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Sonic Characterization at its Best, Worst, and how to move forward.

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I thought this would be a fun topic where we can see some ideals of what the best outing for the characters are to see the good, the worst outings to see the bad, and then ideas of what to do from here on out. Though preferably I'd like the latter to be reasonable and not "Character should get their own game/crazy amount of screen time". I think this would be a neat way to see what we liked about the characters in the first place, what we don't like about them now or did not like about them back then, and what could be done better.

A simple good, bad, how to improve topic. Simple enough I think. Include whatever ya want, though try to be clear about references etc.

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His best incarnation is classic Sonic. I'd argue he appeals to a larger audience, given he isn't given the opportunity to spout cringy dialogue. His actions do the talking, and that's probably for the best.

My favorite is his Sonic Adventure 2 incarnation. I like this Sonic the most because he's heroic, has attitude, and can speak without making me cringe. 

The worst is how he's currently portrayed and has been portrayed since Colors. This incarnation of Sonic is pure cringe. That wink wink nudge nudge approach to dialogue is infuriating, and the actual jokes themselves never land. I can't think of a single funny line from not only Sonic, but the rest of the cast, which is a problem given comedy is the focus of this era of Sonic. If you're gonna try and be funny, actually be funny please. 

Going forward, I'm not sure what the ideal approach would be. Sonic speaks now, and I'm sure getting rid of the voice acting is unlikely. I know I want the comedic approach to go away, and I'd like a more dramatic approach ala Sonic Adventure 2, but I also don't want it to devolve into Shadow the Hedgehog or Sonic '06 levels of nonsense again. 

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Best: Unleashed, Black Knight, and (to an extent) Secret Rings Sonic. A little snarky, but have a heroic desire and heart,and actually has believable emotions. It helps that he has an expressive voice that sounds like he actually cares. He even gives a couple of good lessons. Honorable mention is Adventure Sonic, who, despite the voice acting aging not that well, still sounds like he's having fun.

Worst: Sonic Colors - Forces Sonic: Too snarky for my taste, sounds like he doesn't care. Has a voice that sounds more in place in a sitcom. Emotions sound forced (pun not intended) and has a general aura unlikability to him.

How to improve: Make Sonic into a believable character again, not some walking 90's surfer dude stereotype.

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38 minutes ago, PublicEnemy1 said:

Best: Unleashed, Black Knight, and (to an extent) Secret Rings Sonic. A little snarky, but have a heroic desire and heart,and actually has believable emotions. It helps that he has an expressive voice that sounds like he actually cares. He even gives a couple of good lessons. Honorable mention is Adventure Sonic, who, despite the voice acting aging not that well, still sounds like he's having fun.

Worst: Sonic Colors - Forces Sonic: Too snarky for my taste, sounds like he doesn't care. Has a voice that sounds more in place in a sitcom. Emotions sound forced (pun not intended) and has a general aura unlikability to him.

How to improve: Make Sonic into a believable character again, not some walking 90's surfer dude stereotype.

Agreed. Removing his dialogue (Mania) or forcing him into serious situations (Forces) doesn’t really do anything in the long term. Because the moment you go back to business as usual, nothing changes. Maybe, they should again try doing their usual, very lighthearted story with dialogue, but do it much better than before. Would that be a good idea? My pop said once, “don’t be sorry. Change.” 

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Flawed characters are interesting characters.

I like when Sonic's kind of a dick and tells dumb jokes and doesn't take everything so seriously. I like when Tails is allowed to be afraid and get angry and make mistakes. I like when Knuckles is dumb and hotheaded and gets dunked on. I like when Eggman goes big and hammy and then his bumbling doofiness starts to show through the cracks. These aren't the only aspects these characters have, but they're the parts that bring the characters to life and make them more than stock archetypes just going through the motions.

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I'm the complete opposite side of the fence there. I think he's more believable right now, from Color-Forces (probably because a "90's surfer dude stereotype" is more attainable than the vagabond philosopher thing he had going for a while), than he's ever been and that's precisely what I would change going forward. You see for me Sonic is at his best when he's *ahem* "[living] on the edge of a knife, larger than life", (feel free to shoot me if I do that again). It's common practice to write flawed characters and avoid the dreaded Mary Sue moniker, but with Sonic I'd prefer to see writers take the trickier Superman approach and make him into an ideal of devil-may-care heroics and life lessons.

Lost World is probably the most obvious example of a game breaking with that idea, simply by breaking the conch shell, it's the first time I can recall that Sonic is made to learn a lesson rather then teach one. That's on top of Tails overacting and having a hissy fit and by the end Sonic gets to pay for that one too.

