Review by WishingTikal
Just like fastfood
Fans have long been requesting a Sonic RPG. After all, if Super Mario RPG was a delightful surprise, (who would have thought the red plumber could inspire such an RPG?) Sonic also had the potential to make a great role-playing adventure; tons of characters and background stories that continuously expand with each new game, binding all storylines together. However, how would Sonic do in the RPG world, without the speed factor? Sonic's all about speed, but not in this game. While Sonic Chronicles definitely has some charm in the graphics department, developer BioWare might not have been the best choice for the long-awaited Sonic RPG. The essence of what a Sonic RPG should be like was captured well, but beyond appearances, Sonic Chronicles regrettably just comes out as a very generic adventure that reminds me more of the DS's unfortunate Spyro RPG.
Problem is, the game feels like it was developed uniquely to please fans, with no real passion for the RPG genre. To me, Sonic Chronicles is just like fastfood - quick, easy and cheap. The dedication the team had for the project just doesn't come across. It's understandable, as Sonic is not BioWare's series. With that in mind, they handled it fairly well; characters and story are spot on, the graphical style is a good way to put up Sonic's RPG world and most important elements from Sonic's universe were used wisely, but still, the game feels very thin in surface and there is nothing underneath. There are a lot of interesting ideas that are barely used, and there is no depth to the adventure at all. Most of the game consists in walking around small locations, moving on to the next place until the game is over after more or less than ten short hours.
BioWare's efforts on the game, although noteworthy, come out as clumsy, and as a result the majority of the game feels disorganised and amateurish. The game starts on a good note; Green Hill Zone is probably the only really good level of the game. A lush green landscape, some loops, and places that you can't reach -- yet. You begin as Sonic, whose only ability is to go through said loops, but soon enough you meet up with Amy, who has the ability to break crates blocking your way. Each of the 10 new characters that you add to your team throughout the adventure possesses a different and unique ability that lets you get across obstacles. Flying characters like Tails and Rouge can glide and cross gaps, Knuckles can climb and break crates just like Amy, and you'll see for the rest. This means you'll sometimes have to return to previous areas with new characters to finally access places you couldn't reach before.
It sounds kind of fun in theory, but the gameplay stays stagnant throughout the whole adventure. What you've done ten times in the first level, you'll still be doing it in the last level, with nothing new. After the first level, Sonic Chronicles quickly gets stale and boring. BioWare didn't really do anything to implement Sonic's trademark speed in the game, so the fast and frantic fun of Sonic games is nowhere to be found. As a result the game feels just like any other standard RPG, and does nothing to distinguish itself aside from the fact that it stars Sonic characters. In between the storyline dialogues that I couldn't get into because the plot was hard to follow and just not all that interesting (restore the Chaos Emeralds, again?), you'll be doing a lot of walking around, collecting rings and what not. This could be fun if the areas were large and full of hidden places, but all levels are extremely small and crowded, with few secrets. Once you have all the characters to access all the places, it's possible to finish the levels within a few minutes.
In each of these levels, you'll also meet NPCs who will request you to complete some tasks for them. Not only are those missions completely brainless, but these have to be the worst side quests in any RPG. Most of the time, you'll be forced around the level all over again to collect something for someone, backtrack to a previous level to give something to someone, then head back, or worse; save Timmy from the well or get a magazine for the guy in the toilet booth, who will give you Prune Juice as a reward. That very last one is amusing, but all other ones are simply similarly pointless and therefore annoying. It makes the game a bit longer for sure, but it also makes it a lot more repetitive. You'll also need to solve one big puzzle in each level, which fortunately requires more brain than the side missions. They include matching color switches, repeating series of buttons, and even do maths. These can be sort of fun, but they're too far in between.
