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Chaoswalker

How Much Story, Anyhow?

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I recently marathoned the cutscenes of Sonic Lost World, and I found I was actually enjoying it in a few places.  While it's quite obvious that the writers inserted a good deal of humor, be it name calling, sarcasm, or classic slapstick, there were also a few interesting character interactions.  For example, Tails being hurt that Sonic was letting Eggman fix the evil machine instead of turning to him.

 

When I think of story in Sonic games, I look back to Adventure 2 which was rife with conflict and was more serious than what we're receiving currently.  From that game has come some of my strongest gaming memories, and I feel the story still holds up decently enough.  Still, the classics have shown that Story is not what Sonic is about first and foremost, and can function just fine or even excel when keeping it to a minimum.  So my question is, how much focus should there even be on the story?

 

Personally, I doubt we'll ever fully go back to the days not having dialogue, and I don't know if I'd want to.  In fact, I'm a fan of stories stuffed with themes, conflicts, and character development.  In a series about platforming and action though, I don't know if conforming the flow to the story is the best idea. (see Sonic 06).

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Enough to draw in interest and give those interested enough to want more and keep playing, not so much that the player wants the scene to get on with the gameplay. And even then, there should be an option to skip it.

All about balance; not too long, not too short.

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I like stories.

I read books. I watch movies. I read comics. I watch tv shows. And I play games.

Granted, I'm the type who will always put gameplay first. If you come up with a great story, but the game isn't actually that fun to play, you may have made something interesting and valuable, but you haven't made a very good game. If your goal is first and foremost to make a game (and to tie it back to the topic, the Sonic games, being oldschool platformers at heart, are about the gamiest games you can get short of Tetris), you damn well better get the gameplay right, and if for some reason you have to sacrifice the story to do it, so be it.

But outside of those edge cases...I would like a good story, yes. I want to be entertained. I want to care about the characters. I want to be made to feel things. That doesn't mean that every story needs to be a big, deep, emotional affair; there's plenty of value in stories that are simpler and lighter. But to get that value, they do need to actually tell a story.

The Sonic series, being what it is, it isn't really designed to support a super deep, super dark, super serious story. For one thing, even games without this series' particular baggage have struggled with telling deep and meaningful stories, and mostly just end up being the equivalent of cheesy action movies (which, mind, are not necessarily a bad thing, but they aren't high art). But also, this is a series made primarily to appeal to kids. The characters are big-eyed, colorful, talking animals. The enemies are (usually) colorful animal-shaped robots created by a cartoon mad scientist. You can't stick them into something like, say, Silent Hill, any more than you can take the characters and monsters of Silent Hill and stick them into a kids' platformer series. Not every kind of story is worth the series pursuing; the series isn't going to do too well dealing with the dark end of the spectrum, because of how it clashes with the other elements that define it.

That's not to say the series has to be toothless; the fact that it can't be Silent Hill doesn't mean that it can only be Teletubbies. Sonic was created as the cooler, edgier, more mature alternative to Mario, even if only in the realm of colorful, kid-friendly platformer mascots, and where Mario games have cultivated a sort of fairytale charm, Sonic has more the air of an action series; your TMNT (and ripoffs), your Power Rangers, your various superhero cartoons, etc. There's an effort to make the stakes feel real, for the bad guy to really be up to bad stuff and for the world to actually be in danger, but we all know that no one's going to really get hurt, and the good guys will always come together and pull through in the end. You're not going to get some powerful award-winning story out of it, but with earnest and talented writers, you can certainly make something that's interesting, fun, exciting, and maybe even a little touching sometimes.

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The story of a Sonic game should be as entertaining as the gameplay that comes with it.

 

If we took out all of the cutscenes and voice acting from all the games and just have the credits roll immediately after beating the final boss, the games should still fun to play.

 

In fact if Sonic Generations was just 100% gameplay without any story whatever, would it have lost anything?

 

Of course it also depends on how much control SEGA/Sonic Team give the writers. I've seen some great ideas that the Archie Comic writers had for the books that they had to fight for or change altogether because SEGA said "Nope".

 

IMO, Sonic Lost World's story is an improvement and I hope we get more entertaining stories and gameplay in future. Or if there's no story or a need for one, entirely gameplay.

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I know that gameplay is the most important thing in a video game, but I am one of those that genuinely enjoys the stories; I think it is a nice "bonus" to the game to enjoy along with the gameplay. If a story is going to be told, it should be told correctly. I'm not saying the plot should be extravagant, deep long and drawn out, but it should have an actual plot, one that is substantial with a the basics: a beginning, a middle and an ending-with some balance with humor and seriousness among other things. This hasn't happened in a while in a Sonic game, only to have an incomplete story with plot holes, unanswered questions, and blown potential for character interaction among other offenses. The last thing I want to do is be sitting there wondering what happened in regards to the story with a bunch of unanswered questions due to the story being incomplete and halfway told and feeling dissatisfied about it. 

 

I think that once the basics of the plot are efficiently put in place then different things such as "darker tones" could be implemented as if it is well-done. The story can be enhanced with things such as fun, excitement, humor and seriousness-all in a balanced way, of course as well. It would also be nice for the other characters aside from Sonic, Tails and Dr. Eggman to stop getting the shaft and have them established within the stories. But again: first thing's first by having the basic components of a story via a beginning, middle, and ending no matter how long or short the story may be. 

 

But if all else fails, please continue to give me at least good characterization of Sonic and friends. I hold a high esteem for the characters in the series and it truly delights me to see them being brought to life with their endearing personalities as it causes me to adore Sonic and friends (and foes) even more. I honestly value characterization so much that it allows me to be able to be more forgiving towards the flaws in Sonic games, even the glaring ones as long as I am impressed by the characterization, including issues with the story. Characterization is something that I have always been big on and admired, especially with Sonic himself. Sonic is a character with a vivid personality with many qualities as well as flaws. Not only do I look forward to seeing Sonic's characterization within the stories, I would like to see characterization among the other characters as well.

