When BioWare announced that they had been charged with crafting a Sonic RPG by Sega, eyebrows across the gaming universe shot up. After all, it was just about the most bizarre love affair since the dirty Blue Bomber himself got it on with the human Princess Elise in Sonic the Hedgehog (2006). It’s unfortunate that Chronicles just misses out on classic status then, because this clever little pseudo-RPG ticks the right boxes in so many ways.
For starters, BioWare have come up with an intriguing way of maintaining the personality of Sonic’s zany band of chums – as well as shooting the breeze with them during the course of your quest, you’ll also be able to take advantage of their unique abilities to help navigate through levels. For instance, Sonic might be able to sprint quicker than a freight train, but unless Tails or Amy are in the band there’s no way he’ll be able to leap over chasms or destroy those crates blocking his path.
Chronicles also steals a march over more established rivals like Final Fantasy 4 with its inspired use of the DS’s touch screen during the lavish-looking 3D combat. While the meat and potatoes of scraps revolve around regular attacks, 'POW' moves are a must if you’re looking to inflict major damage. To unchain their full potential, you’ll need to time your attacks in rhythm with on-screen prompts. (Picture an Elite Beat Agents RPG and you’re half way there.)
It works fabulously – it’s incredibly satisfying landing 100+ damage points after you’ve pulled off a combo that’s tested your reactions to their limits. It also adds an edge to combat rarely seen in this genre; mess up at the crucial time and it’s doubly heartbreaking, especially when a certain enemy uses a cheap ‘self destruct’ attack that wipes one of your party out unless countered perfectly!
Alas, the further you delve into Sonic Chronicles, the more irritating this mechanic eventually becomes – chiefly because the fighting-to-exploring ratio is hopelessly unbalanced and there are only a limited number of patterns to follow. Similarly irritating is the ‘escape’ minigame, where either Sonic and pals or their opponents can choose to leg it if the battle isn’t going as planned. Tapping the touch screen to hurdle crates is really boring – another case of a great idea, poorly executed. Even the occasional mid-level, team-based puzzles are a letdown, being as they are clunkily incorporated and mainly lacklustre in their execution.
Happily, character development is another story entirely. It is small in scope but brilliantly handled, and it’s to BioWare’s enduring credit that even the most vilified of Sonic’s cast – serial plonkers like Cream, Amy Rose and Big – come across really well. Even nefarious Dr. Robotnik fights alongside the team at one point! But why, considering this is an RPG, is this area so underdeveloped? It’s arguably Chronicles’ most frustrating failing and yet another opportunity scorned.
Unfortunately, somewhere along the line a potentially incredible game regressed to simply becoming a really good one. Chronicles is a super achievement, completing Sega’s impressive hat-trick of AAA Sonic titles on DS and paves the way for an incredible sequel – but in its quest to appeal to the kiddies BioWare have dumbed down their winning formula to the extent that it’ll likely alienate many over the age of 12.
If you’re a Sonic fanboy or pre-teen, bump another point onto our score; the rest of you are better off sticking with The World Ends With You for the time being before buying the inevitable sequel to Chronicles – by which time BioWare will hopefully have learned from their mistakes, and this’ll turn out to be the Paper Mario-beating RPG we’re confident it can become.
Sep 30, 2008