Sonic Frontiers has been drawing the attention of Sonic’s fans with its vast open world and exhilarating actions newly introduced to the series for the very first time. The game is also said to have the most amount of content in a game the Sonic the Hedgehog series has seen so far, boasting gamers’ anticipation of what it has to offer.
Earlier this week, our Editorial team had the opportunity to get hands-on at Sonic Frontiers with a playable demo available at the exhibition hall of the Tokyo Game Show 2022. And this time, we have a chat with the series producer Takashi Iizuka and the game’s director Morio Kishimoto, who share the concepts and charms of this soon-to-be-released title.
▍An Ambitious Title to the Sonic Game Series
Q: The Sonic the Hedgehog series has been known for its 2D stage-clear platformers for years. What made you decide to create an “Open Zone” Sonic game this time?
Iizuka: Sonic the Hedgehog started as a side-scrolling action game back in 1991 and it becomes a foundation of the games afterward. The series had its first 2D-3D transformation in 1998 in the form of Sonic Adventure, and it makes our team think; what else we do next to sustain the franchise for another 10 and even 20 years? That’s how we come up with this “Open Zone” idea to push the franchise into evolution.
Kishimoto: Just as Mr. Iiizuka mentioned, The Sonic the Hedgehog series is entering its third generation. But up until now, we haven’t made a satisfying game that can drive worldwide gamers crazy like what the past generations did. Sonic Frontiers marks our first step in challenging the world with brand-new elements that the series haven’t tapped into.
We understand how hard it is to build such a vast Sonic world, but if we didn’t take up the challenges, we can’t take Sonic to higher grounds. We find it really necessary to build this game in order to bring back global attention to the series.
Q: How does Sonic Fronters make use of Sonic’s familiar supersonic speed and infiltrate it into the open-world system that celebrates free exploration? And how will the game guide players get familiar with the system?
Kishimoto: Most of the Sonic games would only showcase their demo to the public one or two times. But this time, we have showcased the demo all over the world to collect the gamers’ opinions. These opinions help us improve the systems, which make use of Sonic’s speed advantage to create an unprecedented gaming experience that will not disappoint.
▍An ‘Open Zone’ Game But There’s More
Q: How do Sonic Frontiers differ from the previous Sonic 3D games?
Kishimoto: The previous Sonic games are restricted to a rather linear style of gameplay, where you control the series characters to pass through several themed levels. But the origin of Sonic Frontiers is in a different place from open-world action-adventure games. This new “open zone” game system is our way of giving as much freedom as possible to a Sonic 3D action game.
Q: Speaking of the islands in Sonic Frontiers, can you reveal more details about them? Are they created based on actual places?
Iizuka: There are a total of five islands available in the game. You will be able to experience the first one at Tokyo Game Show 2022. All islands have their own features and enemies. For instance, the first island is a beautiful island with a variety of plants and lovely creatures. But the second island is a desert that challenges players with its harsh environment.
Q: Sonic Frontier also has a Cyberspace feature, why do you choose to put this feature in an open-world game?
Kishimoto: Cyberspace is designed based on the second-generation games mentioned before. It can be said that it is the extension of the traditional linear time-attack game style advanced with modern technology. It is that traditional linear format where people get to challenge themselves to run through as fast as possible. But Frontiers is an open-world game after, so you can decide whether to take these traditional challenges or go on to explore the Starfall Islands.
Q: What is the intention of the fully customizable design of Sonic’s movement speed and camera rotation speed?
Kishimoto: As mentioned, Sonic Frontiers is the series’ 3rd-generation game with an aim to bring “Sonic” back to the stage of the world. If we only make a game that satisfies the Sonic fans, it will be really hard for us to take a step forward.
There are still many players in the world who have not been exposed to Sonic and like orthodox action games. The previous Sonic series, including operations, was difficult for these gamers who grew up playing traditional action games. So in order to allow both Sonic players and non-Sonic players to have fun, we have a fully customizable system for them to decide on their own.
Q: Sonic Frontier is not only the first open-world game for the Sonic franchise but also the first time released on multiplatform at the same time. Did you encounter any challenges during the development process when these platforms are known to have very different hardware specifications?
Kishimoto: We actually spotted this problem back when we develop Sonic Forces in 2017. However, it did take a lot of our time to map the huge open area on each platform. It is relatively simple to correspond the game to multiple platforms when you have a bigger obstacle that you need to tackle.
Iizuka: It may be natural for high-performance devices like PS5 or PC to present a beautiful picture. But if you have played the Switch demo of Sonic Frontiers in TGS 2022, you would be surprised by its high-quality graphics, one of the best you would have ever seen in a Switch game.
▍A Tribute to All Sonic Games
Q: Do Sonic Frontiers have any relations with the previous Sonic games in terms of story or timeline?
Iizuka: Sonic fans often ask this question when a new game is released (laughs). Basically, the modern Sonic series is based on the classic Sonic games. But every modern Sonic game, such as Sonic Forces, Team Sonic Racing, and even Sonic Frontiers, has its own original setting and a new worldview. There was no special connection between them.
However, as Sonic Frontiers takes place in a completely unknown land, there will be elements and puzzles that surprise Sonic fans. Unfortunately, we can’t disclose more.
Q: Are Sonic Frontiers have any special features that pay tribute to the previous Sonic games?
Kishimoto: Pretty much all of them are a tribute to the games of the first and second generations (laughs). For instance, Sonic’s standby movement, attack actions, the design of the level, etc., all of which are tributes. When we were making Sonic Frontiers, the second movie was just about to be released. So it did influence us a bit, so fans who have watched the movie may well find it out.
Iizuka: In addition, Cyberspace is actually a computerized world of Sonic’s memories. The things that Sonic has experienced in the past are reflected in Cyberspace, so you can find many famous levels, such as the Green Hill Zone, in this mode.
Q: Last but not least, please send a message to global fans.
Kishimoto: If you are interested in Sonic Frontiers, please give it a try. This work is an evolved version of an orthodox action game that was completed after conducting multiple test plays. We have spent a lot of time in preparation and believe that it will satisfy players and respond to your expectations. They’re still a lot of surprises and elements that have not yet been revealed, so please stay tuned for its release!
Iizuka: We understand that there are many overseas gamers who love Sonic very much. We really appreciate your support. In addition to the original Sonic fans, we believe that Sonic Frontiers will get under the raider of gamers who have a special affinity for action games! So be sure to check it out!
Sonic Frontiers is set for release on November 8 across PlayStation and Xbox consoles, Nintendo Switch, and PC (Steam).