Review: Season 0, Episode 25

Since part one was done last week, we’re now on to part 2, or at least, the transition between the two. As I mentioned that I didn’t plan on splitting these episodes, I had no obvious split point in mind. It needed to be a place roughly in the middle which still left both parts with an appropriate amount of action. Usually, that would mean putting the faux final battle in the first part, and the Super (Hyper in this case) final battle in the second. But this time, I was subverting the whole faux final battle thing to begin with. Sonic jumped straight into his Super fight against Lumis, but the true final battle turned out to be without the Emeralds, against Chaos. Even if splitting those two apart had worked out in terms of even word count, it would’ve shamefully ruined my subversion of the formula to mark an entire Super fight as “part 1”, since it would’ve been so obvious to predict there would be more. Luckily, I suppose, the need to have Tails, Knuckles, and Amy play a role by fending off Eggman and the Lumis clones took up quite a few more words than I expected, making for plenty of part 1 action. The specific cutoff point, with Amy dangling over the magma, was not intended to be a cliffhanger, just another dramatic part of the episode.

So the first thing to come up in this second part was the chant of the Master Emerald, otherwise known as Tikal’s Prayer. The decision to make an extended version…came fairly recently. It isn’t so much that I wanted a bond between Chaos and Knuckles, as that it was lingering in the back of my mind that they grated on each other a bit in an earlier episode, in a way that didn’t seem resolved. On top of that, I did actively want some more resolution to the themes of the first episode of this arc, in regards to the comparisons of Knuckles as Guardian to Sonic as Controller, and of course, the original reference to S3&K and the Super Emeralds. Of course, the stealing and recovery of the Master Emerald was supposed to be enough to make Knuckles seem important after his introduction, but I quickly realized that that alone would fall completely flat. So, I needed to make Knuckles integral to victory in the final battle, I needed to make my S3&K reference more important, and I needed some way to form a bond between Knuckles and Chaos. And the one thing that ties all of those things together is the Master Emerald, which really needed a better reason to be there anyways. It took some thinking, but I decided on Tikal’s Prayer as a good thing to link it together. Part of that thought process involved something that’s been nagging at me ever since Speed of Time. Ever since Cast by the Light, really, though I didn’t quite think about it at that time. The prayer on its own is so…empty. My vague-ish memories of Sonic X at that time made think of the prayer as a longer, more drawn out speech that could be repeated once or twice if necessary. But copying it down for Silver’s scene in Speed of Time, I realized it was way shorter and less dramatic than I was expecting. Then, analyzing the exact phrasing more closely, I realized that there was a bit of a hole in it. It’s almost kind of song-y in the way it’s presented, the servers are the Chaos, the Chaos is the power, the power relates to the heart…and then all of a sudden, the Controller links back to the Chaos. The structure gives the sense of a circle, but that circle is broken in the middle. Of course, Sonic X actually did something that I didn’t realize until I started researching, by adding the line “The heart is the controller,” thus making a complete circle. But that line…doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, especially seeing as Tikal seemed to imply that the Master Emerald is this unspecial non-capitalized “controller.” And since Sonic X isn’t exactly canon, I decided to ignore its suggestion in this instance, and go for something a little more helpful for my circumstances. I pose in this episode that this missing link between the heart and the Controller is, in fact, an entire missing half of the prayer that has been lost to time. But Chaos, who was there ten thousands years ago when the prayer was written (maybe he even wrote it himself, who knows?), knows this missing half, and was able to teach it to Knuckles. Conveniently for me, this half just so happens to encompass the underlying themes of Chaos and Balance that this series revolves around. Now, the prayer is far more dramatic and climactic, specifically built to be able to repeat itself if necessary. Also of note for this recomposition is the fact that in the past, Tikal used the phrase “The seven Chaos Emeralds are the servers,” where Knuckles says “The servers are the seven Chaos.” I pose that this is because Tikal picked up from the loop instead of the very beginning of the full prayer, and just so happened to leave out the important parts, being rushed for time.

Alright, sorry that topic was so long. On to the next. I already touched on it, but the Super Emeralds definitely deserve their own discussion. Now, I know that this is probably the second most fanfiction-y thing I’ve ever done (I don’t like to talk about the first), but I came to this decision after a lot of hard thinking. Sonic 3 & Knuckles, as a cohesive unit with Super Emeralds, is non-canon, and I hope I’ve made that much clear. Sonic Team themselves have taken a similar stance. But Sonic 3, and Sonic & Knuckles, are each individually canon. Which means that, hypothetically, the Super Emeralds could have happened, but the circumstances required simply didn’t occur in the canon timeline. And if it could have happened then, why not now? Of course, even then I couldn’t quite bring myself to do it all the way. The Super Emeralds technically did not appear in this episode, merely a representation of them. It was Chaos and the power of the Moonstone that induced the proper Hyper Transformation. And that brings me to another topic.

