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.
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.)
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.
Well… I…. No, just watch.
Well, there you have it. I first watched this video an hour before writing this, and I’m still sort of in shock. I’ve seen endless comments on just about anything Sonic-related online asking something along the lines of, “Will the third character in Sonic Forces be a self-insert?” My reaction every single time was, “What the heck would give you that idea?” Well…it is. I am not angry. Far from it, in fact. I’m just confused. If done right, this game could have had plenty going for it without such an extreme gimmick. It seems a little…desperate, I guess. I know it sounds kind of odd, coming from me, a guy whose story is practically dependent on its OCs. You’d think I’d be thrilled to make them at least somewhat of a reality. Of course, how much freedom is allowed is a complete other question, but I don’t see it as likely that any of my characters can be replicated in the game. But, the point I was originally making, while there certainly is a considerable fanbase that this would excite, I don’t know if they’re really making the right targeting choices. More on that a bit later. First, take a look at this “Hero” gameplay unveiled at the same time (“Hero” is what this guy seems to be called until further notice).
First of all, the setting of this footage has been given the newly-unveiled name of Park Avenue. Sounds a little happy, but I’m not here to criticize names. Hero uses gadgets such as a grapple gun and his wrist-mounted “Wispon” to make his way through the Eggman-ruled planet (technically it can be a girl, but I’m using male pronouns for simplicity). The first thing that I noticed is that it seems like he is not only in the same location as the Modern Sonic gameplay that we’ve seen, but that it seems like it could be literally Sonic’s level, played as a different character. This concerns me. I suppose I have no right to complain, seeing as level recycling is a major factor of the Adventure games that I hold so highly. But if Modern and Classic Sonic have completely different levels, but this character just shares his with Modern Sonic, it’s going to feel like he’s completely useless, shoehorned in just to appeal to the OC makers. Then there’s the sad fact that, based on what little footage we have, it seems that Hero has more 2D than 3D. It really saddens me, because this once-mysterious third character seemed like the perfect chance to appeal to all three of the largest fanbase factions at once. Give the Classicals Classic Sonic, the Modernists Modern Sonic, and the Adventurers this third character. A 2D style, a 3D style, and a hybrid style. Who could ask for more (bad question)? And while that may just sound like pining coming from an Adventurer like myself, it does bring up a real issue. If Classic Sonic has his complete own style, but this new character just plays like slower Modern Sonic plus gadgets, it could make the entire game feel disjointed, disproportional, whatever you want to call it. Unless, of course, Classic Sonic has as much gameplay as the other two combined, which would actually be even worse, completely ripping the spotlight away from the main character. Point is, opportunity missed, potential problems presented.
The next thing to talk about is lore/story. First, the character himself. His existence scares me in terms of story for a few reasons. On the more obvious side, a create-your-own-character is very difficult to develop as a character, since who they are is supposed to be more dependent on you. But this person doesn’t have to have to have complicated backstory by any means, so long as his presence in the game’s narrative is justified, which is still just a little more difficult than it sounds. The most comparable thing that I’m familiar with would be Nintendo’s Fire Emblem Awakening, and its use of Robin. Robin is completely customizable to the player’s liking, including his/her name. I won’t give any spoilers for those who haven’t played, but I can say that Robin was handled perfectly, because they act as far more in the story than just an avatar. And, as much as I like Sonic, I don’t know if I trust Sonic Team to do so well, and that’s why I’m scared. Even if Hero’s gameplay were the most fun, entertaining thing to ever come the Sonic series, I wouldn’t want him to just be there because he is in terms of the story. On a lesser note, we have the logistical concerns for how the story is presented. The trailer suggests (though doesn’t confirm) that this customizable character appears in full-rendered cutscenes, which is a development nightmare. Game engine-rendered cutscenes are one thing, as all of the characters can share the same basic skeleton and movements. But as for the cinematic stuff, the scenes where all of the most important story events happen, that’s a lot harder to generalize for all custom possibilities. If you look closely at the reveal trailer, you can see how Hero’s fur blows around in the wind and explosions, which can’t translate easily to the other species choices, who don’t all have fur in that specific location. Point being, that either means they’re going to severely limit such cinematic cutscenes, which is a bad sign for the story, or they’re going to limit Hero’s appearances in such cutscenes, which is a bad sign for his personal story as well as the game as a whole. Or, they can do what pretty much no one expects them to do at this point, and put in a ton of time and effort to make this game absolutely perfect. Ha ha, as if.
