Review: Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood
Posted 22 Oct 2008 at 15:33 by Stephen Thompson
|"A lot of humour can be found in the dialogue between characters - especially some of the cold things Sonic can say to Amy. Hurt her feelings. You know you want to. "
His name is Sonic, Sonic the Hedgehog, the world's fastest hedgehog. But what happens when the blue speedster turns turn-based? Does it seem right that he who can run around an enemy 10 times without noticing, be in a turn-based RPG? Then again, did any of us really expect Mario to be in a party board game or run a hotel? Or our friend Samus turn into a pinball? This time Sonic breaks his usual genre boundaries, with puzzling and fighting now as the main focus. But does the game hold up?
Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood was developed by Canadian developer BioWare, known for titles such as Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and Mass Effect, and is their first crack at the DS RPG market. Nevertheless, BioWare have crafted a title that will appeal to Sonic fans as well as gamers that are just starting out. No doubt the toughened RPG veterans out there may find the game rather easy and will progress through the chapters quickly. Indeed, with next to no need to level grind, you can pretty much just go through the entire story without too much bother.
The game begins with Sonic on vacation after his latest Eggman beating, until Tails calls Sonic to tell him Knuckles has been kidnapped. But with Eggman still out of commission, who can it be? Sonic makes his way to the first area of the game, which of course is the familiar first area from the original Sonic the Hedgehog - Green Hill Zone. That's not the only familiar area in the game: there's also the Mystic Ruins, Central City and Angel Island - there's plenty of fan service for the Sonic fans. After Sonic boldly tells Tails that Green Hill is totally, absolutely safe from enemies... yep, you guessed it, Green Hill is now full of enemies thanks to some pesky technology scattered through the area making the once gentle creatures into crazy animals. And with this comes the first fight and your introduction to the game's battle mechanics.
The battle sequences are your standard turn-based fights. You make Sonic attack the enemy you see fit and he'll go into his trademark spin ball move, attacking a total of three times each round thanks to his speed. You also have the option use POW Moves to take off greater amounts of enemy HP, but will reduce the amount of PP your character will have. These POW Moves can involve the just a single character, or multiple characters teaming up. For instance, Sonic can learn a moved called 'Blue Bomber', which has Tails lifting up Sonic high into the air then dropping Sonic into an enemy for massive damage. Since this move involves two characters, both characters will have their PP reduced. These POW moves help add a real strategy to your battles, and can only be performed if the player correctly completes a rhythmical tapping sequence by tapping following and tapping on-screen identifiers. The better you do, the more moves or damage the POW move will hit. These moves are essential as the game progresses and picking which you want to learn after levelling up is an important task.
Battling can be a tricky affair, with enemies that eventually bring themselves back to life if you don't take out every enemy on screen in the same round, enemies which will give your characters status impairments so they become increasingly hard to hit and do very little damage, and in the second half of the game, enemies that can heal their HP too. Needless to say - defeating enemies swiftly with POW moves is the way to go.
The levels are all well designed and make use of the different characters' movement abilities. Each of these areas includes some collectables like Rings, which is the currency of the game needed to purchase player equipment, plus items and hints for puzzles. Areas also include a set amount of Chao eggs to find which get sent to your Chao garden, and when hatched can be assigned to characters to give status/attribute boosts (for example the ability to recover HP/PP each turn). It's not hard to find these Rings and Eggs, since the top of the screen, shows a counter indicating the amount of Rings and Eggs you have, as well as the map showing you areas you haven't been yet. After each battle and the various treasure chests you find, you'll receive a lot of items and equipment rendering the shop useless for veteran RPG folk, so the Rings you find, you might not even need. Likewise, if you're a good problem solver, you won't need to spend Rings for hints either, but there's nothing wrong with this option being here to help keep the playing field level.
As mentioned above, each character (and they swap in and out of your party often as the story progresses) has 'movement abilities' to help you reach different places. Sonic will spin dash through the familiar large hoops and up ramps, Tails will fly over platforms and Knuckles will his climbing power to get rid of blocks. Characters often share abilities, but to different degrees of effectiveness. Sonic and Tails' dash and flight will be much higher than say, Knuckles' flight. Shadow, who you obtain later, is of course the nemesis of Sonic and also quite the runner. With his dash move and a teleport move as well, his dash isn't as good as Sonic's, but the teleport addition makes up for it.
Your party can also include Amy, who won't keep following Sonic due to love despite her now having a boyfriend. Yep, some poor sap has decided to go out with Amy for good or for bad. A lot of humour can be found in the dialogue between characters - especially some of the cold things Sonic can say to Amy. Hurt her feelings. You know you want to. Also playable are Cream the Rabbit and Big the Cat (though fear not Sonic fans, Big hasn't lost Froggy this time, you can breathe easy). There's a few more characters that can join your party, but we won't spoil things for you.
It's important to note that the game is split up into two parts. The first half of the game is set in Sonic's world, while the second half takes place in the 'Twilight Cage', another dimension. Playing through the first half, the story is much weaker and more basic. Get through to the second half and the story really picks up. We just hope no one's given up already, as that's where things really improve and grow challenging. The battles turn harder, but reward you with oodles of exp. points. It's around here you may consider running from battles - though to do so you'll be thrown into a mini-game where you and your party members must successfully jump crates and navigate onto speed ramps to escape.
Our main criticism of the title is its linear gameplay. The game likes its fetch quests, obtaining the desired object and then telling you where you need to go next. There's very little freedom or real need for exploration since the map on your top screen indicates where things are you need to find. You will need to revisit areas later on once you're powered up to pick up Rings and Eggs, but this does not take a great deal of time. Saying that, simple side quests are offered here and there that do offer items and experience in return, and include such random tasks as finding a newspaper, killing a queen bee or locating a man trapped down a well.
This criticism isn't to say that The Dark Brotherhood is a bad game, it certainly has many good points. Music in the game has songs from Sonic CD and Sonic 3D Blast, the area layout and interface and general appearance of the game certainly look great and makes you feel like your in Sonics world. The game will keep you busy while it lasts - the story will take you 20+ hours to complete. The title is a fully touch-screen game, with no need to press any buttons, just your trusty stylus. It is an enjoyable experience to get immersed in, but in the RPG market of Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest, it is meant to appeal more to Sonic fans than to hardcore RPG vets.
It seems that BioWare tried to make a game to appeal to both the core and casual market, and this middle-ground makes for a Paper Mario-esque mix of good RPG elements mixed with simple, accessible gaming for the non-RPG crowd. Except it doesn't quite work as well as the latter example. Maybe we're just getting old and cynical, but for us it was just that bit too simple.
N-Europe Final Verdict
A fun RPG while it lasts, but can wear thin over time. Great visuals and level design help overcome some missed potential. Sequel please?
Each character feels different
Nice area design
Simple for experienced RPG players
Not much exploring to be done
Story starts slowly