This is something that’s been a long time coming, something that I intended to do for the first episode of this arc, but ended up pushing back because Chaos didn’t really appear in that episode. That would be his conceptual origins. Much like Blacklight, Chaos is a reimagination of an old concept from the days when my brother and I were children, dreaming up concepts for Sonic game ideas. This idea, in particular, was more my brother’s idea than my own. This idea was for Hyper the Hedgehog. Hyper, an orange hedgehog with a “Hyper Emerald” embedded in his chest, and covered in grey circuit board-like lines that would become injected with color when he holds a Chaos Emerald, was created when Sonic touched the Hyper Emerald after it fell from the sky. The point of Hyper was to reintroduce Hyper Sonic to the modern canon, without the inclusion of Super Emeralds, as he could fuse with Sonic to induce that transformation. But that would be where the similarities to Chaos end. The Hyper Emerald, rather than coming from any kind of Realm of Chaos like the Moonstone, was instead one of many fragments of leftover material from the creation of the universe (a concept that may sound familiar to readers of Yuni Oha’s “Pokémon Cosmic Quest“). Hyper as a character was built to refill the anti-hero role that Shadow was slowly leaving in favor of a more heroic one, very different from the role of Chaos. I suppose there is also a similarity in that the final battle of Hyper’s introductory game idea took place in a volcano. Anyways, pictured below is a drawing I once made of Hyper in his first moments of life, which hangs on my wall just like the picture of Blacklight I showed off. “Who am I?” was his first words.

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This was quite a few years after that other picture, so I’m not nearly as embarrassed about it. In fact, I’m even a little proud, considering my poor art skills in general, especially at that time (although, the scanner I used didn’t do much justice to the already poorly used colored pencils). Anyways, if you look closely around the head, you may notice a lot of erasure marks. There was a lot of trial and error with those spikes. And one among many of those trials was a spike design which now exists in the form of Chaos (personally, I liked that design for Hyper, but Yuni insisted that I change it to what you see in the final product). Also of note is the little colorless robot by his foot. That’s Servo, who, in the scene depicted, was commanded to pick up the Hyper Emerald just before it transformed. Before Orbot and Cubot ever existed (well, Cubot anyways), Yuni invented Servo as a snarky servant robot who exists mostly as someone for Eggman to talk to. I considered using Servo for this series, but it would have been silly to replace Orbot and Cubot with a practically identical concept. The reason he’s colorless in the picture is because I never bothered finishing him. He’s actually supposed to have a body, not just wheels and a head, but I forgot about that when I first drew it, and again, never bothered fixing it.

So, back on the topic of the episode itself, I guess. I’ll skip along to things I was contemplating, but ultimately decided against, including a scene depicting Knuckles, Tails, and Amy making their way through a cave before making it to the volcano’s interior, and, more noticeably, a scene depicting Chaos being freed from Eggman’s control. I’m sure it probably ended up being a little awkward skipping straight from climax to epilogue without a clear resolution, but honestly, I had no idea how to really write this cancelled scene without just wasting time. I suppose it could have helped if I moved a little bit of the awkward dialogue with Chaos and the rest of the characters to this cancelled scene, but having everyone just standing around and talking on an empty battlefield would have felt even weirder. But it’s okay if it’s at a Birthday party. Speaking of the Birthday party, it’s a little sad that it’s a day late in universe, but five months late out here. Unfortunately, I simply couldn’t write any faster. Tails’ mention of the beach day he and Sonic had planned was a reference to the epilogue of Speed of Time. I planned on having that mentioned in part 1 of this arc, but it didn’t come up, and I forgot to add it back in before I published it. And even though there are other things to say, I’ll have to cut things off here, or risk talking for days to come. These two reviews have already taken me three full days of writing time to make. But…I suppose this makes the last planned publishing…indefinitely. Allow me to remedy that. Nothing’s changed for The Chaos Project, but I think I can promise another part of Shadow of Time in…two weeks. That would be December 16th. So…I guess I’ll see you then.

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

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Review: Season 0, Episode 20

Keep in mind, this is the review for the first episode of the Dawn of Chaos arc, published (oh dear Lords of Chaos help me) 43 days ago. Let’s make a deal. I’m going to publish the next episode within the next two weeks, no matter how little I get done in that time. You have to hold me to that! Writing this arc is just as troublesome as it was last time we touched bases, but hopefully this will encourage me to finish something by that time. Anyways…

Chaos has dawned. I’ve been noticing a trend that involves me focusing on a new component of writing with the first episode of each new arc. While I wasn’t planning anything this time around, I ended up emphasizing pretty heavily the friendly banter that goes on between the characters, which I’m pretty happy with. I suppose this is probably the most “normal” of all the Sonic game ideas I’m using, as if you could use the word to describe a Sonic game. Everything else I do tends to be more on the mold-breaking side, focusing on unusual characters and topics. But this time around, it’s about Sonic and his closest friends, involved in a relatively normal adventure, giving me more time and motivation to focus on those pre-existing relationships. I didn’t mean for the opening scene to be reminiscent of the first scene of Lost World (technically the general idea was planned for before Lost World even came out), but there are definitely some clear similarities, and I suppose that emphasizes the whole “normal” thing. Of course, I think I did it better. I suppose I can also mention about writing style that I was trying to invoke the idea of a horror film when describing the movements of the mysterious blob of light.

