I’m not a Sonic fan. Back when I was a kid, I liked the series a bit more, but my love for it died down when other games were capturing my attention, like the old and now dead Devil May Cry series, Final Fantasy, etc. But that didn’t mean I couldn’t stand everything related to the character. I even kinda liked the Sonic X cartoon…though at this phase of my life, I was also a colossal moron, and I can’t remember much about it, save for other people expressing their hatred for it, so I can’t exactly say I support it, and I’m not willing to rewatch all of it. With things I liked though, came the games I saw years later, like Sonic 2006, and that didn’t help at all. Before that was Shadow the Hedgehog for the PS2, and we all know about that too. Finally there’s the Sonic anime mov–I’ll stop now before I am bludgeoned to death for bringing all this up. Point is, Sonic Dark Brotherhood looked promising to me, as I was a huge fan of RPGs at the time, and with Bioware working on this, I didn’t see how this could be bad.
And then I played it years after it came out. My initial reaction was one of curiosity, as the game seemed interesting enough, and while challenging, still fun. Then came the dread as I played. Difficulty was one thing, but then it turned into something else. All the fun I had was drained, or rather pummeled and shot, left on the street and leaving me to scream my hatred into the sky. Short version: I hate this game, and is single-handedly one of the most disappointing games I have ever seen for the DS. How could so much potential, so much promise wash down the drain? Let’s take a look.
The story stars Sonic the Hedgehog and his gang, and takes place after the events of dealing with their dreaded foe, Dr. Robotnik and he was seemingly wiped out, possibly for good. Just as things are settling down, an unknown force arrives, led by the mysterious Ix, and with their advanced technology tend to steal the Chaos Emeralds for their own reasons to conquer anything and everything. Sonic and the gang must round up friends old and new, and even unexpected, to deal with the new menace. I apologize for giving such a poor explanation, because I have never really understood the Sonic story, and most if not all of X has been wiped from my memory. And I can’t say much more because it involves a massive amount of spoilers. I try to avoid that, unless the article is specifically detailed to deconstructing the story and give spoilers.
I can say though that the game does span more than the usual Sonic universe, going into other worlds, if in brief levels. But oddly enough, the story is one of the strong points. I was able to follow along even with my limited knowledge on the series, and the writing is actually not too shabby. It was perhaps the most entertaining the part of this game, even if there are some ups and downs. If you are looking for insight as to how this game uses things from other Sonic games to expand on the world-building of this particular game, look elsewhere, because I have no answers. Smart answers anyway. I will say though that while branching choices for dialogue, while interesting, offers very little in the long run. It’s basically either make Sonic a bit nicer, or a douche, or just skip it all and keep trudging through the plot. The most you can get out of it is more dialogue with the cast, or uncover more information about certain groups/events/items/etc.
Combat is a mixed bag though. On one hand, I actually did like the skills worked and the battle system, in which you control up to 4 characters, and skills require timing in order to pull off effectively. These can be incredibly annoying at first, but as you learn them, they at least keep you engaged. The bad news? Doing this throughout the game became more tiring later on, when enemies were able to be resistant to your attacks, and force you to use your skill points more. Without the character Cream, this would eat up a lot of time as you have to constantly gain PP in order to use the skills, or spend time on defense, and some enemies made defense useless, mainly towards the end of the game. And even then, I ended up on parts where Sonic, the main character, was absolutely useless to me. And no, you can’t switch him out either, making the experience less than pleasant when you need armor piercing skills. Makes me wonder just what was going on through the heads of the developers when the flagship character is rendered worthless for me. Without the Shadow, Cream, and Omega combo, the game becomes absurdly and ridiculously difficult, and not for any fun reasons.
However, combat doesn’t end there. Each character gets a limited number of turns to deal damage, but other factors do play a part in combat, like status effects certain attacks give, and enemy types. As mentioned above, sometimes enemies later in the game have ridiculous defense, but then there’s ludicrous healing attacks too. I’m not talking about spells or potions, I mean when certain enemies hit you, even if the damage is small, draining enemies can gain a huge amount of health for no reason. When you make the final boss do this and it’s at least reasonable, you are doing something wrong. I know this might sound like complaining, but it makes combat all that more of a chore. There’s strategy in combat, and then there’s annoying me until I shout into the heavens. There are also chase sequences to catch an enemy to gain XP, though the joy in these are limited. The final boss in particular with this was absolutely annoying. Still, if nothing else, the stylus at least can follow it smooth enough, though I found that being too quick can result in some jumping problems.
