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April 17, 2015

Sonic and the Secret Rings (Part 3)

Erazor's attacks are easy to avoid, but sometimes he just
misses you by a close shave. Geddit? Razor?
The fight against Erazor Djinn is difficult, but once you know the patterns and Sonic is equipped with the right Ring abilities, he's not too much of a problem. Erazor can swing his razor-sword in four different ways: A vertical line, a horizontal line (which you must jump over), a V shape, and a Z shape (if you're standing on the right, you can wait till he has finished the top horizontal line to jump and aim for his head, which is placed low enough during that movement so Sonic can home in on it). Every once in a while, we'll be treated to another point of view of the battle, with Sonic on the left and Erazor on the right. Erazor will keep a safe distance with Sonic... and then he'll charge! And he'll charge too fast for Sonic to have time to home in on him, so you'll have to prepare your jump, and as soon as Erazor moves, use Time Break and jump. Hit his head a number of times, and he's as good as dead! ...Yay, we won!

No... not really. I see the credits, but we're still missing something. If you haven't collected the seven World Rings, you'll have to do that, but if you have... it's time for the real final battle. Thankfully, as I have proven through Parts 1 and 2, you can collect all the World Rings before facing Erazor. What I personally find great about this game is that it's not linear; you can do any mission at any moment, and stray off the story's path to complete other missions, and then go back to the story; or you can just do the missions as they appear, leaving none incomplete before moving on to the next world, and getting all the interesting plot details while doing so. Those who complain that the game isn't linear, I really don't get their hatred. Seriously, for once you're free to do missions in any order you want, with only maybe 15 or 20 that will always be in the same order due to plot reasons. I see no reason to complain!

Level up! Speed +1 Cockiness +3 Impatience +2
Attack +1 Mockery of bosses +1,000 
Another thing I really like in Secret Rings is the addition of RPG elements. I already explained them in Part 1, but here's a little reminder: When Sonic completes a mission (and even when he doesn't), he gains XP based on his performance. The first time you beat a mission, you get a lot of XP; that's why I suggest you do every mission as it appears and not rush through the plot first. When Sonic goes up a level, he'll frequently gain a new Ring ability. Many abilities that become nearly vital by the endgame are gained this way, so it's actually better to take the slow route and beat missions as they appear. As an example, this is the only way that Sonic gains the Ring abilities that increase his overall speed (the highest one is earned at Level 63). Before reaching the last boss, my Sonic was at Level 42. Not half bad. (Though there's an achievement where you have to beat Erazor before you reach Level 25.)

"History" shows most of the games' box covers.
Great if you wanna know which games are missing in your
collection, if you're a gigantic Sonic fan.
Before I get to the actual final battle, I think I'll explain the “Special Book” and the Options. The Special Book is an achievement record of sorts; you'll gradually unlock “pages” in it as you complete missions or beat the game, but the primary way to unlock pages is to earn Silver and Gold medals in the 100-something missions of Sonic and the Secret Rings. There are 225 pages to unlock in the Special Book, so you'll be playing a LONG time before you get everything. Thankfully, the Medals become easier to get as you go up levels, since you'll keep on unlocking Ring abilities that make Sonic faster. The Special Book is split in numerous sections:
-History: A retrospective on the history of Sonic the Hedgehog, from his humble beginnings up to Secret Rings. All game box covers.
I dunno for you guys, but I love unlockable developers' content.
-Illustrations: Beta images, concept art, expressions of everything in the game, from the main characters to the game's logo to the eight worlds to the little enemies... I love seeing developer's content in a game, it's fun to look at. The pictures showing the worlds are MARVELOUS.
-Movie: All 30 cutscenes in the game. Very useful for people like me, who like to go on the Internet to spoil all the plot details from a game. There are also 15 “concept art” of the more important scenes, the ones that are fully animated. It's great to see how scenes evolve from drawings to CGI.
-BGM: 30 songs from the game. Listen to them at your leisure.
-Rank Name: Actually medals. Achievements with special requirements. You'll unlock many of them without really knowing what you had to do. Others are a lot more difficult to get, like those three for which you must equip Ring abilities of a certain element (Fire, Wind or Dark). Some others are unlocked by playing in the Party Mode; I'll talk about that mode in Part 4.
I guess Big has a camera hidden in his fur, how else could he
takes all these pictures?
-Big's Travel Diary: The funniest part of the game. For some reason, Big the Cat (who's as much a punchline for bad Sonic characters as '06 is a punchline for bad Sonic games, that's saying something) was also sucked into the world of the Arabian Nights. He still likes fishing and he visits the worlds in the game at his leisure. To get a page of Big's Diary, you'll have to go in certain missions, and have Sonic brake in certain parts. If done right, a short cutscene will be triggered, in which Big will be seen waving at the player or goofing around. He also leaves notes in his diary, which are pretty funny to read. The funniest might be when he's visiting the Evil Foundry, and he's trying to fish IN LAVA. So yeah, that's 15 additional pages to look for, and Internet guides will help you (I found 14 already). Oh yeah, the pictures are funny too, but the fifteenth page of Big's diary implies that Froggy isn't with him, either because it wasn't transported to the Arabian Nights with him, or worse, it died prior to the events of the game. ...I feel sorry for Big...

