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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Opinionated Review: Shadow the Hedgehog (2005)

As I mentioned on the footnote of Shadow of Time, I published it to celebrate something very special to me. For the first time in my near-15 year experience with Sonic games, I can finally call myself an expert at one of them. I completed Shadow the Hedgehog’s “Expert Mode” (with 90 lives to spare at that. Thanks, chicken gun.), a feat which I assume most players never even get the chance to attempt. (Just a few days later, I finally got the seventh Chaos Emerald and experienced the final boss for the first time in Sonic Heroes. This has been a really good week for me.) Anyways, in working towards getting an A-rank on every single mission of the game, I got an excellent chance to really analyze its core gameplay elements, while, writing for Shadow of Time, I’ve gotten an equally appropriate chance to analyze the story. Normally, I wouldn’t want to review a game that I first started playing over a decade ago, but these are special circumstances. Additionally, with Mania done and Forces on the way, I am interested in establishing a baseline of comparison between classic games, Adventure-style games, and modern games. Now, since this game came out 12 years ago, it would be unfair of me to compare it directly to modern games (unlike Sonic Mania, which came out last month). So, most comparisons will be made to Sonic Heroes and other Adventure-era games. So, without further ado, let us begin.
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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 Forces

The name is real! Today, a panel was held for Sonic at SXSW (South by South-West), where details were revealed for Sonic Mania, and, more importantly, this game. The game formerly known as Project Sonic 2017 now has the official name of Sonic Forces, which I believe refers to a battle between the forces of good and evil. But that wasn’t the only news announced today, and I’m here to talk about what we now know.

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In addition to the logo pictured above, we also had a full reveal of a previously shown (but cropped) concept art, pictured below. Nothing too far beyond expectations based on what we already knew, the same dark, fiery, destructive theme. It was pretty obvious before, but it was confirmed early in the reveal that the game’s plot does involve the existence of the Eggman Empire “…as I always dreamed it!” (Quote from Mike Pollock, voice of Eggman). Also clarified information that we had before, this was confirmed as a game in the style of Sonic Unleashed, Colors, and Generations. If they think that they can get an Adventure lover like myself to love that formula, I’m glad to see them try. But as it stands, I currently and always have felt like watering down Modern Sonic’s gameplay with the 2D sidescrolling that we already get from Classic Sonic is just a bad idea, plain and simple. But once again, I could certainly learn to love the high-speed boosting style of gameplay if they execute it perfectly.

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Now, on to the real news. 3. I’m not talking about a certain non-child-friendly game series that will not be mentioned here, nor about any conspiracy theories. Three playstyles. That’s what they said this game would have. Modern Sonic. Classic Sonic. And a third. I don’t even want to begin at guessing what that third style is, for risk of disappointing myself in the future. But, needless to say, that leaves potential to include the style of gameplay which I have been sorely missing for over ten years of Sonic games, in which case I would be perfectly fine with the overuse of 2D in the other 2 styles. I would also mention that, in describing the title of the game, the words “Sonic and friends” were used, inferring that this third slot could be filled by a character other than Sonic. But that’s just a theory. A game

The video above was also unveiled at this event. The main theme of Sonic Forces. The rumors have been flying around for over a year now that Crush 40 would be performing music for this next Sonic game, though Johnny Gioeli (lead singer) confirmed in an interview some time ago that they hadn’t been in any way contacted about it or otherwise involved in it by that point. However, before this theme was played, they stated that it had only just recently been recorded, meaning that something could very well have changed since that interview, and finally come to fruition. Now, as you’ve probably listened to and heard, the above song has no vocals. However, it was confirmed that the real theme song does have vocals, and that this was merely an instrumental version. Now, let’s be honest here. The song doesn’t quite line up with Crush 40’s usual style. The guitar doesn’t even come in prominently until over 15 seconds in, and even then, it isn’t nearly as pronounced as I would expect. This probably isn’t a Crush 40 song, though I wouldn’t say that it’s absolutely impossible. What the musical style does remind me of, however, is that of Sonic Unleashed and Sonic Lost World, the final boss fight theme of the latter in particular. And Lost World had a pretty good soundtrack. It’s not like a Sonic song has to be composed by Jun Senoue (lead guitarist of Crush 40 and music director of the Sonic series starting with Sonic the Hedgehog 3) to be good. I am actually quite fond of “Endless Possibility,” the lyrical theme of Sonic Unleashed. But as a Sonic fan of the Adventure era, anything that can make this game feel more like what I know and love can be a good thing. Now, I suppose I haven’t said what I think about the song itself yet. I’ll admit, I am very happy with it, and the piano at the end got me feeling really emotional. It feels way too upbeat given the tone of the game as we’ve seen so far, but it’s still a good piece of music.

