We’re pairing 8-bit music thematically, rather than based entirely on series. You can find this track and more Tater-Tot Tunes on YouTube! Stop by and Sonic Jam to some great tunes.
Normal Happenings is proud to present The Characters That Define Us, a year long collaboration of 52+ incredible bloggers!
We proudly present the third and final contribution to the Sonic block, and wow this thing is incredible. This hyperactive writer needs no introduction: it’s the overly-caffeinated Ryan from Games With Coffee! Ryan is brillant, and oh so kind. After writing another opus on Final Fantasy VII for The Games That Define Us, we’re so glad he’s joining us for another piece!
Thank you Ryan for all you’ve done to support Normal Happenings. By all means, you have the floor.
I hadn’t realized just how much of an impact Sonic the Hedgehog has made on my life until I started writing my contribution for “The Characters That Define Us.” Sonic has affected me physically, creatively, mentally and emotionally over the years. In every choice that I’ve made, throughout the highs and the lows I faced over the years and with every dream I sought to achieve, Sonic has been right at my side cheering me on and pushing me to keep running forward.
I am so thankful to Matt at Normal Happenings for giving me a chance to tell my story through this amazing and awe-inspiring character. With that said, I’m going to put a Super Sonic spin on this entry that’s (hopefully) way past unique.
This entry is broken up into five non-chronological parts. Each section references a song from the Sonic the Hedgehog series that metaphorically represents a portion of my life where the Blue Blur had the maximum impact on me.
Please enjoy the musings of a hyperactive coffee fanatic who became and will continue to be his best self, all thanks to a spiny blue hedgehog with crazy speed, a hot-headed attitude and a heart of gold.
A World of Motion (Sonic Boom)
Around fall of 1998, when I was in sixth grade, Sonic influenced me into doing something I wouldn’t have ever considered up to that point in my life: training.
I was but an eleven year old child in a brand new school trying to make some friends. I wound up playing a game of tag with a bunch of my classmates. Hoping that I could make some friends and be cool at the same time, I hustled on the field and tried my very best not to get caught. If I was caught and deemed “It,” then I would do my darndest to tag the next person.
Problem was, I was the slow fat kid.
No matter how hard I pushed myself, I couldn’t catch the other kids and I was teased for it relentlessly. The fact that I also had severe mood and attitude issues, countless meltdowns and disrupted class on an ongoing basis due to my ADHD may have also contributed to the teasing, but nevertheless, that’s how it was. And it was way past not cool.
One day, after yet another day of merciless teasing and crummy tag sessions during recess, I came home to discover that my parents were dropping my brother and I off to our aunt’s house for the weekend. She had a basement apartment which was occupied by my older cousin who owned a Sega Genesis and a copy of Sonic the Hedgehog 2, among other games. I spent that weekend playing Sonic 2 and I distinctly remember making a declaration to myself:
No matter how much time it will take. No matter how much I have to push my body. I will do whatever it takes to run as fast as Sonic can.
On the Sunday afternoon after I got home, I wrenched out my mountain bike from the garage, set the gears and then ventured off into the neighbourhood, the music from Sonic 2’s Chemical Plant Zone drumming through my head as I pounded the pedals up and down hills, through fields and around streets dotted with rows upon rows of houses.
From that day onwards, when I didn’t have much to do (and it wasn’t much as my mom confiscated my video games during the week), I would get on my bike and start riding around my neighbourhood. As the days passed, I expanded further outwards. I rode out to the farmlands in the north and I rode out to the busy downtown areas in the south, all while building up my body and my speed.
Finally, a day came forth where I was able to see some of the fruits of my labour. As I vaguely recall, it was in gym class at around the eighth grade. We were doing 100 meter foot races as part of Track and Field week. I faced off against a girl who was much more athletic than I was at the time. We got into position. The horn sounded. And suddenly, I felt like I was flying down the track.
My feet pounded the pavement while my heart hammered in time to my steps. I felt the wind rippling around me as I pumped my limbs, urging myself to go faster and pushing myself despite my legs protesting at the strain I was putting them through. I felt a heady rush as the dopamine surged through my brain. Everything was a blur, a mismatch of colours, shapes and sounds.
And then it all came to an end as soon as we crossed the finish line. Unsurprisingly (and because this is me we’re talking about), the girl I faced off against beat me soundly. But it didn’t really matter. For the briefest of moments, I felt like the wind. I felt like Sonic.
