Review: Chapter 11

Wow, this one came down to the wire. As an anniversary special, this one needed to be published on a particular date. And I left myself over a month from beginning to end to meet that date. I finished it three days before the deadline. I’m not entirely sure why it took so long. Perhaps it was mostly due to summertime distractions. But also, this episode required an immense amount of research, part of which included replaying the original Sonic Chronicles game (even though I already did about 8 months ago, I felt like doing it again). But enough of all that boring stuff. Let’s talk about why this episode exists in the first place.

So let’s think back. I first purchased Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood just over a week after it came out, so almost exactly ten years ago today. And…I hated it. The little child version of me couldn’t figure out how to use the touch screen prompts during battle, which meant no POW moves, which meant no chance at beating the first boss. So I gave up, put the game down for…probably six months, though it might’ve been as much as a year, and when I came back to it, I decided to start over from scratch, and pay closer attention to the tutorial. It payed off. I became practically obsessed with the game, playing it with any spare time I had. When my DS’s touch screen broke around the time I was entering Metropolis (mostly due to previous experience with Pokémon Ranger, if you played it you probably understand), I didn’t give up. I discovered that, by unscrewing the DS and temporarily removing the battery, resetting the system would cause the touch screen to function properly again for a few hours at a time. So I kept going like that, taking out the battery over and over again every few hours of play, because I so desperately wanted to finish. And when I finally did, that still wasn’t enough. Using the New Game+ feature, I proceeded to replay the game another four times over. Then I was finally done. For two or three years. Then I went back and beat it another three times (by this time, the touch screen had magically fixed itself, don’t ask me how). And then I was legitimately done. Or so I thought. Just over a year ago, after I was neck-deep in writing for the Chaos Project, the thought occurred to me, “I can write whatever I want. So what can I do with that?” It wasn’t long at all before I realized that Sonic Chronicles, the game I had beaten more times than any other in my life, the game that I had long since given up on hoping for a sequel for, had been sitting on an unfulfilled cliffhanger for nine-ish years. As a writer who strives to expand on unfulfilled plot points in the Sonic franchise, I couldn’t let that stand. Immediately, I began pondering on how I could do that. I quickly rejected the idea of simply telling a sequel story, as that would have far too many difficult canon implications, such as the presence of Shade. But the world they all arrived in at the end of that cliffhanger…looked shockingly similar to the world I was planning on building for war of The Chaos Project. So what if it actually was? What if, by mistake, the crew of the Cyclone ended up in a different world, the world of my story, instead of the one they were intending to reach? I know it’s a stretch, it’s pretty obvious that writers were actually going for their own world transformed due to the difference in the way time passes in the Twilight Cage. They were supposed to be in the future. But why couldn’t I stretch that, just a bit? Thus, this episode was born. Of course, at that point, I had no idea when I would place this episode, and in fact I figured it would be quite a bit later. But I decided to do another playthrough of the game, just so I could plan it better. Out of curiosity, once I was finished, I looked into the original release date, since I had no idea how long it had actually been. Surprise! The game’s 10th anniversary was coming in less than a year! There would be absolutely no more appropriate time to write this episode than on that date. I wasn’t totally convinced that making such an unusual episode would be a good idea so early on in the series. But I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. And so, when the time came a month ago, I decided to enjoy a celebratory tenth playthrough of the game, partly to make sure that I got a bunch of the more minor details correct. And I wrote. And you’ve read the results. That’s the whole story, beginning to end.

So, why did I love the game so much? Looking back on my most recent playthrough, without the obscuring goggles of nostalgia, I found that…it was enjoyable, but riddled with many, many problems. Why didn’t I notice them before? Well, the reason I got the game in the first place is because I was told it would be like Pokémon, but with Sonic characters. (Pokémon was one of the only RPGs I had been exposed to at the time.) And on that front, it delivered. I think they did an excellent job taking the usual formula for a slow, turn-based RPG, and turning it into something that feels very frantic and fast-paced, very good for a Sonic game, without losing the RPG appeal. Of course, movement in the overworld was very sluggish, but the use of abilities of different characters, including Sonic’s speed, to traverse certain areas of the map, made it feel like it all worked just fine. And of course, there’s the memorable storyline, heartwarming character moments, and all-around well-written dialogue. I’ve seen lots of complaints about Sonic being written like a total out-of-character jerk (which I actually addressed in the episode), but those were only some of the branching dialogue options, and as Sonic, you could choose to be as nice or as jerkish as you want. I didn’t feel that any of the options, taken alone, were too far outside the extremes of Sonic’s natural character. Then again, almost anything will feel more like Sonic’s natural character than his modern Roger Craig Smith writing.

