Panzer Dragoon Orta

The dragon in the Panzer Dragoon series is elevated to the status of a god-like being – but one that benefits from the guidance of a rider. The series is an exploration of partnership and dependancy within the backdrop of a war-stricken world. Orta’s adventure is no different, but as compelling as the three dragoons before her.

The heavy wing form flies through the Forest of Mutation.
Panzer Dragoon Orta is a 2003 on-rails shooter for the Xbox console. Following in the footsteps of the first two games in the series you ride a flying dragoon through a selection of areas and massive 3D bosses.
A symbiotic partnership

The central characters of Panzer Dragoon are the young girl Orta, and the mysterious dragon which she rides known as Lagi. The dragon rescues Orta from the prison she has remained in indefinitely, and an almost immediate bond forms between the two.

This introduction at the start of the game aligns the feelings of the player to Orta, as she begins to explore a new world of freedom and adventure, despite the danger of this exposure, she has the benevolent force of Lagi to both protect her from and antagonize the Imperial force which attempted to contain them both.

“She felt as though her eyes were finally open.” – Narrator

The storm they escape in is the perfect way to introduce the pace of the story to come, the conflict between the Empire and the little girl lost, the world literally weeps for Orta’s condition, and the start of her upheaval.

Lagi and Orta are vulnerable separately. The dragon lacks direction and structure and the child is powerless and unaware of her identity. The dragon is able to wage war against airships, and the rider guides his aim with nothing but a sense of instinct. Orta sits in a precarious position, far above the earth on the back of a creature she barely understands, yet her doing so seems a natural as walking, or breathing the air around her.

“Dragons require the sharing of thought and senses with a rider to realize their full potential as a combat organism.” – Pandora’s Box (1)

That said, the dragon and Orta’s guns are formidable weapons, but the main tactic is evasion – failing to be hit and avoiding capture. Most of the game is spent toying with and eluding Imperial ships, and is doing so the chains on Orta’s legs and arms start to become purely decorative, she is hunted, but strangely free.

The light wing form attacks the airship Vermana.
The dragon is also able to evolve and change based on how well you play. You are able to transform it’s form into three different sizes with different strengths and weaknesses. This provides a tactical element to the game.
Loving the alien

Within the game world, all of the creatures and environments from all of the settings feel the need to engage against the dragon and it’s rider. As the last of their kind, it seems to be a sort of instinct within the animals of the present world to rise up against them. The wildlife seems to be inherently aware of the danger they pose, and they are eager to help snuff what energy they have out, using their meagre resources.

This is perhaps best clear within the Forest of Mutation, where nature itself seems to be in conflict with Lagi and Orta, as all manner of insects, manta rays and worm creatures attempt to battle the pair, as if by some sense of self preservation. As they pass over their airspace, the environment feels the need to intervene against them.

“They were all afraid of me… They said that I was the harbinger of destruction…” – Orta

The dragon seems to have been present for all past cataclysms. In the Sea of Ash, the security systems of a bygone age fly out of the sand with an ancient purpose, it is almost as if the scale of the world cannot tolerate their presence.

This could be because as real as both characters are, they were not born of this world, they were created, deemed almost unnatural by the living world, despite the age of the Ancient race that created them. This creates a discrepancy between Orta’s identity, she is neither truly living, or mechanical, a sort of half life existing on the border of the two. (2)

“She’s only a Drone! Show no mercy!” – Imperial

The world is not their world, they are the result of a defunct antique world that can no longer continue – the current population is fearful of their ancient power, the reintroduction of this new hierarchy in the form of the dragon’s reappearance, makes the world uncomfortable and displaced.

However the world that has developed since the Ancient’s time – particularly under the rule of the Empire is not how the world is meant to be, the Imperials have risen to power by scouring the land for Drone technology, they rule using ancient power and plagiarized fortune.

Taking aim at the final boss.
The Panzer Dragoon backstory is long and illustrious. I highly suggest visiting The Will of the Ancients to fill yourself in on any of the previous games.
Mythology & regality

Panzer Dragoon Orta like the previous three games in the series uses an invented foreign language (3) for all dialogue to purpose build up a barrier between the narrative and the player, this is in order to create a sense of mythology and mystery the game world.

