January 25, 2008 – Sonic, Sega’s blazing fast blue mascot, has been around forever. He’s been in a variety of different games, but the vast majority of them have all been straight-up, high-speed platforming adventures — they suit the hedgehog quite well. But now, BioWare, still on a roll from its highly successful 360 title Mass Effect, is taking the series in a new direction. Sonic and his pals now meet the intricacies and addiction of the role playing genre.
The story of Dark Brotherhood starts out fairly simply and won’t be much surprise to big Sonic fans. Sonic is on vacation and gets a call about Tails being kidnapped by a mysterious entity known only as the “Marauders.” Six of the ever-coveted Chaos Emeralds are also missing, so it’s up to Sonic to get to the bottom of things. There are a number of significant plot twists which are still under wraps, of course, but you can definitely look forward to Dark Brotherhood to keep you intrigued with its plot. Additionally, there are a number of dialogue options that you have which can affect the way the story proceeds.
Sonic Chronicles: Dark Brotherhood is a radical departure from the normal Sonic, taking the direction away from the high-speed platforming and instead instilling Sonic with some traditional and some innovative RPG elements. One of the biggest aspects of any RPG that’s present in Dark Brotherhood is the level-up system. Battles (more on them momentarily) yield your team experience — when you reach a certain experience benchmark, you’ll level up. What’s neat about leveling up is that when you do so, you are given the opportunity to select which stats you wish to increase for your character. It’s not a groundbreaking addition to RPGs in general, but it’s very neat in that it offers players a chance to really customize each of their characters.
About that: Dark Brotherhood is also exciting in that it allows the player to control a party of up to four characters at a time. Each character has specific abilities that are trademarks of that specific character; for example, Tails can fly, and Knuckles is particularly strong. These character abilities are used both in the field to tackle puzzles, and also in battle to take on enemies. There are certain situations when you may need to divide and conquer, so as a result a mechanic has been implemented that allows you to split up your party at certain times in order to solve puzzles or accomplish other tasks.
I mentioned battles already, and there’s one specific aspect of the game’s many battles that makes them unique and helps contribute to a classic part of all Sonic games. Like most RPGs, Dark Brotherhood will feature turn-based battles. However, unlike most RPGs, you’ll select each character’s attacks before they’re executed. The effect? The battles are far more fast-paced than they would be if each character attacked immediately after you selected their action. Additionally, there are no random battles that are one of the problems with so many role-playing titles, even very popular ones. Instead, each enemy that you can potentially fight will appear in the field, which gives you the opportunity to really manage your battling.
The game is controlled entirely with the stylus, and while some Sonic fans may be disappointed to hear this, the implementation is actually looking to work out quite nicely. Think back to DS titles like Phantom Hourglass; the touch screen was used to control the game entirely, and as you got used to it, it actually became quite fun and intuitive. The same will hold true for Dark Brotherhood — all of the game’s actions, from moving to attacking to unleashing monstrous special moves will be taken care of with the stylus and DS touch screen.
Many RPGs have a reputation for being problematic specifically because of one of the genre’s most enjoyable features: the title’s replayability. But what’s wrong with that? Well, even if a game is addicting and keeps you playing for a long time, certain aspects can get a little bit stale. For example, if you’re playing through a traditional RPG with the same four characters for 40 hours of gameplay, they’re probably going to get on your nerves. Well, BioWare does an excellent job of taking care of this potential problem by giving the game tons of characters. There are only seven that have been confirmed so far — pretty much your typical Sonic characters — but the developers have promised there will be 11 total characters in the game.
Graphics are never a hugely important part of any RPG — the game relies on the gameplay for its success rather than visuals — but that doesn’t mean that an RPG can’t look nice. In fact, Dark Brotherhood, from the few screenshots that we’ve already got, is shaping up to be one of the most artistically impressive DS games. The game has a very hand-drawn look to it, and the graphics are a little faded, almost as if they’ve been done by watercolor. Good graphics serve mainly to further immerse you in the atmosphere of the game, and by that rubric, Dark Brotherhood’s visuals are shaping up to really benefit the title.
Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood has been very anticipated ever since it was first announced months ago, and it’s easy to see why. After gaining more information about the game, my excitement for this title has increased — and drastically so. BioWare is looking to really redefine both the role-playing genre in general and the Sonic franchise. By taking a more “grown-up” approach to the story of the game and by implementing some awesome role-playing features, BioWare certainly seems on the right track to creating one of the most exciting and most innovative Sonic games ever.