Review by Godstriker8
The complete antithesis of what Sonic is.
A bizarre pairing of Bioware and Sega spawned this mediocre Sonic RPG. At first glance, you might think: "Hell, if Mario can do a fantastic RPG then why not Sonic?" and you'd be wrong. I too,was highly anticipating this game because not only do I love the Blue Blur, but it's an RPG made by Bioware. That's right, THAT Bioware; the makers of the highly acclaimed RPG series Mass Effect, and Knights of the Old Republic. Yet, somehow the end product amounts to yet another mediocre Sonic game to add to the pile. The problem, is that not only is the game itself boring and repetitive (oh boy, is it repetitive!), but it also manages to become the complete opposite of what a Sonic game feels like.
To start off, I'll talk about the one positive thing that's different from your average Sonic game: A good story. The dialogue is actually very good, and well written; something I never thought I'd be saying about a Sonic game. The way the characters interact with each other, as well as their witty comments, are consistently enjoyable, and remains the only motivation to beat the game unfortunately. The story itself is also very interesting, and has a very pleasant paradigm shift partway through that serves to effectively shake the status quo. Bioware also keeps their trademark dialogue branches during conversations with characters, and while they may not influence the story in any meaningful way, they do add charm to the dialogue and are generally very humorous. While Bioware's influences on Sonic may have been poor in every other category, I would not mind if Bioware wrote the stories for other Sonic games.
Unfortunately, that's where the positives end. Now, what are the two things you just assume a Sonic game to have, before you've even played it? If you said Speed and Good Music, you'd be correct. More on the sound later, but the Speed is an integral aspect to any Sonic game. It's Sonic defining feature, its what makes him unique. So tell me Bioware, why the hell does Sonic move like a crippled slug through the environments!? He's just so slow and clunky to move around with. I get that it's a RPG, but that doesn't mean he has to move like a slug. These environments are big, let him run like he always has! Now, if that was the only problem with the environments, it wouldn't be too bad. But nope, Bioware just had to make it worse. Instead of platforming around like in say, the Mario & Luigi series, Sonic and co. cannot jump in this game. Instead, when you come to certain spots, a context-sensitive button will appear on screen to do all the cool moves you would usually do in other Sonic games. Want to run through a loop-de-loop? Sure, just press the button so that the game does it for you. Want to break a box? Let the game do it for you. Want to jump up a ledge? LET THE GAME DO IT FOR YOU. And it gets really ridiculous, when your way though is blocked by a bunch of boxes, that Sonic would easily be able to jump over in any other Sonic game, but here you have to find another way through. When your Sonic game has him moving about at a snail's pace in an extremely uninteractive environment, where he has no actions what so ever, and controls like ****, that's just a recipe for disaster. Of all the things they copied from the Mario and Luigi series, the ONE thing they should've copied was the interactive overworlds and tight controlling navigation through said environments that was fun to experience.
Now that was just what was wrong with the Overworld. I haven't even begun to talk about the battle system: the heart and soul of any RPG. It's similar to a blend of Mario & Luigi + Elite Beat Agents, just 20x more tedious. To elaborate, you power up special attacks, as well as dodge enemy attacks with quick reflexes a la Mario & Luigi, but instead of pressing a button with correct timing to power up/dodge attacks you play an EBA style minigame which is piss easy. Remember what I was talking about when referring to the basic principles of Sonic? I was talking about speed. This battle system is perhaps the slowest battle system I have ever used in a RPG, and it definitely did not have to be this slow, nor should it be in a Sonic game. My first problem, is how slow navigating the menus are. Seeing as how its all Stylus controlled, you must manually pick an option and then an enemy with precision. This becomes a major problem when fighting weaker enemies. When all you want to do is just attack, you have to do it very slowly. There's no "Rush" option either like there are in most modern day RPGs, and since there's no buttons, its slower than just mashing you way through the menus. A minor annoyance, but this game already has far too many of those. Problem number 2: The enemies have way too much health bars. Referring back to the theme of speed, you'd expect battles in a Sonic RPG to go by fast, right? NO. These enemies health bars are huge; they take forever to die. Therefore battles also take a long ass time to complete, because your characters only deal around 1/10th of an enemy's health bar. 1/10th bar damage X potentially 4 enemies to fight = a long ass fight every time. It doesn't help that the animations are so poor, and the framerate is so slow, so you really feel the tedium of the battles in the later half of the game. Problem number 3: The running minigame. I guess somewhere down the line, the developers realized that Sonic is indeed about speed, and therefore needed to show it in this game. That's why there's this awkward minigame where randomly in the middle of a fight, the enemies might sometimes run away, forcing you to catch up to them by jumping over boxes in a minigame that only serves to further draw out the painfully long battles. My god, what a flawed battle system.
