DS

North America

Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood

by Zachary Miller - February 7, 2009, 9:12 pm PST
Total comments: 10

6

It's like the Sonic version of Justice League!

Poor Sonic can’t get a break. Everyone’s favorite blue hedgehog hasn’t starred in a decent console game since the excellent Sonic Adventure for Dreamcast (later ported to the GameCube). Well, along comes Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood, a strong effort by BioWare, developer of such RPG heavyweights as Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and Jade Empire. True to form, Chronicles is an RPG that bizarrely hybridizes platforming, turn-based combat, and BioWare’s obsession with dialogue trees. Super Mario RPG is probably the most comparable game, but Sonic Chronicles does not rise to the lofty standard held by the SNES masterpiece. Still, while Chronicles’ failures somewhat outweigh its triumphs, the game does have its moments.

For one, the story is interesting. After the supposed final defeat of Dr. Eggman, Sonic takes a well-deserved vacation but returns home to find Knuckles kidnapped, local wildlife acting hostile, and Eggman’s old droids stirring up trouble. With Amy in tow, Sonic sets out to investigate. Without ruining anything, in the first few hours of gameplay, you find Knuckles, your party size swells to eight members, and your true enemies are revealed. And you’ve probably gotten your ass handed to you a dozen times by the frustrating combat system.

Battles are not so much challenging as ridiculously long. Minor overworld enemies provide a considerable challenge, even when you clearly out-level them. Lots of enemies, and I mean lots, regenerate health either at the start of a new round or after attacking you. This is okay when they leech health at a 1:1 ratio (or lower), but when a bad guy hits you for 29 damage and regains ALL of his health it's called overkill, and it is a rampant problem. Another problem is that your team, which eventually includes more than ten members, is not well balanced. For example, Rouge is useless, save for her one armor-piercing special attack. Once you incorporate Cream (the requisite healer) into your active party of four characters, the need for HP and MP-replenishing items is largely done away with. Meanwhile, Sonic and Knuckles provide all the muscle you’ll need, and fights are rarely won through alternate means. Tails has the ability to stun robots, but why stun an opponent when you can just attack it? Special moves tend to have elemental affinities which, in theory, are more potent against certain enemies, but it’s never obvious which element affects which enemy type, so exploiting them requires way too much trial and error.

All special attacks leverage the touch screen. Let’s say you want to use Sonic’s Blue Bomber attack. First, you have to keep your stylus in the center of a circle as it moves across the screen. Then, you have to tap a different circle with the stylus at the right moment (when it turns green). Then repeat the moving circle trick, and tap two more circles. Sometimes it takes a dog’s age to perform a single special attack. Problems that crop up with touch detection and stylus movement speed only make things worse. The game will often think you’re sliding the stylus too slowly, or you’re not tapping the circles at exactly the right moment. The worst part is that if you don’t connect the dots exactly right, your attack will be weakened or, worse, fail entirely. Many special attacks—I’d say the majority of them—rely on two or more characters being active at the same time. Sonic’s Blue Bomber attack requires both him and Tails, for example. Other attacks require more characters. Since many party configurations produce ineffective combo attacks, this really limits your options when choosing party members. All in all, the battles are frustrating, and I was never able to get into a comfortable rhythm, even during minor skirmishes. By the end of the game, players will actively avoid confrontations and dread every fight they engage in.

Map exploration is pretty fun, though. Maps are 2D and require character-swapping to solve puzzles, as certain structures can only be navigated by certain characters. For example, only Sonic can zip around a loop, and only Amy can smash boxes. Maps are designed with a Super Metroid progression in mind. Can’t get up that wall? Come back with Knuckles. Tails and Rogue can’t fly that far yet? Level them up until their movement bonus gets an upgrade. One common upgrade comes in the form of Chaos. Found lying about the maps, they can also be equipped by characters to provide combat bonuses. They are randomized, so you never know what kind of Chao you will get until you pick it up. There are forty different Chaos, and to get all of them, you will need a whole lot of luck and/or a friend to trade with. The platforming sections are the game’s great strength, but they sadly take a backseat to the combat.

Sonic Chronicles is an interesting experiment, and from the game’s cliffhanger ending, a sequel is clearly in the works. Hopefully it will fix this game's touch screen controls and other frustrating combat issues. The storyline, art direction, and world exploration are top-notch here, but the tiresome combat sucks the life out of an otherwise enjoyable adventure. The Sonic faithful will like this one, but everyone else can be safely assured that they aren’t missing much.

