Review: Season 1, Episode 4

Well, this one took a lot longer than I was hoping, but it’s finally done! There was a lot that went into this episode, so I’m trying to think of where to start. I knew from the moment I learned that the Jackal Squad weren’t featured in Forces that I would want to dedicate an episode to them at some point. At the time, I didn’t imagine it would be quite this soon. And a hitch came in the plan when I realized that the general consensus was that Shadow had killed them all. I mean, sure, “destroyed the entire squad” certainly could imply that, but Shadow’s no mass-murderer…right? And I’d already written into Forces of Chaos that Infinite knew they were alive, but didn’t care about them. (That was totally meant to lead into this episode, by the way.) I got around this problem by suggesting that Infinite did think they were dead at the time, but learned the next day that they weren’t. And you know, there were more than just the three Jackals in the squad besides Infinite. They’re nowhere to be seen in this episode. Perhaps Shadow really did kill the rest of them? I intentionally left it very unclear, and it could simply be that Seth, Colm, and Tana were the only ones willing to go back to the squad after Shadow’s attack, and all the rest just ran away. Whichever makes you feel better, I guess.

Let’s move on to the members of the squad, I suppose. None of them were given names…or personalities…when they originally appeared in the prequel comic. But these three are the same three who appeared most prominently in that comic, and most of Seth’s monologue was dedicated to explaining that fact. It was kind of fun, taking these nameless nobodies and turning them into real characters. I’ve seen it done by others before, and it’s interesting to see how our interpretations differ. And anyways, Seth was the closest to getting something along those lines, as he was featured right alongside Infinite in that comic, and even had a single spoken line. Based on his more eager, energetic facial expressions, and the similar inflection I interpreted from his single line, I came to the conclusion that he’s maybe a bit younger than the rest of them, but his closeness to Infinite showed that he was still most likely his second in command. I built the character based around those two observations. The result was a surprisingly optimistic personality, an interesting contrast to Infinite himself, belonging to someone who considers Infinite to be his closest friend. Perhaps they even had a sort of darker, more twisted version of the brotherly bond shared by Sonic and Tails. Maybe I’ll dig into that a little in a future episode.

Something you, in all likelihood, probably didn’t notice, is that there was a pattern to the names I chose for these three members of the Jackal Squad. They all share their names with playable characters from a game called Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones. They don’t have very much else in common with these characters, just the names. Part of the reason I did this has to do with a scrapped idea I had for Infinite. When contemplating what his name should have been before he became Infinite, one of the most prominent ideas that came to me was “Innes,” which means “small, secluded island,” and of course, begins with “In” just like Infinite does. Innes also happens to be the name of a Sacred Stones character. There’s also another reason I was considering Innes, but I’ll get to that in a moment. Anyways, I liked that name, but I liked Finn even better, where “Fin” literally means “end,” the opposite of Infinite, and is also derived from the “fin” in “InFINite.” So, that was going to be it, and this episode was going to have nothing to do with Fire Emblem. But I still needed a name for Seth and the other Jackals. And that brings me to my next point.

This episode was strongly, yet loosely, inspired by Egyptian mythology. The connection was sort of already there for me. Jackals are important figures in Egyptian lore, strongly associated with death due to the real life problem of jackals digging up graves. And Infinite’s very earliest appearance involved him raiding a pyramid, which are well-known to be used as the tombs of Egyptian Pharaohs. In other words, Infinite was doing exactly what inspired those Egyptian myths. They even gave him a middle-eastern style curved blade. Throw in the Phantom Ruby, and you have a clear connection to the jackal-headed Egyptian god of the dead, Anubis. That was the angle from which I decided to work this episode. Having it take place in a pyramid was an obvious choice from there, and I figured the pyramid from SA2 would simply be a more creative choice. Anyways, one of the reasons I liked “Innes” as a potential name was due to the fact that it has a similar sound to “Anubis,” driving in that connection further. But I liked Finn too much to let it go. And then there’s Seth. Seth is an alternate pronunciation for Set, another Egyptian god. Set did a lot of…interesting things in Egyptian lore, but one of the more important things he did was teaming up with Ra, God of the Sun, to slay Apophis, the Serpent of Chaos. (Now that sounds like something that can be tied back into Sonic. So who in the Sonic universe made a Sun, who could team up with Seth? And who would that make Apophis? You may have to wait until Season 5 to find out.) Point is, much like the rest of this episode, Seth is inspired by that mythology. But wait, didn’t I say Seth was a Fire Emblem character? That I did, yes. Between the coincidental near-use of Innes and the definite use of Seth, I decided to roll with that reference, and name Tana and Colm after those characters as well. Lyon, the ex-member of the Jackal Squad who died, was also named similarly, and he even shares a bit in common with his namesake…in the fact that he’s dead. Spoiler alert!

