Sooner or later you’ll run into a battle. The battle system to put it simply is a mixture of traditional RPG and Elite beat Agents style gameplay. I will now explain. When you enter a battle you select what you want to do (Attack, Items, etc) the battle plays out on the bottom screen with attack order and enemy HP on the top. The battle menu has an option called “POW Moves,” POW Moves are super moves that do more damage, cause status effects and so forth but in order to activate a super move you have to tap a sequence of circles on the screen, much like Elite beat Agents, the combos are relatively easy though you may have trouble with timing if you’ve never played EBA. What really sets this battle system apart from others is the ability to defend enemy POW moves. If an enemy is about to do a POW move you must again do an EBA style minigame, if you succeed then the attack will do no damage, this helps in dire situations when say most of your party are incapacitated but the enemy is nearly dead, it can be the difference between victory and failure.
The combat system does have many problems however, all normal enemies you fight you do so by choice as all the monsters are shown within a level, there are no random encounters. If say you want to level grind because you feel like you’re falling behind or you want to level up a few levels to fight a boss it can really become a chore, in some cases the enemy will try to run away meaning you have to play a minigame where your characters must jump over barrels to catch them, only if you catch can you actually fight them wasting time in the process. As great as the battle system looks and feels a regular battle with standard enemies that are well within your level should not take upwards of 4-5 minutes. Each of your characters get two attacks per round and at times you can almost guarantee every single hit will miss. The only real attack you are guaranteed to hit is a POW move if you punch it in correctly, this can get extremely tedious especially if you are in fact not trying to level grind and ran into an enemy accidently, but in those scenarios you can always run away.
As you play through you’ll acquire Chao eggs, when these eggs hatch you’ll get Chao’s you can equip to characters in your party, these Chao are pretty cool as they act in the traditional RPG term as accessory items and grant special status effects such as power boosts for ground attacks and resistances to different elements. The fact that such an old concept, an accessory item has been given a facelift makes it feel new, fresh and helps to guide younger players who have never played RPG’s into the traditions of the genre without seeming old and boring.
As said before exploring an area is done using different characters to reach certain areas of the map, as you explore the maps you’ll soon find yourself in a puzzle where all your characters must work together to solve it, you can buy hints from people in the area but most times they’re not very useful but can give you somewhere to start. Without much direction you can be scratching you head for quite a while trying to figure out what you’re meant to do, the puzzles aren’t that difficult once you understand what the game wants you to do though they may drive younger players to madness.
Graphically the game is played in isometric 3D for the exploration parts with the battles being played in full 3D. The graphics are sharp and detailed; all the artworks of the different emotions the characters portray are all very clean and beautifully done.
Music on the other hand can be a mixed bag; some of the tunes like the Green Hill Zone music is very catchy as well as the music in the prelude show real emotion and fit the game perfectly then others just simply sound wrong and can be very distracting. It makes me wonder why, in a game where the world is comprised of Zones, Zones from the original Sonic games, why they can’t remix the old themes which would give a better sense of identity for each of the Zones, I don’t know. The sound effects are catchy and stay very true to the roots of the Sonic series, right down to the sound of the jumps to the sound of the rings being collected is all the way it’s supposed to be.
Portability of RPG’s in the past has been poor, these games were originally designed to be played in the home where you could play for endless hours and save when you feel like it, recently the Square Enix remakes have included a Quick save feature to try and counter this which make save points seems a little unneeded, thankfully in sonic you can save anywhere as long as you aren’t in a battle or a conversation meaning it’s great for pretty much any trip that allows for short burst of game play.
All in all it’s a pretty good game, the battle system and the controls have their problems but on the whole if you want an RPG that is something a little different this may be it. My only reservation is that it didn’t need to be a Sonic game, it could have quite easily have been Mass Effect DS.