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New Interview Reveals the High Expectations That Doomed the Classic RPG Panzer Dragoon Saga

But maybe Yu Suzuki got some good ideas for Shenmue out of it?

News by Matt Kim, .

You might remember Sega's Panzer Dragoon series for two things: Its amazing soundtrack, and Panzer Dragoon Saga which is considered one of the best JRPGs to have come out on the Sega Saturn. Unfortunately there hasn't been a new Panzer Dragoon game in awhile, and according to a new interview from Ryan Payton, Panzer Dragoon's last two games had some serious troubling disadvantages at Sega, including being forced to go head-to-head with Final Fantasy VII.

Ryan Payton, video game industry veteran and founder of the indie game studio Camouflaj, recently got a chance to sit down with Japanese game developer Akihiko Mukaiyama who is most famous for his work on the Panzer Dragoon series for Sega. Specifically Mukaiyama was the director of Panzer Dragoon Orta on the original Xbox and battle designer on Panzer Dragoon Saga for the Sega Saturn.

Panzer Dragoon

As one of the best received games at Sega Panzer Dragoon had a lot of clout, which made its later disappearance from the gaming scene particularly notable. The Panzer Dragoon series appears regularly on lists of games fans would like to see rebooted in some form. However, the new interview with Mukaiyama sheds some light on how the venerable video game series slipped into obscurity, starting with the low sales for Panzer Dragoon Saga on the Sega Saturn. It didn't help that the game had some overwhelming competition in the form of another RPG that came out: Final Fantasy VII.

Panzer Dragoon Saga was supposed to come out the same year as Final Fantasy VII but was pushed forward into 1998 to avoid crossing over with Grandia. According Mukaiyama expectations at Sega for Saga's sales were still incredibly high. It began with the console war between the Sony PlayStation and Sega Saturn with Sega believing whichever console had the best RPG would win the console war. "So when it was announced that Final Fantasy VII was coming to playstation, Sega CEO told us that Final Fantasy VII was now our new rival and we needed to beat them, and that we needed to sell 1.5 million copies of Panzer Dragoon Saga. That was the order that came down and that was the expectations that were put in place and there was a lot of pressure even though the scale of FFVII and their team really dwarfed our production," said Mukaiyama.

Final Fantasy VII ended up selling close to 10 million copies globally, while according to VGChartz Panzer Dragoon Saga sold about .11 million. A far cry from what Sega considered Final Fantasy VII's biggest rival. Still, in a discussion regarding Saga's sales, nobody at Sega seemed to be able to figure out what exactly went wrong. "I think everybody was really confused about why the game didn't do very well commercially," admitted Mukaiyama.

Panzer Dragoon Saga's chief rival was none other than Final Fantasy VII

"When the Panzer Dragoon Saga project wrapped, we were summoned by someone high up within sega to come and talk, and I remember thinking 'Why do they want to talk to us?' And it turns out they were curious to hear our opinions about why [Panzer Dragoon Saga] didn't sell well commercially," explained Mukaiyama. "In fact I would later find out it was actually Yu Suzuki who was behind that request because he was making a game that was somewhat similar to Panzer Dragoon Saga, which at the time was the Virtua Fighter RPG."

As you might know, Virtua Fighter RPG eventually became Shenmue on the Sega Dreamcast though Mukaiyama doesn't elaborate on whether Suzuki found useful information from Panzer Dragoon Saga for his development on Shenmue.

Virtua Fighter RPG would eventually become the basis of Shenmue

Panzer Dragoon had one more game in the series, Panzer Dragoon Orta, which after backing the Xbox thanks to the development team's familiarity with PC gaming, managed to sell roughly double what Saga sold. Unfortunately that was the last gamers saw of the Panzer Dragoon saga. Despite the series' unique mix of dragon flying, on-rails shooting combat, Panzer Dragoon was doomed from tough competition and possibly backing the Xbox for development, a console fairly unpopular in Japan.

You can check out the rest of Payton's interview with Mukaiyama over at the Back In My Play podcast where Mukaiyama talks about Panzer Dragoon Orta, and on Camouflaj Radio where Payton and Mukaiyama discuss Panzer Dragoon Saga and Final Fantasy VII.

Correction: An earlier version of this article said that Final Fantasy VII and Panzer Dragoon Saga both released in 1998. Final Fatnasy VII came out in 1997 and Panzer Dragoon Saga was originally slated for Christmas '97 before being bumped forward.