I was never really a happy kid growing up. For the most part, I was always angry. What little joy I eked out of this world centred around video games, TV, comic books, LEGO and action figures. Most other times, I’ve gotten into fights at the drop of a hat because people either made fun of my last name or abused my desperate need to have somebody, anybody to talk to to ease my loneliness. The abuse was so bad that it got to the point where I couldn’t trust anybody, even those who genuinely wanted to help me. I nearly threw a desk out of a window in a fit of rage for reasons I don’t really remember. What I do remember is feeling so overwhelmed with negativity, hatred for my classmates and teachers and self-loathing for feeling and being the way that I was that I guess I hit a breaking point. I had even contemplated running away a few times, thinking to myself, “Would anyone really care if I was gone?”
But in that brief moment, while flying down that track, I felt most of those thoughts fade away. A smile broke out on my face and I remember thinking to myself that I wanted more. I wanted to continue feeling that rush, that speed. I wanted to go faster. I imagined that Sonic felt the same way; no wonder he’s always cracking a smile on his face when he’s moving at the speed of sound!
Shortly after that, I enrolled in Tae Kwon Do. The focus on legwork really helped me to increase my running strength and the training itself also improved my discipline, my mindset towards physical improvement and my overall attitude towards life. On top of that, I continued biking throughout my high school years, sometimes averaging 10 to 12 kilometers per run. (6.25 to 7.5 miles for you imperial folk). Little by little, I could feel myself getting stronger and faster.
Eventually, the teasing from others faded and transformed to awe and admiration over my training ethic. From that point on, I was no longer the slow, fat kid. My drive to become as fast as Sonic, combined with my hyperactive personality, restless spirit, burgeoning charisma and admiration of the character, earned me the moniker of ‘Sonic’ within my circle of friends and family. Literally everywhere I went, I was running. If I wasn’t running, I was riding my bike and going through my usual training run. If I was doing neither of those things, then I’d be jiggling my leg restlessly while waiting for the moment I could be active again.
I remember one particularly hilarious running incident which involved an old neighbour of mine and a mailbox. One day, I was dashing home at top speed when my neighbour waved and called out to say hello. I twisted, waved back and then subsequently ran face first into the mailbox.
I think I hit it so hard that I ricocheted off of the box and landed on my behind. I don’t remember much from that incident, but I do remember feeling both in pain and embarrassed at the time. Looking back though, it was quite funny. When I retell this incident to friends and family, they sigh, roll their eyes and say “That’s so typical of you, Ryan.”
In my final year of high school, I decided to join the track team. I learned how to run more efficiently and I even put some of the more experienced sprinters on the team through their paces at a few points during some training runs near the end of the year. The workouts with the team, coupled with Sonic’s influence, only strengthened my self-confidence. One of my life’s biggest regrets was not joining the team sooner. I could only imagine what would have happened if I did.
During my university years, I’d time myself running between my campus and the major train station, a distance of two kilometers (a mile and a quarter). I’d duck, dodge and weave through the crowds like Sonic would, all while carrying a grand total of 20 lbs of books on my back. It was a heck of a strength, endurance and reflex workout.
Meanwhile, I still continued biking and was now averaging about 15 to 20 kilometers a session. I had to quit martial arts for a couple of years due to financial issues, but got back into it after I secured a part-time weekend gig to cover the costs. Around that time, I received my first iPod and loaded it up with all kinds of Sonic the Hedgehog tunes I’ve collected and listened to over the years: Chemical Plant, Sonic Boom (Sonic CD), Azure Blue World (Emerald Coast – Sonic Adventure 1), Follow Me (City Escape – Sonic Adventure 2) and my personal favourite, Windmill Isle Day (Sonic Unleashed). These are only a small sampling of Sonic songs that I had selected for use while surfing through crowds, slamming the pavement on my sweet ride or some other activity that involved speed. And yes, Al Literation does write my dialogue.
I continued with training up until I got married in my mid-20’s, where it dropped off significantly. My Tae-Kwon-Do master retired from teaching, so I joined a karate dojo and I even did a stint in Muay Thai for sometime before quitting outright on the eve of my marriage. I also stopped biking around that time, as my twelve year old bike was finally worn out from extensive use and I had to save money for the wedding and for a home. Nevertheless, I tried to stay physically active in fits and spurts, but with responsibilities getting in the way, it just wasn’t the same.
