Panzer Dragoon Saga: An oral history

Concept art of Edge, the protagonist of Panzer Dragoon Saga.
Team Andromeda/Sega

It was Team Andromeda — an internal R&D team at Sega of Japan — that first revealed the potential of the Sega Saturn. Its debut game was the on-rails shooter Panzer Dragoon. Part Space Harrier, part Dune, part Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, Panzer Dragoon filled Sega Saturns around the globe with evocative 3D shooting action featuring a blue dragon and its rider.

Over the course of three initial games — Panzer Dragoon (1995), Panzer Dragoon 2 Zwei (1996) and Panzer Dragoon Saga (1998) — Team Andromeda continued to mine this simple yet compelling premise: that of a rider and his dragon facing off against a mysterious empire. While 2002’s Panzer Dragoon Orta (developed by ex-Team Andromeda members who later joined another studio, Smilebit) kept the series going later, it was the role-playing game Panzer Dragoon Saga that ended up becoming the standout.

Taken at face value, Panzer Dragoon and its much-improved successor, Panzer Dragoon 2 Zwei, offered just enough mythos to compel players to work through each game’s handful of beautifully realized stages to completion. However, given their fast-paced action setting, there was little time to dive deeper into the series’ fiction outside of their atmospheric CG cinematics. Panzer Dragoon Saga pivoted sharply from its predecessors, taking the unusual step of shifting from the on-rails shooter category. In order to pull off the exponential, ambitious growth of the Saga concept, Team Andromeda founders Yukio Futatsugi and Manabu Kusunoki had to grow the staff.

In the story that follows, you’ll learn about how this peculiar RPG — designed to be a solitary, avant-garde counterculture experience — wound up becoming the Sega Saturn’s last great hope. As you’ll learn firsthand from the people who were there, not all legends have a happy ending. This is one of those stories.

[Disclosure: The author of this story, James Mielke, worked with two of the subjects of this feature while employed at development studios Q Entertainment and Q-Games: Katsumi Yokota and Kentaro Yoshida.]

For this story, former Panzer Dragoon Saga character designer Katsumi Yokota filmed himself sketching heroine Azel.

Rising stars

To understand what made Panzer Dragoon Saga so anticipated, it helps to know what came before it.

With staff initially a part of Sega’s Consumer Software R&D Dept. 1, the uniquely named Team Andromeda spun off to ramp up development of Saturn-specific software. Its first game: Panzer Dragoon, a standout for Saturn not tied to an existing arcade or console franchise. The first two Panzer Dragoon titles were on-rails shooters, which meant they were much like Space Harrier — a game where the player flies towards the foreground on a predetermined path, tasked with shooting down as many projectiles or enemies that fly at the screen.

Panzer Dragoon and then Panzer Dragoon 2 Zwei offered such a rich aura while using so little — short vignettes of imperial ships chasing an elusive dragon and its rider, even with a fictional language — that the premise of the third game expanding the universe in the form of a role-playing game made long-suffering Saturn fans euphoric with joy. But before Panzer Dragoon Saga was even a blip on the game industry’s radar, Sega first had to get Panzer Dragoon out into consumers’ hands. Created by a team of approximately 15 people — a size that’s today often associated with indie game development — Panzer Dragoon was a technical marvel made possible by inspiration and youthful energy.

Manabu Kusunoki
(director, chief designer)

Panzer Dragoon was a launch title for the Sega Saturn because Sega was looking to develop games for all genres. Futatsugi and I were given the task to come up with a shooting game, so we came up with the initial idea for Panzer Dragoon. Once we had a team, I was put in charge of the art direction, character design, environments and the movies. Zwei, the second game in the series, was created mostly by the original team, and I played a less crucial role in the development. I was the supervising editor for the movies and the dragon’s design, but I didn’t play as prominent a role in Zwei as the first game.

Hitoshi Nakanishi
(field programmer)

I was involved with the series from the very beginning and I feel honored that I was part of Team Andromeda.

Takashi Iwade
(enemy design)

The team’s atmosphere for the first Panzer Dragoon was very mellow. Mr. Kusunoki is a very nice, nonconfrontational individual, so there weren’t a lot of disagreements. It was a very fun work environment. Panzer Dragoon was the first title that we used 3D technology on, so there was definitely a sense of making a cutting-edge game. I was young and didn’t have any experience working in 3D, so it was very exciting. A full 3D real-time rendered game didn’t exist at the time, so it felt like we were pioneers in 3D technology.

Kentaro Yoshida
(CG, cinematics)

Mr. Kusunoki was a veteran game creator by this point, and Mr. Futatsugi had a lot of respect for him, and the concept art and visuals that Mr. Kusunoki would make were just phenomenal. His artwork was more niche and edgy, but Mr. Futatsugi’s story was a little more Hollywood, so they balanced each other out, I think.

Manabu Kusunoki
(director, chief designer)

Because we were tasked with creating a shooting game, the first thing that came to mind was to make a game in outer space, like a Star Wars type of shooter. [...] For a brief time we talked about something like that. But in Japan, we follow the Chinese New Year of the 12 animals. I was born in the year of the dragon, and I have a lot of childhood memories associated with being born in the year of the dragon. I think that the dragon is a very fascinating creature to people all over the world. It’s probably the most universally inspirational fictional creature. I thought that as long as we preserved the core characteristics of a dragon, such as having a long tail and wings, we could experiment with drastically moving away from conventional images of dragons.

So, we preserved the long tail and wings but covered the dragon in armorlike material and made it look more like a crustacean. By creating a unique-looking dragon, it helped to establish a certain sense of reality in this fictional world. I think that's what was going through my mind back then.

Kentaro Yoshida
(CG, cinematics)

Space Harrier [as has been suggested] was not actually a big influence on Panzer Dragoon. The biggest influence on the game was a 2D scrolling shooting game in arcades called RayForce. We wanted to make a 3D version of that game. The “on-rails” aspect of the game was inspired by Sky Fox and Namco’s Starblade, and not so much Space Harrier. The fact that Sega didn’t make a [new] Sonic game earlier was a big, missed opportunity. Sonic was a Genesis game, so they wanted to make a new IP for the Sega Saturn and created the side-scrolling game Clockwork Knight instead. I think because they already had a side-scrolling game, upper management wanted to make a on-rail shooter, so that decision came from the top. Another reason is that Mr. Kusunoki worked on an arcade game called Rail Chase, so he already had experience in rail shooters. Also, the main programmer, [Hidetoshi] Takeshita, worked on titles like OutRun, which uses 3D-scrolling sprites. So, the technological know-how was there to make the game.

Manabu Kusunoki
(director, chief designer)

The team that made Panzer Dragoon is completely separate from Space Harrier, so the programming was not adopted for Panzer Dragoon. Back then there was very little transfer of technology between teams, and game engines were made from scratch. But in terms of inspiration, I remember we discussed Space Harrier as a reference. For example, we thought it would be cool to be able to attack enemies that had flown past you or were behind you. We used Space Harrier to decide how we wanted to change the genre and expand on the player’s gaming experience.
Panzer Dragoon Saga screenshotTeam Andromeda/Sega
Panzer Dragoon Saga screenshotTeam Andromeda/Sega
Panzer Dragoon Saga screenshotTeam Andromeda/Sega
Panzer Dragoon Saga screenshotTeam Andromeda/Sega
Panzer Dragoon Saga screenshotTeam Andromeda/Sega
Panzer Dragoon Saga screenshotTeam Andromeda/Sega
Panzer Dragoon Saga screenshotTeam Andromeda/Sega
Panzer Dragoon Saga screenshotTeam Andromeda/Sega
Panzer Dragoon Saga screenshotTeam Andromeda/Sega
Panzer Dragoon Saga screenshotTeam Andromeda/Sega
Panzer Dragoon Saga screenshotTeam Andromeda/Sega
Panzer Dragoon Saga screenshotTeam Andromeda/Sega
Panzer Dragoon Saga screenshotTeam Andromeda/Sega

Eins, Zwei, Drei: Fear

With the team buoyed by the relative success of the first game, development began on both Panzer Dragoon 2 Zwei and Panzer Dragoon Saga, almost simultaneously. Although most development resources were initially aimed at Zwei, planning for Saga began in parallel, with Team Andromeda assembling a more diverse, and certainly much larger, cast of characters to begin forming the structure of what would become the first role-playing game in the series.

Expanding from a relatively intimate team size to a group of over 50 people for Saga — where many staff members didn’t even know each other — added to the number of challenges the team would face. The sudden growth adversely affected some of the team members, while others cheerfully went about their business.

Yukio Futatsugi
(producer, original concept)

It was a very difficult project. It was probably the hardest project that I’ve ever worked on. It’s been so long that only the good memories remain, but when I stop to think about it, I remember there were so many challenges.

Akihiko Mukaiyama
(battle planner)

Of all the games I was involved with, I’m the most proud of working on this game. And the reason is that it was the hardest thing I ever experienced in my entire life. It gave me the confidence to say, because I survived that, there’s nothing I can’t overcome in the future.

Satoshi Sakai
(dragon design)

The release date was pushed back a few times. With each delay, more staff were brought onto the team to help complete the game, so there was an impression that the project was struggling. However, we were young and weren’t in management positions, so we didn’t feel as much of the pressure as those who were higher up. We were just having a blast making the game. [laughs] In fact, I wanted to keep the good times rolling and keep working on the game.

Takashi Iwade
(enemy design)

[Agreeing with Sakai] Yeah. It was so much fun.

Satoshi Sakai
(dragon design)

If it was now, I’d probably be sweating every time the production cost went up another million yen. Probably get yelled at from the top and be super depressed. But at the time I didn’t feel that pressure at all. It’s not that I didn’t notice it. I felt sorry for the amount of pressure that upper management was feeling, but for us it was a good time making the game.

Takashi Iwade
(enemy design)

My only concern was the quality of the product we were making onscreen. So I didn’t feel the pressure, either.

Manabu Kusunoki
(director, chief designer)

We struggled a lot because of the size of the team. It was not always an optimum situation, and there were endless disputes between members within the team. During development, we did not get along. It took a long time to get the team to work together. That wasn’t the case for the first two titles.

