When first announced, Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood gained a huge reaction, both for good and bad. Good sides seemed to point that this game was being made by veteran studio Bioware, famous already for Knights of the Old Republic and Mass Effect, two highly rated RPG's. The bad points were insisting whether Bioware's fascination of the “epic” story can be transferred to Sonic's world as reliably, or whether Sonic will suit an RPG at all. So, does Sonic Chronicles successfully bridge the genre gap, or does it fall short of the mark?

It must be stated, first off. This is not your average Sonic game, this is an RPG, through and through. You won't find super fast game play or jumping between platforms here. Indeed, aside from a couple of small contextual actions, the world itself is the only thing kept the same. This could be a good thing, not trying to go “cross-genre” and fail at both, but rather taking the decision of being an RPG and trying to do it well.

One of the greatest assets to the RPG genre is storyline. Bioware are famous for their well told stories allowing a player to advance them in their own way, usually either as good or evil/renegade, and there are definite traits of their story styles present in Sonic Chronicles, even if it does begin a little vague as to your overall purpose. You start with a world where Dr. Robotnik (who, gloriously, is once more called as such in the game, one of many tributes to the franchise) has been defeated for over two years. Sonic has disappeared, seeking adventure and exploration, but upon his return to the Green Hill Zone (again, another tribute) he discovers a stressed Tails. After being informed that a new group called the Marauders has kidnapped Knuckles and the Chaos Emeralds, Sonic sets out to locate Knuckles. The storyline for the first half is more of a “find out what's happening” and chasing up leads such as the supposedly “retired” Dr. Robotnik, and even checking in with GUN once more. As the story progresses and the Marauders identity is revealed, the plot improves drastically up to it's rather excellent finale. It's a slow burner at first, which could put many gamers off in the early stages, but the ones who push on will find themselves rewarded.

Throughout the progression of this story, players will often need to talk to other characters, bringing in another of Bioware's signature themes in a game. Speech trees. The basic premise is your lead character (in this case, Sonic, obviously) can respond to any social interaction in a multitude of varying ways. Generally between good/evil/neutral responses, further questioning and an option to just skip this part entirely. As for Sonic, it often comes down to nice/question/jerk/skip. (We all know which one you'll all pick Boomers! ~ Megadroid) In their past games, this has worked very well, allowing the game to alter and change in storyline direction as you go. In Sonic Chronicles however, possibly due to the restrictions of the DS format, this doesn't really feel too possible. You could be a jerk to Tails and Amy for most of the game, but they'd be more than happy to have a chat with you later on, a lot of it just feels...trivial. There is the occasional point where you can adjust exactly who accompanies you based on an answer, for example, you get the option to let Rouge know that there might be a reward for helping you, and thus she joins you. The writing is excellent, with each character showing more personality than any Sonic game with speech yet, Sonic Battle included. There is a definite feel of it being designed for all ages, but nothing is overly dumbed down speech wise from characters, to avoid being too basic to engage older players.

Also, some of Sonic's “jerk” responses are very humourous at points, it's a strong recommendation to try them occasionally.

Interfacing with the game comes in two primary methods. Exploration and battle. For exploration, upon an “area map” the player uses the stylus to direct a chosen character around, simply touching where they need to go. Indeed the entire game is controlled by touching the screen, and feels accurate and responsive. After half an hour, all movements just become intuitive. You can choose which character you want to head “lead” the party on the map, which also alters where you can go. Sonic can run up ramps while Tails can fly over gaps for example. Good party selection is key to navigating the areas properly. Around these maps are enemies roaming, no “random” battles are in this game, as most enemies can be bypassed, however they aren't always easy to merely avoid. Often being in a narrow area or on a corner to make battle very likely, perhaps to make sure you are levelling properly, although it does come off as better than the game just hurling battles your way every ten seconds in arbitrary fashion with no warning like many RPGs. You cannot, however, change party members mid-map, you must return to a “safe” zone. This is not always close by, and can involve a few minutes of running to and fro just to get a party member who can fly. While understandable for game balance (having access to them all, anywhere would just be far too easy) many more safe zones could have been added to reduce travelling time.

There are also puzzles in these exploration areas, they are nicely implemented, never take too long but still make you pause to think a bit. Thankfully, the monsters stop roaming the area when you have to enter a puzzle segment, which is a large relief for many of them. Finally, there are two “special” areas around the exploration stages, transport and shops. Transport is Tails' bi-plane, a ship or even just a basic exit to another map. These act as either a swap to the next segment (as one would expect) or as an entrance to the world map to travel the world at speed between areas. Shops allow you to buy items and upgrades, however, with the exception of the early game they eventually prove to be completely useless, as you get so much from destroyed enemies their wares are merely surplus to your own requirements.

