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I think why I have less of an issue with a bare bones plot with Unleashed compared to the entries that would be influenced by Colors after is because while Unleashed certainly started some of the trends, those issues were relatively benign and didn't overshadow the good parts like Colors and most games after.
Most importantly however, was that Unleashed was a lot like Breath of the Wild in many ways, in that the simple main plot was backed up by a fairly robust and rich world with a diverse amount of characters (even if it was a missed opportunity to expand on Sonic's friends and what they were doing), which gave your adventure a sense of still having something to care about and fight for, even if that depended on whether you were willing to go through those side-quests and worlds.
Colors and most games after never really made any use of the background world they had placed the plot in, either by expanding on the Wisps, Zeti, Planet Hex, the world post Infinite, and etc. They just existed as a backdrop and never went beyond that, and thus I had nothing to fall back on to compensate for their lackluster plots and questionable characterizations.
Now of course you are entitled to not really like the kind of world Unleashed was set in, since not everyone will like a human-heavy world and it could have stood to have more anthro characters and it probably wasn't as well executed as Breath of the Wild in most areas, but you have to admit the world added did make things feel more alive, more like it was a place to protect and truly fight for instead of just the next setpiece for the Standup comedy act of Sonic the Dudebro and Tails the SnarkyCharacterwhostilldoesnothingofimportance.
Oh and Eggclown the SupposedlyBadass.
With all of these tone arguments that have popped up over the years, I've started to forget that Unleashed itself... really isn't that dark or detailed at all. By most accounts, it's lighthearted as hell.
It's just that, unlike the main games to follow, there's actual depth to it and the plot actually matters.
Yeah, after really thinking about it, my biggest problem with the Post-Unleashed Era isn't a lack of a serious or dark edgy tone, but the lack of sincerity.
Nothing feels sincere anymore. It's all one big comedy act that is so afraid of being sincere for fear of being mocked that it undermines itself at every opportunity, even when sincerity would actually help.
the npcs and hub worlds in unleashed were more like obstacles between me and the actual game
in a more modestly paced and exploration focused game like botw taking time to interact with npcs and hang out around towns is natural, but in unleashed there's such a huge contrast between sonic's actual levels and fooling around in the hubs that the two feel completely disconnected. plodding around in some tiny town looking for medals or side quest triggers or whoever would advance the story so i could actually play the game didn't really do much to endear me to the world.
i'd agree that getting the player invested in the world around their character is meaningful, but they ought to find a better way to do it, one that actually syncs up with the meat of the game and isn't just filler squeezed into the gaps around it.
@Diogenes Like I said, it isn't as well executed as Breath of the Wild, and part of the reason I'm fine with it is because I don't mind slower sections and like to waffle around a lot. But I do think that the lack of a decent world or a sense of place or the game actually belonging in the world instead of just being a differently colored backdrop in most Modern Sonic games, especially with the bare bones plot and often times excessive focus on the poor comedy act, has only ended up hurting Sonic more than helping.
Heck, even the Classics had a better sense of what the world was like and that it was something worth being a part of, instead of just the backdrop for the comedy duo of Dudebro and Snarky, with their part time enemy Buffoon the "Badass".
The reason it's okay in Unleashed is because Unleashed still treats these sorts of things like they matter. The tone is lighter because really, how much is a hole between your continent and the next one over you haven't even visited gonna affect your day to day. Eggman isn't doing much but gathering energy and building eggmanland off somewhere either. It's mostly about cleaning up the mess because the usual intense sonic conflict already happened and Sonic LOST. Now it's about doing the legitimate job of cleaning the world up and enjoying the sights.
Colors I've never found offensive, but if you consider what's happening to the wisps there's really potential for something that feels just a tad more urgent, more like Sonic CD. That, and the jokes just aren't very good. I'd be all for jokes in sonic it was actually funny had more expressive animation.
Sonic Unleashed has hit or miss writing but the NPC dialogue and the physical comedy that happened in the cutscenes sometimes is stuff I like.
Oh wait, misread what you wrote. Yeah you do make a point. We're always so used to being in the middle or beginning of the conflict for most Sonic games that we've never really had any stories where the bulk of the focus is in fixing the mess afterwards.
EDIT for the sake of context with Josh: "Yeah, the world splitting apart and Sonic becoming an abomination could have gotten more focus."
You know what? I don't really think so. I think it works as is. Sonic getting control of the werehog form over time and even learning to use it in silly, stylish ways is taking the whole idea and spinning it in a way that suits the character and franchise. The dude adapts, gets into it and learns to have fun with it like he does with everything.
I used to like the idea if Sonic angsting over it and it'd give the story something to chew on for the middle part but now I'm not so attached to that idea. Unleashed's story has problems but throwing some more generic angst on it kind of betrays what that game was actually doing pretty well.
Edit: Ah ok I was confused by that.
Well to be fair, the focus doesn't have to be angsty. Maybe there could be comedic moments in early cutscenes where Sonic messes up with the form, like he stretches the arm to grab something he wants from a distance, but greatly overestimates his stretch and the hand flies back, smacking him in the face. Or maybe he tries to run fast, but ends up falling over due to his more top heavy Werehog body and ends up rolling down a bunch of slopey areas in an out of control way, getting really dizzy because he isn't in control of it like with his normal body.