The original Team Andromeda members who had worked on the first two shooting games had their ideals of what a Panzer Dragoon game should be, and the planners were all new people who had joined the team for PDS, so there was a clash between the original Panzer Dragoon members and the new members who had new ideas for the game.

Jina Ishiwatari Tsukahara
(city designer)

I remember that when working on Zwei, the team was still very small and we all knew each other’s names. But PDS had such a big team that many of us didn’t know the entire team, and whether someone was working on PDS or not. We might recognize someone as working at the company, but I wouldn’t know their name or what they did on the team. I just have this overbearing memory about how big the development team was and how long it took to finish the game.

Manabu Kusunoki
(director, chief designer)

Everything about the development was a struggle. I remember the fans saying it looked cool and that they were looking forward to playing the game at Tokyo Game Show. I was really happy to hear that, but I don’t have any fun memories developing the game.

Yukio Futatsugi
(producer, original concept)

The hardest thing about the project was that, for the time, we took on too many challenges at once. The game was in “full voice,” meaning we had voice-over for all the characters’ dialogue in the game. We also put in 3D real-time processing for whole game. At the time, real-time processing was common in cutscenes and action clips, but nobody had made an entire game using real-time processing. It was also rare for an RPG game to be made completely in 3D. That in and of itself was a huge challenge. We also had to convert what was originally a shooting game and make it into a good RPG. And because of this, we had to create things within the game that were not traditionally in a standard RPG. Each challenge seemed doable alone, but because we tried to do so much all at once, it was really tough.

These were all things that we saw as lacking in the games that we played and said, “Wouldn’t it be cool if the entire game was in ‘full voice’ and 3D real-time processing?” etc. So we put it all into the game, and we found that it was super hard to make.

And, because it was such a huge undertaking, we had to bring on more people to complete the game. We had about 50 people on our dev team. I didn’t have the experience of managing such a big team, so there were challenges that arose from that.

Manabu Kusunoki
(director, chief designer)

Yes, there’s that, but we also didn’t have anyone on Team Andromeda who had RPG experience, so we brought people from outside the team to help create the RPG. And the meshing of the two genres caused a lot of friction, and we couldn’t communicate at the same level.

My impression of the game now is different from when we had just finished the game. I wasn’t satisfied at all with the game at the time. It didn’t sell very well, so that was one thing. But I also felt dissatisfied with the quality of the game we had created. That was my first impression. But looking back, and considering the challenges we overcame — like making a complete 3D game, adding full voice, a complex storyline — I think it was an impressive feat, and I think it was a real highlight in my career.

My dissatisfaction with the game was a reflection of my loss of self-confidence at the time. I wasn’t satisfied with my managerial skills. The biggest reason was that I wasn’t able to bring the team together. I think the team did a great job despite the circumstances. So, if I were to go back 20 years ago, I would have liked to have been involved as one of the artists, and not be in a managerial position. I would have liked to have contributed directly to improving the quality of the design and had someone else manage the team.

A render of Edge in Panzer Dragoon Saga.
Team Andromeda/Sega

Building a better battle system

One of the greatest challenges facing the team was that while it was quite skilled at making on-rails shooters, as evidenced by the vastly improved Zwei, none of the developers had experience creating role-playing games — a critical flaw in the plan when your next big installment in a popular series is an RPG. Enter: Akihiko Mukaiyama, who was the closest thing to an experienced RPG developer that Sega could offer (and would go on to direct the franchise revival project, Panzer Dragoon Orta, at Smilebit).

Akihiko Mukaiyama
(battle planner)

Before Panzer Dragoon Saga, I worked on Sakura Taisen [English title: Sakura Wars]. By the time Sakura Taisen had finished production, Panzer Dragoon Saga was already in development, so I was brought on midproduction. There weren’t a lot of people working on PDS who had experience working on turn-based RPGs, but I had worked on at least three titles by that point, so I was brought on as an experienced RPG developer.

[When I joined] they already had a prototype. Mr. Tomohiro Kondo, the Panzer Dragoon Zwei producer, had created the prototype, but there were still a lot of issues. Zwei was a shooting game, a position-based shooting game, and the goal was to now create an RPG. [Team Andromeda] still didn’t have a solution on how to convert a shooting game into a role-playing game.

Satoshi Sakai
(dragon design)

The battle system was re-created so many times. At first the camera moved around the enemy 360 degrees. Then it switched to using a cubic frame where the player moved around the enemy on four frames. I can’t even remember the number of times we had to re-create the game. So, all that re-creating probably led to a lot of stress on the team.

Akihiko Mukaiyama
(battle planner)

Visualize an invisible three-dimensional box with the enemy inside the box. The four surfaces surrounding the enemy are what the player sees onscreen, and the player plays the character riding a dragon that’s flying around the enemy. When the player moves close to the edge of one surface, the screen turns to show the adjacent surface of the box with the enemy inside. The player can move along all four surfaces surrounding the enemy by moving closer to the left or right of the screen. The prototype was a combination of a shooting game and positioning. Kondo-san left the team to work on another game, so I was his replacement and was left to take the prototype and figure out how to make it work.

Shin Futakawame
(main battle programmer)

I’m still friends with Mr. Mukaiyama and we sometimes get together and meet up, but at the time we used to fight a lot. I had this idea for the battle system right after we had completed Zwei. I thought it would be fun if we made a shooting game with the player flying on the back of a dragon, shooting at an enemy vessel up ahead, and went ahead and started creating the battle system based on this idea I had. I think the planners had a really tough time because the whole concept was just based on this random idea I had that I thought would be cool. As we started developing this brand-new system, we came upon issues that none of us could foresee because it had never been done before.

Akihiko Mukaiyama
(battle planner)

There were many, many changes from this prototype to the finished product. When I heard about the prototype, I initially thought, “Great, it’s done.” It seemed my job was easy, since the concept was already there. But there were a lot of problems with the prototype. First of all, we had to figure out where the strategy aspect of the gameplay was going to play out. Why did the player have to move to another angle? What was the purpose of moving around the enemy? The biggest problem was that there were two groups of people on the team: people who wanted to make a “command RPG” and others who wanted to make a shooting game.

This was the first time I had joined Team Andromeda, and I quickly found out that the programmers and artists both had a lot of power and say on the direction of the game. Some teams have very strong planners, with artists and programmers who just make the game according to the directions from the planners, but Team Andromeda was the opposite. The programmers had their agenda, and the artists had their own agenda. Their visions for the game would collide, and it was a constant battle between the programmers and artists.

The programmers were very proud and had a lot of motivation from just completing a high-end shooter in Zwei, so they wanted to make another shooting game. The artists, on the other hand, wanted to make use of the 3D technology and show off cool graphics in an RPG. They wanted to spin the camera as much as possible to show all angles of the 3D characters they created. Their motivation and end goal was totally different from [those of] the programmers. I didn’t think there could possibly be a solution to satisfy both parties. It took about a year, and a lot of mistakes, to find a solution.

Takashi Iwade
(enemy design)

I think there was a conscious decision to try to make something that [had] never been done before. We were trying to see how far we could break away from the JRPG mold, and that was reflected in the design of the characters and in the fighting style. It was already a time where RPGs were synonymous with Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest. But we wanted to create an RPG where the player played only one character and could fight while riding a dragon. We wanted to create an immersive 3D world, where not only the characters were in 3D but [they] could walk around a 3D environment in all directions. From the beginning of the project, we wanted to make these things happen despite knowing the limitations of the Sega Saturn hardware specs.

Akihiko Mukaiyama
(battle planner)

Partway through development I was given authority to design the battles as I saw fit, but it wasn’t until the very end where I felt confident that I had found a solution. There were a few instances where there were major breakthroughs.

The first breakthrough was in relation to the invisible box I mentioned earlier. I wanted to make this box concept work and allow the player to roam freely around the enemy and in real time. At first, I thought that free-roaming would work better for this game, like in an FPS. But in reality the free style didn’t work with the camera or with the pace of the game. It felt tedious, and slowed down the pace of the game. But, by [using the enemy as the axis point] and pressing left and right on the arrow key [to position yourself around it], it better simulated flying. This also improved the camera movement.

The four focal points were adjustable depending on the size of the enemy, so it gave the artists creative freedom to adjust the camera to angles that helped to make the biggest impact and make the characters look cool. At first I was hung up on using the four-frame model of the prototype, but by using the four-focal-point model, we were able to solve the visual and pacing problems in the battle scenes. That was the first breakthrough.

The second breakthrough was probably when we decided to use three tiers on the gauge. That allowed us to differentiate the use of the regular laser, which is easily accessible with a push of a button, and the larger, stronger, cooler-looking laser that required a full tier before unleashing on an enemy.

Another idea to try to please the artists who wanted to have cool visuals in the game: In Final Fantasy, the characters have these cool visual clips that play every time they do certain actions, and the artists wanted to incorporate some kind of short attract scenes in PDS, but the programmers [wanted] to keep it as close to a shooting game as possible. So in an attempt to please both sides, I designed the game so that the player could fire lasers with a push of a button, without a command, like the past games. Initially, there was only one gauge, but by creating multiple gauges, it gave the players options, as well as the strategy aspect that was missing from the gameplay.

There really were so many changes to the game and it’s impossible to name them all here, but one example was the dragon. [At one point] the dragon could morph into different offensive forms. And the programming team wanted to assign each form onto each of the four buttons, like water, fire, ice and wind. But that made it difficult [and didn’t satisfy the artists who wanted] to design a dragon that visually morphed into different forms. So, to please both parties, I proposed making four types of dragons but making the parameters of the dragon controllable via an analog setting. And that’s ultimately what the team went with.

Shin Futakawame
(main battle programmer)

The planners and artists worked very closely to figure out a way to make it all work. In order to make the morphing work, [the artists] had to refine the points on the polygons that would stick out or retreat back. Under normal circumstances, the artists are only concerned at the aesthetics of their work, but for PDS they had to take into consideration the technical side of the development as well. I give full credit to Mr. Sakai, the dragon designer, and Mr. Yamajiri, a super-skilled programmer, for making that come together. We were basically handed the code for that battle system from them and inserted it into our various areas, like battles and maps.

