Cast yourself back to the late 2000s. Between Baldur’s Gate, Neverwinter Nights, and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, the team at BioWare were at their peak, cementing themselves a reputation for top-class RPGs. Granted, Jade Empire wasn’t quite the success they’d hoped for, but the studio’s best had yet to come. Slowly, they’d begun preparing a new science fiction epic, one which would transcend gaming – their magnum opus, if you will. One glorious day in 2008, Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood finally launched.
…OK, fine. Maybe I’m confusing it with Mass Effect here. Maybe. For what it’s worth though, Sonic Chronicles remains an entertaining oddity in Sonic The Hedgehog’s history. Since arriving on Mega Drive in 1991, Sonic’s been subject to countless spinoffs, taking him from hoverboard racing to the Arabian Nights, but unlike his plumber rival, there’s only ever been one RPG entry. Marking BioWare’s last game before being merged into EA, there’s more to this oft-forgotten DS spinoff than an outlier status, or Ken Penders’ amusing echidna lawsuit.
Once you begin, you’ll quickly realise this isn’t your standard Sonic adventure. Rather than work towards defeating Eggman – or whatever powerful entity he’s lost control over – Chronicles begins with his presumed death, after Sonic and friends destroy the Egg Carrier. Months later, Knuckles gets kidnapped by a mysterious group called Marauders, also taking the Chaos Emeralds for unknown purposes. Split into two arcs, Chronicles’ storytelling wasn’t as in-depth as BioWare’s other works, but combined with Sonic’s more light-hearted nature, it didn’t need to be.
Like most DS games, Chronicles utilised the touch screen heavily. Moving around with a stylus, we’d assemble a party of four to explore locations old and new, helping out local citizens with side quests. Exploration relied on a character’s special abilities to advance. So, for example, Rouge can fly short distances, while Amy can smash objects. As with many BioWare RPGs, multiple dialogue choices were present, letting us pry further for extra plot details, rush through, or offer snarky comments. This doesn’t sound like much, but there’s a personal touch here not seen in other Sonic games.
Combat took a turn-based approach, giving us your standard abilities. Each character also had a range of special attacks, utilising touch screen inputs in a manner reminiscent of Elite Beat Agents. We’d earn EXP to level up our team, choosing which individual stats and attacks to improve, even unlock joint attacks with other party members. Chao eggs were also scattered across locations, letting us build up a portable Chao Garden. When assigned to a particular character, Chao would boost our battle abilities, and we could trade them with other players too.
Left on a cliffhanger ending, the story remains unresolved thanks to EA’s acquisition of BioWare, and it’s a genuine shame we’ve not seen another Sonic RPG since. Sonic Chronicles wasn’t executed perfectly – the music quality is testament to that – but it showcased significant potential which could’ve been built upon further. Even in 2021, this fusion still offers a uniquely enjoyable adventure, one I’d argue deserves a second look.