But moving on…this game inspired me in so many ways. I once stated that I fell in love with the Sonic series more for the world and characters than for any one particular game. And I think this game is quite possibly the biggest reason for that. More than any other game in the franchise, Chronicles gets you a look deep into the psyche of almost every character, and really gets you thinking about Sonic’s world as a place with unified lore. Maybe the writing isn’t perfect, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s the best in the entire Sonic series. Sonic taking up a leadership role, showing a serious dedication to the mission with the occasional lighthearted snark, that precisely describes the way I write my Sonic now, and that’s no coincidence. If it weren’t for this game, Sonic probably wouldn’t be the leader of the Rebellion now. Then again, if it weren’t for this game, I probably wouldn’t be writing at all. A well kept secret that I’ve never told before is that I was actually writing a Sonic story long before I ever joined fanficiton.net. And that story…was Sonic Chronicles 2. It’s on the Sonic Fanon Wiki. No I won’t tell you which one it is, because there are many. And no, I don’t ever intend to finish it (I think I only got to the beginning of Chpater 3 out of an assumed ten). But if I hadn’t already started that when I was younger, I probably wouldn’t have had the guts to start writing The Chaos Project all those years later. And you know, that’s assuming that I’d be a Sonic fan at all anymore. I think it’s pretty hard to be a Sonic fan right now, and if I had one less Sonic game to look back on with intensely fond memories, I might have given up by now. So thank you, Sonic Chronicles, for inspiring me to do something that I love.

So I guess it’s on to the episode itself, though I don’t think there’s a whole lot to say in that area. The idea for this episode ended up being that, in the end, nothing really changes. If the real Sonic Chronicles 2 were somehow to be announced tomorrow, it could begin with them arriving in the ruined future of their world, just as was certainly planned, and this episode still wouldn’t interfere with that. But then, some things did change. Shadow gained a greater respect for Sonic. Shade learned to trust her friends a little more. That’s what this whole episode came down to. Chronicles ended on a ten years’ old cliffhanger. And no, I didn’t build the bridge to the other side. But I laid down the first plank. I explored character arcs and plot points that have been lost for ten long years.

Alright, let’s think about…references. Lots and lots of Chronicles quotes, obviously. The location of Cyber City AKA Genocide City is a reference to a zone that was scrapped from Sonic 2, supposedly turned into the third act of Metropolis. Genocide City was the beta name programmed into the game, but that was apparently a mistake made by designers who wanted something that sounded cool and edgy, but didn’t have a total understanding of English, and chose something that would be a bit too violent for the little ones. It was supposedly going to be renamed into Cyber City, but was instead scrapped entirely. And of course, the fact that it’s Metropolis, but also not Metropolis, was intentionally done for the Chronicles reference. And it helps that this whole season is taking place on the island setting of Sonic 2. And…so as to not stay here for hours, I think I’ll leave it at that for now. I’m still hard at work on the next Chaos Project episode, but in the meantime, I’ll finally be able to update Shadow of Time again! Be on the lookout!

-And until next time, remember to live and learn every day!

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Review: Season 0, Episode 29

So, this episode was…a bit different than I was originally expecting. There’s nothing in particular that was changed, it’s just that the three different stories going on between Eggmanland, the Empire Fortress, and the Resistance base, ended up taking a lot more time than I was expecting. I had in mind that those scenes would go by quickly, so the bulk of the episode could take place in Central City. The sad thing is, we’re now two episodes in to what I was originally thinking might be a three or four episode arc, and we technically aren’t even out of what would constitute the tutorial of the hypothetical game that this arc represents. But when has an arc ever been as short as I planned? Speaking of the game, I’ll get to explaining that in a moment, but let me think if there’s anything else about the episode first. I was originally planning on leaving the Heavies out until next season, but I was convinced that now, in the fallout of the Phantom Ruby troubles, would be the best time, the most convenient excuse to get them here, not to mention that they fit well not only into the story, but even better into the game concept. The only real problem now is that, if I want them to stick around, I have to come up with an excuse for why they weren’t in Crisis of Chaos.