After a few years of inactivity, I tried to get back into running and also joined an intercompany soccer league with the hope that both of those things would jumpstart my training ethic once more. What happened instead was that I tweaked both of my Achilies tendons and severely sprained my ankle. The Achilies required extensive physiotherapy to recover and my ankle has never been the same since. That episode made me realize that I won’t be fast forever. I also realized that me getting slower shouldn’t stop me from training and getting stronger altogether.
In 2019, I started going to the gym and trained at least three times a week. I also honed my skills in Tae-Kwon-Do, using muscle memory to go through the various kata and patterns. And finally, I ran in short spurts, taking care not to overexert myself for fear of popping my Achilies or suffering further injury. And then I lost my job at the beginning of 2020, which cost me both my gym membership and my training motivation. Keep this in mind folks, as this comes up again a little later.
Despite the fact that my gym days are currently over, there is one other thing that still keeps me active these days: my son. Despite him being a toddler, he has demonstrated to me a remarkable level of speed and coordination. At 10 months, he could crawl backwards at the same speed as he could forwards. Before he could walk, he would propel himself forward at rapid speeds on his knees. When he finally started walking, it didn’t take long for him to start running and now he runs all over the place with me right behind him. He’s as much of a speed demon as his old man is and it warms my heart to see that.
Sometimes, I still feel that urge to feel the wind rush past me as I tear up the track and push myself to the limit. In fact, typing this out really makes me want to go out for a run all of a sudden. And Sonic is the one I have to thank for allowing me to see that within myself and allowing me to believe that I can be faster and stronger than I could have ever imagined before.
However, being extremely fast does have its downsides. When you’re good at running, it’s also fairly easy to run away from your problems as well…
It Doesn’t Matter
If there’s one thing in my past that I’m not proud to admit, it’s the fact I had a tendency to run away from my problems instead of facing them. These days, I have no compunctions towards facing my problems, but that’s only because I now have the tools and a strong support system in place to handle whatever life throws at me. As a child, I didn’t have those, or at least what support I had then wasn’t as strong as what I have today.
Growing up, I was very conflict averse. Yes, I did mention above that I got into fights, but it was only when provoked or when I could no longer control the impulse to fight back or throw the first punch. Otherwise, when stressful situations and problems occurred, I did my best to avoid them as much as possible. If I was in trouble because of a mistake I made, or a misunderstanding I caused, I’d run and hide away from the conflict until it was either forgotten about or dismissed outright without resolution. While I ran and hid, I’d criticise myself for being such a coward for not facing my problems and an idiot for causing the situation in the first place. At that time, I hadn’t internalized the fact that everyone makes mistakes and that screw ups will happen, no matter how hard you try. And so, I suffered, thinking that I was worthless because of the mistakes I made or the things I said.
Some time in 2004, I was at the comic book shop at my local mall when my eyes spied a Sonic the Hedgehog comic book by Archie Comics. Issue 133.
I picked up this issue on a whim and was blown away by how it depicted Sonic and his friends. The only other issue I had of the series was an early one where Sonic and Sally Acorn put on a silly faux wedding to trick Robotnik, so seeing the direction the comics went after all those years made me curious. On the back of the comic was an order form which had several back issues available to purchase. I scrimped, saved and scavenged as much money as I could, converted it into USD and then sent in my order for a ton of back issues. An agonizing six weeks later, they were in my hand, where I perused voraciously.
Prior to its cancellation back around 2017 or so, the Sonic the Hedgehog comic run by Archie Comics was both the longest running comic book series based on a video game and the longest running franchise-based comic series as noted in the Guinness Book of Records. The comic book run initially started out with light-hearted and funny adventures featuring Sonic and the Freedom Fighters fighting against Dr. Robotnik and his ongoing efforts to transform the pristine planet Mobius into his own polluted, technological playground. The tone of the comics shifted after the release of Issue 30 in January 1996, where the story started to focus on character development.
The humorous, light-hearted moments were still there, but they were now juxtaposed with much more serious issues, such as Princess Sally’s dual reality as both the leader of the Freedom Fighters and of her people as Princess, or Tails’ ever-evolving worldview due to his numerous adventures with the team. Knuckles’ story centred around his role as Guardian of Floating (now Angel) Island and the seriousness and maturity he displayed at his young age, far away from his current personification as a bumbling, gullible strongman. But some of the most intriguing moments in the comics centered around Sonic, his role as a hero and the mistakes and missed opportunities he’s made throughout his Freedom Fighting career.
