Sonny is a flash RPG, mostly tactical fighting with level-up abilities. It’s a pretty nice piece of work, in that the design is smooth and there’s some nice voice acting and it starts out with a narrative hook in which it’s not clear that the protagonist knows who/what he is, though the player does.

The game totally irked me, though, because about 1/3 of the way through the putative plot, the gameplay stops pursuing it. There stop being narrative interludes. The rest of the play is hack-and-slash stuff with no framing. There isn’t really an explanation for why this happens.

From looking at the comments on Krinlabs’ forums, it looks as though the designers just ran out of time writing the original, and intend maybe to come back and address some of the loose ends in Sonny 2. But grr. I feel as though the first game cheated me of what it promised — and didn’t even offer a good explanation about why the story cuts off where it does — so why should I trust that Sonny 2 will make up for these sins?

Instead, I made up an interpretation of the game which makes it make sense on its own. I find it aesthetically pleasing. It’s not the canonical reading, and I’m sure Sonny 2 will blow my interpretation out of the water. But if you’re interested, spoilers after the tag.

The game begins with Sonny waking up as a zombie on the White November. Unlike other zombies, though, he can still speak and think like a human. It appears that this might be the result of some government science experiment gone wrong. (Always a favorite explanation, I find.) Blind Louis, the character who finds Sonny and might know something about his background, does not survive, but he leaves Sonny with a tape which “will help you”.

Later, Sonny gets into more fights with government forces, and winds up with a sidekick, who turns out also to be a zombie. (It seems at the outset that he might still be human, but in fact, no. It’s important to bear in mind, though, that both Sonny and the sidekick are covered with concealing armor that makes it unclear how undead they are.)

At one critical point, Sonny and his sidekick fight alongside the human “Paladin” (a souped-up soldier) against the “Baron”, the chief zombie. But when that battle ends, the sidekick turns on the Paladin, offering Sonny the explanation that it’s us or them: the humans can’t accept our zombie shapes, so we have every reason to protect ourselves, etc.

The story peters out after that big battle. Sonny has a tape which he can’t listen to, which is supposed to contain more of the background for his mysterious plight. Blind Louis is gone. Sonny has a companion of uncertain moral compass (and has gone along with him in killing the Paladin, because he didn’t have much choice).

The zombie heroes also, at this stage, made several comments that their minds are going, that they feel confused.

There’s a bunch of gameplay after that, but it’s all about training and powering up and fighting a bunch of boss characters. The story portion is over.

So far, those are the facts. I think the official reading is supposed to be that the mental confusion was a result of attacks from Devourers, a particular kind of enemy.

I find it more interesting if we imagine that the mental degeneration is something else, more permanent. Sonny and his side-kick may have started out as unusually aware zombies, but — either through natural causes or as a result of their decision to fight and kill humans — they’re losing what makes them human-like themselves. The fact that the story stops midway isn’t a mistake or the result of poor planning; it’s intentional. The story stops because here, at that point, Sonny has sufficiently degenerated that he is no longer interested in working out how he got to be this way. He spends the rest of the game mindlessly fighting because that is all he is now good for.

Pretty sure that’s not what Krinlabs intended, though. Oh well.

4 thoughts on “Sonny”

  1. I’m surprised you didn’t mention that the combat was outrageously tedious, repetitive, and easy (even for a jRPG) and that the entire game was a grind without any significant rewards. Is it really possible that someone of your seriousness as a game designer could tolerate such flaws?!

  2. the combat was outrageously tedious, repetitive, and easy

    The training levels rapidly become tedious, repetitive, and easy — and they pretty much have a shiny label on them saying “do your grinding here”. Most of the bosses require some variation of approach. Possibly this aspect is also repetitive and easy to players more experienced in this genre, but I found it novel enough to amuse me through the first part of the game. New skills come along reasonably quickly for the first several levels, but if you find you don’t care for (or get bored with) the strategies open to you, you can always reassign your points and try out a different set.

    The final level is badly out of kilter: the major bosses there require a lot of leveling up before you can take them on, but the final level of training is extra dull, and in several cases the strategy for a major boss requires a lot of waiting and persistence. It’s also possible to have many minutes’ work blown out of the water by a single bit of bad timing or bad luck. Replaying to that point is not fun. Which is lame. Quite a number of times I thought about quitting that area, but I kept going because I wanted to be able to talk about the game later, and felt that I ought to finish it in order to do so legitimately.

    Is it really possible that someone of your seriousness as a game designer could tolerate such flaws?!

    I don’t recall the last time I played a game (including my own) where I couldn’t identify some design flaws.

    If what you mean is “why did you leave this issue out of your review?”, then the answer is: this wasn’t a review.

  3. That scenario didn’t occur to me while I was playing, but what a way of making degeneration interactive it could be! The plot and gameplay in Sonny would be too flimsy from the start for it to really work there, but having something polished and deeply interactive slowly devolve into a die-or-quit series of random combats could have a pretty hefty emotional impact if done just right. Actually, it might be best in something long-form: heavily interactive beginning -> a slow slide into mechanicalness -> a jarring reminder of how things started -> actions motivated by the desire to return to something like the initial state. I can’t think of anything quite like this.

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