Panzer Dragoon
Image: Sega

Panzer Dragoon is a seminal release in the history of the Sega Saturn. It was one of the first demonstrations of the console's 3D power and was shown off multiple times before release; it went on to establish a series that remains close to the heart of many a Sega fan, even today, with its third sequel, Panzer Dragoon Saga, being regarded as one of the best JRPGs of all time. We even got a remake of the original game a short time ago.

A few years back, creator Yukio Futatsugi gave a talk at GDC regarding the origins of the franchise and revealed that the first game only got greenlit because the Saturn title Gale Racer was put into production first.

"Sega asked me to create either a racing game or a shooting game for Saturn," Futatsugi said. "I choose racing, but Gale Racer was greenlit soon after, so I went with shooting instead."

Former games journalist and Necrosoft Games founder Brandon Sheffield did an excellent job at the time in detailing the presentation, in which it was also revealed that Panzer Dragoon was inspired by Namco's Starblade, and that the game's lock-on laser mechanism was only introduced when it became apparent how hard it would be for players to hit targets with manual shots alone.

It was also revealed that the team had additional time to work on the game because the Saturn dev kits were three months behind schedule, giving Team Andromeda time to flesh out the world and even create the fake language used in the game.

Futatsugi admits that the arrival of the PlayStation threw a spanner in the works, and that the team was taken aback when it saw Ridge Racer running on the PlayStation. "Even to this day I have a lingering trauma about this any time someone mentions the original PlayStation," he said. "Those PlayStation classic controllers made me real mad."

The PlayStation gave the developers added impetus to make the game as spectacular as possible, with the aim to create visuals that the PlayStation simply wasn't capable of replicating; this was done by showcasing the Saturn's superior 2D prowess with massive scrolling 2D environments.

It's well worth looking at Sheffield's thread of tweets if you're interested in hearing more about the creation of this iconic series.

Gale Racer, on the other hand, was based on the 1991 System 32 arcade title Rad Mobile (notable for being Sonic's first-ever appearance), with the 'Super Scaler' 2D visuals being replaced by 3D models. The game met with lukewarm reviews when it launched in Japan and was never localised for release in the west, which tells you everything about its overall quality.

Still, without Gale Racer, we might not have Panzer Dragoon.