This is probably the most reference-filled episode I’ve ever made, embracing about 17 years of history. Hopefully the references to Sonic 3 &/or Knuckles were obvious, between the Hidden Palace Zone and Sonic’s references to the day he and Knuckles met. There was also talk about Sonic’s previous Birthday party, a reference to the events of Sonic Generations. There was Sonic Adventure 2 with the references to fake Chaos Emeralds, as well as Sonic’s mention of when Knuckles popped out of a sewer. Sonic Adventure with the chant of the Master Emerald and references to Perfect Chaos (the dragon destined to destroy the world). But I’ve passed over an important point here. Sonic’s Birthday! Happy Birthday, Sonic! Now, Sonic has technically never been given an official, canon birth date before. However, it is generally accepted that his Birthday is on June 23rd, the day the original Sonic the Hedgehog 1 came out. This is the first of many characters who will be receiving birth dates in the story. Anyways, making this episode take place on Sonic’s Birthday was completely unplanned. I came in knowing that it would be during summer, and that’s about it. I was throwing around a few random dates, and one of them just happened to be June 23rd, before I realized what that meant. I was going to throw it out, but then I started thinking about the fact that my current publishing schedule would put me pretty close to that exact date. I looked at a calendar, and realized that it would theoretically be exactly one day after. I decided it was too perfect to ignore, so I adapted what I had into a makeshift anniversary episode. Not just an anniversary of Sonic, but an anniversary of the Chaos Project as well. I published the very first episode exactly one year before I published this one, on the day of Sonic’s 25th celebration last year (the buzzing still haunts my dreams). Which makes this the Birthday not just of Sonic the Hedgehog, but also Chaos the Hedgehog, both in-universe and out. That actually has some pretty interesting story implications for the future…

Coming back to the original point I was trying to make, this episode contains the first major references I’ve made to the entire Classic era, not counting a few vague references to CD. As I said, my goal in this story is to embrace all of Sonic’s mainstream video game history, and that includes the classic games. I’ve seen theories before relating to the meaning of the Hidden Palace mural, but it’s always been a supporting part of my Controller idea/theory, and I’m glad to finally show that in the story. Knuckles’ explanation that the Controller is usually interpreted as referring to the Master Emerald is actually something I realized had to be said while doing some research into Tikal for her appearance in the last arc. Apparently, I had forgotten that she had specifically figured out the Master Emerald was the Controller named in the chant. When Sonic said that didn’t make any sense in this episode, that might as well have been me talking, as I agree that it doesn’t make much sense. I’ve certainly never seen the Master Emerald “unify” Chaos before. Anyways, bringing the canon of the old games into the new games felt like good way to celebrate Sonic’s history for his anniversary.

Opinion Piece: Sonic Mania

I rather enjoyed writing the opinion piece on Project Sonic 2017, so I thought that I would do another one, this time on the other game announced at the same event. Once again, watch the below trailer first if you haven’t already.

This paragraph is mostly a rant, so skip to the bottom if you want to get to actual discussion about the game. Since I started the last one with a thank you to developers for including Nintendo, I’m afraid that I’m going to have to start here by expressing my strong disapproval at this game’s nonexistence for any Nintendo platform. I don’t necessarily have any outright dislike towards X-Box or Playstation. In fact, I still own my old PS2 slim, the console on which I first started playing Sonic games with Sonic Mega Collection Plus. But as a not-particularly-wealthy gamer, I don’t have the luxury of simply getting every gaming technology available in the world. I had to make a choice between the primarily M-rated market of X-Box and Playstation, or the primarily family-oriented market of Nintendo. I chose Nintendo. It is my honest belief that Sonic as a series fits far more homogeneously with Mario, Zelda, and Animal Crossing than it ever could with Halo, Call of Duty, and Grand Theft Auto. That being said, I still think that it’s unfair to Sonic fans to put Sonic games exclusively on Nintendo systems. What they did with Sonic Heroes and Shadow the Hedgehog, I believe, is by far the best option, developing games which can play exactly the same no matter what system you own. Sonic Unleashed was also adequate, but it is unfortunate that some players (such as myself, who got the cheaper PS2 version) had to settle for non-optimal versions of the game. Anyways, what seems likely to me is that the slew of third-party developers which worked on Sonic Mania simply had a bias against Nintendo, as most third-party developers do. I find it hard to believe that a game meant to play exactly like games for the SEGA Genesis could possibly be unable to be handled by a Nintendo handheld, let alone the Wii U.
In short, when it comes to platforms of release, Project Sonic did it right, Sonic Mania did it wrong.