I think it’s finally time to move on to other things. Before the Jackal Squad was ever involved, this episode was planned to be a team-up with Shadow and Hero, since Hero didn’t get a proper spotlight in his introduction episode, and Shadow, the second main character of the series, has been lurking in the background this entire season so far. And I realize that with so much focus on Seth, that got a little bit lost. I realized that with a third character in the mix, Hero, being mute, would be hard-pressed to get enough screen time, since Shadow and Seth would be able to keep talking to each other. With that in mind, I made sure to kick the episode off with a sweet little character moment with him and Bruno, so that he didn’t just seem like a flat, pointless character the entire time. This is probably the first time I can say that Bruno was pretty much totally useless, but now that I’ve written him in, I’ve got to stick with him. Anyways, Hero and Infinite are supposed to have a thing going, that was emphasized well enough back during Forces of Chaos, but once again, with so much focus on Seth, that got lost this time around. At least he made friends with Shadow, even if that was kind of forced in at the end.

So…there are three Phantom Rubies. And Shadow may or may not have promised to help Infinite find them. So why are there three? Well, why are there seven Emeralds? Why are there twelve Temporal Sapphires? Perhaps this is related somehow. We never did learn why Chaos and Ruby energy interact the way they do. Or what the Phantom Ruby really is. But now, we’re doing alright, and we’re on our way.

-So until next time, remember to face every moment, day by day!

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Opinion Piece 2: Sonic Forces

Well… I…. No, just watch.

Well, there you have it. I first watched this video an hour before writing this, and I’m still sort of in shock. I’ve seen endless comments on just about anything Sonic-related online asking something along the lines of, “Will the third character in Sonic Forces be a self-insert?” My reaction every single time was, “What the heck would give you that idea?” Well…it is. I am not angry. Far from it, in fact. I’m just confused. If done right, this game could have had plenty going for it without such an extreme gimmick. It seems a little…desperate, I guess. I know it sounds kind of odd, coming from me, a guy whose story is practically dependent on its OCs. You’d think I’d be thrilled to make them at least somewhat of a reality. Of course, how much freedom is allowed is a complete other question, but I don’t see it as likely that any of my characters can be replicated in the game. But, the point I was originally making, while there certainly is a considerable fanbase that this would excite, I don’t know if they’re really making the right targeting choices. More on that a bit later. First, take a look at this “Hero” gameplay unveiled at the same time (“Hero” is what this guy seems to be called until further notice).

First of all, the setting of this footage has been given the newly-unveiled name of Park Avenue. Sounds a little happy, but I’m not here to criticize names. Hero uses gadgets such as a grapple gun and his wrist-mounted “Wispon” to make his way through the Eggman-ruled planet (technically it can be a girl, but I’m using male pronouns for simplicity). The first thing that I noticed is that it seems like he is not only in the same location as the Modern Sonic gameplay that we’ve seen, but that it seems like it could be literally Sonic’s level, played as a different character. This concerns me. I suppose I have no right to complain, seeing as level recycling is a major factor of the Adventure games that I hold so highly. But if Modern and Classic Sonic have completely different levels, but this character just shares his with Modern Sonic, it’s going to feel like he’s completely useless, shoehorned in just to appeal to the OC makers. Then there’s the sad fact that, based on what little footage we have, it seems that Hero has more 2D than 3D. It really saddens me, because this once-mysterious third character seemed like the perfect chance to appeal to all three of the largest fanbase factions at once. Give the Classicals Classic Sonic, the Modernists Modern Sonic, and the Adventurers this third character. A 2D style, a 3D style, and a hybrid style. Who could ask for more (bad question)? And while that may just sound like pining coming from an Adventurer like myself, it does bring up a real issue. If Classic Sonic has his complete own style, but this new character just plays like slower Modern Sonic plus gadgets, it could make the entire game feel disjointed, disproportional, whatever you want to call it. Unless, of course, Classic Sonic has as much gameplay as the other two combined, which would actually be even worse, completely ripping the spotlight away from the main character. Point is, opportunity missed, potential problems presented.