 

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27 minutes ago, Cuz said:

Lost World is probably the most obvious example of a game breaking with that idea, simply by breaking the conch shell, it's the first time I can recall that Sonic is made to learn a lesson rather then teach one. That's on top of Tails overeating and having a hissy fit and by the end Sonic gets to pay for that one too.

 

I have to credit Lost World for at least TRYING in that regard, making him a flawed but still reasonably likeable character that works within the realms of the game version's personality. It felt like the first game that was actually trying to be something of a character study for Sonic himself. The main qualm being the story itself was rather hap hazardously made, and they also had to deal with Tails as well, who has been so flat throughout the 3D titles that I think they struggled to even grasp the premise of a flawed personality for him.

I think the best balance would be his more laid back wisdom heavy variant seen in most Japanese games, while still having a bit of that flawed careless side we see in the Western version. I don't mind Sonic not being outright arrogant and abrasive like some of his western cartoon/comic counterparts, but stuff like Sonic X taught me that a perfect Sonic can be kinda dull, and, given he's still usually kinda smug, even a bit insufferable at times. There has to be a BIT of fallibility about him.

It's kinda like Bugs Bunny, yeah his appeal is in how competent and crafty he is, and how damn aware of it he is too, but every now and then he does get knocked down a peg and we get a sign of humanity from him, since as the creative team acknowledged, being a one note winner all the time can make for a boring, and sometimes even unlikeable character.

The Pokemon series seems to have done a similar thing with Ash Ketchum, while previous series interchanged with making Ash a buffoonish abrasive character or an idealised and competent, if somewhat boring character, the Sun and Moon series seems to be going for a bit of both, a very charming and warm natured character but with a heavy clownish side. Basically a character that can get the job done but is clearly not always in their comfort zone about it.

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Think I'm one of the few who actually liked Sonic X!Sonic. Admittedly he wasn't enough of a friend to his friends, that's gotta change, but otherwise he was much more reserved and introverted then his game counterpart, or really any counterpart has ever been. Like they sort of doubled down so hard on the beach bum aspects of "Cool" they twisted it into something else. I find it fascinating, whatever it is.

Still, I generally think there's more potential for Sonic with a larger then life Bugs Bunny route than more traditional character writing .

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What I enjoy about Amy the most is her fondness for Sonic thinking of him so much that the guy who doesn't get scared of the world shattering is overwhelmed by Amy's feelings for him determined to impress him and do what's right she will choose Sonic over the world knowing that he will save it. I just love Amy's fighting style where she uses cute attacks like blow kiss, girl bomber and exploding presents to giant hammers!

 

What I don't like about Amy now is the feeling that they need to show the player/reader how mature or grown up she is with recent games her fondness for Sonic go's way down and she never fights with her cute attacks anymore only using her hammer to fight with.

 

They should have Amy be cute and loving most of the time and show her strong / mature side only when people least suspected it to happen.

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1 hour ago, Diogenes said:

Flawed characters are interesting characters.

I like when Sonic's kind of a dick and tells dumb jokes and doesn't take everything so seriously. I like when Tails is allowed to be afraid and get angry and make mistakes. I like when Knuckles is dumb and hotheaded and gets dunked on. I like when Eggman goes big and hammy and then his bumbling doofiness starts to show through the cracks. These aren't the only aspects these characters have, but they're the parts that bring the characters to life and make them more than stock archetypes just going through the motions.

Maybe it would be better if Sonic’s jokes were acknowledged as being total vomit in-universe as well? One of the things that makes people roll their eyes at him. Now it’s more of a flaw: people don’t like his constant, cringeworthy puns. 

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I like my Sonic as the provocative cocky type when battling friends and rivals and yet still cares for them, but takes serious matters...well...seriously. It's pretty hard to try to pass off games like Forces as a serious story while having Sonic cracking cringeworthy and somewhat dated jokes at the most inappropriate of times. Tails should be trying to be his own hero, not some little boy who needs Sonic to tuck him in at night. With Knuckles, eliminate the "dumb jock" aspect of his character. He's pretty much a laughing stock now. It's kinda weird how his Modern personality contradicts his Dreamcast era personality. In the Dreamcast era, he was more chill and laid back, albeit still a gullible. Now? He's basically the Raphael of the Sonic series, throwing temper tantrums left and right. Amy, is okay. She's no longer the obsessive stalker she once was. Shadow needs to stop trying to be Vegeta. Always standing in the back with his arms folded and being all like "Hmph! No one can match my power."