Another key ingredient of Sonic: Good music. Ever since the Genesis games, Sonic games have always had a kick ass soundtrack. Even the crap games like Sonic 06 and Sonic R, at least had a decent soundtrack. Metropolis Zone, Live and Learn, Rooftop Run, Sonic games have indeed put out some classic gaming tunes. But this game has easily the worst soundtrack of any Sonic game I have ever played. It's just so bland and repetitive, with boring MIDI songs that have around only 1-3 instruments playing at one time. Its very boring, and even the Game Gear tunes had more of a flair and life to them. The sound effects aren't any better, with very generic sounds when you hit an enemy that sound like they came from some royalty free website. They're completely out of place, and it really disappoints me. Especially the children cheering when you win a battle, it sounds so out of place like "What? Were there supposed to be kids watching me? Why the hell are kids cheering?!". The sounds are easily some of the worse I've heard in modern gaming. And it really pains me that the music and sound is so bad, because its a frickin Sonic game. Why not just steal some classic tunes and effects? It would improve the quality of the soundtrack, plus act as some nice fan service. Oh wait, they did do that for one level, and that rendition of "Diamond Dust Zone" somehow sounded worse than the Genesis version. But it truly is sacrilegious when you start the game off in Green Hill Zone, but you don't use the Sonic 1 Green Hill Zone music. WHY?! Why would you go through the trouble of starting your game off in Green Hill, but not use that classic tune? It still boggles my mind to this day. What were they thinking?! Not to mention the bland and generic victory music. Why the hell would you not use the classic Victory music that has been in almost every game from Sonic 3 - Sonic Generations?! That victory jingle is synonymous with Sonic! If your new victory music is ****, then don't replace the main victory theme with it! There are a few other places they could've used some retro music such as Station Square, and Metropolis, but those aren't as bad as the omission of the iconic Green Hill, and victory jingle. Just a very poor soundtrack overall, there's a reason not a single song from this game made it into any version Sonic Generations.
Finally, we have the graphics. While the portraits are nice, and the title cards for each chapter look nice, the overworld art is very annoying. The barriers of where you can and cannot go are not always clear, and can easily confuse the player. It's also sometimes unclear how to get to certain areas of the map. Certain places you think a flying character could not possibly manage to fly such a distance, manage to do so from some very far away ledge from your destination. The ingame graphics are also really bad. The effects look particularly poor, which is strange since the game's framerate is so low during these portions. I swear, its like the game is at 20 FPS in battle, the game doesn't run smoothly at all, and you'll quickly find yourself becoming bored of the dull animations that move like molasses. Another problem is how lifeless the worlds feel. You know something's off when you go to a metropolitan city and there's not a single person in sight. I already mentioned how little interaction with the world there is, there's just nothing but enemies, but who wants to see those things in this game anyways? People hate on FFXIII all the time for its lack of towns, but even that game's "hallways" felt more alive than this.
This game was just such a disappointment. Everything about it is flawed, except the story which is few and far between. It's not worth trudging through the bland, empty, and lifeless worlds; slow, tedious, and constant battles; as well as the generic, and forgettable music. I expected better from Bioware seeing as how amazing Knights of the Old Republic was, as well as Mass Effect. Those were RPGs as well, so I thought Bioware was in their forte. While I think a Sonic RPG can work, this one doesn't. Ironically, the game serves as an antithesis of what a Sonic game has always been, with its bland music, slow and clunky gameplay, and disappointing art and framerate. If you're looking for a good DS RPG look elsewhere, namely "The World Ends With You".
Rating: 2.0 - Poor
Product Release: Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood (US, 09/30/08)
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