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  • Avatar for Thad #1 Thad A year ago
    Hm. Is there a legal way to play Panzer Dragoon Saga, short of buying a Saturn and getting the game on CD?

    If not, what's the state of Saturn emulation these days?

    In either case, is it worth checking it out?
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  • Avatar for One_Vurfed_Gwrx #2 One_Vurfed_Gwrx A year ago
    At the time I thought PDS was better than FFVII. It was a lot shorter but had a much more interesting battle system. And I really liked the atmosphere at the time too. Not sure how badly it has aged compared to FFVII though. Maybe it is time for another playthrough...

    Sadly it never stood a chance in the west coming out in the dying year of the Saturn while PS1 was flying high. I wonder what the Japanese numbers fir Azel (the Japanese title for PDS) were. Obviously a lot less than FF but I am still curious how it did there. I liked Orta too (and Zwei) but it is a shame that no more attempts of PD RPGs or even a decent remake of PDS were attempted.
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  • Avatar for One_Vurfed_Gwrx #3 One_Vurfed_Gwrx A year ago
    @Thad No legal way. I am not up to date with Saturn emulation but I know some of them do support the game so shouldn't be too hard to check out which is best.
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  • Avatar for Vonlenska #4 Vonlenska A year ago
    @Thad

    There is no easily affordable legal way to play the game now, and with the source code lost and the series kind of vaporous, that is unlikely to change. Saturn emulation is actually quite good, and it's fairly easy to get the game set up and running well with SSF on a middling PC. It remains one of the very best JRPGs I've ever played, up there with Chrono Trigger and the like, so yeah, I highly recommend/encourage more people to try it. Its current out of print/priced out collector's item status is genuinely tragic.
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  • Avatar for jmsebastian #5 jmsebastian A year ago
    @Thad I don't believe the game has ever been released outside of the original Saturn run, unfortunately. While some Saturn games did end up coming out to Xbox Live and such, many of them have become lost to time due to poor preservation by the companies that developed them or what have you. The Saturn seems to have been overly effected by this, but that could just be my perception.

    Anyway, the game runs perfectly fine using Mednafen, which is probably the best Saturn emulator that exists. Takes some effort to get working, but the play experience is smooth. Definitely worth checking out if you really want to play it. I'd only suggest tracking down a real copy if you have a lot of money to spend on frivolous stuff. Panzer Dragoon Saga is a great game, but the price it goes for is hard to justify, regardless of game quality.
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  • Avatar for SuperShinobi #6 SuperShinobi A year ago
    Cheapest north american copies of PD Saga on eBay seem to go for around $700 currently, so it would be great if this classic game got a rerelease on current consoles. PD Saga was released in 1998 and the Saturn had already failed by then and the Dreamcast was launched later that same year in Japan, so the game didn't really even have a chance commercially and should've been ported over to the Dreamcast instead.Edited October 2017 by SuperShinobi
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  • Avatar for link6616 #7 link6616 A year ago
    @Thad Sega gave away the first disk with sega saturn monthly. If you just want to dabble, it's very cheap to get this first disk (I got one for about 5USD about 7 years ago?). Decide how much you love it, and then make choices from there.
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  • Avatar for MetManMas #8 MetManMas A year ago
    While I'm sure it's not the only factor, I think the obvious answer for why Panzer Dragoon Saga failed where Final Fantasy VII succeeded is that the latter had a better advertising campaign. Or rather, it had advertising at all.

    FF7 was all over the place, in two page magazine spreads, on TV ads showing off the better looking of the CGI cutscenes, in Pepsi promos. You could find toys of some of the main characters at game specialty stores (I had the Cloud/Tifa/Aerith/Barret box set), the game had a demo disc included with Tobal No. 1, it was the subject of many a game mag article, and it was published by Sony Computer Entertainment America to ensure it actually got on the shelves of the Walmarts of the world.

    Final Fantasy VII sold not just because it was a quality RPG, but because Sony and Square actually tried to sell it. This is a lesson that finally bored its way into Square Enix's thick skull around Final Fantasy XV.