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I feel like Sonic characterization tends to change depending on the era we're in.

 

The 90's are...pretty self-explanatory when you look at all of the side materials that got popular at the time.

The 2000's were the Shonen Anime phase when everything was a larger than life conflict that had some deep meaning behind it, usually something like friendship. 

And now we're in the 2010's with the "self-depreciating ironic" era, where characters constantly make fun of themselves and point out how absurd their world is.

 

 

So I guess people's preferences are colored by which of these times you grew up in; me being the Shonen Anime trash that I am, it's no secret that I have far more preference for the 2000's era characterization. I dunno, it just felt easier for me to get invested in watching the characters fight these large threats while growing along the way. It sure as hell wasn't perfect and I'm sure there will be plenty of comments that trash that characterization as we always do in this fanbase, but I liked it and I feel there's a good reason that era is still fondly remembered to this day. 

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The "Classic" Sonic is always pointed to as the go-to but that's always felt like kind of cheating to me. The reason people like Classic is that there's hints of an interesting character there but you can take what you want out of it from there. Literally project any sort of traits onto Sonic you want. There are small bits of characterization that I like but most of that isn't really in the games themselves but in supplementary material like the Sonic screensaver artwork of Sonic CD's animated scenes. 

As someone who also grew up on Shonen tropes, very stiff "shonen action hero" Sonic is really boring to me. I think the Adventure games are always discredited when people try to suggest that was all there is to his character though. He bickers with and pals around with his friends. He gets hot headed in regards to Shadow challenging his identity and makes a few crucial mistakes over it. This ongoing insinuation that these aspects just didn't exist before pontaff broke the door down and made Sonic a REAL character doesn't really sit right with me. He's just kind of a cornball who likes to show off sometimes, but he also has some nuance to him. He's not the most interesting character in these games but he has enough nuance to be a good hero.

Now, Sonic really genuinely becomes stale to be from Sonic Heroes onward. Heroes takes away all of his "edge"  and leans too far into the cornball stuff for my liking. 06 onward start leaning more toward the whole action hero thing where he's not allowed to emote or have much fun or do anything besides drop one liners and observe whoever the game is actually about. Sonic really only lets his guard in 06 down around Elise, and the Rush games around the same time pin him as more of a coolheaded, sagely mentor to Blaze's hotheadedness. Not a bad place for him to be since he's been doing this hero thing for a while, but it certainly doesn't make him the most interesting.  This goes away by the time Sonic Unleashed rolls around. Unleashed is a fine take on him that hints at some of those nuances and flaws being back in between his sometimes physical banter with Chip and the fact that the story spurs from him making a mistake without beating you over the head with it. The laid back story means that he doesn't get all that much to push his character. When he does, it really shines, but it's rare. 

The storybook series are often lauded as the pinnacle of Sonic characterization. I think there are shades of stuff I like here. I like the banter he has with Shahra and Caliburn. I like the idea of putting Sonic in situations that test his resolve and prove it kind of unbreakable. Other than that though it leans a little too hard into Sonic's way and philosophy being right to my liking. His resolve being tested is cool, but I would have liked to see Sonic be called into question more often instead of always steering the more flawed characters right. Still, there's a lot of undeniable good here. 

Now Colors comes a long and I'll be honest and say I dont think he's so bad here. He's taking things in stride and treating it as another day. It's kind of fun to watch. The jokes themselves just...aren't all that funny. Is Sonic the type of character that's actually funny or just corny? I don't know. I also don't get why Sonic and Tails just stop having any visual or informed characterization after this point. The series has looped around from being all about the details you could infer from animations to basically having none of that. There's a bit of it present here like when Sonic moonwalks but this is the start of it disappearing. 


Now let's get Lost World out of the way because that's the go to for a "flawed Sonic". Let's try and forget the fact that this is quite literally the only idea Lost World has on it's mind for the entire story. Fuck fleshing out the Deadly Six. Fuck fleshing out Eggman. Fuck doing anything with Tails's newfound insecurity. Entire cutscenes are spent browbeating us over Sonic's impatience and how that's ruining  things. This starts out cool but grows kinda tiresome quickly after you realize it's the only point this game's got going for it. Lost World's big idea is the one and only angle anyone who gets their hands on this franchise takes when they want to write flawed Sonic: He doesn't look before he leaps. Groundbreaking stuff. 