Akihiko Mukaiyama
(battle planner)

I actually now recall that Mr. Futatsugi suggested item collecting elements, like in Diablo. But I was too busy with figuring out the battle system itself that I couldn’t be bothered with item collection.

Takashi Iwade
(enemy design)

Because it was such a unique battle system, you still haven’t [seen] anything quite like it to this day. In addition to having a unique battle experience, we were also able to make a highly artistic game consistent with the feel of the shooting games like the first Panzer Dragoon and Zwei. Apart from stopping the gauge from loading while moving, the controls feel like an action shooting game with the strategic elements of an RPG. We succeeded in creating a unique yet highly entertaining game. I’m thankful to Mr. Mukaiyama and Mr. Futakawame for making that possible.

Akihiko Mukaiyama
(battle planner)

There were many other discarded ideas as well. The battle director before me had proposed using active-time battles (ATBs), which are commonly used in RPGs like Final Fantasy where the player switches between multiple characters on screen. But Saga has only one character riding on a dragon, so the prior director proposed that the player could switch between different weapons on the dragon instead of characters. But it was too similar to other RPGs, so this idea was vetoed by the team.
For this story, Panzer Dragoon Saga designer Satoshi Sakai sent over a series of renders showing the game’s dragons.Team Andromeda/Sega
Team Andromeda/Sega
Team Andromeda/Sega
Team Andromeda/Sega
Team Andromeda/Sega
Team Andromeda/Sega
Team Andromeda/Sega
Team Andromeda/Sega
Team Andromeda/Sega
Team Andromeda/Sega
Team Andromeda/Sega
Team Andromeda/Sega
Team Andromeda/Sega
Team Andromeda/Sega
Team Andromeda/Sega
Team Andromeda/Sega
Team Andromeda/Sega
Team Andromeda/Sega
Team Andromeda/Sega

Crafting a 3D RPG on a 2D powerhouse

If orchestrating a team three times larger than normal didn’t present enough challenges, trying to create a 3D RPG on a system designed to be a 2D sprite-pushing powerhouse was almost comedic. Sure, Team Andromeda had managed the first two on-rails shooters. But those games were on preset paths and thus much easier for the programmers to optimize, because everything was scripted and took a specific amount of time to complete. Saga, on the other hand, let players explore as they desired, featured a new combat system and required technical finesse to produce a 3D world that would push the Saturn to its absolute limits. The programmers and the designers had their work cut out for them.

Yukio Futatsugi
(producer, original concept)

The team was made of developers who had been working on the Saturn system from the original Panzer Dragoon, so they were experienced and well-prepared to efficiently program for the Saturn. And we brought on experienced RPG programmers for this project as well, so in that sense we were well-staffed to make the game. In terms of the 3D demo, the programmer made a tool where we could render things and view them, and give feedback right away. So, we were able to work quickly and create the volume that we did for the game.

Also, the programmers and artists worked really well together to keep things simple and efficient. For example, the programmer told us early on in development that by making the four completely different dragon models with the same number of anchor points, it would be possible to program the dragon so that it morphs from one to the other seamlessly. The artist then took that idea and designed the dragon in ways that was unconventional. The collaboration between the programmer and artist made it possible to make the game.

Shin Futakawame
(main battle programmer)

I was the lead programmer for the in-game battle scenes. I was responsible for a team of about five programmers. I was involved with the Panzer Dragoon series from Zwei, where I was in charge of the boss battles, and was then assigned to lead the battle sequences team for Saga.

Hitoshi Nakanishi
(field programmer)

I was the lead programmer for the 3D maps where the player rides the dragon and transports between locations. My role was not limited to programming. I also did the design and planning for those scenes. I was involved with the series from the first Panzer Dragoon.

Manabu Kusunoki
(director, chief designer)

In terms of technical capabilities, the use of scrolling was unique to the Sega Saturn. The PlayStation had polygon capabilities, but the Saturn didn’t. So on the Saturn, what you had to do was to mold a picture into 3D. So, in other words, we didn’t have to create a polygon model that didn’t have any textures on it. We were able to create images that had more depth to them. I didn’t think of it at the time, but our mentality was not that we couldn’t do something on the Saturn, but [that] we could do anything on the Saturn if we got creative. And the designers found purpose in overcoming these shortcomings on the Saturn. Mr. Sakai, who designed the player’s dragon, was incredible in his ability to maximize the Saturn in ways that nobody thought possible. So the limitations actually helped them make something better.

I’m not a programmer, so I don’t know specifically why we [created the game’s tech from scratch, instead of using existing Sega libraries]. Sega did have graphic libraries, but they didn’t work well with our production schedule, or they wouldn’t have been ready in time for our deadlines. And we also had many competent programmers, so it was faster for them to make it from scratch than depend on old material.

Shin Futakawame
(main battle programmer)

We did have a lot of discussions with the artists as well. It never got ugly, but both sides would express their ideas, and the planners, like Mr. Mukaiyama and the director, were stuck in the middle trying to mediate both sides. And while I was sympathetic to their situation, we were all so heated and under pressure. I remember there were times when I lashed out at them probably a little more than I should have. I do feel a little ashamed for that.

Hitoshi Nakanishi
(field programmer)

For PD Zwei, players moved along rails, so there were limits to how far players could move, and we were also able to control how far into the distance players could see. But Saga was a 3D environment where players could move freely, and we couldn’t predict how or what the player would see. There were also limitations on the Sega Saturn to handle a 3D environment, so I remember it being very challenging to control those elements of the game. ...

[The Saturn’s limitations] determined how high the player could fly. And the higher the player flew, the further the player could see into the distance. So, we adjusted the angle at which the player could see the horizon and limited how far they could look out into the distance. I remember making a lot of adjustments like that.

Shin Futakawame
(main battle programmer)

[asking Nakanishi and Tsukahara] Who made the battle scene transition swirls? There must have been a group that was in charge of that. [laughs] There was also a team that made these transitional scenes. We each had our own pieces to the puzzle, like battles, maps and cityscapes. And then there was a different group that handled interlacing all the different pieces together.
Panzer Dragoon Saga concept art of Edge and his dragon.
Team Andromeda/Sega

Like a dragon: The art of Saga

One thing the team could agree on is that Panzer Dragoon Saga needed to be gorgeous to look at. The visuals of the first two games were famous for their instantly convincing style in creating a ruined world where flying monsters, dragons and airships seemed totally at home. Saga had to not only continue this level of quality, but enhance it. While Kusunoki was largely responsible for the original blue dragon, character design and art direction for the first two games, for Saga he brought in a diverse cast of character designers and illustrators to remix and expand upon what had come before. Among them was Katsumi Yokota in the role of character designer and package and key art illustrator. While Yokota would go on to become the art director on Rez, his big break began with an illustration for Panzer Dragoon 2 Zwei, which led to providing Panzer Dragoon Saga’s iconic artwork.

Katsumi Yokota
(character designer)

I joined the Panzer Dragoon Saga team about two years after joining Sega. Practically a newbie. They were making Panzer Dragoon Zwei around the time that I had joined, but I couldn’t be on the team until the very end, when they decided that they were going to add an ending segment in the credits. Since I had some CG experience, they put me on the job to create the ending sequence along with my supervisor, Mr. Kazuyuki Iwasawa. [Mr. Iwasawa] took very good care of me, and unfortunately, he passed away in a motorcycle accident shortly after the game was released. I also had the honor of doing the package design for the game, which is pretty amazing, considering I was still so young and inexperienced. I remember being so excited to be given the responsibility of designing the package of a Panzer Dragoon title.

I was a big fan of artist and illustrator Moebius’ work, and he had done the cover art for [the first] Panzer Dragoon. So before I joined the company, it was actually a dream of mine to work on the Panzer Dragoon team at Sega. If it wasn’t for Panzer Dragoon, I probably would have gone to work for arcade games instead of console games. So, I was extremely lucky to have been appointed to work on Panzer Dragoon Saga.

I also did the illustration that was used at the ending credits of Panzer Dragoon Zwei. The person who did the illustrations for the ending credits for the first Panzer Dragoon was a gentleman called Ryuichiro Kutsuzawa. He was a very well-known artist with a strong cult following among illustrators. It was a great honor for me to be passed the baton for Panzer Dragoon Saga. I recall feeling very fortunate to be given the opportunity to be a part of a project that already had so many admirable people involved with it. You might be familiar with the character design he did for Wachenröder or Front Mission Alternative.

Yukio Futatsugi
(producer, original concept)

Mr. Kusunoki was the art director, and he had been working on the series from the original game. I believe Mr. Kusunoki designed the dragons and then Mr. Sakai added the details and made the models. It’s been so long, so I don’t quite remember what their respective responsibilities were. But it was Mr. Sakai’s skills that really brought the dragon to life. He was always an amazing artist. He’s currently the director for Phantasy Star Online. He’s quite famous now.

Satoshi Sakai
(dragon design)

Mr. Yokota would create the 2D illustrations based on my 3D models. I wasn’t involved in the creation of the package art, but I designed the dragon from scratch, so he’s basing his illustrations on what I designed. I think he took the dragon, set it up in the software viewer, posed it to his liking, printed a render of the 3D model and finally painted over the render to create that.

Katsumi Yokota
(character designer)

Hmm. If I’m talking frankly — this is probably more interesting for the reader, right? [laughs] — I’m not a great fan of kaiju-style monsters. But Mr. Sakai loved kaiju, like Godzilla. He was a fanatic. And if you compare his designs to the elegant dragons from the first Panzer Dragoon, they look more vicious and kaiju-like. Mr. Sakai probably drew the type of dragons that he liked, and also felt that he had to draw dragons that would be more popular with the mass market. Initially, I didn’t particularly like his designs, because I wasn’t into kaiju and preferred the design of the dragon in the first game. And, as I drew them into the illustrations, I probably tried to draw them in a way that would look cool and match with the feel and character designs of the game.