Anyways, onto that game I mentioned. This Forces of Chaos arc, like everything else in Season 0, stems from a hypothetical game idea, which I’ve been calling “Sonic Conquest”. Yes, I know the game’s about Shadow instead of Sonic, but “Shadow Conquest” doesn’t have even close to the same ring to it. I’m going to be honest here and say that the concept is strongly based off of Pokémon Conquest, a spinoff title of its respective franchise for the Nintendo DS, which was a crossover with the Japanese “Nobunaga’s Ambition” series. The game featured you as a self-insert leader, who, by strategically deploying your troops and their Pokémon, would eventually unite all territories on the continent under your rule. And there lies the core idea of “Sonic Conquest.” Let me start from the beginning.

Pokémon Conquest is a sort of tactical RPG, but Sonic Conquest plays much more like a standard Sonic game, with levels where you destroy enemies and reach a goal. The difference comes in how those levels are selected, and who you play as in each. You begin with a single character, Shadow, in the Seaside Hill territory. Territories are an important part of this game. The entire globe is divided into territories, each of which has an allegiance – Federation (represented by Shadow), Empire (represented by Eggman) or Infinite (represented by Blacklight). But the allegiance mechanic doesn’t come in until later, for the beginning of the game it’s just a place. Each territory also has at least one level location, and a boss location. So, once you play through the tutorial level location (Sea Gate, I figure), you proceed to the boss arena, Whale Island, for your first bout with Blacklight, the new Infinite. After the boss, you view the World Map for the first time, and Tails joins your army. At this point the game is still in tutorial mode, so only one more territory becomes available to view, Sunset Heights. This is also the initial introduction to allegiances, as Seaside Hill becomes aligned to Federation, and Sunset Heights becomes aligned to Empire. For the tutorial purposes, you must then “invade” the Sunset Heights territory, once again as Shadow, this time along with Tails.

In any kind of deployment or invasion, only a limited number of units can be deployed, a unit being either a single character, known as a General, or an army squadron. Sunset Heights is defended by one army squadron of Empire robots, and one General, Blacklight. When a territory has at least one squadron deployed, an invasion of that territory requires you to play through the level location (guarded by enemies, or double or triple the enemies if multiple squadrons are deployed), which in this case is Park Avenue. Similarly, if a territory has a General deployed, but no squadrons, you go straight to the boss location, which in this case I figure is “Red Gate Plaza” (a slight liberty taken, since it’s not a running boss and so can’t take place on the bridge itself). If it has some combination of the two, you must do both. If you are successful, then you claim the territory in the name of the United Federation. When Shadow broke the flag at the end of the level last episode, that was a midifcation on the standard “victory pose” for the end of each level, where whichever character you’re playing as plants a United Federation flag in the ground (or a different flag, for some of the postgame modes, but more on that later).

