BioWare’s Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood was released a year ago, and I’m only now playing it. What can I say? Too many games, too little time. But I’m playing it now and having fun. Here are some initial thoughts:
The combat is probably worth a post all on its own, but I’ll keep this abbreviated. Fighting looks similar to your typical Japanese RPG (i.e. Final Fantasy) so I somewhat expected to button mash my way through endless battles while watching TV or surfing the Internet. I was wrong. You really have to pay attention to the combat for the QTE-esque moments.
Basically, whenever you or your opponents do a POW attack (one of a character’s special abilities), the degree of success or failure is based on your ability to use the stylus to touch the screen in a specific place a certain amount of times, or at the proper time, or to follow a moving target to make a line. I can’t say how much I’ll like this 10 hours down the road, but right now it’s fun and, because it parlays player skill into an advantage, keeps me engaged.
As for frequency, it’s a good amount so far. Each map has a few re-spawning creatures that mill about. You can dodge them if you don’t feel like fighting, or wade in if you want to earn some loot.
Last comment here, occasionally enemies break rank and flee. This jumps you to a mini-game where your (up to) four heroes give chase while crates, rings, and speed boosts litter the ground. Touching one of your characters with the stylus causes that specific character to jump, so the idea is let everyone hit the speed boosts and jump for rings and over the crates. Sometimes I’m happy to let the opponents escape but when you’ve just about finished off a tough encounter, you’ll be focused in on making sure you don’t lose out on your loot and experience.
Sound and Music:
It’s good at times but I’m adding this section because it’s annoying at others. Some of the sounds and music are a bit shrill coming out of the tiny Nintendo DS speaker and it makes me want to shut the volume off. But as I’m a bit new at the game, I’m using audio cues to help me out and I don’t feel comfortable giving that up just yet. This results in me turning it as low as I can and trying to tune out the bad notes as much as possible. I will say I enjoy the sound of collecting rings; brings back good memories of the Sega Genesis.
NPC Interaction and Conversations:
Nothing too special here. I mean, nothing to the depth you’d get out of one of the Sword Coast games like (NWN) Neverwinter or BG (Baldur’s Gate). Most encounters feature a linear path through the conversation, though you may get an opportunity to interject a snarky comment or ask for a little more information. More rarely, you get a chance to ask your group for their thoughts, but that only leads to a quick series of one-liners. Same goes when you get the chance to talk to your group at the base.
Again, I’m not expecting the depth of NWN or BG, but to this point I really don’t know anything about my companions other than really, really simple observations: Tail’s works with electronics, Amy has a boyfriend, Knuckles is impatient, Rouge and Amy don’t get along, and Big has a thing for frogs. Then again, maybe that’s all I need to know.
There appears to be three classes: shifter, power, and support. I’m not entirely sure what each does and it doesn’t seem to matter too much at this point. My reasoning for selecting the group I have (you can only travel with Sonic and three others; if you have more in your group, they hang out back at the base) is based purely on a) laziness — I assigned “Chao” (small, mysterious creatures that give you bonuses like health regeneration) that I like to specific people and I want those Chao with me, and b) navigation abilities — Sonic can run through tunnels, Tails can fly over gaps, and Big can walk through swamp gas. I’m not sure if my entire group is earning experience, but if they aren’t I’m even less likely to change things up until the inevitable (my guess) moment in the story where I’ll be forced to make a switch.
Traversing the Map:
This is one of the low-points for me with the game. I’m on a fairly small map at this point — I have three stages accessible to me: a city, a swamp, and the starting area. To this point, I keep getting quests telling me to look for objects which are scattered about these three regions. I feel like I’ve gone back-and-forth over the same territory a hundred times by now, and I don’t know if there’s an end in sight. It’s one thing to go back-and-forth if you know what you’re looking for, but I’m ducking into random caves trying to figure out if an area is worth checking out or not. Most of them aren’t, for the purposes of my quest. I’m not suggesting that the game tell me exactly where to go, but I have a sensor which tells me when I’m close to an object of interest. It might be nice if the device could point out a general direction or maybe let me know how many objects are around — and at which area, i.e. the device is picking up two blips in the swamp and one from the city.
Story, Journal, and Lore:
The story, like the conversations, is effective but simple. Dr. Robotnik is the big evil. Sonic and heroes wiped out his ship, but he escaped. I think I’m trying to find clues to capture him.
One thing that I like is that when I load a saved game, I get a little re-cap of “The Story So Far”. Unfortunately, it could be a little more helpful. Right now, my re-cap tells me that I’m trying to find my old nemesis and, also, Angel Island. But it doesn’t say anything about my immediate goals. The journal is only slightly more helpful. One of my current quests tells me I’m looking for “strange devices” but it doesn’t tell me where they might be, how many there are, or how many I’ve already found.
As for the lore, you have a Codex that tracks the back story of various items, places, and creatures you come across. I played the original three Sonic the Hedgehog games on the Sega Genesis, but the Sonic world has opened up a fair bit thanks to Japanese Sonic comic books and the Codex provides a nice summary of that world. I haven’t picked up on if there’s any notification that you’ve gained new entries, so I occasionally pop it open to see if there’s anything new. The information isn’t really useful, but it does provide some interesting context to help immerse you into the world.
Overall First Impression:
I have to be honest and say that if this wasn’t BioWare, I don’t think I’d be playing. But I also have to admit that I am having fun and find myself drawn to keep playing, so I’m glad I gave it a chance. And, as per usual with BioWare titles, the polish is high and I’ve only come across one (non-repeatable) bug (an animation glitch). I’d say it’s a solid offering for a BioWare Nintendo DS title.