Review by GeekyDad
Not Right on the Money, But Still a Gem
Two quick items to address before I go into my spiel about Sonic Chronicles: 1.) I'm not a Sonic fan. When I was younger, I would be briefly entertained watching someone else play the original Sonic arcade game, but I never really cared for it too much myself. 2.) If you were expecting a Sonic platformer, what were you thinking? It's a game that's been discussed at great length. It's an RPG. It's probably best not to come into this game expecting anything else. End of rant.
I'm not going to discuss details about the game's story though I'm not oblivious to the fact that story in an RPG is important. It's just I wouldn't know where to begin. However, I will try to gauge it for you. It's actually a good plot, but since it's based on the Sonic universe, well, it's geared a bit toward the younger crowd. That said, I enjoyed it quite a bit. There aren't any great twists or turns, but the game offers a very solid progression with plenty of side things to do.
Sonic Chronicles is, for the most part, a turn-based RPG, but each melee round will require you to engage in a variety of micro games. Most of these games are based on the Elite Beat Agents, marker-tapping thing, but occasionally you'll have to chase down enemies who try to escape. The micro games are different only in their patterns, but otherwise it's pretty much the same type of thing each time. Micro games come into play when either one of your characters is executing a POW (sorry, forgot what the acronym stands for, but they're basically spells) move, or when you're defending against an enemy's POW move. You'll be doing a lot of these little micro games during combat, but here's the thing: they grow on you. At first, I wasn't too impressed. The sound effects that accompany the tapping are kind of weak, and some moves seem a bit difficult to get down properly. But after about five / six hours of gameplay, I was hooked. Also, battles require a good deal of strategy, even for lower-level encounters. Additionally, Bioware (the game's developer) had the foresight to add enemy indicators on the field, and it's a small touch that makes all the difference in the world. Sure, some enemies will close in too fast to escape, but for the most part, you battle when you want to battle.
The presentation is mostly great, with a few rough edges here and there. The cutscenes are gorgeous, but they get lopped off rather than faded out. But the graphics are pure awesome. Sonic Chronicles is definitely one of the best-looking games on DS. Like Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword, Sonic Chronicles offers 3D character models over beautiful 2D environments, yet battles are fully three dimensional. Characters animate wonderfully, no camera problems, but you do get occasional issues with collision detection, though nothing that impairs the gamplay in any way. The music in Sonic is really good. Most of the overworld music is MIDI-techno, but it works perfectly in the setting of each area you journey through, and the mostly heavy metal music during battles is really cool a staple of most recent Sonic games. The only aural aspects of Sonic Chronicles that disappoints are the sound effects during combat micro games. Sure, the knock-out sounds are great, and many other effects in the game work well, but adding more visceral sound effects to the micro games would have, I think, made playing those little games more satisfying.
Sonic Chronicles also has some other quirks, such as requiring you to choose who will be in your party every time you exit a base (the place you go to heal). Some of the game's puzzles are puzzling only because you can't see clearly what you need to see, rather than because the puzzles are brain teasers. Additionally, there are issues with touch commands. I've accidentally glossed over text in conversations or fouled up a micro game because my commands weren't read properly. I have no problems with other DS games, so it's not my touch screen; this is actually one of my biggest complaints about the game.
Still, Bioware got a lot right with Sonic Chronicles: Great story and gameplay progression, entertaining and mildly addictive battles, enemy indicators on the field, lots of sidequests, a great interface (though it too has a few quirks), and a lot of fun things to do when you're merely exploring the overworld. Nope, it's not perfect, and yes, there are things I hope Bioware will address should they make a sequel (which I now hope they do). But coming from someone who loves RPGs but not necessarily Sonic games, this one is a winner.
Rating: 4.0 - Great
Product Release: Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood (US, 09/30/08)
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