But when I look at the dragon design today, I think they’re really cool, and I really like Mr. Sakai’s dragon designs. At the time, I felt it was too childish and looked like something out of a kid’s TV show, but now I don’t feel that way at all. I want to emphasize that I really love his dragons now.

[Azel’s black dragon was] designed by Mr. Ryuta Ueda. He went on to be the director for Jet Set Radio. Mr. Ueda, Mr. Takashi Iwade and Mr. Nakayama designed the enemies and battleships. Those three designers were very stylish and rock ’n’ roll. Their designs were always very cool and not something you would find in a Final Fantasy game.

Manabu Kusunoki
(director, chief designer)

I think I was inspired by Nausicaä. I like that movie and watched it many times. I didn’t want to admit it, but I think it did affect my design. In regards to Dune, I actually only saw it for the first time a couple weeks ago. Many people have mentioned similarities between Panzer Dragoon and Dune, so I finally watched it. I was very impressed with the product design in the movie. But since I only recently watched it, I think it’s safe to say I wasn’t influenced by it during the making of Panzer Dragoon.

Satoshi Sakai
(dragon design)

I personally really like the first blue dragon, but felt the dragon in Zwei was kind of dull and not as cool. For PDS, I wanted to design a dragon that was cool and appealing, especially since the player [was] going to ride the dragon. But partway through development, it was decided that the dragon would morph and take different forms. I designed five or six dragons for the standard, basic form of the dragon. Then I designed a slightly advanced form of the dragon where he might be standing or the wings had grown larger. Lastly I designed the shape of the dragon for each of the four battle strategies: speed, defense and the other two that I can’t remember right now.

Manabu Kusunoki
(director, chief designer)

Because we had the dragons from the first Panzer Dragoon and Zwei, I didn’t struggle so much in making sure their designs were consistent with the Panzer world. In fact, Mr. Ueda was a really interesting designer, and we tried to figure out how to make the surrounding match his designs. That was more interesting. The designers helped to expand on the Panzer universe. So my concern was not conforming to what we already had, but expanding on it. Mr. Sakai really liked the blue dragon and his designs kept going back to the blue dragon, so I kept having to encourage him to do something different.

Yukio Futatsugi
(producer, original concept)

My favorite is the blue dragon.

Satoshi Sakai
(dragon design)

The hardest part was visualizing how to take each of the four shapes and create the intervals between the different stages of morphing of the dragon. I had to create models for all the intervals of the dragon between the four styles. That’s how I proceeded. The last dragon called “Light Wing” was designed as a stand-alone [creature], but that’s how I designed the rest of the dragons. Mr. Kusunoki is a real artist with surrealistic taste, so I tried to preserve that in the design. At the time, I was watching a lot of Evangelion, so the “Light Wing” design was strongly influenced by Evangelion.

Katsumi Yokota
(character designer)

The development team and the designers were all very avant-garde and anti-establishment. They didn’t like doing things that were already being done or popular; it had to be original and unique. And they were very proud of who they were and what they were making. It was fun for me to be associated with them and make games in that environment. I think there was an expectation to do something that was against the norm. They all loved Moebius and loved Star Wars. How do I say this ... the popular games at the time were Final Fantasy 7 and Biohazard [Resident Evil in the U.S.], and what was popular at the time was the type of character design you would see in Final Fantasy 7. But we wanted to break that mold, and we were all very serious about making something that was counter to what was popular.

Takashi Iwade
(enemy design)

When we were making Panzer Dragoon, our focus was trying to create something that nobody had seen before. I remember the artists on the battle team were especially conscious about this, and constantly competing against each other to try to come up with something more unique and more unfamiliar than their peers. From an artistic perspective, something I kept in mind from the beginning of the project was to create a style that nobody had seen before; to make something unfamiliar, whether it was the silhouette or form. I was consciously aware of this and constantly trying to learn and apply to my designs.

Katsumi Yokota
(character designer)

I do think that PDS was a unique role-playing game. Even when compared to Final Fantasy 7, it was a unique and profound game. However, Final Fantasy was made and designed for the mass market, whereas Panzer Dragoon Saga was a more niche and quirky game. The people on the dev team were not the type of people who liked mass-market, mainstream products. They were niche, alternative, rock ’n’ roll and avant-garde. So even if the game had been released prior to Final Fantasy 7, the [sales] result would have probably been the same. The game always had to be unique. I had to design Edge, the main character. At the time, the mold for the main character was to have spiky hair. But I didn’t want to design a character with spiky hair. I didn’t want to use the stereotypical image of what a hero should look like, and I don’t think the team wanted me to design a spiky-haired boy for our game. Most of the members on our team would not have wanted that. From the beginning of the production, there was an element of fighting against the norm and trying to create something that was counter to what was expected — in every aspect of the development. And that’s what led to the creation of such a unique game that has transcended time [and] is still talked about today, 20 years later.
A render of Edge looking up at Azel in stasis.
Team Andromeda/Sega

About a girl

Dragons aside, one of the biggest challenges Yokota faced was designing Saga’s iconic heroine, Azel. Spending up to six months alone on this single character pushed Yokota to his limits. Sometimes, however, you just need a lucky break.

Katsumi Yokota
(character designer)

Sega was my first job. There were actually artwork and pre-production materials including character designs that existed before I came onto the project, and the character designs, drawn by Mr. Kusunoki, were already amazing. So, in fact, there are only a couple characters that I can comfortably say were designed by me. For the most part, I simply took what Mr. Kusunoki had sketched and turned them into illustrations. I believe the only characters that I can take credit for designing are Zastava, the evil pilot character, and Arwen, Craymen’s assistant general. The other characters were variations of what Mr. Kusunoki had designed and I polished.

And although my job was primarily one of arranging and polishing Mr. Kusunoki’s original designs, I remember we struggled with Azel. I drew many variations of her. My instructions from Mr. Kusunoki [were] that Azel was the heroine of the game and should be cute and loveable, but she’s not human. So [my instructions were], “Don’t make her look too human.” Those were my parameters. She couldn’t just be cute; there had to be something edgy about her. I struggled with questions like, what does it mean to be cute? What does it mean to be human?

Manabu Kusunoki
(director, chief designer)

I think I gave Yokota a very rough sketch of Azel, the main character, to polish and finalize. I believe that the most important thing in designing the characters is to create a believable world on the other side of the monitor. If there’s even a small inconsistency or a lie in the design, I’m afraid that the players will no longer be able to immerse themselves in the game. For example, a warrior who fights in battles but wearing a dress or hardly wearing anything at all. That’s fine as a design, if that’s the kind of world you’re creating. But that’s not the kind of world we were creating in Panzer Dragoon. A warrior would be wearing armor to protect their bodies, and wear clothes that wouldn’t get in the way of moving around. I tried to design the characters to be as believable as possible so that the player wouldn’t find themselves saying, “There’s no one who would dress like that in that circumstance.”

Katsumi Yokota
(character designer)

Azel is cute, but she’s an android created by an ancient civilization. I drew many many variations of her, and the team let me spend a lot of time on this character. I probably spent three to six months on her alone. Mr. Kusunoki did have a sketch of her, but she had normal hair and instead her body was covered in this black-and-white pattern. It was a great design, but he felt it wasn’t quite what they were looking for. It looked too human. So I presented him with a lot of different ideas and a lot of sketches. Among those [drawings] that I made, he found one where there was something coming out of the back of her neck, like a rope or something. He looked at that and said, “I’m not sure what this is, but it’s pretty and exotic.” I also felt like I had finally found something that worked, and remember feeling really glad to hear him say that.
Panzer Dragoon Saga render
Team Andromeda/Sega

A world to believe in

Also important but less heralded is Saga’s setting, a ruined world cast in earthen hues that had to withstand close inspection in ways the prior games never did. While the team had originally assigned two members to this task, it was eventually reduced to just one person: Jina Ishiwatari Tsukahara, Saga’s city designer.

Jina Ishiwatari Tsukahara
(city designer)

I was the lead artist for the background of the cityscapes. For the most part, the 2D visuals and sketches already existed, and I created additional 2D visuals while creating the 3D visuals. My involvement with the series started from the previous game, Zwei, but that was only as an assistant.

Hitoshi Nakanishi
(field programmer)

We did some testing together. I seem to recall discussing the water effects on a waterfall using scrolling instead of polygons. Or to add an opening in the ground and show water pouring down. Things like that.

Jina Ishiwatari Tsukahara
(city designer)

The first thing we focused on was figuring out the culture behind the cityscapes that we were creating. We were told the cities were in desolate areas, so we decided not to make windows on the buildings. And we made the outside materials of the buildings something that looked like clay or rocks. We decided on things like putting staircases on the outside of the buildings for no reason, but it looks kind of cool and fitting. So, first we made some ground rules regarding the look and feel of the city. Once that was established, we decided what the people living in this kind of a city would look like, what kinds of jobs and tools would they need and use, what would their utensils and food look like. After these details were ironed out, we looked at the story and placed each of the characters into the world depending on their role in the story and, again, [added] tools and things that we presumed a particular character would have in their living quarters. So we started with the general culture and lifestyle of the entire city, and then added details to fit the story.

I mentioned earlier that the development team was so big we didn’t know everyone, but the artists all knew what other artists were in charge of creating, and worked closely together.

We worked mostly with Mr. Kusunoki to give us the general feel of the city, but we were pretty much left to make the city the way we saw fit. Unlike the battles and dragon, the cityscape didn’t have a lot of crossover directly with the main characters, so we didn’t work closely with Mr. Yokota. But of course the characters walk through the city, and we didn’t want a disconnect there, so we cross-referenced what we were making with him. We also wanted to make sure that the jewelry on the characters were things that matched with what was being sold in the market, for example, so all the artists did share information for consistency.