But back to the normal progression. Between the level and the boss, the Avatar joins your army, and automatically becomes part of your current invasion as well. (I don’t know whether the Avatar would actually be customizable in this game or not. It seems silly that the Avatar would be included without customization, but then for a game that doesn’t focus on him as a character, it seems like it would be a pretty silly distraction from the rest of the game. Perhaps there are just a few limited options that you select from at the beginning of the game, but then there’s no changing it afterwards.) Once you beat the boss, Sunset Heights becomes yours. This is where the real game starts…sort of. The entire World Map opens up, giving you a detailed look at the waging war. I don’t know how many territories there would be for the game, but for the purpose of this explanation, let’s just say that there’s 12. 8 of them (the 60 percent mentioned in the story) is aligned to Empire, while the remaining four (Seaside Hill, Sunset Heights, Central City, and Mystic Ruins) are aligned to Federation (you). However, immediately, half of the Empire territories become taken by Infinite, as Blacklight splits off from the Eggman Empire, leaving one third of the planet for each alignment. There’s still a little bit of tutorial left, in teaching you troop management. The tutorial instructs you to deploy Tails in Mystic Ruins, Shadow in Seaside Hill, and leave the Avatar in Sunset Heights, in order to best defend your borders. On this map, an army can only invade a neighboring territory, and the opposing armies behave just as you do. If an undefended territory is attacked, it is taken over automatically. By having troops deployed around your borders, you protect your inner territories from being claimed so easily. However, because you only have three available units, one of your four territories are left undefended. Because you’ve already invaded Sunset Heights using all of your available units, you must proceed to “end your turn.” During Blacklight’s turn, you are attacked at Mystic Ruins, teaching you the mechanics of defending. Just like if you attack a General, if one of your Generals is attacked, you must fight a boss, and if you are attacked by an army squadron, you must play through a special “destroy all enemies” modification of the level area, or a separate defense area, depending on the location. For example, Sea Gate serves as a separate defense area for Seaside Hill in addition to being the tutorial setting (Ocean Palace being the attack stage that you probably won’t see in your first playthrough), while Central City has Radial Highway for attack and Cityscape for defense (hope you caught those references, Radial Highway being a one-letter modification of Radical Highway, and Cityscape being the same for City Escape). Anyways, win or lose, next comes Eggman’s turn. Eggman attacks Central City, and, undefended, takes it. Once your turn comes again, the very last thing that you are forced to do is take back Central City. Once you do, you meet up with GUN in the story, and gain command of several army squadrons of your own. That part hasn’t happened in the story yet. From there on out, you’re on your own. Your goal is to take back the entire world, one territory at a time. Unlock more characters as you take certain territories, strategically deploy your units to keep your borders protected, choose who you play as and when. I won’t go into detail on later game happenings, to avoid story spoilers. I suppose I forgot to mention, after the split, Eggman’s Generals are the Hard Boiled Heavies, while Blacklight’s Generals are the Phantom Ruby Replicas. But one of the best parts of this game is the extreme post-game content. Because once you beat “Shadow’s Story,” you begin to unlock other stories, simple little scenarios of questionable canon, where you have some other character as your head Commander, instead of Shadow. These stories may take place within limited parts of the world, or have some other manner of gimmick in order to complete, but every last General, including the villains, would have their own story. The prize for completing all the rest would be Sonic’s story, who otherwise wouldn’t be playable in the game. Sonic’s story, though still taking place in the same world and levels, would be arranged such that you must play through levels in order, no armies to fight back against you, no Generals to collect, but still with periodic bosses to fight. Essentially, a normal Sonic game.

Let’s see…anything I’m missing? I suppose I forgot to mention what the purpose is of having multiple Generals deployed in a single area. Somewhat like Sonic Forces, this game doesn’t have a traditional life system. But unlike Forces, a “Game Over” is still a very real possibility. Your available lives is directly tied to the number of Generals you have deployed. If you lose a life as one General, you start from your last checkpoint as the next. If you run through all of the Generals you have deployed, you lose the battle, and the territory. If you’re very skilled at the game, you’ll only ever need to deploy one General in any given area, and you can wrap up the game very quickly by spreading out your forces. But if you need that extra safety cusion, you’ll have to concentrate your forces more, which means you won’t be able to accomplish as much each turn,  and completeing the game will take considerably longer. As you proceed through the many postgame stories, you’re bound to get good enough to do the former. And…I think that’s all.

-So until next time, remember to live and learn every day!

Review: Season 0, Episode 22

What was it that I said about the last episode? That I got stuck, not knowing what to write? Well, this episode took almost as long, and for an essentially opposite reason. Because I had such trouble figuring out what to write in the last episode, I thought it would be a good idea to set up an entire plot for this one. Have Sonic captured, make a sub-plot about Tails and Knuckles rescuing him. It sounded like a good idea at the time, but I felt like I spent almost this entire episode writing myself out of that hole I dug. Rather than having no idea where to go, I knew I exactly where I was going, but struggled to fill what comes in between with interesting content. It was definitely worth it, or else I would have no idea how to manage an entire 4-5 episodes for the arc. But it was troublesome.