 

I feel that the Storybook games (Sonic and the Secret Rings & Sonic and the Black Knight) were top notch in regards to giving Sonic excellent characterization (as well as both games telling a good story), but I felt Sonic Unleashed, Sonic Colors, and Sonic Lost World did a fairly good job as well giving Sonic good characterization along with Dr. Eggman and Tails to various degrees with the stories ranging to good to not so good. If we can't get a decent and complete story at least give us some good, if not stellar characterization with Sonic and whoever else is in the game and I can personally be content with that. 

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I honestly don't see why their getting so sloppy with the stories, Sonic Unleashed was a GREAT game with an even GREATER story, I just don't understand why we can't have a Sonic game like that again...

 

They could have done SOOO much with Sonic Generations's story but they just breezed through it leaving a bunch of plot holes by the end of the game...


I know that gameplay is the most important thing in a video game, but I am one of those that genuinely enjoys the stories; I think it is a nice "bonus" to the game to enjoy along with the gameplay. If a story is going to be told, it should be told correctly. I'm not saying the plot should be extravagant, deep long and drawn out, but it should have an actual plot, one that is substantial with a the basics: a beginning, a middle and an ending-with some balance with humor and seriousness among other things. This hasn't happened in a while in a Sonic game, only to have an incomplete story with plot holes, unanswered questions, and blown potential for character interaction among other offenses. The last thing I want to do is be sitting there wondering what happened in regards to the story with a bunch of unanswered questions due to the story being incomplete and halfway told and feeling dissatisfied about it. 

 

I think that once the basics of the plot are efficiently put in place then different things such as "darker tones" could be implemented as if it is well-done. The story can be enhanced with things such as fun, excitement, humor and seriousness-all in a balanced way, of course as well. It would also be nice for the other characters aside from Sonic, Tails and Dr. Eggman to stop getting the shaft and have them established within the stories. But again: first thing's first by having the basic components of a story via a beginning, middle, and ending no matter how long or short the story may be. 

 

But if all else fails, please continue to give me at least good characterization of Sonic and friends. I hold a high esteem for the characters in the series and it truly delights me to see them being brought to life with their endearing personalities as it causes me to adore Sonic and friends (and foes) even more. I honestly value characterization so much that it allows me to be able to be more forgiving towards the flaws in Sonic games, even the glaring ones as long as I am impressed by the characterization, including issues with the story. Characterization is something that I have always been big on and admired, especially with Sonic himself. Sonic is a character with a vivid personality with many qualities as well as flaws. Not only do I look forward to seeing Sonic's characterization within the stories, I would like to see characterization among the other characters as well.

 

I feel that the Storybook games (Sonic and the Secret Rings & Sonic and the Black Knight) were top notch in regards to giving Sonic excellent characterization (as well as both games telling a good story), but I felt Sonic Unleashed, Sonic Colors, and Sonic Lost World did a fairly good job as well giving Sonic good characterization along with Dr. Eggman and Tails to various degrees with the stories ranging to good to not so good. If we can't get a decent and complete story at least give us some good, if not stellar characterization with Sonic and whoever else is in the game and I can personally be content with that. 

You know I REALLY don't like this one GLARING plot hole in Sonic generations, HOW THE HELL DOES EGGMAN ESCAPE WHITESPACE!?

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IMO?

 

I see no good reason as to why story has to absolutely take a backseat to other aspects of a Sonic game.

 

Story is not inherently "evil". Stories only detract from a game when they are badly written or take overwhelming prominence to the detriment of the game's other aspects. They can only contribute to the entertainment value and quality of the game as a whole in the hands of a good writer. They can also facilitate endearing character portrayals as well as character development in the hands of a good writer.

 

Just because they haven't been done all that well in the past doesn't mean efforts to actually do it right should be stifled by this frankly misguided assurance that it should take a complete backseat and should stay inhibitingly basic and uninvolved. And I'm tired of seeing this "Sonic is cartooney. Therefore it should entirely eschew serious themes" when other media shows this isn't the case and when that line of reasoning contributed to the animation age ghetto of actual cartoons and heck when the Sonic series itself has handled serious and dark themes in an decent manner such as in SA2 and SatSR.

 

As for my views on what I consider aspects of an ideal Sonic story?

 

One that actually uses the characters wisely. No shoehorning and no being delegated to acting like watchers from the sidelines or cheerleaders. Characters bounce off of one another well, leading to interesting character interactions. I know I'm not the only one who'd like to see how for example Knuckles and Shadow would interact for instance. Eggman is treated as the diabolically intelligent yet goofy villain that he is who can throw curveballs at the characters and be dangerous yet still be prone to making his blundering moves. And for the love of God, no Flanderization.

 

And...

 

Balanced tones. Sonic doesn't need to be a cheesy saturday morning cartoon that shoehorns the characters into comedic roles and presents scenarios that can hardly be taken seriously as a result but then it doesn't need to be hugely dark and edgy either. Sonic's always been a pretty lighthearted series at it's core with optimistic overtones yet it still wasn't afraid of presenting some pretty dark themes as well. A balance of both satisfies fans/players who like either or both without them being cloying.

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I personally believe that the story should go hand-in-hand with the game. It should help us care about the characters, inspire us to want to defeat the enemies and to help us care about the characters. The story should also help us learn more about the characters (character development).

 

Even little things like Eggman's PA announcements during Sonic Colours helped. It gave us some insight on his character. Also what NPC characters think about your character and the crisis.

 

Also, I don't want characters to be flanderized at all, but to stay true to their character.

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