An environment render from Panzer Dragoon Saga.
Team Andromeda/Sega

Bookends

One of the hallmarks of the Panzer Dragoon series has always been its pioneering computer-generated cinematics. For the first two games in the series, the CG cutscenes carried the narrative weight, fusing exotic, disparate imagery such as imposing battleships, ancient ruins, roaming packs of desert hunters and a blue dragon against a brooding night sky. For Panzer Dragoon Saga, and its emphasis on four CDs worth of high quality CG storytelling, Team Andromeda assembled a team of cinematic specialists led by Norihiro Nishiyama and Masahiro Kumono, to produce a then-unprecedented volume of cinematics to bridge Saga’s gameplay segments.

Norihiro Nishiyama
(opening CG movie creator)

I oversaw of the opening movie of Panzer Dragoon Saga. I wrote the storyboards and created the general storyline. Mr. Kumono took what I created and polished it. “CG Movie Manager,” I think, was my title.

Masahiro Kumono
(ending CG movie creator)

My title was “CG Movie Artist.” Mr. Kusunoki was the imageboard artist, so I would take Mr. Kusunoki’s character sketches and convert them into CG characters. Mr. Nishiyama was primarily in charge of the opening movie and I did the storyboards for the ending, and we both worked on the CG movie cutscenes within the game. We were both involved in various CG sections throughout the entire game.

Norihiro Nishiyama
(opening CG movie creator)

At the time, Sega was making their games entirely in-house, so our division was in charge of all the CG movie scenes in Panzer Dragoon Saga.

Masahiro Kumono
(ending CG movie creator)

[To Nishiyama] What was before Saga? Nights?

Norihiro Nishiyama
(opening CG movie creator)

Yes, I think we worked on Nights Into Dreams before Saga. We were seated very closely in the office [to the rest of the Saga team], but there wasn’t a lot synchronizing of character designs or character model assets. We did check to make sure things would generally look the same, but there was no day-to-day interaction between the teams. I seem to remember we worked pretty independently.

Masahiro Kumono
(ending CG movie creator)

I was working on Nights during the early development of Saga. By the time Nights was done, some of the sketches for Saga were completed, so I started making CG models based on the finalized sketches from the artists. The tools we used were different from the game development team.

Norihiro Nishiyama
(opening CG movie creator)

Yes, the tools were different, so it wouldn’t have been practical to share assets. We made sure that all models looked alike, but we didn’t share data. [...]

Mr. Futatsugi gave us a text storyline. I took that and created the storyboards. The text didn’t have specific instructions on where the story was set, so I remember we created the atmosphere and environment based on what Mr. Futatsugi gave us. There was quite a bit of creative freedom. There’s not a lot of crossover between what happens in the opening movie and within the game so we didn’t have to worry about consistency issues. [...]

[Actually] there is one thing. There’s an enemy character. I don’t remember his name, but he was an aggressive character, so in the movie he’s a heavy, rather big guy. But in the actual game he’s a thin character, and I remember thinking we should have cross referenced that during development. There’s a scene in the beginning where this character shoots at Edge. So I imagined him to look like a classic bad guy. It’s possible that the image of the character changed during the course of the development of the game, but the character models for the CG movies were set early on so it’s possible the character was changed later on.

Masahiro Kumono
(ending CG movie creator)

It was kind of like starting with a Matrix-like empty box [Editor’s note: Kumono is referencing the martial arts training scenes in The Matrix that fill in with weapons or a dojo] with temporary assets, and we filled it in and polished as we went.

Norihiro Nishiyama
(opening CG movie creator)

Some key elements, like some of the characters, were already designed when we started. So we had those to work with. Any that weren’t were polished and finessed as things moved along.

Masahiro Kumono
(ending CG movie creator)

CG was still very new at the time so this work was cutting edge. Even within Sega this title was an ‘artier’ title than most, in that there were a lot of artists involved in the game. It was an artistic endeavor. And back then the quality of the visuals was still very low and we didn’t have the facilities that CG departments have today, but the game included relatively long CG movies. In retrospect, I think this was quite ambitious of Team Andromeda.

Norihiro Nishiyama
(opening CG movie creator)

I thought Saga was a game with a lot of originality. I noticed that there was a lot of thought that went into the background and the story and into creating a unique world. I really admired what had been done before I joined. There are three titles in the original series, but even compared to the first two games, I think Saga was unique among them. There was nothing like Saga. There were games that featured dragons after Saga, but I don’t think there’s anything quite as unique as the Panzer Dragoon world.

I personally had ambitions of becoming a film director so [creating CG movies] was well-suited to what I wanted to do at the time. The subject was not necessarily the same as making movies but I felt like it was in line to what I had done before. I’ve worked in animation since leaving Sega, so I’ve continued to pursue a career similar to what I did for Saga.

Masahiro Kumono
(ending CG movie creator)

I originally joined Sega as a game artist. I started at the same time as Mr. Futatsugi and Kentaro Yoshida but then I switched over to creating movies and I really enjoyed telling stories through CG. But since the time of Saga my role has shifted more towards being a producer and director [Editor’s note: Kumono was responsible for, among other things, the production of both Shinobi and Nightshade for PlayStation 2] and being involved in how to tell stories through gameplay.
Panzer Dragoon Saga renders of Edge and Edge on his dragon.
Team Andromeda/Sega

The music

Some parts of the development of Panzer Dragoon Saga, such as the CG cinematics and the soundtrack, were done in relative isolation from the team, allowing creators like Saga co-composer Saori Kobayashi (along with Mariko Nanba) to focus on scoring the game. The game version of the soundtrack was composed and recorded entirely on synthesizers designed to complement the Saturn’s powerful sound chip. But Sega recently allowed independent music label Brave Wave to produce a 20th anniversary arrangement, featuring re-recordings of select tracks from the original soundtrack. For the new arrangement, Kobayashi recruited game music maestros The Triforce Quartet to enrich the sound quality with live instrumentation.

While most people haven’t heard the album, at least in the context of the game, Saga story writer and designer Yukio Futatsugi still references the soundtrack as his favorite game score.

[Disclosure: Story author James Mielke wrote a foreword that appears in the physical versions of Brave Wave’s soundtrack.]

Saori Kobayashi
(composer)

Hmm. I hope the music is reflective of the story. I want the music to make people curious about the game’s story and encourage them to play the game. That’s what I really wanted to capture in the music when I originally wrote the score. For my solo album, as well, it was not a soundtrack to a game, but I tried to tell a story through the music. I hope that my music will inspire the listener to expand their imagination and take them on a journey. While listening to the Triforce Quartet recording the [Resurrection: Panzer Dragoon Saga 20th Anniversary Arrangement] track “Tears” yesterday, I thought, “What a sad song.” [...]

The songs I selected for acoustic instruments were songs that I had always thought would be interesting if they were played by acoustic instruments, and [I] wanted to make that happen.

Yukio Futatsugi
(producer, original concept)

Yes, I believe the music plays a big part in enriching the quality of the game. The ending in Panzer Dragoon Saga is my favorite of all the game music that I’ve been involved with. Not to sound biased toward the music of my own game, but I think the music in Saga was extremely effective, not only as video game music but also for creating this otherworldly ambiance.

To illustrate how much I love the music, even now when I make a mockup or prototype to present a new game to a client, I use the soundtrack from Panzer Dragoon Saga as [background music]. I still feel it’s effective in setting the right mood for a video game.

I used the Panzer Dragoon Saga music as [background music] when I pitched the Phantom Dust prototype to the executives at Microsoft in Seattle, as well. One of the executives said, “So, I guess you like Panzer Dragoon Saga?” And I responded, “Like it? I created it!” And they were like, “What?!” and they were quick to approve Phantom Dust after that.

Saori Kobayashi
(composer)

This time there was a request to create an arrangement using acoustic instruments, so I rewrote it for [string quartet] but also rearranged it so that it preserves the original feel, and so fans can recognize the original songs. I’m trying to maximize what the new technology has to offer in recreating the original music. There’s about three different styles in the album. First is the instrumental song. Next, there are songs that are faithful to the original arrangement but performed with today’s synthesizers, and lastly, there are songs that I have changed or given a twist from the original song.

Mr. Futatsugi had his vision and direction for the music. The music in his first game wasn’t tailored to his taste, so he worked very closely with the composer for his second game, Zwei, to make sure that the music reflected the worldliness of the game. The first two games were shooters, but Panzer Dragoon Saga was an RPG, so the musical element was even more important to creating and setting the mood for the player. When we were working on music for Panzer Dragoon Saga, he wanted me to keep the ethnic sounds and compose something similar to Zwei. But, other than those suggestions, he left the composition up to me.

Yukio Futatsugi
(producer, original concept)

I was very happy with the music for all three games. The first one we used an orchestra and I feel grateful that the company allowed us to experiment with music, as well as other aspects of the game. At the time, Mr. [Tomonori] Sawada was in charge of the music, and did a good job managing the music for all three games. In terms of Mrs. Kobayashi, I was really pleased with the music she wrote, especially the theme song for Azel. I wanted Azel’s song to sound tribal, so I sort of remember giving her some tribal music that I liked at the time that I wanted her to take inspiration from.
A render of Azel in Panzer Dragoon Saga.
Team Andromeda/Sega

That other role-playing game

If it seems that Team Andromeda’s former members had an obsession with Final Fantasy 7, there’s good reason for that. Sega of Japan’s upper management had high expectations for Panzer Dragoon Saga, namely that it had to beat Square’s magnum opus to market, and that it had to outsell it as well. Obviously, neither of those things happened. By the time Saga was released — in January 1998, a year after Final Fantasy 7 — the Saturn was in steep decline. While it would survive a little longer in Japan, in North America the system was all but done, with only 12 titles released that year and the Dreamcast looming on the horizon. Rumor had it that Sega of America might even cancel Saga’s release.

While Sega of America quietly silenced fears of an outright cancellation by releasing the game in mid-1998, the initial allocation of copies sold out almost immediately, thanks to an abysmally small print run. The result is that the English-language version of the game is now one of the most expensive collector’s items around, with prices only going up. But, despite Saga’s limited availability, if it had indeed been released prior to Final Fantasy 7 — as was the original plan — would it have moved the needle? Would the Saturn have experienced a renaissance and outsold the PlayStation? No one can say for sure, including Team Andromeda.