 Sonic spends most of the game getting finger-wagged all game for this perceived flaw of his only for Tails to fix things at the end of the day. Sonic doesn't have a moment of clarity where he displays a lesson learned and thinks about it that way. Hell, when he does try to do that by bringing someone who would know for sure how to deal with the situation along, it turns out to be the wrong answer too. Instead Tails just...deals with it, because Tails is a magical plot fairy and Sonic should have known this and listened to him all along. That's our lesson for today. 

While we're on characterization, Tails has been a bad character since Heroes. We'll save that for another post, though. 

Anyway, I guess I have to pick a favorite now? I think The Adventure games and Unleashed are where he's the most well rounded. There's a startling lack of focus but I'm kind of okay with that because I....don't think Sonic's the type of character that needs to have his character "studied" every game to begin with? It's okay to have stories about other things. He's a traveler who goes all over the place and meets people. It makes sense to focus games around those places and those people. 

Going forward I'd just like Sonic to show more and talk less. I'm all for smack talk, but I don't see what about him mouthing off during cutscenes has to do with him being so stationary. He's an active guy who's always moving around. I'd want to see more of that in the games.

I'd like the games to lean more into what Sonic's perceived flaws are but they have to start with giving him more than one flaw. What do his friends think of the fact that he disappears all the time? Does he keep up with them enough? Does he joke too hard? Is he too corny? Too much of a show-off? You can lean into these things without dwelling on them a ton, either. 

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The OVA sonic I think encapsulated Sonic's personality the best (of the talking variety) of any media. Classic sonic in general of course, but that characterization of him was pretty spot on.

I hated Sonic in Shadow(2005) and '06. Sonic is not a do-gooder nice guy hero. Part of the reason he was toned down is because Shadow himself took on many of Sonic's traits.

Going forward, I think Mania Adventures pretty much nailed the range of what he is (also tails and knuckles). Action first, action second, smart ass jerk third, see ya later fourth, that's exactly who he is. So in general that should be his baseline for any media.

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Sonic may be the main character and that's a position that should be respected, but being the main character doesn't necessarily mean he's an interesting character. You can feel however you want about Sonic, but there's no real denying that he's pretty simple. And that's ok. Sometimes it's good to just have a straightforward and easy to read character, especially when you're the main focus of the series. 

Not only does it make it easier for the audience to empathize with you (Since Sonic's thoughts tend to mirror the player's), it also means Sonic's character is pretty easily likable on a base level. He's a cocky dude with a heart of gold. He's not an asshole or a 100% softie.

 

And sure, a lot of people may call that "boring", but usually the people who think that have someone else as their favorite character and didn't care much about Sonic himself to begin with. Which is understandable nowadays given Sonic (& Tails) have been the only ones to receive focus, but that's another issue.

 

 

It's why attempts at fleshing out Sonic always felt so artificial; either they dropped some hilariously melodramatic backstory on him to develop him from or they dial up his negative traits from charming to "annoying". You can only play the "Sonic is impulsive and has to learn restraint" card so many times before it gets tiring, especially since it's one of the most run of the mill character arcs for characters like Sonic to learn.

 

Sonic, to me, is at his best when he's the catalyst for other characters to change. Sure, it takes the focus off Sonic himself, but that's fine because the point is for other characters to develop as a result of interacting with Sonic and it's not like Sonic isn't the big hero at the end. And as long as Sonic is still his likable self, I don't really have many complaints on him being "boring" because he is still entertaining.

 

And surprise surprise, Sonic ends up being the best part of Forces because he's entertaining as hell while also being the cause for the growth in the Avatar character. Forces` narrative would have worked so much better if it actually spent time focusing on how the cast functions without their champion. Tails just finds a replacement Sonic to latch onto, Amy isn't really too distressed or at least adamantly believing in Sonic, and Knuckles doesn't really seem to care at all.

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47 minutes ago, Wraith said:

While we're on characterization, Tails has been a bad character since Heroes. We'll save that for another post, though. 

Ya know, I think my biggest peeve with Tails is that his character kind of peaked in the Adventure games, because after that, he doesn't actually DO anything anymore. As in, he takes no initiative himself to do anything without Sonic. So he just ends up feeling superfluous...

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Tails also suffers from how he more or less got the Luigi Treatment (that is, show him as more obviously flawed compared to his brother/surrogate brother) as of Lost World, but they really have solid plan to do this hence Tails' shifting personality (arrogant brat to coward).