While he’s always there to thwart Robotnik’s plans, there were times where Sonic encountered problems that his super speed and razor-sharp spines couldn’t solve. In issue 36 for example, Sonic and his team ventured into an unknown dimension called The Zone of Silence, where they found Sally’s father who was banished there during the coup that brought Robotnik to power. Driven half mad by his time spent in the twisted zone, the team was unable to rescue him at the time, a regret that lingers until his eventual freedom later in the series.
In issues 62 and 63, Sonic and Tails were hot on the trail of a wizard who was part of the coup that put Robotnik into power in the first place. They got caught within a sandstorm and finally crash landed in a place called Sand Blast City.
The residents hero-worshipped Sonic due to his ongoing fight against Robotnik, so when they spotted the stranded pair, they took them into their city which was protected from both the elements and the rogue Robians (Roboticized Mobians) by an energy shield.
The citizens did everything in their power to ensure that they would stay and even resorted to flat-out imprisonment, but Sonic and Tails had their mission to complete. They disabled the shield by destroying a monument to the hedgehog in the centre of the city and flew off in Sonic’s biplane, leaving the people to fight off the hordes of Robians.
After the wizard was defeated and when the dust settled, Sonic started having recurring nightmares about his role as a hero, citing that the people of Sand Blast City and their reverence for him made him question if he was doing the right thing all the time.
The comics continued to show the hedgehog as this flawed hero who time and again made mistakes, failed his objectives and sometimes gave the benefit of the doubt to many of his enemies, including Robotnik. But no matter what happend, he never gave up the fight. He always stood up and kept running forward. This coupled well with the transition to the Modern Sonic era and the release of Sonic Adventures 1 and 2. In those games, Sonic and friends were always a few steps behind Dr. Eggman (formerly Dr. Robotnik), but they learned from their mistakes and triumphed in the end.
Throughout the games and comics, I’ve realized that the difference between him and I was that Sonic never ran away from his problems. He made mistakes and miscalculations for sure, but he would always pick himself up and keep running towards a resolution. I on the other hand, would run as far and as fast away from those things, leaving things unresolved and my feelings festering until they let loose. This was especially apparent during a serious point in my first romantic relationship.
My girlfriend and I were in the midst of a pretty big fight around our second year as a couple. We were both teens with charged, flaring emotions and we said some things to each other both on and offline about other people involved in our lives, school and our future with our families. We were teetering on the brink of a breakup because I kept wanting to defer these issues until later instead of dealing with the problems here and now. I was afraid of stirring up conflict and she was getting frustrated at my lack of initiative.
I remember after a particularly nasty argument, storming off onto my bike and going on another training run, all while listening to my music. The track changed to “It Doesn’t Matter,” – Sonic’s theme from Sonic Adventure – and I remember stopping by a lake, sitting on a rock facing the water and putting the song on repeat for a long time. I listened, really listened to the song and I remember saying to myself, “What the heck am I doing? Why do I constantly run away?”
After a long time spent on that rock thinking, I went back home. I skipped studying for the night and went straight to the Sonic comic books, where I made that realization that I needed to run towards my problems and face them head on. Years and years of running away had left me blind and afraid of the obvious solution to what ailed me. After all, Sonic never ran away from his problems and never gave up the fight. So, I decided once and for all that I shouldn’t either.
The very next day, I skipped class (I know, I was a terrible, terrible student) and went over to my girlfriend’s school. I found some of her friends and got them to convince her to come see me at our usual spot during her lunch break. We talked, addressing her insecurities and fears, my tendency to avoid conflict and running away from my problems and a whole bunch of other things in between. We reaffirmed our commitment and love for one another and promised to work on our relationship, which is exactly what we did.
We’ve now been together for over 15 years and have been married for seven of them. All because of one song and a comic book series that jolted me back into reality and forced me to face my fear of addressing problems. Sure, there were still ups and downs and there were times I regressed, but Sonic would always help steer me toward the right direction.
Sonic’s influence to run towards my problems didn’t stop there; it continued into my university years and throughout my career where I received counselling and therapy to deal with my anxiety and tendencies towards perfectionism. It helped me to deal with job and lifestyle changes and it’s even helped me as a dad to my son. Where before I used to be the guy who avoided problems like the plague, today, I characterize myself as the guy who runs in head first and tries to find solutions when problems arise.