Customization is limited. You can have up to 3 pieces of equipment: gloves, shoes, and an extra piece of gear. Sadly, I don’t think the developers finished this, or cared enough to put in numerical values. You see, apparently attack and defense are modifiers for your chance to hit and dodge the target, but things that increase your damage output are meant to be on the text. So even if there are no numbers that increase attack or defense, if it says it can bolster your strength, it can. Now, my question is very simple: WHY CAN YOU JUST PUT THE MODIFIER STATISTICS IN THE SAME TEXT!? Other games are able to do this one simple fact, and made my experience more confusing than it needed to be. I only found out about this fact after I beat the game too! I cut slack on things like Mass Effect guns because they do actually say the effects of the guns in their games, like some are better against barriers or armor, etc., but this was just lazy, and another sign that this game the development cycle was rushed to cash in a paycheck. Another sign of laziness were the menus with items and Chao, as it just throws everything together in one huge list (separate for each category at least). So in order to equip an item, the right item, I have to look up the character, then his equipment, then memorize it and try to find the right piece of equipment which is scattered. There is only a tiny bit of organization at best with the category of gear crammed in, but it’s completely amateur.
The next part of customization comes from Chao, creatures that lay within eggs that can be collected around the stage. These were at first fun to collect, using different party members to collect them all from each stage and see what they can all do; also helped that they were all cute too. However, while some can be immensely useful, they are limited in that yes, they can level up to become incredibly useful, and probably the one edge Sonic needed, but they can only become stronger when trading them with other players. Naturally, I lack friends who have their own copies of the game, so I couldn’t do this at all unless I used cheat codes, which I can never use for my reviews.
Leveling up also has the bonus of customizing what skills to learn and use, but it’s really weak in my opinion, as some skills tend to be downright useless, like Sonic’s Tornado since most enemies are resistant to the wind, and I think his only useful attack was his axe-kick. And you need to be wise too, as leveling up can be a pain, and as far as I know, you cannot reset those skill points. There is a nice added bonus of team attacks, which I really liked to see as characters worked together, though these too can become useless when a single character is more than capable of doing the exact same amount of damage. Money comes in the form of rings, which can be gathered through the map, selling things, or even chasing sequences if your characters get them. Eventually, you’ll have enough items to farm some quick cash in case you are low on funds.
The visuals and level design are another thing I like, as they are bright, colorful, and definitely deal a lot with puzzles revolving around the use of characters through the stages. It’s an interesting twist to it to try and keep every character active, having to switch out characters just for extra items and Chao, or to just move quicker through the environment, though no doubt you might just want to skip all of it when combat gets harder and more of a chore. At the very least, there is no random combat, and fleeing is possible with the chase mechanic, so avoiding combat is not impossible at least. Combined with the writing, it saddens and angers me that I ended up hating the game so much. And the music is surprisingly good, keeping a very good beat for combat. The sound effects though are just too silly, even by Sonic standards. I get that it is going for the cartoon sound effects, but it kinda kills the mood for me sometimes.
The game has a new game plus mode, which has you keep all your gear and stuff, and even has a cliffhanger ending, promising the return of a foe in a new chaotic battle for the planet. Sadly, it’s useless when the game never got a sequel, and just comes across as another sign of the game’s failure. Not even getting a conclusion is hurting this game for me, and I was actually interested in the story of this game. I still feel like not enough information was shared about Ix, personal info I mean, and Shade as well. Sadly, with everything presented, and gameplay feeling rushed and a chore, it’s hard for me to recommend this game. I had fun, but only in the first half. By the time I reached around Chapter 6 or 7, the fun ended, and it just became a mess.
Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood gets a 2 out of 5. I debated long and hard about this score. There are elements to enjoy no doubt, but there are better RPGs out there that are more accessible and worth your money out there. This one, not so much. The story is interesting enough and doesn’t make me feel hopelessly lost as someone who barely knows the canon, but it’s a case of the game being rushed during the final stages that hurt it the most and make it a chore, something no game should ever be, and I refuse to reward a game that I don’t feel is finished, especially with a series that will probably never see another sequel. Moreover, I have seen prices online, and you can definitely find a much better game that can save you more money, like Golden Sun Dark Dawn or The World Ends With You (possibly my 2nd favorite DS game of all time). I think Sonic fans might be able to appreciate it more than I can, as I can’t seem to grasp more good things that come from this game and fully enjoy it.