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Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood

by Jonathan Metts - July 27, 2008, 9:06 pm PDT
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BioWare's alternate titles were "Hedgehog Age: Origins" and "Knights of the Old Robotnik".

I'm not terribly familiar with BioWare's games, but I do know enough to see that their Sonic RPG is very, very different from the developer's usual material. The story is more light-hearted, and the combat is heavily based on Japanese RPG traditions, including timed-action elements from such games as Paper Mario. One famous BioWare element, the dialogue tree, is present but was not featured in the E3 demo that I played.

Since E3 is hardly the place to get into a deep storyline, and the demo started on chapter seven (of ten) anyway, I mostly paid attention to the combat. The 3D characters are impressive for a DS game, even with the camera zoomed in. Combat is turn-based and set up more like Dragon Quest than Final Fantasy; you give commands to your entire party before anything happens. Fast characters like Sonic and Shadow can receive multiple commands, while slower characters like Tails and Amy will have only one action per turn Once you've entered all your commands, the action starts. Heroes and enemies will begin attacking each other or using items in a sequence determined by speed and other stats. Sometimes, multiple characters will appear to act at the same time, so it looks more like a real battle than the stereotypical "I hit you, then you hit me" RPG battles. In fact, the attacks are so seamless that I had some trouble understanding what was happening. Your characters have traditional HP and SP stats, the latter being required for special attacks. Once very cool touch is that you can execute tandem attacks if certain combinations of characters are in the party. This feature works exactly like the special combos in Chrono Trigger.

Special attacks bring up a touch screen mini-game that resembles Elite Beat Agents. If you complete the mini-game perfectly, the attack will do extra damage. Likewise, when enemies try to use their special attacks against you, you will play a similar mini-game that gives you a chance to defend. One problem I had with the demo is that there's no forewarning when a mini-game is about to start, and you don’t have much time to tap on the first target. Even running away from battle involves a mini-game, this one requiring you to tap on the party members to make them jump over obstacles as they run for the hills.

It does seem strange to put a fast character like Sonic into the typically slow RPG genre. Speed is represented in combat with extra turns for fast characters and on the map screen with somewhat faster movement. Famous tricks like running around loops are built into the maps as special events; just walk up to them and press a button to traverse the obstacle automatically. Players who dislike random encounters will be happy to know that Sonic can outrun most enemies on the map screen. Rings, scattered throughout the maps, serve as money in the game world and also lead you to objectives or secret areas.

All these elements combine for an RPG that is supposed to last for 25-30 hours of gameplay. (BioWare estimates up to 40 hours if you complete all the side-quests.) Of course, the story also plays a huge role in keeping players engaged, and many Sonic fans are justifiably skeptical after several years of regrettable characters and plotlines in the franchise. We'll see if BioWare is capable of fixing the Sonic narrative when the game ships this fall.

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Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood Box Art

Genre RPG
Developer BioWare

Worldwide Releases

na: Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood
Release Sep 30, 2008
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