If you thought that Sonic only helped me with physical activity, discipline and facing my problems, I’m afraid that you’re mistaken, dear readers. The hedgehog has also been a significant influence in my creative pursuits.
As I recall, I wrote my very first fanfiction in the second grade.
It was based off of Sonic the Hedgehog 2 for the Game Gear – the very first Sonic game I’ve ever owned. It’s also one of the hardest Sonic games to beat, thanks to the reduced screen resolution on the handheld system compared with the Master System.
At seven years old, I was never able to complete the game properly by collecting all the Chaos Emeralds. OK look, how was I supposed to know that Gimmick Mountain Zone Act 2 had a hidden wall?! Heck, I only discovered that little factoid by complete accident when I replayed the game at sixteen never mind! But still, I wrote the fanfiction with an ending that was fairly close to what the game intended. I even drew illustrations! I remember them being very crude, but still, I did them. And to this day, I wish I didn’t throw it out.
Oh, did I mention that this story was for a creative writing assignment in school? Yep, that’s right: I used to write and submit fanfiction for my teachers to grade! It wasn’t a one-off thing either – I wrote a Super Mario Bros. one in third grade, a Crash Bandicoot superhero comic in fourth grade and one in sixth grade based on one of my favourite Playstation games, Alundra.
That fourth one was written as a creative writing assignment submitted as part of the standardized testing that all sixth graders in the province of Ontario had to undergo. Needless to say, I don’t think those responsible for grading the creative writing segment particularly enjoyed my story, given my sub-par marks overall…
So, what’s the purpose of starting this section off with listing all of the terrible fanfiction I did as a kid? Well, it’s to show how my creative journey started in the first place. And once again, it all began with Sonic the Hedgehog.
Sonic helped me to unleash a well of inspiration that was locked within me for practically my whole life. Not solely on writing though, but through art and through music as well.
I started tapping into my artistic side in the seventh grade – arguably the worst year of them all. I won’t go into details, but the only silver lining in that year was the fact that I, apparently, could draw. I remember my dad telling me how proud he was that I actually had some talent within me. His words, not mine. Look, he’s not all that bad, but he does have a tendency to speak without thinking at times.
Anyway, I started out by drawing using a reference (drawing by looking at a picture). I took game manuals and would draw either the cover art or artwork within the manual itself. I started drawing from Mega Man and Final Fantasy games before coming to Sonic Adventure 2 in the eleventh grade.
I remember this one specifically, because after I finished drawing and colouring my work, I thought to myself, “Why don’t I learn how to draw him from scratch?”
So, I found a tutorial online and practiced and practiced over and over again until I could draw him in my sleep.
Over the years, from high school to university and beyond, I’ve drawn him and the other characters in various scenarios, as shown below:
When I graduated from my engineering program in 2010, I got lucky and landed a job right out of school. On my first day in a corporate setting, I found on my desk a pad of sticky notes, a blue and red pen and a pencil. With those items, I drew the version of Sonic that I was most familiar with and stuck it onto my work PC. It stayed there until I was laid off six months into the job.
When I finally landed my next job in 2011, I drew a new version of Sonic on a sticky note on my first day, in pencil only. And I did the same for the next job I got – a year and a half later, with both pencil and ink. It eventually became a ritual that whenever I started a new job, I’d draw Sonic and put him on display in my cubicle. I even started to notice that the quality of the drawn Sonic would reflect just how long I would stay at the job for. The first was crude and rushed, the second less so and the third was one of my best, considering I was at that job for almost four years. The only time I didn’t do this was on my fourth job. I somehow had the feeling that I wouldn’t be staying long and thus didn’t draw one.
In my previous job, I had to say that the version I drew was probably the best I’ve ever done.
Thanks to this drawing, my new coworkers clued into my love for the blue hedgehog. So, they dropped this on my chair in April, right around the same exact time my debut on The Well Red Mage was posted. To this day, I still have no idea who gave me this.
And what was my debut post? Oh, it was only an in-depth, 8-Bit Review of Sonic the Hedgehog 2 for the Game Gear. Funny how things come full circle, is it not?
It’s sad of me to say that despite the awesomely drawn Sonic above, I didn’t last long at this position. I was laid off six days into 2020, barely two years and three months into what was the best job I ever had. I’ve felt very bitter about it and it still stings to this day. When I eventually started a new job, I refrained from drawing a new Sonic. Partly because I didn’t have a designated desk that I could display the drawing and partly because I realized that I only needed to keep Sonic in my heart. I didn’t need to draw him for the corporate world to see.
