1. Does Knuckles actually suffer from hallucinations?
Despite the fact that the following subject matter is around five years old, I never actually knew about the significance behind Knuckles' music in Sonic Adventure 2 until now.
Apparently, SEGA audio producer Tomoya Ohtani, in association with rapper Hunnid P.—who rapped the lyrics heard in Knuckles' stages—had a vision for Knuckles' narrative. Specifically, he wanted Knuckles' songs to come together as an opera of sorts that would culminate in Knuckles creating his own reality due to his confusion and paranoia, and ultimately suffering from it.
In other words, people have been led to believe that Knuckles is actually hallucinating the entire time.
Before I actually evaluate the solidity of this theory, I want to make the comment that this is a very interesting take on Knuckles, especially with regard to psychological commentary and how one's social and environmental conditions can affect their psyche.
As far as I can remember, Knuckles was never exactly socialized well enough to fully understand people's motives, and often kept himself isolated from others due to his adopted solitude and fixation on his duty to his ancestors. With this in mind, let's talk about the theory.
To be honest, I think it's more the case of him being delusional rather than actually experiencing hallucinations, because there's quite a bit of evidence—even just by reading the lyrics—that suggests he doesn't exhibit the traits of someone going through such paranoia. Sure, he acknowledges that there are obstacles in his way—whether actual ones or his own personal demons—but he overcomes them through confidence and tells himself what to do in order to reach his goals.
Additionally, the lyrics are clearly meant to tell the story at a given point of the game, outlining Knuckles' feelings about what's happening, other characters, and what his objective is in a level (as evidenced by how he's supposed to collect the shards/keys)—just from a more "artistic" standpoint.
With that being said, I don't blame people for drawing this conclusion. Plot-wise, Knuckles really doesn't contribute anything; he's pretty much just doing his own thing to fulfill his own interests in the game until the Last Story. The one time he gets involved before then is when he tries using the Master Emerald to neutralize the Biolizard, though this proves ineffective.
Who knows, maybe that's the whole allegory for this argument: the fact that he's so detached from reality, he's not doing anything purposeful until he wakes up and smells the coffee in the Last Story.
2. Shadow the Hedgehog: His Relevance—Or Lack Thereof
I've always rather liked stoic, tortured, and broody types with tragic backstories—all of which are traits that many other women are apparently attracted to. Figures.
So it probably doesn't come as a surprise that I find Shadow the Hedgehog fairly captivating for a Sonic character—in his early days, at least.
What set him apart from the rest of the cast at the time—in Sonic Adventure 2, Sonic Battle, and the like—was that he had this sort of moral and emotional complexity to him in light of what he had been through with Maria Robotnik.
You could say he was emotionally inaccessible, yet at the same time quite relatable. He never really knew how to act around people after losing Maria, though you could tell social interactions were what he needed the most. He's one of the very few characters that ever go through an actual "arc" and have any sort of realized development in these games.
Add in his cool design, and he perfectly matched the "mature" tone of some of those earlier games.
So, what happened? Not only did they unnecessarily amp up his angst in the later games, but he became this edgy bully for no reason. What started off as arguably purposeful anti-heroism just became traditional, black-and-white villainy that even Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog Dr. Robotnik could scoff at.
If such butchering were to happen to any other supporting character in the franchise, we wouldn't so much as bat an eye. But we're talking about a character that took the Sonic fandom by storm, and not even characters like Blaze who are somewhat similar in characterization reached that same popularity. Of course, it's going to be disappointing.
It also doesn't really help that he just sort of shows up for the sake of fanservice, spews his bad boy one-liners, and then rolls on back out with his hover sneakers. Or his barely functional vehicles.
If SEGA really wants to us to take him seriously, and try the whole "adult" game thing again, I think they should just tell a story about him trying to adapt to Sonic's world as an outsider. Maybe have him further explore his friendship/relationship with Rouge, and show the dynamic between him and Eggman as comparable to the one between him and Dr. Gerald Robotnik.
On a side note, I would've honestly liked to know what Eggman thought of Maria, what his life was like before becoming an "evil" genius, and what made him come to this point.