Manabu Kusunoki
(director, chief designer)

That’s a hard one. I think this game has a narrow point of entry, and struggled to impress the players on a first impression. That’s my impression today. It’s not a game that shouts, “It’s fun. Come on in!” The story itself is not very welcoming, so it was hard to pull people’s interest in the game.

Yukio Futatsugi
(producer, original concept)

[regarding cancellation of PDS] No, we were already in discussion about localization shortly after the Japanese release so, as far as I know, there was never talk of not releasing the game for the U.S. It’s possible that there were talks amongst [Sega of America] not to publish the game, but in Japan, as soon as the game was released in Japan we were talking with the localization department to prepare for the U.S. release.

The game’s release was postponed a few times. There was a lot of buzz about the release of Final Fantasy 7, and so there was pressure from the president of Sega to hurry and release a big RPG around that time. But I was young, so my focus wasn’t on the company’s needs and more about how to make the game the best that it could be, so I kind of blew it off. Now, thinking back, I wish I could slap the back of my head.

Manabu Kusunoki
(director, chief designer)

RPGs were very popular at the time, so Sega was looking to make an RPG. It seemed to make sense to make a Panzer Dragoon RPG, because it already had an established universe that was fit for an RPG. So it was good timing, because there was a request from the company and we also wanted to make an RPG.

Akihiko Mukaiyama
(battle planner)

I seem to recall that the game as a whole was delayed, but the battle system was definitely delayed. I feel bad for that, as I’m sure the battle system was one of the top facets that were taking longer than planned. If we had gone with a Final Fantasy-like battle system, we wouldn’t have had the free movement you experience in Panzer Dragoon, and it would have been just another RPG.

Yukio Futatsugi
(producer, original concept)

The game was released after the outcome of the hardware battle between Sega and Sony, so I now believe that we should have released the game earlier. But at the same time, I feel it would have been impossible to have completed development any earlier. If I went back in time with my current experience, I’d finish it faster. I think we could have made the same game but completed it sooner. It took us about three years to finish Panzer Dragoon Saga, but I think we could’ve at least cut a year off and finished it in two, and released it sooner than Final Fantasy 7. Who knows [if releasing PDS ahead of FF7 would have affected the Saturn’s fortunes]? Back then, it was a time when everyone was taking chances and doing new things. It was really a good era. By the time the game was released, Sony was the clear winner of the hardware battle. We had already acknowledged the defeat of the Saturn, and we knew we had missed the window of opportunity.

Akihiko Mukaiyama
(battle planner)

Honestly, I don’t think that we could have beat the impact that Final Fantasy 7 had in the industry and on the market. But I think Panzer Dragoon Saga would have been a bigger deal; it would have made more waves. We were consciously competing against Final Fantasy, and I feel that the battle system [in Panzer Dragoon Saga] was better and the other members were working hard to make the game better than Final Fantasy. If the game was released earlier, I think it would have made a bigger impact. Would we have been able to win? ... I don’t think so.

At the time, we were all called to Sega’s president’s office and told to make a game that would beat Final Fantasy and beat the PlayStation in the console war. So, there was a sense of necessity to make a better game than Final Fantasy. The pressure was tremendous. Not just limited to this game; there was a lot of pressure to beat PlayStation in the console war, and it felt like we were literally at war with Sony. But that pressure was even greater when we were making this game. It’s not easy to talk about, but for a long time I was depressed during the making of this game. After the game finished, it blew over and I was fine, but during development it was very hard.

Kentaro Yoshida
(CG, cinematics)

I agree with the others. PDS is a more hardcore gamer’s game. It’s a difficult question ... but PlayStation was very smart about their PR strategy, and Sega was more conservative in their approach. Conversely, if Sega had made Final Fantasy 7, I question whether they would have effectively marketed the game in a way that PlayStation had.

Jina Ishiwatari Tsukahara
(city designer)

From Sega’s perspective it was taking so long to finish the game, so there was a lot of expectation, internally, for the game to succeed. The return on investment wasn’t so great. If we were able to finish that game in a much shorter period with less people, we would have probably been praised for the sheer output. But the project took on so many technological challenges that it took much longer to finish than initially assumed. And the project went through so many different directors.

Hitoshi Nakanishi
(field programmer)

Yeah, I can’t even count the number of times the director changed.

Manabu Kusunoki
(director, chief designer)

Saga development started before the end of Zwei and was created by a much larger team. The development process was quite rocky and many positions were moved around, but ultimately from about the middle of the project I was assigned the position of director and oversaw the completion of the entire project.

Akihiko Mukaiyama
(battle planner)

The number of directors on this game had a high turnover, but Kusunoki-san was the last director and saw the project to completion. He was originally the art director. He was under a lot of pressure as well, and struggled to keep the project moving forward. There was a time when he looked really blue and sad. But there’s something that he said that I remember to this day. Like I mentioned, I was really depressed because nothing seemed to work, and Kusunoki-san was struggling as well. But one day he called me into his office looking elated and said, “I got it. I figured it out.” So I thought maybe he had come up with a solution to something, but instead he says, “If this project fails, it’s just the end of Sega. It’s no big deal. I feel so much better.” My reaction to that was that he must have lost his mind. But according to him, that realization helped him sort of get over it. I guess the thought that the worst thing that could happen was that the company would go bankrupt, and that was a small price to pay compared to the pressure he was under.

Shin Futakawame
(main battle programmer)

I wasn’t keen on what PlayStation was doing at the time. Maybe I was in denial or something, but I didn’t even play Final Fantasy. I was only interested with our project and what we were doing. When we finished the game, there was definitely a sense of accomplishment. We were making the game in chunks, so it wasn’t until the very end that we were able to see the project as a whole. It was a revelation when I finally got to see what other people had been working on, and I finally got to experience the game as a whole piece. I remember being impressed and really enjoying the game. So I was pretty confident the game was better than anything else on the market, but it didn’t sell as well as we had hoped. And that’s really unfortunate, but I definitely had a huge sense of accomplishment.

Manabu Kusunoki
(director, chief designer)

At that time we were all very young, so our focus was how to contribute to the gaming industry and gaming community, not the mass market. We wanted to make a quality game that distinguished itself from all the other games. Of course, it’s important to create a product that sells, but I think, deep down, it was more important to us to make a meaningful and a memorable game. I wasn’t concerned with making something that was going to be a massive hit, and I don’t think Mr. Futatsugi was, either. If that was our focus, I think the game would have sold even less than it did.

Shin Futakawame
(main battle programmer)

[Panzer Dragoon Saga and Final Fantasy 7] are both in the same genre, but I think I agree that the game wasn’t really made for the mass market; it has an appeal for a more niche market. It was based on the prior Panzer Dragoon, which was a shooting game, and shooting games — as a genre — didn’t have a huge audience. Most shooting games were sci-fi. So, PDS was released as a unique game in an already niche genre.

Jina Ishiwatari Tsukahara
(city designer)

Even while making the game, I thought that it was such a uniquely “Sega” game. Sega’s hardware was always popular among the more hardcore gamers. Fans of the Saturn were always hardcore fans. The Saturn was distinctly not a Nintendo or Sony product, and PDS was not the type of game that Nintendo or Sony would release. I think every member of the development team felt that way. So, in some sense, PDS was a game that could have only been made on the Sega Saturn, so I don’t think you can compare Final Fantasy to PDS.
A render of (left to right) Edge, Craymen and Arwen in Panzer Dragoon Saga.
Team Andromeda/Sega

End game

One of the lingering questions surrounding Panzer Dragoon Saga is what exactly happens at the end of the game. If you haven’t played the game — not a stretch of the imagination, given the low numbers in circulation — or if you care about spoilers, consider this your warning.

At the end of Saga, Azel appears in a post-credits cutscene having a conversation with a traveling villager. The villager asks her, “The person you’re looking for ... is he really worth risking your life?” Azel shakes her head, but acknowledges him briefly before riding off into parts unknown, her great swoop of hair concealed by her cowl. Although she neither confirms nor denies the villager’s inquiry, it is implied that Edge — having seemingly perished at the end of the game — is still alive, and that Azel is determined to find him if so.

As it turns out, this “happy ending” was something of a trick of the light, a result of the localization team’s influence on the development team’s more ambiguous intent found in the Japanese version of the game.

Yukio Futatsugi
(producer, original concept)

I remember that we were advised by the marketing team to make Edge and Azel’s romantic relationship more obvious for the U.S. market. We discussed this at the beginning [of development], how to approach the U.S. localization. A roundabout expression of their relationship was appropriate for the Japanese market, but because emotions are expressed more directly in English, we thought their romantic relationship wouldn’t come across unless the dialogue between them was more direct.

As an example, in Japanese, it would be inferred that if the guy said something romantic like “the moon is beautiful” to a woman, the woman would take that to mean he loves her. But that nuance would probably be lost on the Western audience. I remember discussing with the localization department about making the script more direct. If I was asked to remake Saga, I would consider making it from Azel’s perspective or something along those lines.

Saori Kobayashi
(composer)

Edge, well, he was dead to begin with. Are you aware that Edge dies in the opening sequence of the game? So Edge is already dead before the game starts, but is resurrected by the power of the dragon through some form of magic. The game ends where Azel leaves on a trip to find Edge, but that in itself is kind of depressing and sad, so some people on the team theorize that Orta was Edge and Azel’s child.

As one of the members of the creative team, I can’t say one way or the other, but Mr. Futatsugi specifically instructed me not to end the game in a way that there’s closure. The music for Orta comes to a stop, but Azel’s song just fades out and doesn’t come to a full stop, leaving things open-ended and with the player wondering what happened.

Manabu Kusunoki
(director, chief designer)

We purposely left it ambiguous for the players to make their own interpretation of what happens at the end, so I tried not to give it a conclusion. But when we were making the game, the assumption was that Edge is shot dead at the beginning of the story. By the player’s involvement with the game, the player’s spirit brings Edge back to life. It’s very meta, but we wanted to give the player the feeling that this other Panzer world might really exist. I wanted to bring the player closer to the game world and give them the feeling that by playing this game, they were a part of the Panzer world. I wanted the player to believe that there is a world beyond the screen that really exists. So, by that explanation, at the end of the game, Edge is dead.