The last Sonic-related piece of artwork I did that had no relation to my place of work was a crossover with my mobile gaming obsession, Clash Royale. This was pencilled and inked in late 2017. I have to get around to finishing it one day. I have to say though, I’m pretty impressed with it.
In terms of music, my cousin introduced me to Fruity Loops, or FL Studio as it’s commonly called, in my last year of high school. For those not familiar with it, FL Studio is a program designed to make music using all kinds of digitized sounds and instruments and the possibilities are literally endless. I mean, Tee Lopes of Sonic Mania fame uses FL Studio to make his music, which is amazing! Alas, I’m rambling.
So anyway, my cousin had a demo set up on his PC and invited me over to check it out. Hilariously, the very first thing I tried to make on that demo was a recreation of the boss theme from Sonic 2 on the Genesis. I had no idea what I was doing, but I felt something stir within me while I was playing with the various options on the software. I also had developed a knack for whistling, thanks both to my dad teaching me and years and years of practice whistling to video game music. Those two things combined led me to create and produce music of my own in my post-secondary years.
I ended up getting a full licensed copy of FL Studio from a friend of mine in freshman year who noted my interest in music production, and set off to work. Even though I was practically on the verge of failing my mechanical engineering program, I still carved out time to experiment with the software. I eventually reached a point where I could create and master full songs to post.
In 2008, after some hemming and hawing, I bit the bullet and started posting my music to the public. I posted my work to a site called Newgrounds – a website popular in the early 2000’s serving up Flash-based games and animations. It also acted as a portal for content producers who wanted to put up their artwork or music to be used by others for games or animations within the site. As I had already frequented the Audio Portal to get new tunes to listen to on my way to class, I figured, why not put my own work there for others to listen to as well?
I found some moderate success in the scant four years I’ve been active as a producer of music, under the name Warrior-STH. I specialized mainly in mixing music from different games into one, combined track. You’ll be surprised at how well certain songs sound together!
Of the 20 or so songs I made, a track I titled Shamarian Nights is up there as one of my favourites. It’s a combination of the Arid Sands Day Stage (Shamar) from Sonic Unleashed and the Agrahba town and battle themes from Kingdom Hearts, all done under a hip hop beat. How this mix came about was an interesting story: It happened during a trip to my wife’s (back then, my girlfriend) family cottage to rebuild a deck. A whole slew of family members came down to assist with the rebuild, including myself. I also brought my laptop with the intent to do some mixing after we finished the work.
My wife’s younger cousin was with us at the time and he accidentally stepped on a rusted nail sticking out from a discarded piece of wood. Injured, he retired to the cottage and spent most of the time moping and being miserable.
Knowing that he also had a fancy for music production, I decided to cheer him up by asking him to help me produce a new beat. So he and I holed up in the room he was recovering in and made a few beats, one of which eventually turned into Shamarian Nights.
The best part of this experience was that I made a great friend who not only supplied me an updated version of FL Studio, but collaborated with me on a bunch of Sonic-related songs. He was a kid from the West Coast who went by the name DJ Sonik. He sought me out after he took a listen at one of my earlier tracks, said it had so much potential and offered to collaborate. Being new and wanting more experience in music making, I accepted and both a partnership and a friendship began. One of the best we did was a Halloween themed track that combined elements of “A Ghost Pumpkin’s Soup (Sonic Adventure 2)” and “Mystic Cave Zone (Sonic 2)”. It had all the trappings of a creepy carnival, but was interlaced with killer EDM beats. It was bloody awesome.
I ended up reconnecting with him fairly recently after years without contact. He goes by Dreameaterism now, is still making music and his new stuff is pretty good. Better still, he remembered me.
And though I was dabbling in art and music, my passion for writing never ceased. While I noticed that my style had evolved from the days when I would submit fanfiction for creative writing assignments, a further evolution occured around the time I was writing, drawing and making music all at once.
One day, just before I hit my twenties, I was supposed to be writing an essay for my Philosophy class. Instead, I decided to replay Final Fantasy VII for the gazillionth time. During the playthrough this time around though, something clicked in my head.