Obviously, you'll also encounter enemies as you explore the areas. What would an RPG be without these? Although the game itself doesn't have a J-RPG feel to it, the battles are done in a traditional turn-based fashion. Each of your four party members can attack, defend, use items or use POW moves. The POW moves are special attacks that characters can perform alone, or teamed up with other characters. Every time a character levels-up, you can choose which stat to increase and what POW move to add. The battle system is pretty basic on its own, but there is actually a rather original idea in this entire game, which are the input commands. When performing a POW move, you'll have to use the stylus and play a mini reflex game so the attack succeeds, like touching a circle at the right time or keeping the stylus within the circle while it moves. It's nice at first, but it gets a bit irritating later on as you have to do it every time and the little games are not very varied. Worse, if you miss just one input, the whole move will fail, including healing spells.
But the most disappointing of all, is the Chao garden, which makes a return in this game. Whereas in other Sonic games you could raise the little critters and mate them together, an idea that always worked well and that was incredibly addictive, in this one there is nothing you can do with the Chao in the garden. The concept would have had enormous potential in Sonic Chronicles as it is an RPG, and it would have added a lot of replay value to the already very short adventure, but instead BioWare chose to waste it and turn it into a collect-a-thon. You'll find Chao eggs laying around the areas, which will automatically be taken to the Chao garden, accessible from the menu, until they hatch. Once an egg hatches, you can view the Chao's proprieties and equip it on one of your party member. Each Chao has different abilities that will be added to the character just like a piece of equipment or accessories. The Chao Garden serves no purpose and I don't even understand what it's even in there aside from the fact that it lets you see you newly hatched Chao and trade them via WiFi. There is no interaction to be had with the Chao and they barely serve any purpose in the genre it would have mattered the most.
With everything said and done, Sonic Chronicles is a huge letdown. The RPG aspect of the game is so toned down and aimed at beginners that it feels more like some sort of 2D adventure game where you walk around to collect stuff, occasionally solving a puzzle or two on the way. The game is far too easy, and unfocused. I was honestly bored to tears as I forced myself to keep going, only because the pretty hand-drawn levels were eye-candy. There is absolutely nothing remarkable about the quest Sonic and friends are on, no moments that stand out -- the whole way through everything is straightforward and unexciting. The battles are all the same one after the other, all the areas have similar designs and structures, all the side missions force you to run around pointlessly, and by the end of the journey you retain nothing from it except that you've been repeating the same process for ten hours. And let's not put aside the awful micro sounds the game's musical score essentially consists of.
In the end, the Sonic RPG turns out to be a very mediocre and tedious affair. The game is decent enough for hardcore fans of the series, but it's leaning way too much on the easy and simplistic side, making it no different from the countless other generic pseudo-RPGs. Plus, it's all touch-screen only so no buttons are used here at all, which does not really work in the game's favor. BioWare had in their hands something with a lot of potential, and they did what they could, but this is just not the epic adventure most people were expecting. Either that, or Sonic is just not meant to be an RPG. As far as I'm concerned, Sonic Chronicles is a failed experiment. The game's ending points out at a possible sequel, so let's hope next time SEGA hands over the project to another team or for Bioware to step up to their task and meet the expectations with something bigger and better.
Presentation: The game feels a bit amateurish and cheap, and it's all controlled via the touchscreen with no option to use buttons. Storyline is confusing and uninteresting at times. Gameplay is very simple and easy for RPG beginners. 6/10
Gameplay: A generic RPG that is somewhat dull. The quest is monotonous and unexciting. For a Sonic game, the pace is slow and a lot of potential ideas are put to waste in tired and over-used concepts. It's decent if you're not expecting anything though. 7/10
Graphics: The hand-drawn landscapes and art are all very pretty and pleasant to the eye. The amount of details is impressive. The style fits the game, but it gets a tad bland after the first few areas. The battle sceneries regrettably look pretty terrible in contrast, even though the 3D character models are great. 8/10
Music/Sounds: A mishmash of odd computer sounds and horrible techno music make this is an absolute atrocity for the ears, and can barely be qualified of anything musical. I am still not sure what to make of it; perhaps it's meant to be heard by people from another world? 4/10
Replay Value: The quest is extremely short (about 10 hours), and has very little replay value. You cannot revisit past areas after a certain point, even though the game incites you to collect everything. The New Game+ is pointless unless you really want to replay it (unlikely). 5/10
Rating: 3.0 - Fair
Product Release: Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood (US, 09/30/08)
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