It’s popular in sci-fi stories nowadays to have “time slip” alternate realities, so that instead of changing the future by changing the past, what happens is that an alternative reality is created. So I think it’s OK for Panzer Dragoon to have multiple storylines. There can be a universe where Edge lived and Orta was born, and there can be a story where he died and there’s a different adventure. That’s my interpretation.

Akihiko Mukaiyama
(battle planner)

[Editor’s note: Mukaiyama directed the fourth Panzer Dragoon game, Panzer Dragoon Orta.] I don’t think [the Western release] is clear about whether Orta is the daughter of Edge and Azel. They purposely left that ambiguous. And the ending is slightly different between the U.S. and Japanese version. The interpretation of [who] the narrator might be is different with the U.S. and Japanese version. The U.S. localization director took some liberties on the Panzer Dragoon universe. He also worked on PDS, and the team respected his interpretation of the story, so the wording of the narration for the U.S. and Japanese versions is slightly different.

I initially had mixed feelings about working on Orta, because the ending of PDS is left ambiguous. But my interpretation is that the title “Orta” also sounds like “alter,” as in “alternative.” [Editor’s note: In Japanese, both “Orta” and “alter” are pronounced the same way.] There’s a little play on words, and it implies that “Orta” is an alternative story. Maybe Orta is a prequel and an alternative to PDS. This isn’t something that was discussed by the team or anything official; this is just my personal interpretation.

I think there are a lot of different interpretations. For example, when Edge finds Azel in the wall [at the beginning of Saga], in the Japanese version he says, “A person?” or something like that. But the English translation was “beautiful.” So the U.S. version is filtered through the translator’s interpretation of the story. Everyone seems to have a slightly different interpretation, so naturally the localization team has their version and it gets filtered through their perspective. There was different ways of interpreting PDS and there’s even more differences in Orta. I think it’s OK for different people to have different interpretations, even among the development team members. And in fact, I prefer that it remains that way.

Artwork of Edge and Azel on a hovercraft called the Floater.
Team Andromeda/Sega

The fall of Team Andromeda

In the wake of Panzer Dragoon Saga’s disappointing sales, Sega disbanded Team Andromeda, with some staff being reassigned to Sega’s other teams like Smilebit (Panzer Dragoon Orta, Jet Set Radio) and United Game Artists (Rez, Space Channel 5), and other staff members leaving the company.

Hitoshi Nakanishi
(field programmer)

I probably shouldn’t say things like this, but after the game was released, we were all called to the president’s office and told that the game wasn’t selling very well. I remember having a not very festive post-mortem meeting.

Shin Futakawame
(main battle programmer)

I left the company shortly after the completion of the project. I think after we shipped PDS in Japan, the rest of the team worked on localizing it for release in overseas territories. But what happened after that, I don’t know, because I was no longer at the company.

Hitoshi Nakanishi
(field programmer)

Once the game was finished, the staff were disbanded and reassigned to various projects.

Jina Ishiwatari Tsukahara
(city designer)

Like Mr. Futakawame, I left Sega after the completion of PDS, so I don’t know what happened to the team after I left. But when I do get together with former Team Andromeda members, we’re still very close and reminisce about our time together like it was yesterday. I think it was a unique experience for all of us to be a part of such a big project, and it was a highlight in my career working in the game industry.

Manabu Kusunoki
(director, chief designer)

I moved to a division that specialized in CG movies. I don’t remember where Mr. Futatsugi was assigned, but I think him and Mr. Yoshida left the company shortly after. I think they were relieved that we were able to finish the game, but the situation would have been better if the game had sold better.

Katsumi Yokota
(character designer)

It was such a long time ago; I don’t remember too well. But after we finished Panzer Dragoon Saga, I struggled with a sense of failure as a character designer. At the time, that is. Probably because the game didn’t sell very well, and I felt responsible. In contrast to the unique and creative work that I was expected to design when working on Panzer Dragoon, the projects that followed after that were all aimed for the mass market. I had to conform to what was popular and simple. I was expected to draw something that replicates what’s already available, and that felt like a burden and I felt that it didn’t suit me. I think around the time I was working on Rez, I wanted to return to the basics, and draw something simple yet powerful.

Kentaro Yoshida
(CG, cinematics)

Sega never really said too much about money to the development team [during the making of Panzer Dragoon Saga]. Their focus was always on making good games, but after PDS was released and they started making the Dreamcast, they started talking more about money and the bottom line. That and management started to change. The president was the same, but there were a lot of new people in management joining the company, and the dynamics started to change. I was at Sega until just before the release of the Dreamcast, but I felt that the PlayStation was leading the race and so I left to go work for Sony.

Yukio Futatsugi
(producer, original concept)

Around the time that localization [for the Western release] had begun or finished — I don’t recall — I left the company around then. By the time the game was released in the U.S., I had already quit. So I really don’t recall what had happened [to Team Andromeda].
Team Andromeda/Sega

It was 20 years ago today

While the development of Panzer Dragoon Saga was stressful, created friction between staff members and left some of the staff deeply depressed, most of the former Team Andromeda members look back fondly upon the game that once demanded so much of the group.

Katsumi Yokota
(character designer)

Panzer Dragoon was my starting point. I had just entered the workforce two years prior, and it was such a rewarding project where I was given a lot of responsibility. I feel very grateful for that, and I have nothing but gratitude towards Mr. Kusunoki, who entrusted me and provided me with that opportunity. I wasn’t a particularly good artist, and [was] essentially a newbie at the time. But, he gave me a chance. I kept drawing these weird pieces, couldn’t get it right, but he let me keep at it. I have since been the art director for multiple games, but I always try to mirror Mr. Kusunoki’s method of managing and entrusting my team with responsibilities and distributing [the] workload. For a lot of reasons, Panzer Dragoon was a very special project. When you think about it, nowadays, you don’t entrust a newbie to design the characters for a multimillion-dollar project. It’s unthinkable in today’s world. Companies hire famous character designers outside of the development team for something of that magnitude. But, for Panzer Dragoon, they were adamant about making the entire game in-house, and I just [happened] to be there at the right place at the right time, so to speak. From my perspective, it was just happenstance, and I feel very lucky to have been there and grateful that the people on the team supported me through to the end.

Manabu Kusunoki
(director, chief designer)

It’s been 30-some years since I started making games, and looking back, Panzer Dragoon Saga was a milestone in my career and a very memorable game. There was a lot of challenges with the game, but I was able to work with a lot of people, and 20 years later people still remember the game. I get emails from people about the game and see the game mentioned on forums. It makes me very happy to see that the game is still appreciated.

When we were making the game, it didn’t occur to me that it might be a game that would be remembered for so many years. It makes me really happy to know that people still remember the game. If you happen to play the game for the first time now, you might be underwhelmed by the game, but for the time, we took on a lot of challenges, and I think that you would still be surprised at some of the things that are done in the game. If there’s anyone out there who hasn’t played the game and is interested, I’d like to encourage them to give it a shot.

Saori Kobayashi
(composer)

Wow. 20 years. It’s been a long time. For me personally, there was some excitement when it was first released. Then again, there’s been another surge of excitement, so it doesn’t really feel like 20 years has passed.

Shin Futakawame
(main battle programmer)

I never thought that I would be interviewed for a game I worked on 20 years ago, so I feel very honored. This would only be possible because there were fans who bought the game and enjoyed the game, so I feel thankful to that. It’s a source of encouragement for what I do in the future. Looking back, I’m thankful to Sega for supporting us and allowing us to create games to our heart’s content. Even though I left the company, I’m very grateful to Sega. And although we’re now competitors working at separate companies, I’m still close to many of the former Team Andromeda members, like Mr. Futatsugi and Mr. Mukaiyama. There’s a sense of friendly competition between all of us, and we’re still in the industry working hard to make games. I hope to see us make great games again. Thank you.

Hitoshi Nakanishi
(field programmer)

After the game was released, when I went drinking with some people who weren’t in the industry, they’d ask what I do and I’d respond, “I make games.” “What did you make?” “I worked on PDS.” And they’d say, “Oh, I played it. It was fun.” I’d meet people who had enjoyed playing the game. As I got older, the response would change to, “Oh, I know that game. My brother played it,” and then, “Oh, my dad used to play that.” Even after all these years, people still remember the game, and I feel lucky that I was part of a game that has left a lasting impression on people. This has happened multiple times over the course of the years, and I’m grateful to the people I worked with to finish the game.

Jina Ishiwatari Tsukahara
(city designer)

I’m also very grateful to have been a part of a game that is still remembered 20 years later. My strongest memory from PDS is that there were actually only two people working on the cityscapes, myself and a colleague. One morning when I arrived at the office, my colleague had been transferred to another department, and I was left to finish the cityscapes all by myself. I remember expressing my despair to Mr. Kusunoki. I don’t have a grudge, but I remember thinking what an awful company Sega was to do that to me, and I still remember how upset I was. Somehow I was able to finish the project to the end by myself, so in hindsight, I think it was an experience that has made me stronger.
Edge takes aim at an enemy in this render from Panzer Dragoon Saga.
Team Andromeda/Sega

Perchance to remake

Topics that come up in discussions with Futatsugi are either whether it’s possible to port Saga to anything modern, or if creating a remake would interest him. When we pressed him on whether “he still has some dragon left in him,” he replied, “Yes, I’d say so.” But that could take many forms.

Yukio Futatsugi
(producer, original concept)

If [they were] able to reverse-engineer [Atlus side-scrolling Saturn RPG] Princess Crown [for PSP], perhaps we might be able to reverse-engineer Panzer Dragoon Saga. Princess Crown is a pretty complex game, as well. But unless someone somewhere adds pressure to remake it, we probably won’t remake the game. I don’t think Sega will ever make it happen.

If I were to add to the series, I would probably make it a more open game about going on an adventure on the back of a dragon. That was the original plan for Saga. Instead of following a storyline, the game would be an adventure in big, open worlds, and maybe not even force you to ride a dragon. I discussed with Mr. Kusunoki the idea of playing someone who was set in reality with his feet on the ground. ...

