A Sonic RPG…how the hell is that going to work? That’s what I thought when I first heard about Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood. The Sonic brand is in dire need of some hit games, and it looks like Sega is willing to branch out and try some new things. If you want to take Sonic into the RPG realm, why not let some of the best guys out there handle it? BioWare is the team behind this massive undertaking. Sonic isn’t known for work in RPGs…but with his main adventures severely lacking for the last few years, I think he knows that it’s time to try something new. Just learning more and more about the project has gotten me excited. The first batch of screens that showed up in Nintendo Power got me even more hyped. The hand-drawn/cel-shaded style seemed to ooze character and charisma…two things Sonic needed to beef up. All of this culminated with my play-session of Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood.
I am not trying to kick a hedgehog when he is down, but I do have to be honest. Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood was shown off in pre-alpha form…which may not have been a good idea. I am hoping that my poor experience with the title has everything to do with the game being so early in development.
I can honestly say that the only aspect of Sonic Chronicles that I liked was the dialog. BioWare knows how to handle dialog, and they are proving that here. I am not too sure how closely they are working with Sega when dealing with dialog/character personalities, but they seem to have a great handle on the personalities of all these characters. For each bit of dialog, there are multiple choices to select. You can be jerk Sonic, nice Sonic, or somewhere in the middle. Personally, I cannot stand Amy…so every chance I got, I said the rudest thing I could to her. The way the dialog was written for each character perfectly reflected their personality traits. I was fully convinced that BioWare could put together a fantastic story that meshed very well with the large cast of characters that Sega has built.
My problems come in with…everything else. The first thing I have to mention is that Sonic is not fast at all. You control his movement via the stylus, and as of right now, things seem really sloppy. He is sluggish to respond, and he never really seems to get a head of speed going. He actually never seemed to get any speed at all. It was so bad that one of the reps on hand made a point to tell me that Sonic will be sped up in later versions. I am telling you, when I went through loops and other Sonic staples…it looked like he was walking through them. It kind of killed the one character trait that Sonic is known for. Things were made even worse when a rep from another company, one completely unrelated to Sega/BioWare, made a comment over my shoulder that the game was running very poorly.
The other problem comes up when interacting with the levels and characters. Any loop you go into, any set piece you want to touch, any character you want to talk to…these all involve buttons that pop up that have to be touched. It’s a good way of handling interactivity, but not when you can’t get the bubbles to pop up. I had to have pixel-perfect accuracy to get a context bubble to pop up, and then when I went to touch it, it wouldn’t work. Once again, the rep took the DS away from me to try and straighten things out. She seemed to have the same amount of trouble, if not more. It was pretty embarrassing/awkward to sit there and have the game perform this poorly. I really did feel bad for both the people there.
The actual fighting was tolerable for the most part, if not boring. The selection of attacks and enemies is handled via the touch screen, and once again, it seemed like the game had a hard time determining what you were touching. Once you actually got past the setup of your attacks, the moves would carry out. Typical RPG fodder, for the most part. I was jumped ahead to later in the game to see some of the more special attacks…ones that included context-sensitive actions. These were team moves that had me touching the screen in an Elite Beat Agents style. This definitely spiced up the action, but the resulting moves weren’t very impressive. There are so many characters in the game, I am hoping that some of the other pairings offer up more entertaining results.
To be frank, I was really bummed after my time with Sonic Chronicles. I was really hoping that the title would show some promise of bringing Sonic to a new genre in style. Obviously, it is way, way, waaaaaaaaaaaay to early to pass judgment on the game. I can see what BioWare is trying to do, I just don’t know if they will be able to pull it together. This game needs a lot more dev time if it’s to turn out good. The story elements will be there…that’s already clear. It is every other aspect of the game that needs more than fine-tuning…they need massive work. A pre-alpha build is only supposed to give a taste of what’s to come. Right now, the taste in my mouth is an awfully sour one. Still, I cannot wait for my next chance to have at the game. I am confident that BioWare can pull this title together.