Tails and Knuckles were an interesting development that I wasn’t really planning on originally. Even though Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles seem like a practically inseparable trio, I propose that not all is as it seems in that relationship. The only time we’ve ever seen Tails and Knuckles together without Sonic, as far as I can remember, is the opening scene for Team Sonic from Sonic Heroes, and that only lasted for a few seconds before Sonic entered the picture. We have no idea how they might have been interacting before the scene started, and so, I was able to invent my own dynamic. The idea is that Tails and Knuckles, two people with very different personalities and outlooks, actually clash strongly…when Sonic isn’t around. The three as a whole work very well together, because both consider themselves to be best friends with Sonic. But without Sonic, the two share very little in common, and so they shouldn’t get along too well. Sonic is like the glue of the relationship, holding the other two together when they otherwise wouldn’t stick. For this dynamic…I’ve actually drawn inspiration from my own personal experiences. I was once the Sonic in a relationship like this one. Once upon a time, back in Middle School, my friends and I made a successful Yu-Gi-Oh group. Every lunch period, we would stay in the cafeteria and play cards together. Anyone who would look at our trio from the outside would think that we were all very close friends. But if I ever left the room for any reason, I would always come back to find them arguing. One day, one of those arguments nearly came to blows, and it might have if I hadn’t gotten there in time. The group completely fell apart, and I haven’t heard more than a few words from those two ever since. But with the power of the pen, I was able to write a happier ending for this story.

After that…came the big robot battle royale. I’d like to confirm that “Blue Bomber” is neither a Worlds Collide comic reference, nor a Mega Man reference in general. That entire sequence was actually more of a reference to Sonic Chronicles: the Dark Brotherhood (to this day one of my favorite handheld video games of all time. Seriously, I beat that game like 8 times over). For those who aren’t aware, Sonic Chronicles was an RPG style game for the Nintendo DS, loosely inspired by, though not necessarily related to, the comics. Anyways, one component of that game’s battle system was POW moves, in which you would have to follow a correct sequence on the touchscreen in order to deal extra damage or some additional effect. Some POW move are done individually, while others require multiple characters to be on the same team. One POW move, requiring Sonic and Tails, was titled “Blue Bomber,” which behaved exactly as described in the story. Similarly, one requiring Sonic and Amy was called “Fastball.” “Spike Me” is not a POW move, as Sonic and Knuckles had no such POW move. The closest would be “Knuckles Sandwich,” which requires Amy as well as Sonic and Knuckles. At first I was just going to have Sonic shouting specific commands to everyone in addition to “spike me,” but I wanted to demonstrate the high degree of teamwork by having everyone understand what he’s saying based on no more than two words. I was just going to make up these brief 1-2 word commands, but then remembered the POW moves, and thought, “Why make it up when this is already here?”

So, what’s left? The thing I had going on with Eggman and Cubot probably seemed a little random, but that was actually me making fun of myself. I’ve noticed that, even though I have Cubot as a character, Eggman only ever calls on Orbot when something actually needs to get done. Since I don’t like to use Orbot and Cubot too much without making some kind of joke, I thought it would be fun to subvert that usual tendency by implying that Cubot screwed something up and deactivated Orbot. It’s part of the joke that you don’t really need to know what happened.

Anything else? Just as with Janice, I do wonder how much of a mystery was really left with the identities of Chaos and Lumis. Obviously, it was spoiled by Crisis of Chaos, but this whole arc has been written with the intention of forcing the reader to forget that fact and look at what’s going on for what it is. I just don’t know whether or not that was successful. I suppose that’s all for what did happen in the episode, but there’s also what didn’t. Very, very few of my original plans for this arc actually ended up surviving the writing process. Some of those original plans included Chaos having a fight with Shadow, and Eggman tricking Chaos into thinking that he himself is the Controller instead of Sonic, thereby swaying him to his side. I decided to include Amy instead of Shadow, mostly as an experiment to see how well I could perform by using only classic characters, as well as just for the sake of having Amy play some kind of important role before the season ends. As for that part about Eggman, that was mostly leftover from the original plans for the story before I had invented Lumis for Crisis of Chaos. I would have done that story if Lumis weren’t in the picture, but I decided that making Chaos an antagonist in addition to Eggman would draw too much importance away from Lumis in the end. I essentially had two different scenes planned for Chaos finally getting his wits about him: one in Eggman’s lab, and one in Tails’. I decided on the latter. And I suppose that’s all.

-So, until next time, remember to live and learn every day!