It's a given that we would see Shadow and Sonic interact, but these are other ideas that I personally find interesting. No gimmicks, no amnesia, no Doom or aliens trying to take over the world, no complicated stories or unnecessary backstories—just tell us about Shadow's life and maybe have a simple McGuffin to keep with the typical Sonic goals.
Otherwise, if SEGA doesn't have stuff like this in mind, then I say kill him off for good or at least keep him in the sidelines. SEGA already has issues with every other character that's not Sonic, Tails, and Eggman, and Shadow really has no plausible justification for existing anyways considering how many loose screws the canon's got.
3. Why I Love Rouge the Bat
SA2: Battle was my very first Sonic game, and I remember immediately gravitating towards Rouge the Bat. Not Amy Rose, surprisingly! I used to be obsessed with the colour pink, and considering how young I was at the time you'd think I'd be drawn to Amy first and foremost. But no, I'd play the hell out of story mode and Rouge's missions, and would much rather play the treasure hunting levels with Rouge and Tikal than high speed racing with Amy.
I think I really appreciated how different Rouge was from the rest of the cast. Sure, the story was riddled with plot holes and nonsensical actions taken by the characters. But in terms of conceptualization, Rouge has the potential to be the subject of a character study. She's shrouded in so much intriguing mystery that I wish could be explored further in games. What's her backstory? How did she get to work for G.U.N., and why did she want to work for them in the first place? Where did her love of jewels come from? Is she happy with her life, or does she want more? How does she honestly feel about the other characters (particularly Shadow and Knuckles—don't worry shippers of the net, I haven't forgotten about you)?
Though this isn't to say that what we do know of her character isn't interesting. She's both relatable and clearly motivated, which makes us root for her. She's determined to get what she wants, and shows a lot of confidence and know-how in what she does, but she's not above providing emotional support to her friends even when business is in question. She's not afraid to express her feelings about things, but there are also things that she keeps to herself, garnering interest from the player.
I like that she's not typically "cool" like Shadow tends to be in these games, but rather fun, flirty, sly, and not to mention, sassy. She also displays some moral ambiguity, which wouldn't be totally unimaginable for someone in her position. She's had to go against what would be morally acceptable on occasion to reach her goals, whether she likes it or not. Sure, there are times when she's got her own agenda in mind, but that doesn't mean she won't help those who she truly cares about (and she's pretty selective about this—also accurate to people in real life). Whether she's got her reasons or not, we're always eagerly awaiting her next move.
So we've got a relatively complex and enticing character on our hands. Too bad this all goes down the drain in Sonic '06. Why is Sonic '06, of all games, trying to sell sex?
Now, here's something I want to get out of the way before moving forward: I've always liked Rouge's design, and never thought she was over-the-top in previous games. There's nothing wrong with sultry characters, and she was portrayed tastefully in the other titles. I don't even have anything against sexual characters.
But I have to be honest; in Sonic '06, I just think it's forced, pandering, and off-putting. This is marketed towards younger kids as well! How is anyone, much less a young child, supposed to connect with a character that's just there to flaunt their goods?
It's one thing when the character is established as seductive, yet compelling nonetheless (take Cat Woman and even Jessica Rabbit, for instance), but it's another when it's clearly done on purpose just to get attention, especially if the character wasn't originally written that way.
If you want to put a sexy character in your game, that's perfectly fine, but make them believable—like they could actually exist personality-wise. See Bayonetta, Nathan Drake, and Dante (older games) for three of many awesome examples.
Rouge is clearly shoehorned in Sonic '06 as eye candy, simple as that. She barely has a character aside from her slightly toned-down business craze and continued loyalty towards her friends. I never understood why sexually attractive characters can't have traits in some of these games apart from their "selling point."
I think she should just get her own game, where we could learn more about the character as she is, and/or what she could be. If there's any game in this franchise that could benefit from a more complicated story that's actually well-thought-out, it could be hers. Besides, we could use some nice (or rather, proper) spy mechanics in Sonic games, no?