I’m not gonna lie; I wasn’t a Sega kid growing up. I’m not even sure if I knew what a Sega Saturn was until it was far too late to easily get my hands on one. A combination of factors means I’ve never played the original game, but 2020 brought us Panzer Dragoon: Remake. This is a fascinating release, because Panzer Dragoon: Remake does not feel like a contemporary remake. It’s a game that feels out of time, displaced in a way few games are regardless of their age. But at the same time, it’s a huge makeover for the original. Panzer Dragoon: Remake doesn’t feel like a blast “from” the past, it feels like a blast “to” the past.
Even though I wouldn’t know of Panzer Dragoon until my savvier years, I was familiar with its form. Especially so, since so many games would cop its gameplay style for little minigame sections. Also, I played hell of Star Fox on the Super Nintendo. Panzer Dragoon was an extremely Sega game on the most extremely Sega console, and by that I mean it was an arcade game in all but physical presence. An on-rails shooter that lasted all of an hour if you didn’t lose, Panzer Dragoon was more about the joy of play and visual spectacle than being something more in-depth, more console game-y.
Panzer Dragoon: Remake is mostly a big facelift. If you dropped the two games side by side, you’ll see most of the same structure, just significantly prettier. The Panzer Dragoon world feels much more like an actual world in the remake; large, empty spaces in the original game are filled with much more terrain, life, and crumbled remains of human society. Players get much more of a sense of the original game’s artistic intent, borrowing inspiration from the likes of legendary comics artist Mœbius and the Dune series, to name a few. But while the visuals are significantly updated, they aren’t done up in such a way that makes the game feel modern.
For a point of comparison, look at Capcom’s recent Resident Evil remakes. They’re much more ambitious in terms of changing up the structure and gameplay, but visually speaking both games are massive updates in fidelity. Capcom’s new engine is all about photorealism, with the lines between character design, acting, and mocap all coming together into a brand new aesthetic for Resident Evil. Meanwhile, Panzer Dragoon: Remake feels deliberately held back, like the goal was less to “update” or “improve” the original, but instead fill in the blanks left by younger technology.
Panzer Dragoon: Remake looks and feels like somebody was digging around in a storage unit somewhere and stumbled upon a long-lost arcade version. It’s like we’ve all gone back in time, and history rearranged itself so that Panzer Dragoon was actually a super dope arcade game, and the Saturn version was just a feeble home port. After all, that’s how things usually went with Sega and other arcade companies back in the day. And this remake here is so faithful to the original, “remake” would almost feel dishonest if it weren’t for some of the extra tweaks and visual updates far beyond a “remaster” resolution bump.
If you aren’t into arcade-style games, the kinds that have very restrictive gameplay loops, punishing fail states, and minimal run times, Panzer Dragoon: Remake isn’t going to magically endear you. This isn’t an overhaul, re-imagining, or adaptation of a wacky old cult classic video game trying to make a comeback. It’s almost like Panzer Dragoon itself traveled through time and adapted to its new surroundings, like a whimsical Terminator or something. It looks and feels like an old game from a bygone era, but at the same time, is of a drastically different visual fidelity compared to the actual old game. There are some kinks to work out, and we’ve already seen post-release patching. But considering the series here, that fits just as well too.