Score

Graphics Sound Control Gameplay Lastability Final
8 7 5 5 7 6
Graphics
8

Character models are beautiful 3D, and backgrounds are happily 2D, but most of the enemy models got the ugly stick. There are way too many instances of palate swaps.

Sound
7

The soundtrack is great, with catchy tunes and retro sound effects. The music brings back memories of the old Genesis games. I don’t care for the combat sound effects, though, and character yelps seem bizarrely out of place.

Control
5

This is certainly the low point. Everything is touch screen-based, and while that’s fine for map exploration and menu navigation, it is implemented poorly in combat, where it matters most.

Gameplay
5

This game really suffers from its tedious combat. The puzzles outside of battle are a joy, but there aren’t enough of them.

Lastability
7

Sonic Chronicles takes about sixteen hours to beat, and there aren’t many side-quests. Those that do exist are tied to the main storyline, so they're hard to miss. The branching dialogues provide some incentive for replaying the game, if only to select all of Sonic’s sarcastic responses in conversations just to see what happens.

Final
6

The game’s high production values are betrayed by the severely lacking combat. BioWare’s new take on the franchise is promising and warrants some praise, but the gameplay definitely could have used more polish.

Summary

Pros
  • Graphics and musical score are wonderful
  • Platforming and world exploration are fun
  • Storyline incorporates tons of old and new characters
Cons
  • Battles go on for too long and level grinding is discouraged
  • Combat feels different, but in a disappointing, forced way
  • Most characters feel like dead weight
Review Page 2: Conclusion

Talkback

KhushrenadaFebruary 08, 2009

What did Nickmitch think of the game?

nickmitchFebruary 08, 2009

Let me get back to you on that one.

KhushrenadaFebruary 08, 2009

If you're not going to play, send it my way.  ;)

KDR_11kFebruary 08, 2009

Meh, cliffhanger endings don't mean there will be a sequel, these days every single game ends in a cliffhanger so they can make a sequel if they want to.

nickmitchFebruary 09, 2009

Quote from: Khushrenada

If you're not going to play, send it my way.  ;)

I really want to play it, but I've been so damn busy.  I haven't even beaten FFTA2, yet, and I bought that months ago.

TheNorthSeaFebruary 09, 2009

Good review, though I would probably give it a 7 rather than a 6. I agree about most of the complaints, but I actually didn't mind getting into battles so much. With the exception of Cream, I was able go get most of the stylus moves down.

I do hope they make a sequel and fix some of the control issues. The special moves should start out simple, but the more they leveled up the more complex they should be. Cream was also overpowered with her healing moves. Even at her first level she could save the team with just one cure.

Quote from: nickmitch

I really want to play it, but I've been so damn busy.  I haven't even beaten FFTA2, yet, and I bought that months ago.

All of the FF Tactics games are extremely long and hard to complete.  After putting dozens of hours into the first FFTA with little satisfaction from all that effort, I was happy to skip the time sink of FFTA2.

vuduFebruary 10, 2009

Quote from: Jonnyboy117

All of the FF Tactics games are extremely long and hard to complete.  After putting dozens of hours into the first FFTA with little satisfaction from all that effort, I was happy to skip the time sink of FFTA2.

I felt the same way.  After playing FFTA for 80 hours I decided I didn't really like it that much and quit.  I managed to finish the final battle, but I didn't bother to go back and complete everything else 100% (which is so unlike me, as I'm generally a completionist).

KDR_11kFebruary 10, 2009

I hated the game for some reason and quit after an hour or two but that may just be because of the memory associated with it, I got it as a kind of farewell gift the day I was drafted into the army so I kinda associate the game with the feeling of being on a highway to hell.

nickmitchOctober 04, 2009

Quote from: Khushrenada

What did Nickmitch think of the game?

So, having finally played most of it, I can safely answer your question.  I didn't think too much of it.  I agree with most points of the review, except I didn't like the platforming as much.

Brief Re-review:
To do a special move you basically have to play a game of EBA without all the fun music or fun.  A LOT characters suck ass.  Most special moves are worthless (you really only need to get like 3/character.  Sometimes enemies are over powered.  For example, some robots with only take 1 damage/attack because of a move they use or sometimes just because.  There's one enemy with 400 HP who only takes 1 damage unless is a certain type of move.  Making a good team gets occasionally hindered by movement requirements; although, it's not a big deal as long as you have Cream.  They give you an item after every fight which seems to almost balance the ridiculously over powered enemies, but again, Cream makes that worthless.
Overall, I was disappointed.

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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
PublisherSega
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