|System: DS||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: BioWare||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: SEGA||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Sep. 30, 2008||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Everyone||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Jonathan Marx
Sonic and the SEGA crew have been given yet another genre within which to strut their stuff. Unlike the lackluster sports, pinball, and fighting games that have taken some of the sheen off the Sonic brand, Sonic and his pals seem to be quite at home in their new RPG confines.
Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood is a laudable yet imperfect effort from the newly formed handheld division of BioWare. Unfortunately, it isn't the gameplay masterpiece many were hoping for, but the RPG format does a very nice job of fleshing out the personalities of the varied characters in the SEGA stable (heretofore left in relative obscurity.) Moreover, the beautiful artwork and interesting story surprises should have Sonic fans smiling through this first entry and chomping at the bit for the next game in the Sonic Chronicles line.
The Dark Brotherhood is a very simple RPG experience. Gameplay consists mainly of simple plot and side quests made up of pitched battles, mild exploring, and elementary puzzles. The plot quests, as you can imagine, are the most engaging missions. They help further the story and engender a sense of accomplishment through their more challenging nature. Side quests, on the other hand, are little more than errand-running level-boosters. That means a large portion of the available content is largely forgettable.
Nevertheless, combat in The Dark Brotherhood is pleasant, if not particularly epic. I really enjoyed the diverse skills, abilities, and unique character of each of the myriad party members. The team at BioWare did an excellent job of classifying each of the playable characters and giving them interesting skill sets. The various character talents as well as the general ability scores can be upgraded upon leveling up. There are also a ton of items and equipment that can be both purchased and looted. These treasures provide your party members with the typical boosts common in RPGs. I wouldn't say character development is particularly deep, but the unique abilities of each individual make party selection for both combat and exploring (more on this later) an integral part of the game and a real highlight of the title.
Doubtless, many will enjoy the touch-screen battles, as they are technically very well executed. But, I found they became tiresome after the first couple chapters. That's because controls largely consist of endlessly selecting battle commands such as Attack, POW Moves, Defend, Items, or Flee. Tapping through the command lists at the beginning of each round and then watching your characters fight is not ideal; you're liable to feel somewhat disconnected from the brawl because of the repetition. Graciously, initiating POW Moves is decidedly better, and the Flee sequences help break up the monotony.
POW Moves are character skills, tantamount to magic abilities in other RPGs, that consume accrued PP (POW Points) in order to provide buffs to your characters, blight your opponents' performance, and, as is most often the case, cause direct damage to your enemies. Unlike the unimpressive standard commands, these skills are only made successful (or their power maximized) by executing a series of touch-screen prompts. You can think of these as God of War-like QTE button presses, but instead of mashing the appropriate key, players will have to perform a far more intricate series of swipes and taps. While initially demanding, these too become a bit dull as you progress deep into the title.
Interestingly, the Flee mechanic for both enemies and your party in The Dark Brotherhood involves more than just selecting the Flee command. Players actually have to earn their freedom from battle or re-engage cowardly baddies by successfully negotiating a gymkhana of obstacles, rings, and dash pads. With four party members in all, it can get a bit hectic. This simple feature was a nice touch, though somewhat of an add-on.
All in all, the control scheme is a mixed bag. They clearly were not developed with challenge in mind and, subsequently, lack core appeal. The upside, however, is that nearly anyone can play this title. I expect youngsters and the uninitiated to gush over the game's accessibility.