I noticed that there were striking similarities between the personalities of Zack Fair and Sonic the Hedgehog. I also noticed similarities between Cloud Strife and Miles “Tails” Prower. Struck with a stroke of inspiration, I dropped everything and started writing up a character analysis of those four individuals and how they were interconnected to one another.
From there, I began to see new connections between the RPG and the platforming series. Materia and Chaos Emeralds. Robotnik and Shin-Ra. Meteor and Space Station ARK. The Lifestream and The Source of All from the comic books. As I joined the pieces together, I found that the coincidences between the two were both strange and mildly convenient.
The more I investigated, the more I found myself wanting to write this as something more than an analysis. And thus, I decided to retell the story of Final Fantasy VII using elements from the larger Sonic the Hedgehog universe that exist within the games, the animations and the comic books.
This fanfiction passion project eventually formed the basic structure for all of my future writing from that point onward, including this very piece you’re reading right now. It didn’t stop there though. With my art experiences, I found that I could better visualize entire scenes, as if a movie was playing in my mind. The visualizations would help me write scenes with painstaking attention to detail. In fact, the first draft of this fanfiction contained so much detail within it that it was one of the positive comments my friends and family would tell me whenever they read my rough work.
My dabbling in music production allowed me to imagine what songs would work for the scene I was writing and how it would affect the actions and emotions of the characters. Using the music, I found that I could bring expression to my characters and prevent them from being too wooden and robotic.
I got pretty far into writing the first draft until I read it out loud to my wife when she was sick and wanted me to read something to her so she could sleep. When I read it out loud, I found that I didn’t like the amateur way I wrote it. It felt more like an exact retelling of the story, but with Sonic characters in it. So, I decided at that point to rewrite the entire story in a way that emphasizes the Sonic elements while maintaining the overall plot from Final Fantasy VII.
During this rewrite, which spanned the last seven years, I learned how to outline and worldbuild. I learned how to make better fight scenes. I did tons and tons of research into Sonic lore, learning more about all the different characters through various lenses of media. I played and consumed anything related to Final Fantasy VII so that I could better modify it to my own purposes. I read books and stories by other authors and took notes about how they approached certain scenes, which I then tried to apply to my own work.
All of these exercises had more than one purpose; not only were they helping me to write my current work, they were also getting me to understand how to create and write better stories overall. Now, I’m using all of what I learned to help plan and build a story of my own. How this original tale came to be is another story (which may have involved some divine intervention from a certain Hindu Goddess), but I believe that all of this would’ve never happened without Sonic’s help.
And finally, after over 14 years, the first part of my epic retelling of the Final Fantasy VII story in the Sonic the Hedgehog universe has been completed, with the first three chapters going up on my blog this coming Friday. I had started it, stopped it, rewrote it, stopped it again, lost my nerve and I even gave up at one point… until I found almost two years later that I couldn’t move on with my life and start anything new until I slayed this white whale of mine. Despite it being only the first of many parts, this will be the first time I’ve ever fully written and completed a novel-sized story. It’s basically proof to myself that I can go the distance.
With Sonic, I found that the creative possibilities for me were endless. Even though I may not fully excel in my career as an engineer, I’ve gained the confidence to say that the creative side of me is pretty damn awesome, if I do say so myself.
Reach For The Stars
A wise man once said: Be content, but never be satisfied.
I can say that I presently have a lot going for me. A new job, a family, a home, time to play games, good company both online and offline and some hobbies to entertain myself with.
Except I’m not wholly satisfied with what I got right now. It sounds selfish, but I want more from myself.
I want to reach for the stars with my writing, with my work, with my family and with everything else I do in this life.
Fittingly, “Reach for the Stars” is the title theme song from Sonic Colours, an absolutely wonderful addition to the franchise. This game used Sonic’s daytime stages in Unleashed as its base and refined and updated the mechanics to make them even better. The song itself, performed by Cash Cash, sends a tremendously powerful message and I can’t help but feel inspired whenever I hear the hook:
“I’m gonna reach for the stars /
Although they look pretty far /
I’m gonna find my own way /
And take a chance on today.”
Everytime I hear it or think of it, I tell myself, “I want to be stronger. I want to face my fears and problems head on. I want to create something one of a kind, something that no one has ever seen or thought about before.”
“I want to Chase The Impossible and never look back while doing so.”
“Chase the Impossible” has been a mantra that I’ve been saying to myself over and over fairly recently for inspiration and strength. However, after thinking about what to write about Sonic the Hedgehog for “The Characters That Define Us,” and then looking back at my own history, that phrase has also been a metaphor for my whole life.
