Review by FadeddreamsXXX
Reviewed: 10/15/08 | Updated: 01/07/09
A Sonic RPG has a lot of potential, but sadly, Bioware failed at demonstrating this.
Sonic the Hedgehog was once a popular franchise that deviated from generic platformers by giving players a sense of speed to go along with their traditional gameplay, which subsequently, made Sonic, Mario's rival in the videogame industry. However, for five or so years, Sonic has been a victim of myriad amount of subpar games and spin-offs, with only games such as the Sonic Rush series to redeem our favorite blue blur before hitting the dirt. Sega's desire to once again change the direction of the franchise, led them to having Bioware develop an RPG based on the blue hedgehog: Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood. Unfortunately, not even Bioware managed to create an RPG that stands out over other higher quality role-playing games; an uninteresting storyline, tedious gameplay, low quality sound, ugly character models and cutscenes, and a lack of objectives upon beating the game keep it from standing on its own.
Sonic Chronicles opens up with Sonic and gang defeating Eggman during an untold story. After this battle, Sonic goes on vacation, but is later messaged by Tails, who tells him that Knuckles has been kidnapped, and the Chaos Emeralds have been taken by a group of new villains called the "Marauders." Needless to say, Sonic heads off to find Knuckles and learn more about the new villains. This may sound interesting, but by the middle of the game, the storyline seems like something taken out of a bad fanfic, and by the end, things start shaping up similarly to the final season of Sonic X. Not to mention that there are obvious elements taken from the Archie comic series here as well, which leads to an amalgamated mess to say the least. However, the story isn't the worst in the world, and the writers certainly made up for it by adding other positive elements.
Bioware did a fantastic job at referencing significant events from past Sonic games in the dialogue, along with adding an in-game codex that allows newcomers to learn more about Sonic, and retro fans to get a nice taste of nostalgia. The dialogue branches in the game are also a neat feature that allows the player to choose what he wants Sonic to say at the given moment -- sometimes, this leads to humorous dialogue, and other times, it leads to references to older Sonic games. Unfortunately, these dialogue options don't really impact what occurs in the storyline, but it's still safe to say that the writers at Bioware certainly went the right direction to appeal to fans. However, the same can't really be said about the gameplay.
The gameplay in Sonic Chronicles is nothing revolutionary or in no way close to fun compared to what we see in Mario RPGs. The controls for one, are stylus-only, so the entire game is controlled by dragging Sonic from place to place by pointing towards where you want to go. This may or may not be a bad thing depending on the player, but not having an option to switch to the D-pad is unfair for the players who despise the stylus controls. Now, even if we could explore the recreated Sonic worlds present in the game with a D-pad, things wouldn't really be much different considering the worlds are bland and linear; as you try to explore everything you can possibly get from the worlds, you will come to realize that there is not much to do except solve uncreative puzzles, take dull sidequests -- that only reward you with superfluous items -- by talking to the limited amount of people present, and collect chao eggs and rings (currency). Now, I know many chao fanatics might be going crazy of joy at this point, but the the chao gardens in this game are not the same as the ones in the Sonic Adventure series; the chao here are just items that can be equipped on characters. As for the actual battle system, things don't get anymore interesting.
The battle system in the game is basically what you'll see in a generic RPG, only with one extra feature: all "POW" moves are executed and dodged in a style similar to what is seen in Elite Beat Agents. This might have been an interesting concept if it wasn't for the fact that you always have to be paying attention to what is going on, or your attack will fail. That said, if you don't input your POW attacks correctly, sometimes they might not work at all, so for example, if you don't execute your healer's recovery attack properly, it will instantly fail -- this can be very annoying. Now, the battle system isn't so bad, and it has a lot of potential, but what makes it fail hard is the fact that there's an imbalance in the enemies you face; during the beginning, enemies will be hard enough to lose to. There are many times when each and every enemy you fight feels like a boss because no matter how much you level up, your attack will inflict 1 damage while they have over 100HP, and the ability to "self-repair" after you have KO'd them. So basically, using POW moves and healing items is not something that's supposed to add to the strategy of the game and make things easier like in other RPGs, but rather, they are a necessity in nearly every battle of the game, which makes things incredibly tedious and not fun; you will find yourself running away from enemies quite a lot by the very beginning. It doesn't help that the music fails at keeping things interesting either.
The Dark Brotherhood has one of the most mediocre soundtracks you'll hear for a DS game. All of the music sounds horribly compressed, and in a midi format. I'll give Bioware some credit because they attempted to add remixes of Sonic music from Sonic 3D Blast, Sonic and Knuckles, and other oldschool Sonic games, but sadly, these "remixes" sound so bad that they make midi forms of these songs found on the internet sound godly. In the end, you should not buy this game expecting awesome music or great Sonic remixes because even though there is a Green Hill Zone, there is not a Green Hill theme present. Speaking of which, Green Hill Zone doesn't look anything like the original either.
In terms of visuals, everything looks great in the overworlds, which have a hand-drawn style that's candy to the eyes. However, some stages of the past like Green Hill Zone look nothing like what they did in the games they first appeared in. Even though the worlds look good, the same cannot be said about the character models and cutscenes. The character models present in the game are among the worst I have ever seen in a Sonic game; they can almost seem on-par with that of Sonic R if you look at a low-quality internet image before actually playing the game. As for the cutscenes, they are all in a comic style that seems to be like something made out of Flash. Sometimes I can't help but get goosebumps after seeing some of these ugly and short cutscenes that pop up out of nowhere. In the end, visuals in Sonic Chronicles could have been a lot better, just like 90% of the game.
Replay Value: 6/10
Sonic Chronicles is a short RPG divided into 10 chapters that will only take a maximum of 15-20 hours to beat, and unfortunately, the gameplay isn't really enough to convince the player to play through again unless he/she is a perfectionist who wants to collect all rings and chao eggs, level up all characters to max and obtain all their POW moves, and complete all missions. Aside from this, there is nothing else to do upon completion except putting the game in a shelf or returning it.
Overall, Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood isn't a completely bad game, but it's not for everyone either. The storyline pertains to a lot of fanservice, which will not appeal to anyone who isn't a Sonic fan; the gameplay isn't anything revolutionary, and can be incredibly tedious; the music and graphics aren't the best in the world; and there aren't too many worthwhile sidequests that give the game any sense of replay value. If you are a Sonic fan, you should try the game out by renting, but if you're not, then I suggest you look at some other DS RPGs to play because this one is not for you. 5/10
Rating: 2.5 - Playable
Product Release: Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood (US, 09/30/08)
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