Karn Bianco, Previews/Retro Editor: I would like to preface my impressions of The Dark Brotherhood by saying that I am both a longtime Sonic fan, and a big admirer of BioWare's work. Of course, I never expected the two to come together quite like they have, but I have endeavored to keep an open mind. Ben and myself have now experienced the first hour or so of Sonic Chronicles, which is more than enough time to get an impression of most of its key elements. Elements like the overworld, for example.
Navigating the overworld is handled entirely with the touch screen. Pointing at a location with the stylus will force the currently-controlled character to move in that direction, a la The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass. Although the game is party-based, only one member of your party will appear on the overworld at any given time. It is, however, possible to swap between characters on the fly. Doing so is essential for navigating to certain areas, for example those that are blocked off by crates that only Amy and her over-sized hammer can deal with.
Rings, which serve as the game's currency, and NPCs are scattered about in various locations. Enemies also wander around non-town environments, allowing you to avoid battles (more on those later) if you prefer. Certain objects, for example loop-the-loops and climbable rock faces, can be interacted with by tapping context-sensitive buttons which appear on the touch screen when your main character is in close proximity to them. It may be not be as fast as Sonic fans will be used to, but it all feels pretty smooth. Wouldn't you say, Ben?
KB: Indeed. Of course, when resurrection isn't an option, there's always the possibility of fleeing. Unlike other role-playing games, Sonic Chronicles features an interesting take on the flee/escape command. In order to escape a battle successfully, Sonic and his companions must first complete a brief mini-game in which they literally run away from their foes as the player uses the touch screen to help them avoid obstacles and race through speed boosts. The same mini-game is also used to prevent enemies from fleeing; if you can help Sonic and company catch up in the alloted time, your opponent will be forced to resume the battle.
Needless to say, no RPG (especially a BioWare RPG) would be complete without some sort of dialogue system, and The Dark Brotherhood is no exception. When you consider that Sonic isn't exactly known, at least historically, for starring in dialogue-heavy games, BioWare seems to be doing a great job of characterizing Sonic and his chums in a believable fashion. Each of the game's dialogue trees consists of numerous nodes/responses, each of which conveys one of Sonic's emotions. For example, it's possible to abruptly end a conversation with the likes of �Let's get going!� but it's just as acceptable to ask lots of questions. In fact, Tails recommends you do just that during an amusing introductory scene in which we were able to respond with �What's your favourite color?� to which Tails replies �That's not really what I meant, Sonic.�
While we're on the subject, humour is another element of Sonic Chronicles that BioWare seems to be handling extremely well. Given that the game features a cast of anthropomorphic animals who have spent most of their lives running through hoops and collecting golden rings, that's no mean feat. Par exemple, in addition to the aforementioned dialogue tree options, it's possible to choose an overly sardonic response that, if handled poorly, could have been entirely cringe-worthy. Instead, we found a selection of genuinely witty remarks which, although somewhat uncompromising at times, ultimately sounded like the words of an impatient, super-speedy hedgehog. I'm certainly looking forward to seeing if BioWare is able to keep the humour fresh throughout the course of the game. How about you?
BS: By all means, if BioWare can manage a decent sustentation of the game's humour I'll be pleased. The danger lies in a weakening plot and the need to force elements in to drive the story turning this genuinely charming game into a generic mess. But there's certainly no sign of this happening judging by the playtime we got with it. The music doesn't play a particularly important role in the game, and BioWare don't seem to have hired some B-List J-Pop artists to do their soundtrack, but as with the other elements, you still know you're in the Sonic universe. BioWare have melded a decent graphical interface with really colourful and vibrant 2D backgrounds to create a pleasant game environment that rarely chugs, even in pre-release code, and, at times, looks very nice. The DS isn't really strained but with the subtle soundtrack, witty dialogue and faithfully Sonic-y locales, BioWare have got the ambience covered.
I'm looking forward to seeing more of the game, if only to discover how well BioWare manage to sustain their manipulation of the Sonic universe for the RPG genre. It has so much promise, and should probably find itself on any fan's shopping list come release. I can't speak for more than what I played, clearly, but if the first few sections are anything to go by, we're in for a Sonic treat.