Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood
September 30th, 2008
When you think of Sonic the Hedgehog you normally think of side scrolling loops, running fast, bouncing on the heads of badniks and collecting rings. What you normally don't think about is equipment, balancing parties, and distributing stat points. BioWare has set out to change that with Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood, the first true Sonic RPG!
In Sonic Chronicles the player takes the role of our favorite chili dog loving hedgehog in an adventure to retrieve the chaos emeralds from a lost tribe of Echidnas who plan to make Sonic's universe their own! This time however Sonic will hardly be alone. He will have to rely on the help of longtime friends and allies, and in some cases even villains, to save his world and chaos emeralds!
The graphics are one area I believe this game could have improved upon. Now mind you they aren't as bad as Deadly Premonition, but the DS is capable of more and even the opening movie leaves much to be desired.
Overworld graphics are decent and early in the game you get to see areas like Green Hill Zone, Angel Island, and Mystic Ruins. Trademark loop-the-loops, springs and ramps can be seen on most levels and do serve as part of the game (which I will mention more in the game play section!).
Later areas in Act 2 are new worlds that definitely something out of a sci-fi movie. Cherish these images because they are the best designs in the game.
Battle screens are the most lacking area of this game graphically. Sonic and his teammates can look like muppets at times and the backgrounds during these battle sequences have no depth to them at all. The good news is that you pay little attention to the graphics because of the touch screen implementation aspects of the game.
Dialog sequences thankfully feature drawings of Sonic's team, and not 3D models, and are much easier on the eyes.
Where as much of the game implements classic Sonic sound effects, such as jumping, spin dashing, and ring collecting, many of the new sound effects (especially in battles) are highly annoying. I ended up turning the sound off entirely due to the "whonk" noise that occurs with every attack.
Music in the game is decent and many of the songs are reworked versions from Sonic 3D Blast and Sonic CD. As I have heard great examples of the sound quality capable on the DS I can honestly say these tracks could have probably been a little higher quality.
Game play is truly where this game shines. As I noted before, Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood is in every sense of the word a great turn-based RPG. Each character in the game has several things he brings to the party.
First is of course class. There are 3 character classes in the game: Power, support, and shifter class. Power characters are your main attackers and include Sonic, Knuckles, and Shadow. Support are your buffers and healers such as Tails, Cream, and Big. Shifter characters like Amy Rose and Rogue have the ability to do both. In addition to this each character you choose to bring to your party brings abilities that can be used to navigate the overworld maps. Sonic of course can use his speed to clear loops and ramps, Tails puts his tails to use, Amy Rose can smash obstacles, and Big the Cat can use his thick skin to get through hazardous environments. Because of this balancing your party not only effects the in game battles, but your ability to explore the map and collect all the items as well.
And of course where would an RPG be without equipment? You can equip each character with gloves, boots, an accessory, and a Chao. That's right I said a Chao! The lovable pets from Sonic Adventure and Sonic Adventure 2 make their return accompanying a character to add a unique perk or stat boost to that character. Gloves, boot, and accessories of course all add stats like defense, attack, or speed.
Combat in Sonic Chronicles is a very traditional turn-based RPG style most often seen in JRPGs such as Final Fantasy. This is done very well in my opinion and is something not seen often in today’s more action oriented “I want to shoot something now” games. Aside from normal attacks there are also special abilities called POW abilities. They do a variety of different things depending on the character but all require PP, or POW points to use, and require a special sequence of touch screen inputs to succeed. Some are more forgiving than others but learning the patterns of key POW moves such as healing help a lot in the long run.
One thing surely to please Sonic fans is the list of characters that appear. The game features 10 playable characters from both previous Sonic games and comics. There are even a few cameos that are sure to bring a smile. Even Cream the Rabbit, a character introduced in Sonic Advance 2 for the Gameboy Advance returns lending her considerable healing skills to Sonic's first RPG adventure.
Of course the game is not without its shortcomings, the first of which is the seemingly random difficulty level. At times regular minions seem to require pulling out all the stops while some bosses are a walk in the park. This balancing issue is thankfully the only major flaw game play wise.
Though minor as it is, one of the things I found frustrating at times is avoiding combat. In Sonic Chronicles you move across the overworld maps by dragging the styles in that direction. As you do enemies are also roaming around. You can avoid battles by not coming into contact with their overworld counterparts but this is very hard to do, mostly due to many narrow corridors or simply not being able to move the stylus the way you want to.
And of course fans of BioWare's conversation style menus will be glad to see they make it into this game as well, but they lack the depth they feature in other games such as Mass Effect and Dragon Age. Part of me wanted to be angry with the lack of a conversation choice's impact on the game but because some of the options make Sonic yell at Tails, in the end I'm glad they weren't appealing. After all who wants Sonic to be a jerk? I know I don’t.
Of course as for any RPG, replays are usually only for those wanting to relive the story. Sonic Chronicles is no exception. If you do find yourself wanting to replay the game it conveniently launches you into a new game that carries over all your stats, abilities, Chao, and equipment after some very funny interactive credits. And with the game lasting from 12-15 hours, replaying isn’t a chore either.
If it needed to be said, here it is, Sonic has seen many spin off series over the years, from pinball to hover-boarding. Sonic Chronicles, even despite its shortcomings, is by far the best hope for a successful spinoff franchise. Since there might never be a sequel (due to EA politics) any Sonic fan owes it to himself to check out this game.