If Big catches a fish here, then he's the best fisherman ever.

One can tell he's missing his little friend...

Another cool thing with the Special Book is that it's shared by all the Adventure Mode save files, so you don't have to re-unlock everything each time you start a new game. Not having to start everything over, that's pretty great!

A last thing before the final battle: The options.
Text Settings: Change the text that appears in the game. There's Japanese, English, Italian, German, French and Spanish.
Voice settings: Change the language of the voice acting. Only Japanese and English are available here. (And because of that, I just can't get used to Sonic's voice in the French version of Sonic Boom episodes...)
Display settings: 4:3 or 16:9.
Sound Settings: Mono, Stereo or Dolby Pro Logic II. Guess the I wasn't good enough.
Delete Adventure Data: Delete the data from 1 Adventure save file. This won't erase the Special Book pages you've unlocked, and I think it doesn't affect the minigames from Party Mode that are unlocked by collecting Fire Souls in Adventure Mode. I think everything is removed if you delete all the save files, but I'm not sure.

Now, it's time for the finale! Sonic and Shahra use the seven World Rings to enter Erazor's special room. There, Erazor appears and congratulates Shahra for getting these Rings... Wait a second... Shahra was Erazor's pawn all along? Okay, that's it, I'm not trusting any human-looking character in the Sonic series EVER! To further twist the knife in, Erazor suggests Shahra rules the world with him. When Sonic asks why Shahra is doing all this, she replies something vague once again. But it implies she was friends with Erazor, perhaps even lovers. And by the sounds of it, he was an asshole boyfriend. This totally sounds like it was an abusive relationship.

Holy crap, this looks like something straight out of a horror
story! A children's horror story, to be precise. Hah!
Under Erazor's control, Shahra hands over the World Rings... Sonic wishes Shahra would do what is REALLY the right thing, but she can't! Like that wasn't enough, Erazor claims he cannot use their power unless he sacrifices someone... He attacks Sonic! But Shahra gets in the way! She takes the bullet for Sonic! Sonic wishes she'd go back to the way she was, but that's too late. She's dead. But since she was just a genie, the sacrifice wasn't quite right, the ritual got messed-up, and so Erazor only absorbs four of the World Rings: Hope/Prayers, Joy, Pleasure and Wishes/Desire. He painfully morphs into an incomplete, terrifying, multi-armed monster called Alf Layla Wa-Layla. If that's the incomplete monster, I don't want to imagine what the full one would look like. Meanwhile, Sonic's anger at Shahra's fate pushes him to use the other three World Rngs (Sadress, Rage and Hatred) to become...


He looks like a mix between Sonic, Mephiles, and road lines.
He still kicks ass.

Alf Layla-W-Layla is so ugly. Fitting for a final boss.
The fight takes place in an empty void and is hard as Hell. Darkspine Sonic is not invincible. What's more, Alf Layla Wa-Layla (Can I just call him Alf? Please? Thanks) keeps using attacks that are pretty hard to avoid. Oh wait, there's worse: Darkspine Sonic's Soul Gauge is as tall as the screen, which means he has an insane amount of Soul to use for Speed Break and Time Break, but there are no pearls in sight. How do you increase the Soul Gauge? By shaking the Wii remote. You'll spend most of the fight shaking. Your arms are gonna HURT by the end! Oh, and of course, Alf's attacks are hard to avoid, so you WILL get hit and lose half the Soul you had gotten, which means more remote-shaking... thankfully you can use Time Break to avoid the attack more easily. But that still means using the Soul powers! Augh! However, every once in a while, Alf will throw a giant energy ball at Darkspine Sonic.