People have told me in the past that I couldn’t do certain things. Like that I couldn’t focus on anything beyond video games, or that I couldn’t excel enough in school to get into university. Or that I couldn’t finish my degree and that I should drop it and take something else. Or that I couldn’t start a blog or finish writing a story or differentiate myself from the hundreds of millions of writers out there.
Every time I heard the phrase “You couldn’t or can’t,” uttered from somebody who truly didn’t know me, I’d give them a look similar to the ones Sonic would when it looked like all hope was lost, when the task of saving the world would be impossible. It’s a look that said “Just watch me.”
Reach for the Stars. Chase the Impossible. They are more than just words. They are the engines that have and will continue to propel me into a brighter future. And I know without a doubt that Sonic would and always will be the stalwart supporter by my side (Again with the Alliteration!), come what may.
Dear My Friend
All that I’ve written above expresses but a fraction of how much Sonic has done for me, and continues to do for me today. I’m more than grateful and more than thankful; I’m fully convinced that Sonic the Hedgehog saved my goddamn life, pardon the language. He’s given me a purpose and a drive to get me moving towards the things that I initially thought would be unattainable, like writing a blog about video games, making so many valuable and worthwhile friends, travelling the world, being a loving father and husband, becoming a streamer and even writing a complete story.
Sonic has even convinced me that I can reach for things that I thought would be impossible to attain, like one day regain my running form, or one day attending gaming conventions and expos as a member of the press, or even one day becoming a bestselling author. Heck, if I can do the things I’m doing right now with Sonic by my side, then the things I just listed would also be within the realm of possibility, right?! So the thinking goes.
I kid you not, it’s bloody insane just how much one single character has done for me. I mean, I talked a lot about Cloud back in The Games That Define Us collab and how he’s improved my life significantly, but Sonic? Damn. That’s on another level altogether.
Now, my son is starting to learn what makes Sonic so special to me and he’s starting to become a fan in his own right. I have an old, smaller Sonic plushie that I got working a summer job at an amusement park. One day, it was sitting on my bookshelf in my room and he reached out for it and now he never lets it out of his sight. He sits quietly with me when I’m playing Sonic games and cheers him on when he sees him running at top speed. He dances when he hears the music (in particular, Stardust Speedway Present – PAL version and more recently Windmill Isle Day from Unleashed). He even pulls me to the TV and says “Play SEGA, Play Sonic Hedgehog!” and it’s freaking adorable. My absolute favourite thing is when I start up a Sonic game and the SEGA logo comes up and he does the SEGA chant out loud and in perfect key. It’s literally the best.
I’m both extremely grateful and proud to have been a part of the epic undertaking that is The Characters That Define Us. Throughout the experience, I’ve made new friends and forged stronger bonds with the friends that I’ve already made in the past. Though Sonic is personified as a lone wolf whose always seeking adventure as he zooms across the planet, he also understands that friends make the journey even more exciting. In my case, the many friends I’ve made here within this collaboration, within The Well Red Mage family, through my writing and even while streaming The Sonic Sunday Power Hour on my Twitch channel, has made my personal journey way past cool.
To SEGA and Sonic Team. To Yuji Naka-san, Masato Nakamura-san, Naoto Oshima-san, Hirokazu Yashuara-san and those others who were involved in the hedgehog’s creation: Thank you. Thank you so much for bringing Sonic the Hedgehog, my true blue friend and my constant companion even on the darkest of days, to life.
To Sonic: Thank you for saving my life. Thank you for the joy you bring to me, to my family and my friends. And finally, thank you for helping me find the happiness that I’ve been searching for my whole life.
Oh wait, hold on. I do have one last short story to share before we go. Bear with me:
Before COVID-19 became the pandemic that it is today, I went to an advanced screening of the Sonic the Hedgehog movie, the day before its Valentine’s Day release and I LOVED IT. It was not a perfect movie by any means, but to me, it was what I needed to see. On my way home, I reflected on this piece that you’re reading right now. I reflected on everything that Sonic did for me. And I’ll admit, I ugly cried. For a good five minutes. A random person reading this now would probably think “How in the world does a fictional character, a video game character of all things, make you, a grown man, cry?!”
My answer is simple: Because he has and always will be The Character That Defines Me.
Adventure Map! *FINISHING UP!*