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Critical Reception: Sega/BioWare's Sonic Chronicles

This week's edition of Critical Reception examines online reaction to Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood, a DS RPG that critics recommend to "dedicated (and lapsed) fans, the BioWare faithful, and anyone just looking for a decent RPG on DS."

Danny Cowan, Blogger

October 1, 2008

6 Min Read

This week's edition of Critical Reception examines online reaction to Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood, a Nintendo DS RPG that critics recommend to "dedicated (and lapsed) fans, the BioWare faithful, and anyone just looking for a decent RPG on DS." Though it flourished in the days of the Genesis and Dreamcast, Sega's Sonic the Hedgehog series has fallen into decline in recent years. Recent efforts like Sonic and the Secret Rings have earned mixed reviews, and the widespread critical panning of titles like Shadow the Hedgehog and 2006's Sonic the Hedgehog has had a lasting impact upon the franchise. Sonic has fared much better on the Nintendo DS, however, with fans and critics regarding both Sonic Rush and Sonic Rush Adventure as among the series' best entries to date. Sonic's latest DS release, the BioWare-developed RPG Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood, debuts this week in North America to a Metacritic-averaged review score of 78 out of 100. The Official Nintendo Magazine UK's Chris Scullion rates Sonic Chronicles at 93 out of 100, noting that the title marks a return to form for Sega's mascot. "We have two confessions," he begins. "Our first is that when we were younger, back in the Mega Drive days, we used to love Sonic almost as much as we loved Mario. Our second is that in recent years we've grown less fond of him, partly due to his hip new 'attitude' that he's earned which annoys us every time he opens his mouth and says something with his smarmy voice." "Sonic Chronicles is old-school," Scullion continues. "There are no embarrassing wise-cracks, no 'rad' American voice acting and no 'oh my God isn't Sonic so awesome, kids' moments. In fact, one of the first things that surprised us after we started the game was how normal Sonic has become." Scullion claims that Chronicles' narrative makes Sonic into a likable character once again. "You see, when the game begins it's been a long time since Sonic last beat Eggman and he's been travelling alone on the other side of the world," he describes. "He's no longer the hero who always saves the day, and since he's been away his friends have learned not to rely on him anymore." "For the first time in years he's no longer this near-invincible hero: you don't feel like he's cool enough to do whatever he wants and overcome anything without fear of danger," he says. "For the first time in years Sonic seems vulnerable, and you feel like you have a duty to help him." The result is a surprisingly compelling RPG experience, according to Scullion. "It's this care and attention to the storyline that makes Sonic Chronicles so much more than just an RPG with Sonic dumped into it," he writes. "It may be an RPG instead of a platformer, but it feels like it fits perfectly into the original series and is one of the best games that the spiky lad has ever featured in. Welcome back, old Sonic. We've really missed you." Bryan Vore at Game Informer rates Sonic Chronicles at 8.5 out of 10, and compares the title to Nintendo's Super Mario RPG on the Super NES. "Square’s Super Mario RPG on SNES paved the way for several great Mario-themed RPGs on portable and home consoles alike," he explains. "While former rival Sega may be over a decade late to the party, getting Sonic Chronicles makes it worth the wait." Vore finds that Chronicles' combat system is well-balanced and satisfying, but may end up being too demanding at points. "The turn-based combat maintains a nice level of difficulty, and the Elite Beat Agents-inspired inputs keep you on your toes and create some great tension as they become more and more complex," he says. "However, if you get distracted during one of these rounds it can seriously screw you over, since there’s no way to pause the action." Vore also praises areas of Chronicles that often end up bogging down other RPGs. "Side missions drift into banal fetch quests and escorts, but it helps that they’re short and sprinkled with humor (finding some reading material for a guy in an outhouse, for example)," he writes. "Puzzles almost always involve placing your party on pressure pads, but I was surprised at the variety squeezed out of this mechanic." "Sonic Chronicles is good for dedicated (and lapsed) fans," Vore concludes, "the BioWare faithful, and anyone just looking for a decent RPG on DS." Eurogamer's Dan Whitehead contributes a Sonic Chronicles review scored at 7 out of 10, explaining that the experience never builds into something truly great. "There are many reasons to be intrigued by Sonic Chronicles, but the game itself is sadly not at the top of that list," he writes. "Oh, it's nice enough - a colourful and accessible role-playing game that is never less than entertaining - but as you rocket past the finish line in a blue blur, the whole of the experience never quite adds up to the sum of its constituent parts." Whitehead cites Chronicles' storyline as a particular disappointment. "For his first full-blown adventure game, it's a shame to see a narrative-driven company like Bioware falling back on the sort of plot that could comfortably pad out one of the hedgehog's platform outings," he says. "If you're looking for an epic yarn, you're in the wrong place. This is strictly a case of run here, grab this, go there, fight the bad guys." Chronicles' battle system is also problematic, according to Whitehead. "It's a fun system, and one that makes good use of the DS," he admits. "It's also a very predictable and repetitive system, in which you'll soon master the art of delivering maximum damage while taking minimal hits yourself." "Once you've memorised a few key attacks - Eggman's Bombardment, Big the Cat's Battering Ram - most encounters prove less than challenging," Whitehead continues. "To put it in perspective, I didn't lose a single battle until three quarters of the way through the game, and that was only because I didn't have Cream on my team." "This low difficulty is a persistent problem, and it's the one that ultimately pulls the game down from the top tier to secondary status," Whitehead notes in conclusion. "Sonic fans will get the most from its short-lived charms, but with so many superior RPGs on the DS, the blue hedgehog needed to provide a lot more substance to make his genre debut an essential offering." While critical reaction to Sonic Chronicles has so far been more positive than that of Sonic's recent console outings, some reviews note that the experience may not be up to the standards expected of a collaboration between Sega and BioWare. Critics otherwise assure that Chronicles' storyline and combat system make the title worth a look for series fans.

About the Author(s)

Danny Cowan


Danny Cowan is a freelance writer, editor, and columnist for Gamasutra and its subsites. Previously, he has written reviews and feature articles for gaming publications including 1UP.com, GamePro, and Hardcore Gamer Magazine.

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