Review: Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood (DS)

Is Sonic’s first foray into the unknown land of RPG actually any good?

Let’s face it; Sonic has been a bit of a dick lately hasn’t he? You can mark the start of Sonic’s dive into mediocrity from a point in the late 90’s when someone at SEGA decided it would be “cool” to give him a “rad attitude”. From that moment onwards we’ve winced as Sonic has “rocked out” a slew of twitchy controlled adventures. In fact the only place where Sonic has stayed true to his roots is on handhelds, with the Advance and Rush games being among some of the best our spikey-haired hero has ever starred in. Sonic Chronicles, whilst being an RPG, does not alter the trend of Sonic’s best performances in recent years being on Nintendo handhelds.

The game starts with a well designed comic-book-esque sequence set in the past. Sonic has finally defeated his arch enemy Dr. Eggman and heads off for a well deserved vacation. Fast forward a few months and a panicked Tails gets on the blower – Knuckles has been kidnapped along with all of the chaos emeralds! Never one to shy from the action, Sonic returns home to clean up this mess and begin a brand new adventure.

The game drops you straight into Green Hill Zone where armed with your stylus you must make your way to Tails’ workhouse for more information on this sordid kidnap. You will learn a lot about the way Sonic Chronicles plays within the first half an hour of play due to a detailed and well integrated tutorial system.

The whole game is controlled with the stylus – tapping the screen and dragging will move Sonic in the desired direction whilst pressing various on-screen buttons will handle interactive elements such as jumping, spinning and talking.

You come across your first “random encounter” (don’t worry, they can be avoided) early on in the game against a rather unfriendly armadillo. The combat system is a familiar turn-based system with a hint of strategy to it. Fights are split up into “rounds” and in each round you are given a number of turns. Should you choose to attack or defend all of your turns will occupy this action. However if you wish to use an item or a POW attack (special move) these only occupy one action allowing you to place further attacks or evasions afterwards. Given the strict set of rules for the battle system it can be confusing at first but once you progress further you’ll garner a complex understanding of how and when to use attacks, evasions and items for the best effect.

The POW attacks drain “POW Points” but are the most effective in the game. They can be performed by completing a short reaction mini game which requires you to press the centre of some fast appearing circles. In later, more important battles using the POW attacks can be frustrating because of the hit or miss nature of the mini-games -- but they add variation at the least.

Chaos also make a re-emergence to add weight to the battle system. Attaching a chao to a character in your party will give them special abilities during the battle. Whether it improves attack or defence, they both can be effective.

As you progress further through Green Hill Zone you’ll encounter an age old friend, Amy Rose. Conversation in the game takes place over both screens with Sonic appearing on the bottom. You usually have a choice over what Sonic says allowing you to either move on with the cut scene quickly or push for more information. Throughout the game you will encounter a number of Sonic’s “friends” (include the new female character, Shade) who will all promptly join your team. Seeing as you can only take four characters on your travels at any one time the game quickly adopts a management element which is particularly taxing because each character has different strengths and weaknesses.

One of the strongest assets Sonic Chronicles has as a video game is the constant banter between the characters. Each one of the thousands of lines of text in the game are well thought out and genuinely interesting. It really brings the characters to life and makes you believe that you are playing a Sonic RPG not just an RPG with Sonic in it.

The landscapes are also beautifully drawn and coloured providing the bright backdrops we’ve come to expect from Sonic games over the years. From Green Hill Zone to Mystic Ruins the homage to famous Sonic lore is outstanding and there will always be more to come back to and explore. Which is sadly where the gameplay falls apart somewhat.

Many of the games objectives are hinged upon you performing certain “specialist” tasks which can only be completed by certain characters. Sadly because you can only have four characters in your party at any one time you’ll constantly find yourself backtracking to the nearest base in order to switch them. This can be extremely irritating and it’s sad that a lot of the games puzzles hinge on this prospect.

Having said that Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood is a solid looking game with an interesting universe and plot. The game will probably only appeal to a niche audience of Sonic fans who happen to enjoy RPG’s but never the less the gameplay is simple enough to be accessible by most.

Conclusion

If you are patient enough to overlook a few niggles and are interested in investing some time into a decent RPG with an attractive cast of characters then look no further than Sonic Chronicles on the Nintendo DS.

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