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.
In addition to the many pitched battles, The Dark Brotherhood does allow for players to do a bit of exploring in classic Sonic environments. The interesting landscapes are nicely detailed and do a great job of imparting the unique feel of the world of Sonic. This is definitely a sharp-looking DS game that employs an exceptional painted style. As pretty and interesting as the environments and characters in The Dark Brotherhood are, the sound effects and music are terrible. The beeps and blips are unimaginative and somewhat grating. I found myself muting the volume for most of the time during play and catching up on several of my favorite podcasts instead.
While exploring the different levels, players will have to use unique abilities that each of the characters posses in order to gain access to every portion of the assorted stages. For example, Sonic is able to use his speed to dash into jumps, loop-ramps, and pipes; Rouge the Bat and Cream the Rabbit can fly the party across gaps, and Big the Cat can withstand poisonous fog. Later on, you’ll also use characters to smash boxes, climb cliffs, and even use stealth abilities.
There are also many elementary puzzles throughout the game. Successfully completing these puzzles will grant you access to important areas, and you will be rewarded with items. These puzzles are a diversion from the glut of fighting that makes up the majority of the levels, but they aren’t engaging enough to provide for a proper respite.
Finally, a Pokémon-like creature-collecting mechanic was added to the game. Throughout the title, you will come upon a series of mottled eggs. These eggs can be collected by walking over them. After awhile, these eggs will hatch into Chao. Chao are little creatures that give your characters, and party in general, specific boons once they have been linked, or, “bonded” to one of the members. For example, one Chao may increase your defenses or damage-dealing capabilities; another will attract enemies so that the brunt of physical attacks will be focused on your “tank” character; or even the likelihood with which you will hit enemies will be augmented by certain Chao. The abilities that Chao convey depends upon their rarity, as rare Chao can be quite difficult to obtain. By getting together with fellow owners of The Dark Brotherhood, players will have a much better chance of collecting all the creatures available. Additionally, players are rewarded by trading their Chao via Wi-Fi because Chao can only be leveled up in this manner. This creature-collecting mechanic was lost on me, but I could see how youngsters might find it incredibly addictive.
Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood is a noble effort by the folks at BioWare to translate the lore of SEGA’s beloved hedgehog and his cronies to an RPG format. Largely, the game succeeds at providing an interesting experience. However, it seems to be too simplistic for its own good, lacking the depth of gameplay needed to make it truly special. As such, The Dark Brotherhood is a good first step, but it is more likely to appeal to fans than to the gaming community at large.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.7 Graphics
The detailed environments and character models bring you right into the world of Sonic. This is an excellent-looking DS game. 3.5 Control
The control scheme is functional and responsive. However, I soon became bored with the repetitive battle mechanics. 1.7 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
It seemed as though the music and sounds were quickly thrown into the game; by far the weakest link in this title. 3.5
This is a simple RPG that should have youngsters and true Sonic fans very excited. For everyone else, there are better RPGs out there.
3.5 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.