Opinionated Review: Sonic Forces

Yeah, I’ve been holding out on this for a while, even though it’s the whole reason I started these reviews in the first place. This game…was something. And I’m honestly not going to be sure what something means until I’ve finished writing here. When I first finished the game, I was unsure of what to think, and while my opinions have solidified a little more since then, I was hoping to have a better idea by now. So here we go—even I don’t know where.

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Review: After the Fight

Wow. This was an undertaking. Where do I even begin? From the beginning, I suppose. Our starting point would be the moment I finished Infinite Possibilities, the first Sonic Forces special. At that point, I had literally no idea what would come next. I had the basic, rudimentary outline of what the next episode arc would be, and made that first special purely as a way to kick off that arc while simultaneously celebrating the release of Forces. I wrote it knowing that I would eventually have to explain how Blacklight became Infinite, but I figured, based on the “Phantom Ruby prototype” concept (which I only knew about because of the beta release of the mobile game, Sonic Forces Speed Battle) that it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to explain later that Eggman simply made another fake, if all else failed.

Unrelated to that train of thought, a little while after the game came out, I was accidentally spoiled by a single name. “Null Space.” I had no idea what it was, or what its role was in the game (though the spoiler in question did contain the statement that it was underused in the plot). I knew at that moment that I had found my connection between Sonic Forces and my story. From the beginning, back when I wrote the final episode of the Birth of Blacklight arc, I specifically left one very vague statement at the end. “He is safely hidden away.” On one hand, I actually hadn’t yet put the thought into where exactly that hiding place would be, as I knew that I had the whole Dawn of Chaos arc in the middle to think of a good location to kick off this new arc (originally, the location of Sonic’s fight in what would become the first Forces special was supposed to be that hiding spot, he was supposed to see Blacklight getting woken up). On the other hand, the imminent release of Forces was in the back of my mind, and I had a pretty good feeling at that point that it would coincide with the beginning of this new arc. I saw an opportunity to connect them, so I decided that a great way to do so would be to make that hiding place an important location from Forces itself. So when I saw the words “Null Space,” what I saw was something that could almost certainly be the exact place I was looking for to bring this all together. The decision to make Blacklight into Infinite was entirely separate, so when I actually played the game for myself, and learned that Null Space was so intrinsically related to the Phantom Ruby and Infinite, I was almost giddy. The connection wasn’t just there, it was perfect.

One other spoiler I accidentally got was a snapshot of the final scene before the credits, all the characters cheering in front of what I later learned was the Eggman Empire Fortress. By that point, I had already learned quite a bit about Infinite as a character, between the prequel comics, the trailers, and my own attempt with Blacklight-Infinite. I had grown very attached to him. I thought that the face under his mask was…well, sort of adorable. Maybe handsome would be a better word. Either way, I liked him. I wanted to see that guy be happy. So I started planning for a redemption story. I wanted him to come crawling back at the moment of that snapshot I saw, begging for forgiveness, warning of some greater threat. I wanted he and the Avatar to become good friends, for the Avatar to truly show him the way back to heroism. Sound familiar? Bcause that’s pretty much exactly what I ended up writing…up to the last three minutes or so. More on that in a moment.

