I will admit that I am not the biggest Sonic the Hedgehog fan out there by any means, yet I am a person who has always enjoyed the series. For the longest time, I always assumed that the games took place on an alien world (often referred to as Mobius) and that most of the inhabitants of this world were anthropomorphic animals. This was much easier to believe with early installments in the series because Dr. Robotnik was the only human you really came in contact with. Yet, the Dreamcast title “Sonic Adventure” (released in 1999 in the U.S.) really changed things up. The game contained a lot of humans, most of whom lived in the never-before-seen city of Station Square but most of whom were all well-aware of who Sonic and his friends were.
I did some reading about this a while back (mainly to determine why Dr. Robotnik is called “Eggman” in subsequent games) and found out something interesting: The Japanese story is a bit different from that presented in the American adaptations. The American localization teams stuck with the idea of the games being set on Mobius (and whether this was simply due to a translation issue from an interview regarding “Sonic the Hedgehog 2″ is still under debate) and chose to refer to the evil scientist as Robotnik. In Japan, however, Robotnik was always nicknamed as “Eggman” or “Dr. Eggman” right from the get-go, which naturally made him being called “Eggman” for the first time in “Sonic Adventure” a little strange to non-Japanese players. Furthermore, the Japanese developers were always fairly clear that the games were set in a fictional version of Earth. Indeed, even Sonic is mentioned as having been born on Christmas Island, which is a place in the real-world.
Beyond that, it never is crystal clear when the games take place and what happened to the Earth in the interim. It does seem likely though that the games are set in a rather distant future – sometime when animals have evolved into intelligent creatures and the shape of the world is slightly altered. States within our current world don’t seem to exist anymore, yet new governments have taken their place. The primary government for the Americas seems to be something called the “United Federation” – a government which even has a flag fairly similar to that of the United States. Yet, the Federation itself isn’t really a singular entity; rather, it is composed of smaller sovereign states that ally under a uniform government (perhaps somewhat like the United Nations).
Even the Sonic the Hedgehog wiki (for the actual series, not the comics) describes the United Federation as “a future version of the USA.”
This, of course, begs some questions: When do the games take place? What happened to alter the shape of the Earth itself (as seen in the map at the start of this article from “Shadow the Hedgehog”)? How are there anthropomorphic animals in the world?
Sadly, most of this isn’t directly talked about in the games themselves. However, Archie Comics (which started their series back in 1992) has taken a stab at explaining all of this over the twenty years of its publication. According to the story presented in the comics, sometime in the 21st century AD the planet Earth is visited by an alien species called the Xorda. However, because one of their emissaries is dissected by Dr. Ivan Kintobor, the Xorda launch an attack on the planet using a type of weapon called a “gene bomb” in order to wipe out existing human populations while keeping other life intact. The result was that those humans exposed to the weapon were slightly changed and animals had the side-effect of evolving into intelligent beings. These changed humans became known as Overlanders (they had only four fingers as opposed to five, which was mainly done to explain the artistic differences seen throughout the series) while those few humans who survived did so only because they hid in isolated cities during the attack (such as Station Square, in the comics said to be an underground city with an artificial environment) and only eventually were made known to the other peoples of the planet.
By the reckoning of Archie Comics, “Sonic the Hedgehog” takes place in the year 14,016 AD and Mobius is Earth.
While the maps seen in the comics are similar to the one seen in “Shadow the Hedgehog,” there are quite a few differences. Also, places like the Kingdom of Acorn are only seen in the “Saturday AM” series and were not present in the games. Archie seems to have simply based most of the world pre-1999 on the cartoon series and only interwoven some of the actual game stories as they saw fit. Attempts to draw correlations between the comics and the games are further complicated by the fact that the original Robotnik is killed but a version of him from an alternate universe known as “Dr. Eggman” takes his place (obviously meant to correspond to Robotnik’s name in Japan and the fact that he goes by Eggman from “Sonic Adventure” and beyond).
So, while it is tempting to say that the games and the comics coexist in the same world, I personally feel like far too many liberties were taken with the comics to consider them part of the same universe. It would seem, then, that the comics are a reimagining of the story and must exist in their own separate continuity. The story about the Xorda gene-bombing Earth, the idea that Station Square is a subterranean city, and all the other nations from the comics really don’t line up with the games as well as they could.
It’s a shame, too, because the comics would have done a good job explaining why there were evolved animals on the Earth of the series and why the world changed as it did.
If we are forced to discount the comics as being directly related to the games, we are left to interpret a few things ourselves. First, just looking at the official maps we’ve seen it is pretty evident that the Sonic the Hedgehog series does, in fact, take place on Earth. Next, it is very likely that this is several thousand years (perhaps more, possibly even the year 14,016 AD if we borrow that date from the comics) given the fact that some animals have evolved into intelligent human-like beings and the continents, though very similar, have altered a bit (perhaps due to some sort of ecological event between now and the time of the games). Unfortunately, so far we don’t know what caused the evolution of animals in the future (obviously it was likely not an attack by an alien species) and we have no idea what ecological event caused the changes in landmasses, but we are also likely not to get direct answers to these questions for some time (if ever).
Personally, I like to think that the games and the comics take place in the same approximate time period in the future but the events that brought about this future seem to be slightly different. It is also possible that something like the gene-bomb incident did occur in the games’ version of Earth, but rather than wiping out the human population it created some ecological events over time and also helped animals slowly evolve into higher beings. One thing is clear though: While civilization is somewhat advanced (space fortresses, some limited space travel, all manner of flying vehicles, and obviously higher-end robotics), the world isn’t quite as developed as you might expect it to be 12,000 years from now, so likely some kind of disaster (the Xorda, or something similar) happened.
Of course, you can always argue that we are over-thinking all of this and that even the creators themselves haven’t gone to this level of detail worrying about it all, yet I do like to think that there is some kind of plan in mind when they make these games.
Ah well…Meanwhile, I am curious to know what any of you out there reading this think. Do you have any thoughts on some of the lore of the Sonic universe that could have brought about the world seen in the games?
NOTE: The Canon Questions category was newly created in order to envelop some of these other discussions I’ve had in the past regarding the continuities seen in different games. Some of these older articles have been recategorized to fit into this new category, if appropriate. Going forward, all similar editorial-style articles of this nature will fall into this category.