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The next thing to talk about is lore/story. First, the character himself. His existence scares me in terms of story for a few reasons. On the more obvious side, a create-your-own-character is very difficult to develop as a character, since who they are is supposed to be more dependent on you. But this person doesn’t have to have to have complicated backstory by any means, so long as his presence in the game’s narrative is justified, which is still just a little more difficult than it sounds. The most comparable thing that I’m familiar with would be Nintendo’s Fire Emblem Awakening, and its use of Robin. Robin is completely customizable to the player’s liking, including his/her name. I won’t give any spoilers for those who haven’t played, but I can say that Robin was handled perfectly, because they act as far more in the story than just an avatar. And, as much as I like Sonic, I don’t know if I trust Sonic Team to do so well, and that’s why I’m scared. Even if Hero’s gameplay were the most fun, entertaining thing to ever come the Sonic series, I wouldn’t want him to just be there because he is in terms of the story. On a lesser note, we have the logistical concerns for how the story is presented. The trailer suggests (though doesn’t confirm) that this customizable character appears in full-rendered cutscenes, which is a development nightmare. Game engine-rendered cutscenes are one thing, as all of the characters can share the same basic skeleton and movements. But as for the cinematic stuff, the scenes where all of the most important story events happen, that’s a lot harder to generalize for all custom possibilities. If you look closely at the reveal trailer, you can see how Hero’s fur blows around in the wind and explosions, which can’t translate easily to the other species choices, who don’t all have fur in that specific location. Point being, that either means they’re going to severely limit such cinematic cutscenes, which is a bad sign for the story, or they’re going to limit Hero’s appearances in such cutscenes, which is a bad sign for his personal story as well as the game as a whole. Or, they can do what pretty much no one expects them to do at this point, and put in a ton of time and effort to make this game absolutely perfect. Ha ha, as if.sonicforces-hero-screen-03-1493934652-1494948811938

The other thing to talk about is the Wispon, best seen in the image above. Supposedly, it is customizable to some degree, though exactly how is unclear. Point is, this is meant to be the next step in Color Powers, the thing that makes Wisps a real element in this game, rather than just being thrown in as they were in Lost World. It might surprise you to hear that I actually like the sound of that. As much as I disapprove of the abuse of Wisps, this is a good sign that something might actually get explained this time. The device suggests that Wisps, at least to some degree, are becoming normalized in the Sonic world, such that people are studying them and creating technology dependent upon them. I’m still waiting to hear why they left the planet and then were magically back again, but this is at least a start. The only other general reaction to speak of are the customization options. I’m fairly impressed by number of choices available…unless what we see in the trailer is all there is, in which case I’ll be disappointed. As I mentioned earlier, I doubt you can do anything with the shape of the body (or head-and-spikes) beyond the choice of species meaning that there’s pretty much no way I’ll be able to make Zero or Chaos, and, unless they specifically intend for the ability to make Shadow clones, that goes for Blacklight as well (Black Cloak is a maybe). The one other thing to point out are the freaking Chao backpacks! Not counting Generations, this is the first mainstream acknowledgement of Chaos as far as I know of since 2005 with Shadow the Hedgehog (where they had a great send-off: letting you murder a room full of them for free dark points). I doubt that it means anything for other Chao appearances in the game, but it’s very nice to see. These options are actually a very good opportunity to reference other forgotten things of Sonic history, and maybe even a few other SEGA things as well. I can only say that I hope the options are as wide and varied as possible.

https://i2.wp.com/nintendo-power.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/Sonic-Forces-Custom-Character.jpgOf course, as always, we now have my specific Chaos Project-related reactions. Since that’s in recent memory (I started writing an hour and a half ago), I’ll start with the Wisps. As glad as I am that Wisps have a purpose, that also means that I’ll have to start acknowledging them as a normalized part of the world in my story, something I certainly haven’t been doing so far. If they really are so normal, it might actually make my existing episodes a contradiction, seeing as the Wisps don’t seem to exist at all. I’ll probably have to dedicate a Season 1 episode to rectifying that, which I was already planning on just for the sake of Lost World, but will now have to be a bit more complicated. Don’t expect to see any Wisps in the story until then.

Now, for Hero. I’m definitely going to have to wait to see more until I determine how to treat him in the long-run of the canon. His existence in and of itself certainly doesn’t contradict anything that I have (though his use of gadgets certainly bears a resemblance to Black Cloak). But, so far as I can tell, there is no easy way to integrate this. First of all, the red Wolf with glasses, the one seen in the trailer and gameplay, may or may not be acknowledged as the “real” face of this Hero, similar to how white hair is assumed real for Robin in Fire Emblem. It also might just be a proof-of-concept example. And Robin brings up another important question. Does this “Hero” have a default name? If he does, that, combined with the look shared by the trailer and the gameplay, may just be enough to allow for, at very least, an appearance in the Chaos Project. If there is no strongly-pushed default name like Robin, then there’s not much I can do. Of course, he could be killed at the end of the game or whatever else, making this discussion pointless. But if there’s even the slightest chance that I can use this character, I want to. More characters means more—and in some cases better—stories to tell. Maybe, if this game falls short on Hero’s backstory, I can…pick up the slack? Wishful thinking, I know. To conclude, even though a real character probably would have been better for my purposes, this guy still has some pretty good potential, if all of the stars align.

-Until next time, I’m gonna reach for those stars. Are you?