After I played the game, things just kept falling into place. The “Fading World” background song for Imperial Tower (that level was a great experience, by the way) implied that the Ruby prototype was calling to the Avatar’s dark emotions, helping to justify Infinite’s being a better person without it. Infinite disappeared towards the end of the story, without a clear end, without any serious character resolution. Best of all (or worst, from any standpoint other than mine as a writer) Eggman didn’t even use the real Ruby! He used Infinite’s prototype! (At least, I’m 90% sure on that. It wasn’t extremely clear, and I’ve seen some debate about it.) All of the pieces lined up into a perfect puzzle, where the Phantom Ruby itself could be framed as the true final villain, Infinite would have perfect reason to be the necessary exposition to explain that, and could be truly redeemed from there. I explained some of the basics of my ideas to my brother and fellow writer, Yuni Oha. He was skeptical. He didn’t really see redemption as a reasonable option, because Infinite was so darned evil in the real story. I argued back that his one blue eye was meant to show that he still had some good in him, and he just tried to cover it up with the mask. He countered that everything I said may make for a good excuse, after the fact, of why I did it, but none of it makes for a proper reason to make it happen in the first place. Not long later, the full Sonic Forces soundtrack was released. After he listened to Infinite’s full theme for the first time, he begged me not redeem him. And, after some further discussion, I was convinced. No more redemption for Infinite. Problem was, I’d already planned such a full and complex story to write, that heavily depended on Infinite as a character. In fact, I still started writing this episode less than 24 hours after that. So I thought…Let’s fake it! More specifically, let’s help out Infinite’s character in a different way. Let’s see him at his lowest, see him show a level of caring that we haven’t seen before, give all of us a reason to care about him as a person, even as he stays evil to the end. I was still able to write a fundamentally similar story, just with an added moment of extra drama right at the end. But that still left one problem. If Infinite is still Infinite, how can Blacklight become Infinite? In order to answer that question, I ended up coming up with a much better concluding scene than I was originally planning. “Better” being a relative term. Because it was kind of sad for me, going through all that work to bring Infinite back to power, only to take it away from him. But at that point, the first Forces special had been out there for well over a month, and it was absolutely necessary that Blacklight become the primary problem. I needed to write myself out of that hole with that scene. And it was a good scene, sudden and unexpected, but disappointing from Infinite’s perspective all the same.

So, what else is there to talk about? I ended up writing this episode with the thought in mind to make it as easy as possible to read for someone who’s never read any part of the rest of the series before, partly because Yuni said he wanted to read it after the Infinite conversation we had, and partly just because, as a direct insert into Sonic Forces, direct connections to the rest of my story weren’t really all that necessary. That’s why I didn’t actually name Lt. Alfred when he was voicing over at the beginning, why I had him give a brief synopsis of the Birth of Blacklight arc in the first place.

The design and concept of the Phantom Nightmare was something that came to me quickly and easily. After all the buildup with the Replicas, you only ended up fighting half of them in the final game, and even then they never really did anything. Plus, it was something Yuni and I had been talking about long before the game came out, that all four of the advertised Replicas had some manner of Super Form. It was a logical step to give them all a purpose, while creating an opponent worthy of Super Sonic. With the Ruby’s illusionary powers, fusing them all together into a single monster seemed like a logical extreme. The addition of Heavy King was something that I was debating at first, but in the end I decided that anything that gives Classic Sonic a reason to exist is a good thing. (That one line, “This was never your fight,” was a stab at the fact that Classic Sonic didn’t even belong in this game). I also debated using Titanic Monarch instead of Phantom King as the Heavy King’s “Super Form,” but I was convinced that it just couldn’t properly be justified at this time. Originally, I was planning on having the Phantom Nightmare simply tear out of Null Space right from the get-go. But Yuni, once again, convinced me to have a clear scene where each of the Replicas transform before fusing, just to make it clear what’s really happening.

Let’s see, what else? I was glad to give an excuse to exclude Shadow and Silver from this Super fight, where Generations DIDN’T EVEN BOTHER. *Ahem* Sorry, that’s just a thing that bothers me.

The Avatar’s character arc is something that most people would say Forces did relatively well, especially compared to most recent Sonic games. But I knew that it could use a little extra something. The Avatar grew from point A to point B, which was good. But any good character development arc requires a moment of reflection. A moment where a question is posed, and resolutely answered, of how valid that development was. Speaking of the Avatar, his new little Wisp friend is something that came to me sort of randomly, but I thought it would be good for him to have someone he could call a partner, even when he’s out there alone.

Well, there’s more I could probably say, but I think this has gone on long enough. But rest assured. This is not the last you’ve seen of Infinite or the Avatar.

-And before I say goodbye to you, one more last fist bump!
(For real this time, last one, I promise.)

Review: Infinite Possibilities

I normally pre-write these, but I didn’t have any time for that! I considered just waiting until later so I could sound more knowledgeable about the details of Forces (still haven’t played yet), but I decided that honesty was more important. So, let’s talk about all of the methods I used to make you think that I’ve played Forces, even though I haven’t! Do note, this review is for the special episode posted a week ago, not the regular Dawn of Chaos episode from a few days ago.