The other thing to talk about is the Wispon, best seen in the image above. Supposedly, it is customizable to some degree, though exactly how is unclear. Point is, this is meant to be the next step in Color Powers, the thing that makes Wisps a real element in this game, rather than just being thrown in as they were in Lost World. It might surprise you to hear that I actually like the sound of that. As much as I disapprove of the abuse of Wisps, this is a good sign that something might actually get explained this time. The device suggests that Wisps, at least to some degree, are becoming normalized in the Sonic world, such that people are studying them and creating technology dependent upon them. I’m still waiting to hear why they left the planet and then were magically back again, but this is at least a start. The only other general reaction to speak of are the customization options. I’m fairly impressed by number of choices available…unless what we see in the trailer is all there is, in which case I’ll be disappointed. As I mentioned earlier, I doubt you can do anything with the shape of the body (or head-and-spikes) beyond the choice of species meaning that there’s pretty much no way I’ll be able to make Zero or Chaos, and, unless they specifically intend for the ability to make Shadow clones, that goes for Blacklight as well (Black Cloak is a maybe). The one other thing to point out are the freaking Chao backpacks! Not counting Generations, this is the first mainstream acknowledgement of Chaos as far as I know of since 2005 with Shadow the Hedgehog (where they had a great send-off: letting you murder a room full of them for free dark points). I doubt that it means anything for other Chao appearances in the game, but it’s very nice to see. These options are actually a very good opportunity to reference other forgotten things of Sonic history, and maybe even a few other SEGA things as well. I can only say that I hope the options are as wide and varied as possible.
Of course, as always, we now have my specific Chaos Project-related reactions. Since that’s in recent memory (I started writing an hour and a half ago), I’ll start with the Wisps. As glad as I am that Wisps have a purpose, that also means that I’ll have to start acknowledging them as a normalized part of the world in my story, something I certainly haven’t been doing so far. If they really are so normal, it might actually make my existing episodes a contradiction, seeing as the Wisps don’t seem to exist at all. I’ll probably have to dedicate a Season 1 episode to rectifying that, which I was already planning on just for the sake of Lost World, but will now have to be a bit more complicated. Don’t expect to see any Wisps in the story until then.
Now, for Hero. I’m definitely going to have to wait to see more until I determine how to treat him in the long-run of the canon. His existence in and of itself certainly doesn’t contradict anything that I have (though his use of gadgets certainly bears a resemblance to Black Cloak). But, so far as I can tell, there is no easy way to integrate this. First of all, the red Wolf with glasses, the one seen in the trailer and gameplay, may or may not be acknowledged as the “real” face of this Hero, similar to how white hair is assumed real for Robin in Fire Emblem. It also might just be a proof-of-concept example. And Robin brings up another important question. Does this “Hero” have a default name? If he does, that, combined with the look shared by the trailer and the gameplay, may just be enough to allow for, at very least, an appearance in the Chaos Project. If there is no strongly-pushed default name like Robin, then there’s not much I can do. Of course, he could be killed at the end of the game or whatever else, making this discussion pointless. But if there’s even the slightest chance that I can use this character, I want to. More characters means more—and in some cases better—stories to tell. Maybe, if this game falls short on Hero’s backstory, I can…pick up the slack? Wishful thinking, I know. To conclude, even though a real character probably would have been better for my purposes, this guy still has some pretty good potential, if all of the stars align.
-Until next time, I’m gonna reach for those stars. Are you?
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.
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.
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.
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.