Most importantly for today’s reveals, some brief footage of gameplay. Now, around this time, they also talked a bit about the gameplay in general. They confirmed that this game runs on the entirely new “Hedgehog Engine 2.” It looks very pretty, but in all honesty, I didn’t notice anything that made it clearly superior to the old engine. The gameplay style appears exactly the same as you would expect based on how they explained this game’s relations to old ones. Though I would point out that they did not showcase any 2D sidescrolling, which could be a very good sign for me. Of course, it could just be that they didn’t want to bother showing it because it doesn’t look nearly as pretty or exciting. We’ll have to wait and see. What we don’t have to wait for is the confirmation that Wisps are indeed returning to this game. Sigh. Wisps were a very clever and creative gimmick for Sonic Colors which did a good job in tying the gameplay together with what little story that game had. Their return for Generations was perfectly normal, in fact, the Colors levels would have been rather empty without them. Then Lost World came around. The inclusion of Wisps in Lost World was ridiculous, senseless, and, quite frankly, wrong. The end of Colors clearly established that the Wisps were gone, returned to their home planets. Now…the possibility exists that Lost World actually takes place in the Wisp galaxy (or solar system or whatever), since literally the only thing we know about the Lost Hex is that it is a “floating continent.” (Honestly, it really irritates me how little we know about that entire story.) It could be a continent floating above an alien planet, no one said it had to be above the Earth we know. I probably would’ve been satisfied with that explanation. But there was no explanation, forcing us to assume that these creatures we thought were aliens also happen to live natively on a floating continent above the planet, which, apparently, no one ever noticed. And now, here the Wisps are again, not just on this distant, almost planet-like continent, but now also on what we can only assume to be the surface of Sonic’s Earth. They fuel his boost gauge, though they don’t appear quite like the same white Wisps we saw in Colors. Since it seems like this game might have an actual story, unlike what we’ve been getting recently, I really, really hope that they actually take a whole 20 seconds out of their way to explain why the heck the Wisps are still here.

Conclusion
I can no longer say that this game has the potential to be the absolute perfect game, in my opinion. But the outlook isn’t so bad. This game could still shape up into the absolute highlight of the Modern Sonic era. The soundtrack is looking good so far, they have a chance to perfect the gameplay style, and the story is looking like it might be the best we’ve gotten in ten years. I’m still looking forward to seeing what’s in store for that third playstyle, but I’m trying not to get my hopes up too high. All in all, I’m still very excited for this game. Though I am more worried than ever about it stepping on the toes of my story.

-Until next time, remember to live and learn every day!
(Couldn’t come up with a good “forces” pun.)

Edit: It has been confirmed that characters including Knuckles, Amy, and unspecified members of the Chaotix appear in the game, including dialogue spoken to Sonic over a radio during gameplay. It has also been confirmed that none of these characters are playable, and that Modern Sonic gameplay does include 2D sidescrolling “occasionally.” Just because these other characters aren’t playable doesn’t mean that they have no role in the story, which is a lot of what I care about. If they acknowledge the existence of these characters in the Sonic universe in a capacity greater than the normal pathetic cameo roles, I’ll be very happy. The sorts of roles these side characters had in Shadow the Hedgehog (2005), minus the second-player playability of course, is the kind of thing I’m talking about, where we simply come across the characters doing exactly what one might expect them to do given the situation. And of course, just because these specific characters aren’t playable, doesn’t mean that some other character won’t be. As for the 2D…meh. If the 3D is good, then having the 2D certainly won’t ruin the game, it will just mean having less time enjoying the maximum that the game has to offer. I expected as much.