeda was full of shoot-’em-up fans – our programmers were especially into [shmups]. When they got tired of coding, they’d take a break from Panzer and play high-score competitions on [Toaplan shmup] Slap Fight on the Mega Drive. We also played Puyo Puyo a lot during Panzer’s development…”
Panzer Dragoon Legacy's Scoring guide: Link

One of Sega's undisputable triumphs. An action game with the ability to swell like a symphony, effortlessly conveying a tragedy turning into an adventure and letting the player steer it effortlessly and intuitively. The kind of game that could get someone hooked for life on these dang things.

lagi is the best videogame character ever made

I think this is one of the greatest games ever made, and if you ever find a way to play it it's an absolute must. I've played this a dozen times now on original sega saturn hardware, through the retrotink 5x, my personal controller preference for this game is 3D Control Pad.
Every bit of this game is designed to perfection. I love how it looks, it takes the saturn to its absolute limit yet it still runs so well. It's crazy how much of a jump up this feels from the first one. The people who made this are absolute wizards of programing.
The game starts deceptively simple, but the more times you play it the more I realized it's depth, and I'm still playing it to try and get better and better at it. It's this perfect middle ground between being a cool chill game to spend a couple hours on and also being something that has a ton of depth and mastery that encourages replay. I feel like Sega really mastered this kind of design specifically in the late 90s. You are ranked on various things in the levels that can change how your dragon evoles over the course of the game. The ranking and scoring is particularly addicting and I'd recommend, after your first playthrough, that you go into the settings and make the scoring visible. This I feel, is where the meat of the game lies.
I think the levels in this game are amazing. It's just such a knockout in terms of atmosphere, music, and enemy design. The whole game has this unmatched sense of wonder to it. It knows exactly when to spiral into exciting action, but then it slows down and becomes more contemplative. There isn't much story to go off of, but it's all wrapped so tightly by incredible atmosphere and art design.
I could say a ton more about this, but this is really something you need to experience for yourself. It's a shame this never got properly re-released, it's such a marvel of its time.