Thursday, February 11, 2010

PSA: Don't Buy Sonic Chronicles. Seriously.

I don't usually post anything in the middle of the week. This isn't a normal, full essay. But I had to get it out there. I had to save people who might otherwise have bought this game.

Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood is a terrible, terrible game. Did you notice I didn't link the title to the Amazon page? That's because I don't want you to buy it. I don't even want to risk the possibility of you accidentally buying it. I can only imagine the wrath I would have right now if I had paid any money for it myself. As it is, I ripped it right out of my DS, stuffed it back into the GameFly envelope, and shoved it into the mail slot with as much contempt as I could muster.

For those of you lucky enough to be unfamiliar with this game, it's an RPG for the Nintendo DS, developed by BioWare and published by Sega, set in the world of Sonic the Hedgehog. This might sound good - BioWare is known for their story- and character-driven RPGs, after all. Unfortunately, it is almost complete crap.

The one thing the game does right is the characterization. BioWare absolutely nails each and every one of the franchise's beloved characters, and their dialog is wonderful to experience. And I suppose the graphics are okay. The music sounds like an early-nineties PC game with bad midi. The plot is shallow, and spends way too much time on new and uninteresting characters. (If I wanted to watch BioWare show off its sci-fi world-building, I'd play Mass Effect. I played this game for the cartoon forest animals, please.) Combat is horrifically tedious and detailing the complete list of its missteps would take ages. It's fairly telling that I was relieved to discover that Cream the Rabbit is actually a game-breaker who makes battle trivially easy (though not really any less tedious) because it made it much more bearable.

And bear it I did, for the promised reward of plot scenes and character dialog. This is how RPGs work: you muddle through combat (even when it's dull) and dungeons (even when they're annoying) so you can watch your party members chat with each other about saving the world. For a good chunk of Chronicles, it was worth it - though it wouldn't have been if the characters weren't ones I already loved interpreted by writers as skilled as BioWare's. The gameplay was full of poor design choice after poor design choice, my relating of which to Iceman caused him to wonder openly if BioWare had bothered with any playtesting.

Even with this being the case, I planned on beating the game, sending it back, and forgetting about it. There didn't seem to be a point to writing about it - it wasn't even a Bad Good Game, as the flaws ran far too deep. It was just a bad game that happened to have some very well-realized characters.

The final dungeon took everything bad about the game thus far and made it worse. But I soldiered through. Do you know why? Can you guess? That's right: so I could see the ending. Get some sense of closure, and get some more dialog between my favorite brightly-colored anthropomorphic forest animals who run at improbable speeds. Sonic would say something snarky, and Knuckles would say something badass, and Tails would say something smart, and so on and so on.


Immediately after one of the most anti-climactic final boss battles ever, with barely an acknowledgment of what the characters have accomplished and been through, with no banter, no closure, NOTHING, a cliffhanger is set up. This is literally the dialog that ensues. These are direct quotes.

TAILS: Wow! Do you believe that ending?
SONIC: Seriously! It looks like we're done for!
TAILS: At the hands of Eggman, no less! I can't believe he'd turn on us like that!
SONIC: Yeah. Surprise, surprise.
TAILS: My biggest concern is how he could have built up such an army so quickly. We weren't gone very long!
SONIC: I didn't recognize the world when we got back. It looked as if we'd been gone for years!
TAILS: I'm sure we'll get to the bottom of things... if we manage to survive that crash!
SONIC: Good point. I guess we'll have to wait for the next episode.
TAILS: What should we do in the meantime?
SONIC: We could talk about the team that came up with this caper in the first place.
TAILS: That should kill some time! Great idea, Sonic!
SONIC: Yeah, I know.
TAILS: This game was developed by BioWare. Did you know BioWare was founded by a pair of doctors?
SONIC: Doctors AND game developers? No way!

They proceed to rattle off the game credits in an incredibly self-congratulatory way. Then the game restarts.

I am not exaggerating. This is actually what happens.

I could not believe what I was seeing. I called Iceman into the room to bear witness, and when it was done I said, "I want this game out of the apartment now" and threw it back into the mail as earlier described. "Did they forget how RPGs work?" I asked Iceman, exasperated, among other less-printable commentary.

They broke the deal. They replaced the ending, which was the only reason I was still suffering through the game, with a cliffhanger (in a game that is not marketed as episodic and has no announced sequel) and smarmy, back-patting credits (rubbing in the fact that they robbed me of an ending by talking about how great they are instead).

This is flat-out rage-inducingly unacceptable. I am so glad I didn't spend a cent on the game directly, and if there is a sequel there is no way I'm spending any time or money on it, either. I don't know how this game wasn't just trashed in reviews. I don't know how anyone who played it can feel anything but burned.

And so, after ridding my apartment of this abomination, this affront, this insult, I sat down at my keyboard to warn you. DON'T BUY THIS GAME. SERIOUSLY. You want a review score? Here: I give this game a zero. Out of a hundred. Out of a million. It doesn't matter. DON'T BUY IT.


  1. The most interesting thing about this to me is not how bad the game is, but how bad most reviews are. I had a few comments about that over at my site recently and this again reminded me about this huge problem.

    A free pass due to it being Bioware perhaps? "Professional" reviewers paid off?

    This makes some sad reading:

    Even Eurogamer, which is sometimes ok for reviews, gave it 7/10:

    "Sonic Chronicles is undeniably a nice-looking game, and its slick presentation makes for an enticing experience to begin with. The longer you play, however, the more the cracks start to show, and what seemed like a potential minor classic is soon reduced to just "pretty good"."

    Then again, are these reviews reflective of the prevailing mass of gaming opinion that wants meaningless easy battles to just keep pouring on those fake achievements? WoW subscription figures would suggest that may be so!

  2. I tried the game out shortly after its release, and the tedious battles were the biggest problem for me. That coupled with the lack of pausing during battles made me set the game aside and never look back. The promise Bioware broke in my view was to make a game on a pick-up-and-play system easy to start and stop.

  3. Sad to say, I bought this game long before I read this. And through most of it, I found myself in your boat, though at first I actually had some fun with it. I stopped a bit before you, at a point where physical attacks just stopped working and I didn't want to deal with it anymore.

    I thought about picking it up again just so I could finish and see the ending. After seeing this. I think I'm going to have to pass. Thanks for the warning. You didn't save me the money, but you definitely saved me the rest of those hours of my life.

  4. Good thing I didn't even know it existed!
    I think you are very brave just to have suffered to get to that shitty ending.

  5. I have been playing this for some time - I've clocked about 15 hours or more (I got stuck in Metropolis for quite a while) and have been in the Twilight Cage area for its first two chapters. The first of these was troublesome - only armor-piercing attacks worked on the local enemies, and I had chosen a party without any such moves. The result was a tedious battle where I could take down one hitpoint per turn off the enemy, and they could barely hurt me. This was annoying enough, but I soldiered through. Switched my party around, progressed the plot, and so on. Each world from then on had some required set of abilities, which was conceptually okay, at the cost of one trial-and-error annoying battle.

    Now I regret the hours I put into it. I hear the sequel isn't greenlit by Sega, but that BioWare have been doing some early development on it anyway.

  6. Thanks for the advice. I actually mulled over buying this during a recent GameStop sale but (wisely it would seem) passed it up. If you're looking for an interesting RPG, try Valkyrie Profile: Covenant of the Plume. It's flawed for certain, but it's interesting and still pretty fun.