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donkeyspaceman avatar 10:45 PM on 02.15.2011  (server time)
Groundhog Day: Where there's a will, there's a way

What a fantastic experience I just had.

A few days ago, I started playing Panzer Dragoon for the Sega Saturn. Being a huge Sega fan, but never really giving much attention to any series other than Sonic (which is barely worth my attention anymore), I felt it appropriate that I revisit some older franchises and see what I was missing. Panzer Dragoon was the first I decided to tackle, since I had already procured all three games (and by all three, I mean the first one, Zwei, and Orta. I'm not counting Saga because I don't have $130 to blow on a Sega Saturn game right now).

Booting it up for the first time, it was about what I expected. A rail shooter (like Star Fox or Rez) with a unique difference: the ability to turn your view point in four different directions, making the game a hell of a lot more confusing than any other rail shooter I've played. Not a bad kind of confusing, just the kind that demands a lot more skill than others of the genre call for. The first of the game's six levels, I wildly tapped the shoot button and prayed I'd hit something.

Of course, being the first level, this tactic actually worked and I made it to the boss in decent shape (in other words, with a fourth of my health bar intact). I think I managed to flail through the beginning of the second level before the game really let me have it with the "Enemies approach from all sides" bullet point and the Dark Dragon's "giant cyborg insect armies" (yes, these are quotes from the back of the game case) took me out. My second pass didn't go so hot and I got a devastating game over screen.

Yeah, a game over screen. Of the devastating variety. You don't really see too many of those these days.

Sure, maybe you play Dead Space 2 and get your limbs ripped off by various space critters. Do you get a game over screen, though? Nope. And even if you did, would it be devastating? Probably not, as you'd just respawn a few rooms away or perhaps at your last save point.

Oh dear god no, not all the way back to my last save point! I haven't saved in like 20 minutes!

Oh no, 20 minutes ago? Boo fucking hoo. What I wouldn't give to have been able to start over at the last level I reached in the hellfire that is Panzer Dragoon. When I see that game over screen, it's game fucking over. Two credits is all you get before you're back at square one.

Screw that, right? There's no way I'm going to beat this game. Well, that's what I normally say to games like this. Not today, though. Today is different. Today, I was going to take the retro approach and say "When the going gets tough, then I get tougher and beat the shit out of this game". (Also, I already spent $20 on the stupid game and didn't want to touch the sequels until the first was squared away)

So I endured. I played again. Got a bit further. Picked up the instruction manual (Wait what?). Learned how to lock on (They don't teach you that in-game?). Cleaned fucking house. Then level three came along and pounded my ass into the ground. No matter. I'll try again tomorrow.

Tomorrow comes and I seriously consider playing something that won't beat my face into a fine pulp. "No," my inner child screams, "you're not bitching out like you did with Hey You, Pikachu." He's right. I can't let another game fall to the wayside and be added to my very long list of "Games I've Started But Never Finished". I wanted more to add to my "Games I've Beaten The Pants Off Of" list (which has had an abysmally small number added to it in the last few years).

I was determined to beat Panzer Dragoon.

I boot up the game for the second or third time that day and do better than I've done yet (after a few embarrassingly bad warm up runs). Shot down percentages in the upper 90s for the first three levels, netting me five or so extra credits. The bosses get some good shots in on me, but I persevere. The brave new world that is level four presents itself in all its claustrophobic glory and I don't do so hot. I've still got plenty of credits though, so I'm bound to do it right one of these times. I note my health as I pass through the first stone door and realize it's higher in later runs. I'm not getting quite as fucked up quite as fast, it seems.

Eventually, I reach the fourth boss with some competence and get annihilated. My pea shooter pistol seems to do nothing. My lock on blasts do little more. The boss takes all my remaining credits like a school bully shaking me down for lunch money and I see that devastating game over screen once more.

Defeated, I turn the game off and play something easy on my Xbox 360.

Getting so far in a game like Panzer Dragoon and having it all taken away is pretty heart-breaking. Especially when you get farther than usual. Sure, level three was a big deal a few days ago, but holy shit man, I was just on level four. The boss of level four no less! And now I'm all the way back to level one. There is simply no way I can get that far again.

"Now just hold on a damn minute," my inner child demands. "Remember when you played Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island for the first time?"

I remember.

"Did you let Baby Bowser keep you down when he was the only thing standing between you and victory?"

I didn't.

"You're damn right you didn't. Now, are you going to let some crappy midboss in an hour long arcade shooter take a dump in your cereal?

No way.

"Then show him who the real fucking boss is."

And so I did. I powered up my Sega Saturn and wasted the first three levels. I rotated my camera and held the lock on button in position before the enemies even appeared on screen. I finished the bosses off before they could say "Segata Sanshiro". I racked up a ton of credits with my high shot down percentages. I flew through the tunnels of level four without faltering and made its boss my bitch on my first try.

Level five came and went with a few deaths.

Level six stopped me only once before I cut through its defenses.

The final boss reared its ugly head. My fingers hurt, but when I was done with him, I bet his fingers hurt more (assuming he has fingers, which he may not, being a dragon and all).

The credits rolled past with some beautiful artwork and music to commemorate my victory. I was floored. I couldn't believe that I just completed this game that I thought unbeatable a few days earlier. It was an accomplishment I could be proud of. An accomplishment my inner child could be proud of. I hadn't grown up to be completely unskilled and impatient. I could still muster the retro mindset of my childhood years and not leave a game alone until I had put it firmly in its place.

And you know what? This isn't just about video games. No, I feel like I can do anything right now. Why is that? Because I just did something I thought impossible. What reason do I have now to not do more impossible things? Like learn how to play guitar? Ask a girl I like out on a date? Take the time to write something like I've been wanting to for the last five months (like this blog, for example)?

Who would have thought that all it would take to get me out of an incredible funk was to take the time to frustrate myself with a video game on a regular basis until I eventually conquered it?

Anyway, it's good to be writing and smiling again. Thank you, Panzer Dragoon. I sincerely hope Zwei makes me half as frustrated as you did.

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