Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood DS
Published by: SEGA
Developed by: BioWare
Release Date: Out Now
Personally I think one of the more interesting games to be released for the Nintendo DS in 2008 is Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood. The fact that the game is an RPG starring Sonic the Hedgehog is enough to spark my interest but when it's an RPG developed by BioWare it suddenly becomes a title I'm really looking forward to playing. The big questions are, how do you take the core elements from a Sonic title and combine them with an RPG and can BioWare give us an RPG that's up to their usual high standards?
Much time has passed since Eggman was last defeated and everyone has been lulled in a false sense of security. Even Sonic the Hedgehog has felt it was time to do something other than be a hero and has been exploring the world. The time for relaxation is over however and Tails informs Sonic that trouble has broken out in Central City and to make matters worse, Knuckles has been abducted. You'll begin in the Green Hill Zone for what is a rather lengthy tutorial phase of the game. To begin with the storyline feels a little dull but whilst it never blossoms into a truly memorable one, it certainly improves and it's one that Sonic the Hedgehog fans should enjoy. The game even includes a Chao Garden (you'll collect Chao eggs during the course of the main game) and it has support for trading with other players.
Quite a few RPGs on the DS have offered only partial support for using the touch screen, some haven't allowed you to use the stylus in any meaningful way, but Sonic Chronicles allows you to play the game using just the stylus. You guide Sonic around his world, collecting rings in the process, using the stylus and you'll perform various actions, such as jumping, climbing, flying etc., by tapping the relevant icon that appears (you can press the L or R button instead if you wish). You'll interact with various objects using the stylus. The game doesn't employ random battles and you'll see your enemies wandering around. To trigger a battle you'll simply make Sonic run toward them. You'll also make dialogue choices and navigate the various menus with the stylus in an intuitive fashion.
It was always going to be difficult to create a game that would impress both RPG fans and fans of Sonic the Hedgehog. For the most part BioWare have succeeded but there have been some compromises. RPG enthusiasts will find the game to be a rather simplified RPG experience. The turn-based battles are fairly simplistic with only the POW moves adding something a little different. These POW moves require you to tap the screen with your stylus at precisely the right time in order to carry out the special move. The game is pretty forgiving and your attack will usually be carried out even if you've mistimed some of the moves. Enemies can use POW moves too and you'll even get an opportunity to dodge them. Whilst it's great that you can see your enemies on the world map, and you don't have to put up with those annoying random battles that some RPGs have, it's a little disappointing that there's a lack of enemy variation and it becomes a little dull fighting the same enemies over and over again.
Those expecting a typical BioWare storyline will be disappointed with the simplistic, light-hearted nature of Sonic Chronicles but in fairness this is a Sonic the Hedgehog game and BioWare have had to appeal to both fans of RPGs and Sonic the Hedgehog games. In essence then, it's no surprise that the storyline is light and breezy in nature. What is disappointing is the amount of fetch quests that are on offer. These are tedious and it means there's far too much going back and forth in the game. You'll come across some puzzles in the game but these offer little challenge. It's rather good the way you have to switch between different party members at times however, as it allows you to make use of their unique abilities.
Sonic Chronicles is a fine looking DS game and it retains the vivid colour palette that the Sonic the Hedgehog games are known for. The game has an almost comic book style to its cutscenes which works rather well. The hand drawn environments you'll explore look great. The characters, whilst rather small, also look good. The game makes good use of the dual screens. Dialogues are split over the two screens and during exploration a map is displayed on the top screen. Battles are carried out on the touch screen and your characters' status and turn order is displayed on the top screen. After a battle has been completed your battle results are displayed on the top screen. On the whole Sonic Chronicles is a fine looking game that captures the look and feel of a Sonic the Hedgehog title.
Deaf gamers won't have any problems with Sonic Chronicles. The dialogue in the game is shown in text and you'll be able to follow the game's storyline with no problems at all. Naturally, dialogue choices are shown in text too. When you load a saved game you get to view a recap entitled 'The Story so Far', which is in text and this reminds you of what happened when you last played the game. During a battle you'll see damage numerically displayed and words such as 'missed' appear on the screen. There are some grunts and other noises which aren't captioned but this is hardly a problem. All of the game's tutorial messages are in text and you get to read them at your own pace.
Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood is one of the most enjoyable Sonic the Hedgehog games I've played in a while. As an RPG however, the game will be a little simplistic for some and those hoping for an RPG experience to rival BioWare's past efforts will be disappointed. Personally I think Sonic Chronicles represents a good blend of a typical Sonic the Hedgehog and console RPG experience. Sure some things could have been better. There could have been less of the tedious fetch quests, a better storyline and a greater variation of enemies to battle against. Other aspects of the game could have been improved too. On the whole though this is a solid first RPG experience and it's the best game that's Sonic the Hedgehog has appeared in for quite a while.