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9 hours ago, Cuz said:

Think I'm one of the few who actually liked Sonic X!Sonic. Admittedly he wasn't enough of a friend to his friends, that's gotta change, but otherwise he was much more reserved and introverted then his game counterpart, or really any counterpart has ever been. Like they sort of doubled down so hard on the beach bum aspects of "Cool" they twisted it into something else. I find it fascinating, whatever it is.

Still, I generally think there's more potential for Sonic with a larger then life Bugs Bunny route than more traditional character writing .

I guess the problem is that, as mentioned, it didn't exactly make him a great foil. All relationships were completely one sided. He had no real affection towards Chris and Tails, Knuckles and Sam Speed never fazed Sonic as rivals and just humiliated themselves, and Eggman just came off as ineffectual, even when the writers WANTED him to look like a threat (case in point the climax of the SA2 arc where Eggman sends him into the capsule, while it genuinely looks like Eggman's outgambitted Sonic for a moment and Sonic had to frantically use an on-the-fly plan to escape in the games, in X he just looks confident from the start, making clear Eggman's already lost). The only thing he shown emotion towards was the water phobia running gag.

Add to that, compared to Bugs Bunny, Sonic's invulnerability tended to be more monotonous. Bugs was a witty hero who still had to be versatile and use trickery, while X Sonic is essentially an unstoppable juggernaut. He just ran and smashed through everything, and when that didn't work he used one of those DEM rings. (This might be why I always thought Speedy Gonzales was duller than Bugs as well, besides the odd time he got a decent opponent who forced him to be witty with his speed, which happened even less with X Sonic.) AoSth Sonic was closer to Bugs' approach, if maybe to the point of being an outright copycat, crossdressing and all.

I remember the comic adaptation kinda getting a compromise, he was still pretty laid back but more emotive and fallible. There was a warmth there that the anime version lacked, even if maybe some of the cheesy 'cool' antics reemerged as a result.

Now let's get Lost World out of the way because that's the go to for a "flawed Sonic". Let's try and forget the fact that this is quite literally the only idea Lost World has on it's mind for the entire story. Fuck fleshing out the Deadly Six. Fuck fleshing out Eggman. Fuck doing anything with Tails's newfound insecurity. Entire cutscenes are spent browbeating us over Sonic's impatience and how that's ruining  things. This starts out cool but grows kinda tiresome quickly after you realize it's the only point this game's got going for it. Lost World's big idea is the one and only angle anyone who gets their hands on this franchise takes when they want to write flawed Sonic: He doesn't look before he leaps. Groundbreaking stuff. 

 Sonic spends most of the game getting finger-wagged all game for this perceived flaw of his only for Tails to fix things at the end of the day. Sonic doesn't have a moment of clarity where he displays a lesson learned and thinks about it that way. Hell, when he does try to do that by bringing someone who would know for sure how to deal with the situation along, it turns out to be the wrong answer too. Instead Tails just...deals with it, because Tails is a magical plot fairy and Sonic should have known this and listened to him all along. That's our lesson for today. 

While we're on characterization, Tails has been a bad character since Heroes. We'll save that for another post, though. 

That is arguably one of the key issues with the story. On the other hand it is one nearly ALL 'flawed Sonic' takes are guilty of. SatAm and Archie Sonic do it a lot but in almost all cases Sonic never demonstrates that he learns, it usually just being a "Listen to your peers' advise", and given Sally could be equally standoffish and smug about it as Tails in Lost World, it had the same contradictions.

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7 hours ago, Wraith said:

While we're on characterization, Tails has been a bad character since Heroes. We'll save that for another post, though. 

I would hope you mean since SA2...similar development aside.

Considering that was the start of him being written poorly.

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5 minutes ago, StaticMania said:

I would hope you mean since SA2...similar development aside.

Considering that was the start of him being written poorly.

No, Sonic Heroes was the start of him being afraid of everything.

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1 minute ago, StaticMania said:

That's just one thing, not his entire character.

Also inaccurate, unless ghosts count as everything.

Also In unleashed he was afraid of the Dark gaia ghouls, and in Forces he feared Chaos 0.

A big difference from the Tails that beat Chaos and Eggman, and then Eggman again in space!!

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Okay...Again that's one part of his character and doesn't apply to appearances in games like Nex Gen, Riders, Rush, etc. I already know the problem with Tails' writing, being scared of things isn't the only problem.

Quote

The problem was that in most of the games, even the SA ones, most of Tails' personality was derived from exposition, making him kinda dull to see onscreen.

I don't really mind Tails' dialogue in SA1, it helps that it isn't 75% exposition at least...

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