The dragons of the Panzer Dragoon world move away from the primeval beasts of fiction and are established as powerful, almost regal beings, while beautifully formed in gleaming circuit-like armour, they are also capable of wide spread destruction.

The Empire recognises the dragon as the creature from previous games, known as Lagi – and is then instantly able to understand the power of the creature, and everything it has done in the past to destroy their civilization. They know that the dragon will seek out a rider to complete it, and they are fearful of Orta, they already know that she is the child that will be chosen, it is in her blood.

“It’s the dragon that destroyed the last Empire!” – Imperial

Even Mobo, Orta’s eventual friend senses the weight of the power behind her – initially believing her to be an Imperial causing a fight between the two during which she has to prove her power to him – Mobo relents (out of fear) of her dragon’s strength, realizing he is no match for her.

“Drones are monsters created by the Ancients, but they look like humans.” – Mobo

The Empire knows more about Orta and the dragon than she does, and from the start of the game she is made uncomfortable by this realisation. The dragon and it’s rider have become the stuff of legend, a being that should be feared and respected in equal measure.

Concept art from Panzer Dragoon Orta.
The concept art for all of the games contain some of my favourite pieces of game-related art, and describe the mood of the Panzer Dragoon world perfectly.
Conflict of interest

One of the most interesting themes in this game is the idea of duality. Lagi and Orta are interlopers, two beings that are unable to be categorized. They represent the struggle between an advanced technical empire within the setting of an expansive organic world.

“You must save this doomed world from itself.” – Abadd

The ancient beings that Lagi originated from seemed to be the embodiment of both these key issues. Orta is a freed into a fragmented society as the object weighing down on both of these very different worlds. The wormrider tribe, (among others) living in peace with the land, while the Empire continues to uproot the technology of the past.

In fact Evren and her airship crew have nothing but disdain for the Wormrider tribe. When they themselves are no better. Plundering the designs used by a extinct race and harvesting the means needed to create their ridable, but weaker Dragonmares.

Then there is the fact that Orta herself is not completely human, but a Drone and human hybrid. She is her creator’s contingency plan, the backup tool incase the regeneration of the Ancients was unable to occur.

Orta, like every Drone before her is the tool of a by-gone age, with her human instincts preventing her from following the determined path. Even the dragon that carries her looks otherworldly – half organic, half machine with the veins on it’s wings replaced with the straight edges of precision circuitry.

“Once a human comes into contact with these godly creatures and gets a glimpse of their extraordinary world, it is difficult to return to the world of the normal and mundane.” – Pandora’s Box

Lagi has the unique power to set change in motion, a limitless energy available purely to redress the balance of wrongdoing. Opinions of the dragon seem to depend entirely on how the much characters have benefited from the upheaval of war.

A sunset view of the Empire's cradle.
Panzer Dragoon Orta is quite a short game. You should be able to finish it in about five hours. It would be nice if another, updated game were available to continue the legend.
Companionship & duality

Orta needs no reins or saddle to ride the dragon. Lagi’s frame is designed for the shape of a select few, this furthers the strength of the bond between the pair as safe within it’s protective shield she becomes part of Lagi’s identity, melding her personality with that of the creature’s.

Lagi in itself is one of the few remnants of the ancient world, and the game title alludes to their unique and combined power – the dragon is the great rideable weapon, but the rider harnesses the spirit of the beast and aids its progress.

“To others, they are divine objects of faith and adulation.” – Pandora’s Box.

Their partnership is a short one, but the beginning of the event that starts to influence the course of their world. Theirs is a relationship of mutual benefit as they are combined into a unified path.

Panzer Dragoon Orta is ultimately a game of partnership. Orta is the genetically engineered result of two different worlds, using the authority that comes with being a dragoon, she encompasses the potential of a world heaving with difficulty. The rider and dragon are the tools that will make or break it’s future.


(1) Pandora’s Box form part of the bonus features of the game including information on the PDO backstory and a fully-playable port of the original Panzer Dragoon. Back to text

(2) Orta is the child of Azel, from Panzer Dragoon Saga. She was genetically engineered using both her mothers Drone genes, and human DNA. Back to text

(3) Known as ‘Panzerese’ by fans of the series. Something similar is used by Team Ico in their games. Back to text