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Now, to the actual game. Unlike Project Sonic, we’ve actually been treated to a considerable amount of information about the game this time around, including the gameplay of two levels, Green Hill Zone and Studiopolis Zone (NOT pronounced “studio-opolis” as Gamexplain would have you believe). Overall, I was quite satisfied by Studiopolis. I thought that its design really did capture the feel of those classic Sonic games, particularly Sonic CD and a little bit of Sonic 2. The aesthetic background elements had exactly as much detail put into them as I would expect out of a classic game. Green Hill Zone, on the other hand…well, let’s just say that it wasn’t quite what I was expecting. Rant alert! Right at the moment where the preview level transitions from an exact copy of the original level into new territory, I felt the time and effort put into that classic level just slip away. To use a quote from the 20th Anniversary book, The History of Sonic the Hedgehog,

“The level was remade countless times. It was modified and restarted again and again, and was finally completed after almost eight months of work…Sonic Team wanted to make sure that this first level portrayed their hero in just the right way.”

That’s the kind of effort that I’m talking about. That’s the kind of effort that I felt was missing from the second half of the new level. One of the wonderful things about the real Green Hill Zone is that it gives off the feeling that, in some perfect world, it is a place that could somehow really exist. That feeling is completely shattered when that spring at the middle of the level suddenly bounces you up to a huge land mass that’s just kind of chilling up there in the sky, not supported by any sort of cliff like the real level does for its highest areas. Of course, there are floating platforms in the original, but they are tiny and add to the magical feel of the place. But this particular breach of physics serves only to shatter the illusion that this is a reality which is only just out of reach. End Cluck Alert…uh, I mean, rant alert. As for the rest of the level design, it felt like it probably would have been more homogeneous in Sonic 2 than in the original, but I suppose that that much is excusable. It does, after all, have that faster-paced feel that the original Sonic the Hedgehog was a little bit lacking in, all things considered.

Next up, the music. I was really expecting something that sounded like it might have come right out of the Genesis, I was looking for a few of my most nostalgic instruments in particular. Instead the music is a little more reminiscent of Sonic CD, sort of classic-sounding in the way that it’s composed, but with no actual recognizable sound quality limitations. Below is an example, the Studiopolis theme. It’s a pretty good theme all around, but apparently I’m not as impressed as most of the vocal Sonic community, and once again, I would have rather it had Genesis sound quality to match the graphics.

Last to discuss is the entire idea of the game as a whole. I’m going to be frank here. As I’m sure you can tell, if nothing else than by the banner of this very website, I do have a thing for sprites. I find them to be quite charming, and it’s very interesting to see how much expression can be packed into so few pixels. But above all else, they are easy. Infinitely easier than full-quality artwork, at least in my opinion from my experience. And that’s why I’ve always had trouble accepting modern games which purposefully use sprites. It makes me feel like they’re being lazy, not doing as much work as they possibly could to make the game look good and professional. But that’s what makes this so weird. Sonic already tried to go back to a classic feel without sprites, in the form of Sonic the Hedgehog 4. And for some reason that I fail to comprehend, those games were apparently a failure (though I wouldn’t be surprised if part of the reason were that Episode 2 never came to a Nintendo system *cough* looking at you Mania *cough*). I felt that Sonic 4 was a great way to satisfy the Sonicwunners (to borrow a term from Pokémon players in reference to Genwunners who only like the original games) who demanded that Sonic be in 2D. As we’ve been seeing in the past few Sonic games, when those people aren’t satisfied by spin-offs, their needs instead infiltrate the games that would otherwise be entirely in 3D like many other fans (like myself) want. Anyways, I enjoyed Sonic 4, and I’m sad that Episode 3 (& Knuckles?) will never come. But, back on topic, I understand that if Sonic 4 won’t do it, this is the only way to keep die-hard fans of the classics happy. In short, the sprites, just because they’re easier to do, aren’t necessarily done out of laziness, but out of necessity.

Final Conclusions: some people think that Sonic needs a game that can restore him to his “former glory,” and this could be it. It’s not the ideal game for me, but it very well could be for others. If any Sonic game could ever be out of my playable reach, I suppose that I’m good with it being this one. Of course I would rather play it than forever go without playing it, but then, I feel the same way about Sonic 06. If this game is what it takes to keep everyone happy, then I shall embrace it with open arms.

– And until next time, you too should open your arms, and open your heart!

Edit: Direct encoding of videos, a few typo fixes, and the addition of a missing tag.