Basic navigation to find these bonuses - and to simply progress the story - can prove troublesome, however. The rather lovely hand-painted scenery may look very enticing, but it's not always obvious where you can go. The flat perspective can also be misleading - sometimes you can walk behind buildings, other times their outline becomes an impassable barrier, even though you're technically behind them. It can also be incredibly frustrating to be able to be within eyesight of the place you're trying to reach, only to find that you can't actually get to it because the game has decided it's not an area you can jump, fly or climb to. It's a nice system for making you choose balanced teams, but the way it's applied in game feels ad-hoc, and as the game progresses, frustration with the fussy exploration rises.
This is largely due to the presence of respawning enemies, who patrol the map in set areas and will make a beeline for you should you cross their path as you scurry back and forth trying to find the one correct spot from which you can access essential areas. Combat is initiated upon contact, and once again, the stylus is all you need. It's all turn-based, using a system that borrows a little of its structure from Final Fantasy, its special moves from Elite Beat Agents, and its pacing from Knights of the Old Republic.
You choose your actions for each character from a standard RPG menu. It's the expected stuff with basic attacks, inventory use, special attacks or defending to recharge your Power Points, the game's equivalent to MP. Actions go into a queue, which alternates between the characters. This allows you to use one character to afflict an enemy with a status effect, and then have a different character exploit it later in the turn, even if you don't actually make the choices in that order.
Special moves require three types of stylus dexterity to pull off. Sometimes you'll need to trace a line with the stylus, keeping the nib inside a moving circle. Other times you'll have to tap on contracting circles at the right moment. Finally, you may have to tap frantically in one spot. The more effective special moves can use combinations of all three, but the movements always correspond intuitively to the move in question. Knuckles' Uppercut, for example, involves tracing an upwards curve. Amy's Low Blow is the opposite, following a downward arc. The same techniques are used to block enemy specials, and in both cases the more efficient you are at following the patterns, the more effective the attack or defence.
It's a fun system, and one that makes good use of the DS. It's also a very predictable and repetitive system, in which you'll soon master the art of delivering maximum damage while taking minimal hits yourself. Once you've memorised a few key attacks - Eggman's Bombardment, Big the Cat's Battering Ram - most encounters prove less than challenging. To put it in perspective, I didn't lose a single battle until three quarters of the way through the game, and that was only because I didn't have Cream on my team. With a few shrewd levelling choices, her healing and recharging skills essentially become infinite, making combat a recurring inconvenience rather than a thrilling fight for survival.
This low difficulty is a persistent problem, and it's the one that ultimately pulls the game down from the top tier to secondary status. Sonic Chronicles is phenomenally easy, and with a relatively short playtime for its genre and almost no chances to deviate from the linear story path, it leaves the whole feeling more than a little inconsequential. There's the occasional side mission, though these are little more than short fetch-quests, while the puzzle elements mostly involve using all four characters to activate buttons in sequence.
Sonic Chronicles is undeniably a nice-looking game, and its slick presentation makes for an enticing experience to begin with. The longer you play, however, the more the cracks start to show, and what seemed like a potential minor classic is soon reduced to just "pretty good". Sonic fans will get the most from its short-lived charms, but with so many superior RPGs on the DS, the blue hedgehog needed to provide a lot more substance to make his genre debut an essential offering.