For those who have played a Sonic game to completion before, you should know exactly which emeralds I am talking about here. For those who haven’t, you probably still know what I am talking about if you have followed any topics regarding the blue blur. It you still don’t know, then you really need to get out from under that rock you’ve been living under. In all seriousness though, the Chaos Emeralds are one of the most important aspect of Sonic games to this day. Why? Because they are what allows Sonic to become Super
Saiyan Sonic starting from the second game onwards. Since then they have remained an important plot point of many games in the franchise. However I feel as though there is a reoccurring problem that needs to be addressed now and for the future. The problem is that the Chaos Emeralds have essentially streamlined the way final boss encounters have been done since Sonic 3 and Knuckles. To go into more of what I mean by that, let’s look at the games from the 90’s for a bit.
Now in the original Sonic the Hedgehog (1991) the Chaos Emeralds were available in bonus stages for you to collect but there were only six to collect. Not only that, but collecting them only served as a purpose to getting a different ending screen. Sonic 2 added a host of new things to the franchise, the most important of which being Miles “Tails” Prower of course. Okay I guess there is one other thing that was introduced that is pretty cool and that is the seventh Chaos Emerald. You may be wondering how can another Chaos Emerald be so important? Well to answer those rock-dwellers from before, collecting all seven Chaos Emeralds allows you to become Super Sonic. Hooray! Now you can go through levels even faster, of course after collecting the prerequisite 50 rings. However collecting Super Sonic doesn’t really influence the ending that much since, like the original, it only influences which end screen you get. It wasn’t until Sonic 3 and Knuckles where getting the Chaos Emeralds mattered because there was an exclusive Super Sonic only boss fight where you collect rings on your way to attack the boss. The problem is that after this whenever Super Sonic has been used after this, it has only been used as a final boss encounter in this style.
They usually indicate that Super Sonic will be in the final boss encounter in one of two ways. They either have the Chaos Emeralds be an important plot device for the game or they have you play the game from multiple angles to unlock a final ending. Sometimes they even do both. There are two problems with having the Chaos Emeralds in the games. The first is the exclusivity of Super sonic to final boss encounters. None of the main games with final boss fights involving Super Sonic allow Sonic to go Super in the main stages and exclusively save it for the final boss, usually due to having them relegated to plot macguffins. I don’t know if they just wanted to make the final battle more epic or what, but the fact of the matter is that the Chaos Emeralds seem to either belong the realm of story or gameplay, but never both. It seems odd that they would intentionally limit themselves like that. Especially considering the second problem the Chaos Emeralds have on the game.
Now the second problem is actually related to the first problem. In fact it is the exact opposite. While some games use them in story but omit them from gameplay, some games include them in gameplay and yet do not acknowledge them in the story. Because of this the boss fights feel a bit anticlimactic since they are made to be fought against a non-powered up Sonic. Let’s look at Sonic Colors, Sonic Lost World and Sonic Forces who all have Super sonic playable in regular levels. They have the exact same type of final boss encounter. It isn’t even a hard final boss encounter either. It feels like without Super Sonic they really don’t know how to properly end with a satisfying boss. In fact there seems to be no balance between gameplay and story when using the Chaos Emeralds. They only managed to have it balanced for one game and then as soon as they moved into a 3D space they had no idea how to balance the power of the Chaos Emeralds. The cliché we are left with is that Chaos Emeralds in modern Sonic games cause a divide between story and gameplay. I am not saying that the games that use these emeralds are bad games. I am just pointing something out since I have nothing better to do than poke fun at videogames. Although I do hope that one day they manage to figure out exactly how they want to use the Chaos Emeralds so that the endgame feels as satisfying to complete as the journey it took to get there.