Of course, there were like a hundred and one quotes and references I could list off to you, but I’ll stick to the most important ones, like the words Sonic was greeted with each time the time loop iterated. “In the darkest of times…the world needs a hero.” These were the very first words that the public ever saw in regards to Forces, serving as the opening to the introduction trailer that aired at the 25th Anniversary party. I, for one, will probably never forget those words. They were the beginning of the roller-coaster ride towards what seems to have become the greatest Sonic narrative seen in the last decade. Also of note, in general, Infinite (and Sonic towards the end) quoted lines from him seen in the trailers, as well as his theme song. This helped (I hope) create the illusion that I actually knew what Infinite’s personality would be like.

Okay, on to bigger stuff. The biggest trouble I had for this episode, both conceptually and in terms of writing, was that I had no idea how Forces would end. I figured the exact content of the game wouldn’t pose too much trouble, but right up until the end I figured that there was about a 50-50 chance of a time-space reset at the end of the game. If that were the case, there would be no telling whether or not Sonic would actually remember Infinite, or any of the events of the game. So I had to work with that possibility in mind. In order to fill the content of the episode and create a sense of drama, without diverging from the Forces theme too much, nor standing too big of a chance of being contradicted by Forces, I decided that a time loop would satisfy all of those needs, while simultaneously reflecting the concept of “Infinite.” That way I only really needed to make one Forces-related event, repeated a bunch of times, and a fight against Infinite was the obvious choice for that, since the the trailers have given us a pretty good idea of his fighting capabilities and style. Of course, I knew right off the bat that I couldn’t just pull Infinite straight from Forces. I had practically no idea who that person under the mask was, and what their motives would be. I did see the sketched cover of the fourth prequel comic as it was leaked in the PDF of the first, so I knew that he wasn’t a character that we’ve seen before. And interviews with Sonic Team officials confirmed pretty resolutely that Infinite was indeed a regular animal character (animoid by my terminology) who was turned into a powerful entity by Eggman and the Phantom Ruby. And if Eggman could do it once, why not do it again? Obviously there’s bound to be some kind of reason why not, but I figure I can address that in the next chronological episode. Point is, I thought it would be a good idea to have Eggman make a new Infinite, so any discrepancy in character or plot (he might have died in Forces) could be easily dismissed. But who would this new Infinite be? Well, this arc was planned to be the return of Blacklight before Forces was even announced. And Blacklight is the kind of character who deserves to come back with a bang. So why not take care of both at once? To be honest, this episode, minus the time loop and Forces tie-ins, was pretty much how I planned to kick this arc off anyways, with a surprise, not-yet-explained return of Blacklight, who immediately takes Sonic out so that the real story can begin. So it almost feels like this Forces thing sort of fell into my lap. Of course, there were plenty of other problems, not the least of which was whether or not Sonic would remember Infinite, as I mentioned earlier. I needed to find a way, a specific behavior and/or statement from Sonic which could be interpreted either as remembering or as not remembering. What I settled on was his “This isn’t possible. Just what are you!?” If Sonic does remember, that would mean that he knows Infinite was defeated long ago, and so is baffled to see him return. If he doesn’t remember, then he is simply surprised at Infinite’s incredible power. Also related is Tails’ line of “Sonic, you can’t outspeed him!” Either he remembers this from last time, or he’s simply reacting in a different way than he did last time. I chose Chaos Control as a way to instigate the time loop because, as we know from Sonic Mania, the Ruby clearly does react in some odd way with the Emeralds, and yet I knew that the odds of Sonic ever using Chaos Control in Forces were practically zero. Seriously, I think the recent “Twitter Takeover” was the first time Roger Craig Smith Sonic has ever said Chaos Control. Episode Shadow puts a bit of a damper on things, but I still figure it’s pretty unlikely that the Emerald will touch the Ruby (assuming that Shadow has an Emerald at all. Please let him have an Emerald). Anyways, there were some other little things. I made sure to avoid having Sonic get hit by any of Infinite’s cubes, because I don’t really know what they would do (though the footage from a while ago from the Infinite vs. Avatar boss fight gives me a general idea).

