Review by Mr_Q-Bert
Funny how you don't see very many Light Brotherhoods these days...
There are very few video game characters as successful as Sonic the Hedgehog. Since 1991, he's starred in over 40 games across a wide variety of systems.He's had adventure games, racing games, and even a pinball game. Now, with Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood, he moves on to one of the few genres he has yet to conquer... quasi-interactive turtle-washing simulations! Okay, that was a complete lie. This game is a role-playing game, or RPG as some of today's young whippersnappers have taken to calling them. As most of you probably know, an RPG is a game where you gradually build your characters over the course of the game, usually through a process that involves gaining experience with every fight and leveling up when you get a certain amount. But I'm not here to explain how RPGs work I'm here to tell you whether or not this one is any good. Now, that statement I just made likely provoked a response along the lines of Well, is it any good? Stop rambling and tell us! This, in turn, provokes a response along the lines of Read on to find out.
As a Sonic RPG, this game would seem to face certain challenges in the gameplay department. Sonic games have always been known for their extreme sense of speed, but RPGs, by nature, are typically very slow and deliberate, allowing players long gaps of time to choose their next moves and often requiring them to return to previously conquered areas and fight waves of identical enemies in order to gain experience. This game aims to combine the best aspects of both categories, and for the most part it succeeds quite successfully (which is good, because games that succeed unsuccessfully always seem gimmicky). On the surface, the gameplay is essentially a standard RPG interface with a few Sonic-centric twists. You can have up to four characters in your party at one time, though you control only one when exploring the overworld (you can switch between them at will using simple stylus taps). The game fortunately lacks the annoyingly frequent random enemy encounters that some traditional RPGs are known for, and instead adopts a system similar to the classic SNES game Chrono Trigger, where foes appear on the overworld map and battles begin when they make contact with the player. During battles, the gameplay is again essentially the standard RPG arrangement of basic attacks and special moves, though the latter are executed through a unique and enjoyable touch-screen interface that provides some of the Sonic series's trademark fast-paced action. The controls are generally quite accurate, both inside and outside of battle, though the game's recognition of the stylus maneuvers can be slightly imprecise at times. In terms of difficulty, the game is fairly lightweight, and experienced players shouldn't expect to encounter any real trouble (though it's never so easy as to be unenjoyable). The difficulty is also reduced by the fact that unused characters level up automatically upon rejoining the party, which, depending on your perspective, can be seen as either a time-saving convenience or a gimmick that takes away some of the appeal of building a character on your own.
In recent years, Sonic games have begun to feature increasingly elaborate storylines. RPGs have virtually always been known for their elaborate storylines, so this game would seem to have a fairly clear-cut mold to follow. And for the most part, it does follow that mold, providing a plot with both elements from the recent Sonic games and typical RPG plot threads. The story is most interesting in the early chapters of the game, when many aspects of the plot are still shrouded in mystery. The game can also be commended for avoiding many of the clichés that are all too common in adventure games and telling a story that is interesting, intriguing, and even a bit unpredictable. However, the story begins to deteriorate very gradually around the midpoint of the game, and eventually does fall back on some of the typical adventure game tropes, to the point where the last third of the game feels somewhat dragged-out, and you already know how everything will be resolved. However, the game's latter sections are somewhat redeemed by the highly unexpected twist ending, and the writing is consistently stylish and humorous throughout. All in all, the story is generally good, despite the predictable final act, especially when one considers that it's meant for all ages, and therefore a deep and complex storyline is more or less out of the question.
The graphics in this game aren't spectacular, but there aren't any problems with them, either. Most of the game is in passable form of 3D, which looks fairly good, considering that handheld systems aren't nearly as powerful as modern consoles. The character models occasionally appear somewhat chunky, which is the case with almost all 3D games on the DS, but the backgrounds, while not highly detailed,
are much less blocky than the characters and almost impressive for a DS game. The animation of the characters' attacks is well-done and distinctive, and manages to avoid repeating the same actions for different moves. The standard walking animation, on the other hand, is not quite as good the characters' movements seem slightly out of sync with the speed at which they actually progress across the screen, and their gestures occasionally appear exaggerated or silly. During cutscenes and dialogue segments, the 3D graphics are scrapped in favour of 2D, anime-esque static drawings, which look quite good and are very expressive, if somewhat devoid of action. In terms of music, the game doesn't feature any particularly memorable background tunes (or anything resembling the vocal rock music the Sonic series is known for CURSE YOU, DS AUDIO LIMITATIONS!!!!), but there's nothing particularly grating or annoying either. The sound effects are also adequate, and don't sound especially mechanical or cartoonish, but a little more variety in the attack noises would have been nice. To sum it all up, the game's graphics and sound aren't really anything to write home about, but they're par for the course on a handheld system and they do what they need to quite adequately.
Play time/Replayablity: 6.5/10
You know what they always say: there are no RPGs that you can beat in an hour. Well, maybe no one says that very often and there probably are RPGs that you can beat in an hour, but if there are, this is probably not one of them. As with most games of the genre, Sonic Chronicles should take several hours to beat, even for some of the most experienced players. Now, the question is: is it long for an RPG? And the answer to that is, drum roll please... not especially. Many classic RPGs were known for being epic quests that would take weeks to complete if you could play them every day between 2:00 AM and 12:00 AM. This game would be better described as a semi-epic quest that, if you played it every day between 12:00 PM and 2:00 PM, could be completed in a week. However, unless you absolutely need your games to be longer than an armadillo's whiskers (another thing no one says very often), the length shouldn't be too much of a problem, because it doesn't feel short or incomplete by any means. Now, as for replayability: there isn't any. Once the game is done, there is no real incentive to come back and play it again the story starts over from the beginning, it doesn't change a bit, and there are no new secrets or features that weren't present the first time around. All your characters are at the levels they were at when you initially completed the game, which I guess is supposed to alleviate the difficulty and make you want to play more, but ultimately just ends up removing all of the challenge and reducing every battle to an exercise in tediousness.
Final recommendation: 7.5/10
There are very few video game characters as frequently maligned as Sonic the Hedgehog. Since 2005, he's appeared in over... uh... 3 games that have been met with negative reactions (man, that worked better in the introduction). Anyway, the crucial question is: does Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood deserve such a reaction, or should you give it a try? Assuming that you've read my review so far, you'll know that the answer is yes, you should most likely try it out. It's not the most action-packed Sonic game out there, and it's not the most intense RPG you can find, but it is certainly a good, solid game, with a good, solid gameplay mechanic, a good, solid story (for the most part), and a good, solid lack of any replay value whatsoever. And if this game does well, who knows what other genres Sonic might branch out into? If it's by the same team that made this game, even a turtle-washing simulation can't be all that bad.
Rating: 3.5 - Good
Product Release: Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood (US, 09/30/08)
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