Yet another rule of fiction: Never press the big red button
until it's needed... or until it's revealed to be the weak point
the hero must hit to inflict MASSIVE DAMAGE on the villain!
Sonic has to use Speed Break to ram into the ball and kick it back at Alf, emptying his Soul Gauge in the process. A big red button will come out of Alf's body (WEIRD!), and Sonic must run to him and ATTACK, ATTACK, ATTACK THE RED BUTTON LIKE A MANIAC! (To be fair, Sonic just absorbed three of the worst emotions ever, so it's not quite a surprise that his Darkspine form is.. a little nuts. Though that would be an understatement.) If hit just enough, Alf will deflate a bit (that's weird too) and resume attacking. At this point, the Gauge is empty, which means MOAR REMOTE SHAKING. Yeah, as you can tell, I don't like this boss fight and the crappy mechanic it forces us to use. Hello carpal tunnel! I can feel my arms in pain!

My wish, genie, is that you LOSE!
When Alf Layla Wa-Layla is defeated, he (thankfully) reverts to just being Erazor, and when Sonic returns to normal as well, the void around them is re-made into the world of the Arabian Nights. When Sonic wished for Shahra to return to the way she was, she actually transformed that little steel ball she had earlier into a lamp. Is that.... Is that Erazor Djinn's lamp? Eeyup. Shahra gave her friend the only way Erazor can truly be defeated. The hedgehog's got complete domination over that asshole genie now. Time to make him pay for calling Sonic a rat! ...Oh, and also for the world destruction, erasing the stories, killing Shahra, all that stuff.

It's kinda hard to see, but it's all the stolen tales being expelled
from Erazor. I'm not an expert on genies' feelings, but it looks
like it hurts.
Sonic puts the flaming arrow on his heart on the lamp's entrance (don't ask how, I have no idea), then starts making wishes that Erazor finds himself forced to make true. Wish 1: Bringing Shahra back to life. Wish 2: Restoring all of the Arabian Nights. Wish 3: Staying trapped inside his lamp in all eternity. Boom, villain defeated. You know what they say about genies: Phenomenal cosmic powers, itty bitty living space. (Hey, had to get a reference to Disney's Aladdin's in there SOMEWHERE, right?) Shahra cries, probably because she'll miss Erazor. I really don't get it. It's like a big part of Shahra's character fell apart with that ending... Anyway, Sonic remembers he still has to do a third wish, so he wishes for enough handkerchiefs so she can wipe all these tears. ...Sonic, you could have wished for so much better. Start rolling the credits.

I knew that lava in the Foundry wouldn't just be decorative.
At some point during the credits, we see Sonic dropping Erazor's lamp in the lava of the Evil Foundry, and then saying goodbye to all the friends he's made in the world of the Arabian Nights: Shahra, Ali Baba and Sinbad. Obviously, Shahryar isn't there. Not like he was that important. Also, we see the Arabian Nights book; “Aladdin and the Magic Lamps” was replaced by “Sonic and the Secret Rings”. I call bullcrap on that. But thankfully, the plot is over. At last!

Sonic and the Secret Rings is a rather... divisive game. Every aspect of it will be loved by some, and criticized, perhaps hated, by others. Me? I love it. Almost all of it.

The story is kind of – no, scratch that, it IS – silly, I'll give it that. Getting transported into a book is even sillier than the concept of virtualization. But then again, I kinda like how they turn a silly plot into an epic story, what with Sonic characters appearing as Arabian Nights characters (the Sonic characters even fit the Arabian Nights characters' personalities!). The original characters in this game, Shahra and Erazor, are a lot of fun. Shahra, despite acting like Link's Navi in the levels, manages to be a lot more enjoyable. As for Erazor, he's mostly a generic villain created to fit with the universe the game takes place in, but then the story implies he has a connection with Shahra. And while we never get the full details, it was still rather unexpected that Shahra was still under Erazor's control. Sure, as a story, it's no Drawn To Life, but it's alright. We could have gotten much worse. Also, I actually enjoy seeing these cutscenes on parchment paper, with pictures that often move, rather than having fully animated cutscenes in CGI. As a result, the actual animated cutscenes look great. Especially this one.