At the beginning, I envisioned it to be something like [thatgamecompany’s] Journey. But we didn’t go that route, because we figured nobody would want to play a game so open and distant from the original Panzer Dragoons. But I feel that now something like that might be accepted. Of course, I would keep the dragon in the game, but the focus would be more on riding the dragon and exploring the world, and the player would find traces of the previous games within this universe. The game would be like a remake of the entire series and flash back to the originals. That’s just what comes to mind. The core members of the Orta team work at [Futatsugi’s company] Grounding now. But I think everyone would like to revisit Panzer Dragoon again. I’d like to tie up any loose ends and complete the saga before I die.

Akihiko Mukaiyama
(battle planner)

The game system itself still had many areas to improve on, so I’d like to see those things fixed, but I would hate to see the game converted to popular gaming trends like moving it online or putting it on mobile devices, or having social and microtransaction features. Today’s games have open worlds and social and microtransaction features, but I don’t think Panzer Dragoon is fit for those kind of gaming experiences. I think it would change the essence of the series. In regards to battle systems, specifically, since that’s what I was in charge of, I think we could make a much better, more enjoyable and flexible battle system.

Manabu Kusunoki
(director, chief designer)

I personally like to play AAA, open-world games, and [I like] the ability to walk around anywhere. I think it would be very fitting to make a Panzer Dragoon game in an open-world setting.

Katsumi Yokota
(character designer)

Well, Mr. Futatsugi made Crimson Dragon for the Xbox One as a sort of successor to Panzer Dragoon. Every generation will bring new life to the gameplay and the series will be revisited. The fundamental concept behind Panzer Dragoon is the experience of fighting while on the back of a dragon. As long as that is preserved, it will take on the spirit of the Panzer Dragoon series.

Panzer Dragoon Saga was released in North America on April 30, 1998.

Update (May 2): We added a new section to this story, “Bookends,” based on two additional interviews with Team Andromeda staff members.

Comments

This might be my favorite piece ever written for Polygon. Maybe a bit biased, as I was one of the few Saturn owners that was fortunate enough to own this game. The game truly was avant-garde, as Katsumi Yokota said, and is an amazing feat from a team that was dedicated to producing something out of the norm. I have a newfound respect and admiration for this team. This is a brilliant game that deserves to be played. I want a remake and a sequel.

Hey guys,
If you are Panzer Dragoon fans, you should join our community.
https://twitter.com/PanzDragWorld

We are gathering the fans to ask for remakes and/or a new entry in the form of a RPG game.

I want a remake and a sequel

Nah. Let’s not let it’s legacy get tarnished.

If anything, some huge Twitch streamer should do it justice by playing it all the way through. I don’t think it needs to be remade — just more people need to hear about it and play it.

What made Panzer Dragoon so amazing is truly embraced "less is more" philosophy and excelled at being a video game.

Much of the problem I have with the industry today is that it tries to emulate the film industry too much instead of being (wait for it)….. the video game industry. (e.g. Quantum Break; The Order: 1866. Call of Duty trying to get big name people like Kevin Spacey to sell the game, etc)

So Panzer Dragoon just drops you in. The first game didn’t even have a story. You hit start, tap "New Game", and you’re brought into a 5 minute captivating cut scene, then BOOM WE’RE PLAYING THE FEUD HOLY FUCK KILL EVERYTHING ON THE SCREEN.

Saga was amazing because they made a full fledged RPG with such limited resource. The most interesting fact about Saga, to me, is how they made use of the Saturn’s limited color pallet (This is why the games have a lot of shades of brown, black,etc).

Another fun fact: remember how you’re able to morph your dragon in real time into different forms? Was never done before. And they did it on the Saturn, which was a pain to develop on, and back then, certainly didn’t have the power to do something easily; Team Andromedia pulled it off, even with all the internal troubles they had.

A remake or a sequel would not in the slightest way affect something made 20 years ago, you certainly would have a choice not to play it yourself, but why decide that no one else can enjoy more PDS because you feel no one should.

Personally having played through it a few times, I feel a remake would be perfect for it, it could generate interest in the brand again instead of having such great ideas fade into distant memory.

Yes exactly, people are so selfish.

This mentality is so selfish & posh, you basically want only a fraction of people to be able to play the game ?

Well I disagree with you and so do a lot of fans, just look at our campaign. Plus the original makers of the series still have ideas so your opinion is only yours, if you don’t want it back, just stick to your original copy of the game but stop discouraging other people from being positive and asking about it.

And what is the problem with being cinematic, that is exactly what Panzer Dragoon Saga was : a very cinematic adventure. And this is one of the reasons people loved the game. It also had an amazing combat system, great music… but the cinematic feel was definitely part of it.

Stop living in the past, there is so much potential for a modern Panzer Dragoon, may it be a remake OR a totally new entry.

Thanks.

My second favorite Sega Saturn game. My favorite game is Panzer Dragoon. Great piece. I still play them from time to time on my Saturn.

I never got to play Saga, but Panzer Dragoon was probably my favorite as well. At the time I was mesmerized by its visuals and the fairly zen-like gameplay. I really liked Guardian Heroes as well, which is thankfully available on the Xbox ecosystem.

Guardian Heroes beats out Panzer Dragoon for me, but I still fire both of them up with regular frequency, such a great console.

I’ve known of this franchise… but never really thought much about it. Then they brought the Xbox Panzer Dragoon Orta to XBO Backwards Compatible, and it seems to be getting a lot of attention. So I watched someone play some of it, and it looks pretty neat. Very arcadey, and definitely my style.

Then, this last weekend, I got to watch that same person play through Zwei and Saga. It’s actually quite impressive that these were Saturn games, considering I wasn’t aware of what the Saturn was capable of.

The sadest thing about the Saturn era is that very few of the games will get rereleased due to its popularity. We wont get any of the old working design saturn games on PSN will we? Like Dragon Force or Albert Odyssey.

In terms of Panzer Dragoon Saga? Negatory. The source code’s been lost.

Unless someone pulls an AM2 and tries to rebuild it from scratch, but that’s basically not gonna happen.

This was a great piece! I love the Panzer Dragoon series and this article honours it. There was always a shroud of mystery around Team Andromeda.
Played the ‘Disk 1’ demo that came with Saturn Magazine for hours. It’s still the best demo disk ever made.
Was able to buy Saga at launch as well and it’s still my most precious game of my collection.

My biggest shame is that, despite having been the Saturn kid in an ocean of PlayStation and / or Nintendo 64 kids, I never bothered to get it fixed. Only a few games worked, like Panzer Dragoon and Bug Too, but every time I’d buy a game like Resident Evil, Tomb Raider, Virtual On, Scud, or Nights it wouldn’t start because of system memory issues and a battery replacement wouldn’t solve it.

So many great games slipped through my fingers, the biggest being PD Saga which I held onto for a few all-too brief days listening to the soundtrack in the Saturn spaceship CD player. I ate up everything I could about it, like Tips & Tricks issues, just to try to get my fill. Orta was the reason I got an Xbox just because I wanted back into that world so badly.

Finally got a chance to play it about ten years ago, and it lived up to the hype for this lifelong fan of the franchise, but I’ll always regret never getting to then.

This is just the best piece on Polygon. Panzer Dragoon deserves a bigger audience.

One of my favorite games ever. I remember getting the call from Babbage’s when it came in and riding my bike down to the mall to pick it up.

Incredible piece writen by James Mielke and Polygon. I bought the Sega Saturn on day one. And I still hold the Saturn in high regard. And I owned and played through all of the greatest titles for the Saturn. Panzer Dragoon Saga was indeed a masterpiece and seeing it represented like this is AMAZING! I only wish Sega could find a way to release these games to all the people that missed out on it. And to this day I still can’t understand how the Sega Saturn failed in the US. When games were made on the Saturn’s hardware correctly, they where phenomenal.

Sadly, a re-release is unlikely, Sega confirmed that the original source and assets for Saga (and many others from that era) were lost, so they’d more or less have to be ground up remakes.

Cant’ they just clone an original game disc and release on a Saturn emulator like Yabuse?

I actually ripped my copy a few nights ago, runs fine on mednafen!!

This is a legendary interview about a legendary game made by a legendary dev team.
Thank you James and thank you team Andromeda for this masterpiece.

Great piece. I lived saga enough to pick up two copies at launch. (One for a buddy who actually had bought a copy already, so i stuck with two)

Looking back, i can say i had a lot of fun with saga and would definitely pay for a remaster, remake, rerelease if it were to happen. Sadly, I think the odds of that are slim. Maybe well get another pd game though….maybe

It’s a shame there is no artbook of the whole Panzer Dragoon series, its art is one of the most unique in gaming, in large part thanks to inspiration provided by Moebius’ work.

I was fortunate enough that when this came out when I was a kid, my brother was old enough to have a job and bought a Saturn and this game. He was more into collecting than playing so my friend and I played through it. When everyone was talking about Final Fantasy, I’d be all "naw bro, Pander Dragoon Saga."

Can’t believe that was 20 years ago…

Thanks for writing this Mielke! I just played through this entire series this month, not even knowing about the anniversary, thanks to the recent improvements in Saturn emulation that have come about since the Saturn was hacked and Mednafen added support. This entire series is incredible, and Saga may very well be one of the best RPGs I’ve ever played.

To those interested, I highly suggest tracking down and playing these games. Orta was just put on XBone back-compat and you can buy it from the Xbone store for 10 bucks. It’s definitely worth it.

Overall though, the first three games in the Panzer Dragoon series are a marvelous, singularly unique marvel of incredible artwork and music. The gameplay is great and, especially in Saga, innovative and way ahead of its time. My time with this series was probably the most fun I’ve had playing games in recent memory.

I’m so glad it’s finally getting some more attention… perhaps 20 years overdue!

Mednafen is a godsend for Saturn fans — it looks like with Beetle, they’re keen to keep going with this. Do you have any information about recent developments? Is there a patreon set up where I can donate to the cause?

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