Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood DS
Since SEGA knocked the world flat on its ass and announced a BioWare-developed Sonic RPG back in June 2007, a lot of crazy stuff has happened. The credit crunch has plunged our nation into a form of recession, Spain won an international football tournament and a man went missing in a canoe only to turn up again after recovering from amnesia. Now I’m not trying to spark any conspiracy theories, but that does seem a tad coincidental to me.
The end result of all this madness is Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood. You may be wondering how much is Sonic game and how much is RPG? Well to be quite honest, it’s not a Sonic game at all. Yes, it’s got the Sonic universe, but really SC is an RPG through and through, albeit more soapy and cuddly than the traditional RPG. The tale begins with Knuckles being kidnapped, Eggman gone missing and a mysterious new group called the Marauders. As the story goes on, more figures emerge and up to 11 playable characters join the squad.
Whereas in other new Sonic games it’s all about a ‘back to basics’ approach and dropping a load of the less popular characters, SC embraces the lot of them to create a richer experience. In times gone by, one main question of Sonic games was ‘what is the point in all of these?’ There wasn’t really room for them in the concept of Sonic as it was, but in this RPG, the wide variety is a great asset. They allow you to shuffle around, try various combinations of character types and force some team ups you couldn’t have predicted even if you were high on acid.
BioWare have definitely restricted how much ‘RPG stuff’ they included here. A notable achievement is how they decided not to overly simplify it to the point of tedium, and instead went for a happy medium between the hardcore and the fresh-faced. The result is an RPG that may feel too easy and simple to the heavily experienced, but for most people, it’ll feel enjoyable and engrossing in the right proportions. Things to consider while playing include character types and equipment; picking out which characters to have in your party is fairly uncomplicated so long as you make sure you have one of each class. Choosing equipment is equally straightforward, the difference between items is fairly obvious and you won’t often be faced with advanced decisions between affecting different stats with equipped items. Also slotted in nicely are the Chao’s, who first popped up way back in the Dreamcast days. Each character can have one attached to them, with 40 varieties to choose from and each one having a different ability. They can even be traded with friends so you can complete the set. Other RPG elements mixed in cover levelling up system and item use. Again, these are fairly basic. Not much thought is required to progress hassle-free.
It’s fortunate then, that Sonic Chronicles isn’t your regular RPG, because if it was, it wouldn’t hold the player’s attention for long. Instead, SC incorporates a few nifty DS-ified extras. The special (or ‘POW’) moves aren’t just your average ‘press the button and hope it hits’ affairs you’d expect to find in an RPG, no sir. To cause serious damage, you have to pick out your move and then take part in a good old real time event sequence. SC has you performing a selection of touch based gestures with the stylus to make sure your moves hit with maximum power and accuracy. Alternately, defending enemy special moves works in the same way. SC really makes sure you can’t just pick out your moves for a round, put the DS down and eat a biscuit. The simple stylus-only interface of SC never feels like too little control and helps to ease the overwhelming feeling that RPG-newbies would usually get when picking up an RPG.
BioWare have created a lot of different environments for the player to wander round. They all seem to stem from the Sonic universe, for instance Green Hill Zone with its loops and greenery. The art style of these areas is charming and befitting of the game, but also sometimes makes it difficult to navigate through the complex routes with the similarly useful world map providing little extra help. Frustration at only being stuck because of the level design, not the difficulty, can be enough to cause a severe case of giving up which is really something that should’ve been avoided at all costs during development.
Regrettably, this is about the only place you’d ever get stuck on SC. No enemies are really strong enough to slow you down, and although the story is quite engrossing, it isn’t enough to keep players motivated. BioWare should maybe have considered that most righteous of statements, “treat ‘em mean, keep ‘em keen” and been a bit nasty at places to prolong the lifespan.
Considering the initial shock of a Sonic RPG, and the potential, I think that SC could’ve been a bit better in most aspects but TDB definitely lays solid foundations for the probable sequel. It really is an RPG but delivered Sonic style; fast and fun.