Admit it, this feels like it could have been in a movie.

I seem to be enjoying those controls. I'm concentrating here.
A major point where people disagree is the controls. Was it a good idea to control Sonic by tilting the Wii remote left and right? It makes for slightly more imprecise movements, and you must constantly be careful not to go overboard... but it adds to the challenge of this game. I personally think it's a pretty cool idea: Sonic runs at his own speed, all you do is steer him left or right like you'd steer a vehicle (or a kart in Mario Kart Wii), walk backwards, brake, charge jumps, jump, home in on enemies, use the occasional Time Break or Speed Break... All things considered, there's still a lot of controls. I don't get those who say Sonic should be controlled with the Nunchuk. That would defeat the purpose! Sonic would never run fast enough with the Nunchuk! This entire game was made so that Sonic would have to move left and right while running at high speed. My only real issue with the controls is the final boss, which is really tiring for the arms.

Likewise, a lot of people disagree on the Ring abilities. Was it really necessary? I kind of admit it feels like a chore to change them every once in a while, but some missions you unlock after beating Alf absolutely require you to customize the Ring. The “No Pearls” missions come to my mind, since you can't collect any pearls (therefore, you must turn off all the pearl-attracting abilities), and you can't even beat any enemy, since they give pearls when defeated. In order to get a Gold Medal on every mission, you pretty much HAVE to have all the best Ring abilities equipped, which is impossible unless you have enough Ring points... But, in all honesty, I can see why the Ring abilities are necessary: Sonic starts off as rather slow (I mean, slow compared to his normal speed in the series), and gains more speed as you unlock Ring abilities. It makes sense, since Sonic would be way too difficult to control with this game's mechanics if he started off as the speed demon he normally is. Especially with all the traps and obstacles in the way!

Now, the missions themselves... I'll be the first to admit that the best ones are those that makes you run through the entire level, but I also like some of the additional missions. What I like a little less is that many missions contain sections that make them very difficult. The No Pearls missions have pearls everywhere. The Hands Off missions (in which you must finish with 0 rings) have Rings every-friggin-where. The missions where you must not defeat a single enemy will have enemies located at all the worst places, where it's insanely hard to avoid them or pass by without fighting... You see what I mean? Oh, and don't get me started on getting the Gold Medal on every mission! I haven't succeeded yet, but I'm working on it. And besides, Gold Medals aren't necessary. Getting a Silver Medal on every mission is a little easier. I also like the idea that the missions aren't linear, so you can do then in whatever order you want. That's fun. Guess what else I enjoy? Hunting for Fire Souls! That's a neat side-quest that lets you unlock additional characters, modes, difficulties and minigames in Secret Rings' Party Mode.

One of the pictures you can unlock in the Special Book.
This one represents Dinosaur World.

This is one for Pirate Storm.
One for Skeleton Dome.
I'll never repeat it enough times, the worlds are amazing. Beautiful. This game is a treat for the eyes. You probably won't pay attention to the beauty of the locations (because, you know, speedy Sonic), but if you do, you'll certainly notice that the level designers put in as many details as they could. That's great. Seriously, take the time to look at these environments. They're great. The music is also pretty good, perhaps not as great as it is in other games of the Sonic series, but fine nonetheless. When it comes to music, I'm not really a harsh critic, because I listen to just about every musical style out there (except country music and the hardest forms of metal). As such, I tend to enjoy almost anything. So yeah, I like the music in this game too. One issue I have is that Seven Rings In Hand is ALWAYS the one that plays when you complete (or fail) a mission. It gets kinda annoying after a while.

And one for the Night Palace's space zones.
You don't need drugs when you can look at this!
I can just imagine this as the album cover for a psychedelic rock band.

In the end, I just love playing Sonic and the Secret Rings. I always have a lot of fun. I don't care what other people say, I think it's a good game. Flawed, certainly not great, but good, that's for sure. I know I like it more than Sonic and the Black Knight (though that may have to do with me having all kinds of troubles controlling sword-wielding Sonic). Oh, but wait a second. I still didn't review this game's Party Mode! There's a lot to talk about there as well, so I'll have to dedicate an entire part to it! Don't miss it this Monday!