    I don't remember Panzer Dragoon Saga ever receiving any massive advertisement campaigns. If anything, Sega appeared content to sweep the Saturn under the rug in western regions while it tried the console game one last time with the Dreamcast, pissing off Saturn fans and trying to headline a new generation that most devs of the time weren't quite ready to handle just yet.Edited October 2017 by MetManMas
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  • Avatar for Monkey-Tamer #9 Monkey-Tamer A year ago
    By 1998 I had given up on my Saturn, purchased a PS1, and didn't even hear about Panzer Dragoon Saga until a decade later. I don't remember many Saturn games still being on the shelves by the time 1998 rolled around.
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  • Avatar for SatelliteOfLove #10 SatelliteOfLove A year ago
    The Year of Scuttlebutt rolls on!

    @Monkey-Tamer

    This. Writing was on the wall by Xmas 1996.
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  • Avatar for Woogity #11 Woogity A year ago
    Really?? Sega expected Panzer Dragoon Saga, on the Saturn, to be able to beat FFVII? That's an incredibly out of touch goal. It's a shame this series went away. Each game in the series was better than the last. Panzer 2, Saga, and Orta are all amazing games. Much better than Star Fox in my opinion.
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  • Avatar for SargeSmash #12 SargeSmash A year ago
    Let's remember that Final Fantasy wasn't an unstoppable juggernaut until the release of FFVII, not before it. That the execs thought they had a chance might not have been that crazy.

    Honestly, the games are so dissimilar in many ways that comparing the two feels like a disservice. One is basically the SNES RPG experience with polygonal graphics and era-defining "MORE", the other is a snappy, briskly-paced, wildly inventive take on the genre, with more action elements in general. For my money, I've played through PDS way more than FFVII, which I haven't taken to completion since I got it all those years ago on PSX. I revisit PDS because of the easier commitment and the great gameplay.

    If there were ever a game that I wish I could buy in legit form without paying an arm and a leg (and the way things are going, a kidney), this is it.
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  • Avatar for Woogity #13 Woogity A year ago
    @SargeSmash FInal Fantasy was doing pretty well in Japan at that point. FFVI sold over 2.5 million copies by mid 1994.
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  • Avatar for MetManMas #14 MetManMas A year ago
    @SargeSmash The advertising campaign certainly helped Final Fantasy VII's fortunes in the west. Even if it was just a repeat of Donkey Kong Country's hat trick (substitute FMVs for renders, though there's plenty of renders too), FF7 still had amazing presentation for a 1997 RPG and the adverts tapped into that.

    That said, I really wish there was a good modern way to play Panzer Dragoon Saga. Game flopped and got rare, Sega threw away the code, and Saturn emulation is still inadequate. It'd probably be best off with a full on remake at this point, but that'll never happen. Even if they Kickstarted one, Panzer Dragoon just doesn't have as rabid a fanbase as, say, Shenmue.
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  • Avatar for LK4O4 #15 LK4O4 A year ago
    Last I heard, it's very unlikely that Panzer Dragoon Saga will be ported to other consoles, so it's only on Saturn for now. I don't know how Saturn emulation is these days, but modchipping a physical Saturn to play burned discs would still be significantly cheaper than buying a real copy of the game.
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  • Avatar for Neifirst #16 Neifirst A year ago
    @Woogity Maybe not that crazy - the Saturn and PlayStation were pretty much neck-and-neck for the first couple of years in Japan, around the time that PDS would have been greenlit for development.
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  • Avatar for bobbywatson #17 bobbywatson A year ago
    @LK4O4 I played Saga last month from start to finish in Mednafen, and the game ran perfectly fine on my PC. No crash, nothing. The hardest part of the experience was figuring out how to use Mednafen.
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  • Avatar for Broen13 #18 Broen13 A year ago
    @Thad The game has not aged well, but had one of the most memorable story arcs I have ever had the pleasure of experiencing. As a new player, if you can get past the polygons, it is worth the time and money.

    That all being said, in its day it was quite the amazing game. One thing I never hear mentioned is how completely PDS differs from any other RPG. I think the same can be said for PD1 and PD2:Zwei. They are like no other shooter either.
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  • Avatar for SkywardShadow #19 SkywardShadow A year ago
    I bought Panzer Dragoon Saga new, shortly after it's release, for 20 bucks. It was in the very back of an electronics boutique store, on their tiny Saturn game shelf. In NA at least, they was no marketing and the Saturn was already dead.

    I had to eBay it a few years ago, and I think it's only gone up in price since.
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  • Avatar for Fallout2 #20 Fallout2 A year ago
    @Thad It's very much worth checking out. Graphics are dated of course, but the story & presentation are very intriguing. Should have sold a couple mil.
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