The Panzer Dragoon franchise made something of an understated debut in the early days of the Sega Saturn, but was as groundbreaking a rail shooter as its counterpart at Nintendo that started it all, Starfox. Like Starfox, Panzer Dragoon‘s appearances have been rather sparse over the years, but never find themselves met with anything but frothing anticipation from a very dedicated fanbase.
Crimson Dragon may not bear the Panzer Dragoon name, since its developer has long since parted ways with Sega, but it is for all intents and purposes the fourth core game in the series. It had a somewhat rocky development cycle that saw it transition from Xbox 360 retail title to Xbox One digital title, but it’s finally here as part of the Xbox One launch lineup.
What Is It?
Much like Panzer Dragoon Orta, Crimson Dragon is a self-containing story built around the concept of human soldiers riding dragons into battle. With humanity long since having laid Earth to waste, the species has scattered out into space looking for new homes. Crimson Dragon takes place on one such prospective homeworld, Draco, which is doing everything in its power to reject humanity like an incompatible organ. Not only has its entire animal kingdom turned hostile toward mankind, the planet itself has unleashed an illness called Crimsonscale that delivers a quick death to most of its victims, while others still are crippled, and an even smaller handful are empowered with the ability to commune with the dragonkin of Draco’s skies. You, of course, play as one of the truly lucky ones.
You and your dragon mount will be dispatched on missions all throughout Draco, carrying out tasks such as eliminating hordes of hostile nativesor wiping out masses of Crimsonscale-afflicted fauna before another pandemic can break out. These missions are generally segmented into seperate tasks, by which you will be graded. Afterward, you report back to base, where you can select your next mission, augment your personal fleet of dragons, hire wingmen, or buy entirely new mounts and items with either the credits you earn from completing your missions or the jewels you pick up along the way. That in and of itself makes Crimson Dragon the deepest game of its kind.
Why Should I Care?
If only it handled as well as its predecessors. Where Panzer Dragoon always made use of a single directional control for both navigation and aim, Crimson Dragon splits those duties up between the left and right analog sticks. It’s easy to imagine why they made that decision, since it works so well in other genres, but it just feels cumbersome and unintuitive in practice. Another split is added between types of attacks. Whereas Panzer Dragoon handled this simply by using a button tap for one type of attack and holding the same button for another, you now have to actively switch between your attack options with a toggle button. This is absolutely atrocious in practice, and effectively disables you from using your attack types in rapid tandem (a major key to success in those previous games). There is a seperate set of controls for the Kinect, but it really fails to feel any less bulky than the controller approach.
That isn’t to say Crimson Dragon is devoid of good ideas. The new wingman mechanic by all rights should have been pioneered by Starfox, but makes its debut here instead. This simply lets you actively order another dragon rider to either attack by your side or watch your back. Effective management of this system will become a key to success as you play through the game, and it makes a point of teaching you very early on.
What Makes It Worth My Time And Money?
If you’re waiting for the next great rail shooter to come along, you’re still going to be waiting awhile. However, if you’re just waiting for any passable rail shooter to emerge from the ether of game development, it’s here. The tragedy is that the studio, now known as Grounding Inc, has made some incredible games of this kind before, and just seem to have forgotten how they did that in years gone by. Worse still is the fact that Crimson Dragon benefitted in no way whatsoever from the move to Xbox One, as there is nothing about it that would even make the 360 break a sweat. The Xbox One already had a fantastic launch lineup in place, so moving Crimson Dragon over to it – especially in light of how it turned out – was a huge mistake. Word on the street seems to be that there is interest in their next project being a Phantom Dust sequel, so hopefully that goes much better than this has.