Let’s see, is there anything else? Even though this episode worked out somewhat naturally with my plans, it certainly wasn’t my first idea. I considered having a sort of flashback episode, taking place during the time of Forces but from the perspective of another character. But without knowing the actual events of Forces, there’s really no character worth telling a story about who isn’t already in the game, and therefore involved in events that I don’t want to contradict. I considered bringing the Custom Hero back into the present-day fold as a character, but I couldn’t be sure that he wasn’t going to die after Forces, or get erased by the time reset or something. Besides, I don’t even know his name! (At this point I’m pretty sure that he doesn’t have a name, and that really sucks.) But anyways, the conclusion I came to just made the most logistical sense. And…I think that’s all I got until next time!

-So until next time, always see the light of hope shining in the distance…
(Gotta win, or we lose it all…)

Announcement: The Sonic Forces Special

With the release of Sonic Forces less than 25 days away, I can now confirm the coming of a very special episode of The Chaos Project. It’s pretty likely at this point that this episode will interrupt the currently-running Dawn of Chaos arc, but it will also serve as the first episode of the next arc. So there will be a little bit of time-jumping. But no worries, it will all be completed eventually. So what does this special episode entail? To be honest, I’m still working on that part. But the big guy in the mask staring at you from the website’s new header should be a big hint. However, not all may be as it seems. Needless to say, the possibilities are Infinite.

Chaos Forces

-So until then, no need to run from this lunacy.
(My mind is flying.)

Fun is Infinite with Forces!

Another new reveal!

Certainly an enigmatic introduction. First of all, I’ve been hearing this character called “Infinite” since day one of his reveal, even though I have no idea where that name could have come from. Well, however it was known, it is correct. His voice sounds vaguely familiar, but I can’t put my finger on it. One of the first things I noticed was the quality of the game-rendered cutscene, this being the first we’ve seen from this game. I think it kind of hit that uncanny curve for me. It looked good enough that the flaws that existed were really strongly emphasized in my perception, so the whole thing came out looking a little weird. And the colors all looked a little bright considering the darker tone of the scene, but it would make sense that I would think that having just recently spent a lot of time playing and watching Shadow the Hedgehog. On the positive side, the usage of black-and-white certainly suggests flashbacks, which can be a  very strong indicator of a good story. I have nothing more than trivial complaints, but those are far outweighed by the actual story! The initial reveal of this character made him seem more like a force of nature than a character, but this scene starts to suggest otherwise. And speaking of character, he has a character theme.

What the scene suggests, this song shouts at your face. And I love it. It is no longer a question of if, but how deep they are willing to go with his story. “I was born with this pain, it only hurts if you let it.” Sounds like the answer is “pretty deep.” I also note the implication of an eventual, final, one-on-one confrontation between Infinite and his enemy, presumably Sonic. “Who is gonna save you now?” Does this mean that Sonic’s friends will meet with a terrible fate? Or perhaps that he can’t really trust them? Could the Hero character actually be a traitor? Or in a surprise twist, could Infinite actually be talking to Hero, not Sonic? And that’s just the lyrics.

The song itself is…wow. Fist Bump disappointed a bit, but this absolutely did not. The initial tune is catchy in and of itself, but the moment when the guitar starts was just so exciting for me. The directness of lines, like with Fist Bump, was a little jarring, but in this case I feel it was executed a lot better, in addition to being more worth it for telling the story of the character. I suppose even Eggman’s theme from Adventure 2 didn’t execute the direct, first person song quite as well. Speaking of which, I have no way of knowing for certain, but I feel like I can hear Jun Senoue’s contribution to this composition, as it reminds me quite a lot of his work in Shadow the Hedgehog. Now I might be a little blinded by all the excitement right now, but, balancing that with nostalgia from long ago, I can confidently put this in my top five favorite Sonic songs of all time. And that’s all I can say for now.

-So until next time, remember what it takes to be Infinite.