Name: Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood
Platform: Nintendo DS
When Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood was first announced, my reaction was mixed. On the one hand, Sonic games in recent years have been less than stellar; in fact, I hadn’t played a game in the series since the 16-bit era. However, the fact that BioWare, a developer known for its compelling and critically-acclaimed RPGs, was making the game certainly made the prospect of a Sonic RPG more appealing. Besides, Super Mario RPG was a pleasant surprise when it first came out, so maybe Sonic could follow in its footsteps. At the very least, I was intrigued enough to want to try the game out.
After taking a vacation following the most recent defeat of Doctor Eggman (also known as Robotnik, the name I’ve always preferred), Sonic returns to find out that Knuckles is missing, the Chaos Emeralds have been stolen, and some new enemies have surfaced. The storyline has never been the strong point of any Sonic game, but in the past, that has been forgivable due to the game’s platforming roots. However, in a role-playing game, the narrative plays a much bigger role, so it was a little disappointed that the story in Sonic Chronicles is fairly weak. To be honest, I expected more from BioWare. It’s not terrible, but nothing about the plot really excited me; I trudged from point A to point B as directed, collecting rings and other items, rescuing teammates and defeating enemies, but I just felt like I was going through the motions. It was nice to see some familiar environments, like the Green Hill Zone, and the dialogue is quirky and humorous at times, but overall I didn’t feel much of a connection to the game.
As far as gameplay goes, Sonic Chronicles is pretty much 100% stylus. The touch screen is used for moving around, utilizing equipment, using items, deploying special moves to get into hard-to-reach places, and, of course, battling. The fighting is turned-based, which should make traditional RPG fans happy. For the most part, a lot of the fighting will consist of tapping the “attack” command with your stylus and then touching the enemy you want to damage, but there are a few things that make the battle system in Sonic Chronicles unlike other RPGs. First of all, instead of magic and MP, the game uses special moves that cost “Power Points”, or PP. These moves, which can be offensive or defensive, are deployed by doing Elite Beat Agents-esque stylus gestures, like tapping in one place repeatedly or tracing a line onscreen while trying to stay within a circle. These are also used to block the enemy’s special attacks, which can sometimes mean the difference between victory and defeat, so it’s important to master these techniques early on.
Occasionally, foes will attempt to run from the battle, which will cause a racing mini-game to occur in which your characters will chase after the enemy while you try to hit speed boosts and avoid obstacles. Hit too many boxes, and the enemies will get away. This part of the game is really simple at first, but it gets harder when you have four characters in your party; trying to control them all at once can be a little tricky, but I found myself enjoying the challenge, as well as having something to break up the standard gameplay.
The graphics and music are both noteworthy in Sonic Chronicles. It’s a good-looking game, with pretty and detailed environments and characters. The level design isn’t the best, but it was still pretty neat to see levels from the early Sonic games recreated for this title. You’ll also notice the rocking soundtrack right away, a far cry from the peaceful melodies of Sonic the Hedgehog. It helps make Sonic Chronicles seem different and a little edgy, but starts to seem a little silly and repetitive as the game goes on.
My biggest problem with this game was not that there was much technically wrong with it, but that I was not committed to the story in any way. The early missions are just plain boring, and veterans of the genre will not find much in the way of difficulty here. It feels like BioWare designed this game with RPG virgins in mind, and while I like the idea of the genre getting more popular, as someone who has been playing RPGs for over a decade, I wanted more of a challenge. Sure, not every popular role-playing game has had an over-the-top, super-deep story, and sometimes that works, but Sonic Chronicles was noticeably lacking.
Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood is a decent first attempt at giving the speedy hedgehog a new genre to explore, but the game lacks the addictive and challenging elements that make RPG fans want to keep exploring and progressing. It’s fun at times and definitely has its moments, but on a system that already has some pretty great role-playing games in its library, there doesn’t seem to be much of a place for this one. It’s possible that I expected too much out of BioWare and the blue speedster, but that doesn’t change the fact that the games never achieves greatness, though it probably could have. Maybe next time, Sonic.