The next, and probably most important aspect of the game is the battles. You take the four members of your party into a 3D arena to face off against you're opponents in turn based fighting. The system is rather simple. Whoever is fastest attacks first, followed by the next fastest and so forth until you reach the slowest. Furthermore, “fast” characters gain extra actions per turn. A big slow robot like Omega only has one, the powerful but hardly slow figure of Knuckles gets two and of course, the fastest in the game, Sonic, gets three actions per turn. This speed based system is interspersed with the enemies, making it less “Us then you” and more of a mutual mash of attacks going back and forth between two sides each round. The usual stats are found, if in a somewhat confusing naming society, for example “attack” you would presume dictates your damage, but is instead your “to hit” percentage. It's all explained in game, but seasoned RPG players who might expect certain things may need to readjust slightly. More than just “attack” to the game, each character has a list of special moves that vary depending on their general use. Sonic is all about attacking for example, while Tails is a support character with lots of healing moves or things to put the enemy at a disadvantage. Most other characters split a balance between the two, for example, Amy having a mix between big hammer attacks and the ability to blow a kiss to a character to give them a hand! (You have to wonder why it doesn't do the opposite to Sonic ~ Megadroid)

These moves are your big one up over the enemy, as most enemies have massively higher HP and attack levels than you. In short, simply attacking bluntly won't work here, you need to keep an eye on what you attack with and how. For example, about half way through the game a certain type of enemy appears with an absurdly high HP stat that only takes 1 damage for almost all attacks. 2 if you get lucky. You need to use armour piercing attacks to win here, such as Knuckles' uppercut or Shadow's Chaos Spear. This can lend a feeling of overcoming each enemy in a different way other than just attacking madly, but this can be both good and bad. If you end up against some enemies

which you have no attacks to use that affect them, you are very much punished for it. Conversely, when you do figure it out and pull it off successfully, it feels pretty good. Unfortunately though, a lot of these special moves feel very flat and uninspiring, even the largest and most “fancy” move in the game isn't really “wow” inducing to look at. The battles can often be far too long or a bit repetitive, and have their extremes of fun and monotony, although thankfully in the later stages it tends to gravitate more towards fun, where it really counts. Enemies include wild animals, badniks (some old cameos here), Marauders, other characters and even an appearance by something we all might have almost forgotten...I'll leave you to find out what that is.

Bosses are quite few and far between, and with a couple of exceptions none are really stand out with the final boss being a bit of a pushover. The later stages of the game hurl EXP at you like there is no tomorrow, leading to insanely powerful characters very quickly. On the plus side of character development, you can custom tailor them how you wish. Want Tails to be more powerful? Do it. Feel you reeeeeally want Omega to not go entirely last all the time? Increase his speed. You don't have unlimited control here, some characters will just always be better at some things, but it's nice to be able to tune them up to fit your own needs. Furthermore, each character can be equipped with items and Chao. Items are fairly useless, giving little discernible effect and not changing the game models at all. Chao on the other hand are far more fun, giving off a range of useful abilities like getting more EXP per fight, giving the character a shield against certain attacks or even letting them do elemental damage. You find Chao in the exploration stages, allowing them to hatch in a minimalist garden for use.

The presentation of Sonic Chronicles is of a high standard in most areas. In particular the “Chapter start” artwork is fresh and unique to Sonic and often very pleasing on the eye. Exploration stages are entirely hand drawn, giving a very tradition feel to everything, and in particular making it all smooth and gorgeous to look at. Character models are not exactly HD masses of polygons to amaze you, but do what they need without really being good or bad. Art design throughout the characters is superb, most notably on the newer races like the Marauders, who have a gloriously unique design to the Sonic verse. Within battles things have effects on screen, particle effects, flashes and some blurring too. It's quite nice stuff for the DS, not quite as pretty looking as many games, but enough to make you smile at it. One piece of “Marmite” though might be the “comic art cut scenes.” These showcase some nice styles and telling of a story, however in some places feel a bit cheap and have a completely different art style from the rest of the game for some reason.

The sound overall isn't much to write home about. The battle themes and the large amount of old remixes are very nice, but unfortunately the rest is rather dull and uninspiring. It's not “bad” per say, but you probably won't remember any outside of the first play through. Additionally, the sound effects often feel very out of place or just plain bad. Fighting a huge boss in a desperate attempt to save the planet somewhat loses it's impact when you get a cartoon “boing!” noise upon knocking out an enemy.

To people wondering whether to buy this game, it really depends on your gaming preference. People who like RPG's will probably enjoy it, but find it not quite as deep and detailed as their normal type of game. People who simply buy games for the name “Sonic” will probably enjoy seeing the character interaction and story, but may be a bit put off by the game play. This is in no way a traditional Sonic game. If you don't like RPG's outright, don't even bother. But if you do like RPG's and hold a liking of the Sonic franchise, then I do advise you to give it a try.

Final Countdown!
Well written.
Gorgeous Art Design.
The most “well made” Sonic game in a while.
Music and sound effects not up to scratch.
Slow first act.
Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood
Console - DS
Game Type - RPG
Players - 1
Publisher - SEGA/Bioware
Price - RRP £29.99
Reviewer - Iain Stewart
STC's Rating System:
Under 40 = Yawnsville
40-70 = Normalsville
70-80 = Fun City
80-90 = Big Time City
90+ = Mega City
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