It's been 21 years since Panzer Dragoon Saga graced the Sega Saturn like a comet. The only RPG in the Panzer Dragoon franchise, Saga is regarded as one of the best RPGs of all time. Set in a land with dragons and magic, Panzer Dragoon Saga is very much a fantasy RPG. But according to its series creator, it was almost even weirder.
We spoke with Panzer Dragoon creator Yukio Futatsugi and series veteran and artist Kentaro Yoshida at this week's Game Developers Conference ahead of the two's postmortem panel on Panzer Dragoon. With the help of a translator from 8-4, we spoke at length with the two developers. We were even able to mine a big secret about some cut content.
Futatsugi and Yoshida were both part of Team Andromeda, the internal development cell in charge of Panzer Dragoon inside of Sega. Though the series began as an on-rails shooter, Panzer Dragoon Saga is the lone JRPG in the series, famously breaking many of the conventions of the era. Saga included full 3D graphics and dubbed voice lines on a system that only really should have been able to handle 2D graphics. In the past, the team even described themselves as punk rockers defying JRPG conventions.
"I discussed a lot with [Manabu Kusunoki, chief designer of Panzer Dragoon] and there were actually a lot things where we were like, 'we gotta make [Panzer Dragoon] even more punk.'" Futatsugi says that the team actually had to "dial it back," and maybe shouldn't go so far out with the series. Curious, I asked what that meant and what kind of content was reigned in.
"One idea we had was that the Panzer world, the whole world of Panzer Dragoon itself, was just a dream a salaryman was having," Futatsugi revealed. "And so eventually the two worlds would start to mingle and mix at certain points.
"For example [the salaryman would] be riding the Yamanote line in Tokyo, and he'd look out the window and see a dragon flying there. So, we sort of had that idea we were running with, but we eventually gave up on."
While that idea was ultimately scrapped, parts of it survived, particularly in the ending of Panzer Dragoon Saga. The final ending of Saga featured a sequence breaking the fourth wall, implying the player was actually a supernatural force controlling the main hero, Edge. "There is sort of small elements of [the salaryman story] you can see in the ending [of Panzer Dragoon Saga]," says Futatsugi, possibly referring to this avant-garde meta ending.
Looking back however Futatsugi and Yoshida say that even without the salaryman angle, there were a lot of conventions of the time broken by Team Andromeda. "There are things we really shouldn't have done, but did anyways," says Futatsugi. "When you're young, you don't really think about what your limits are. You think the best that you can do is the best that anyone out there in the world is capable of."
Futatsugi and Yoshida are both at GDC hosting a postmortem on the cult Sega Saturn series. We'll also have a full interview with the two developers for a later time, but just know that the world of Panzer Dragoon was envisioned to be even weirder than the strange, beautiful world that players were able to experience on the Sega Saturn two decades ago.