Japanese gaming website 4Gamer.net had the chance to sit down with Sonic Frontiers’ Director, Morio Kishimoto and Sonic Series Producer, Takashi Iizuka to talk about Sonic Frontiers during this year’s TGS, in this interview, we learn about some interesting facts about Sonic Frontiers’ challenges during its development.
Morio Kishimoto’s (hereinafter, Kishimoto-san): The very first template we created was a more generic open-world type field with traditional 3D Sonic elements instead of quests. When we had the general public playtest it… it was quite unpopular (laughs). We had prepared a beautiful green meadow with many scenic points of interest, and we had not missed any of the key points of an open world, but people did not enjoy it at all.
4Gamer: Oh, really?
Kishimoto-san: In open-world games, you can enjoy the feeling of traveling as you move from one destination to another on foot, horseback, or by car, but this was not the case with Sonic. That is how this project started.
Usually, a game is tested twice, once in alpha and once in beta, but for Sonic Frontiers, we tested the game once every few months over the course of the five-year project. That’s how repetitive the cycle of coming up with ideas and hitting a wall was.
4Gamer: So there was quiet a bit of trial and error.
Kishimoto-san: Yes. For example, when we added athletic action to the field, people enjoyed it, but they said that the battles were monotonous. If we tried to make the battles more interesting, the puzzle solving would become a bit less interesting. A game is not evaluated simply by solving players’ dissatisfaction and stress. If you don’t create a surprise that surpasses expectations, you won’t be pleased with the game.
4Gamer: I see. However, with such a long development period, the producer, Iizuka-san, must be very anxious.
Takashi Iizuka (Iizuka-san): We spent twice as much time on this game as we usually do on a Sonic game but more than half of that time was spent on trial and error. However, the game was definitely getting better with each test and improvement, so I was not anxious at all. I was only worried about the schedule (laughs).4Gamer
Iizuka also mentions that with this “3rd generation of Sonic” SEGA is actively trying to make Sonic more popular in Japan and the rest of Asia, while Kishimoto confirms. again, that the Cyber Space levels are not mandatory for story progression:
4Gamer: Certainly, Sonic is very popular overseas. So is this “third generation” to be accepted in Japan?
Iizuka-san: That is correct. Our desire to bring this game to Japanese players is at the root of this project. In other words, we have been trying to reach this goal for years. For example, many Japanese players like consumer-style games, or games that can be played in a relaxed manner. And then there is the popularity. There is a certain pleasure in playing games that are popular at the same time while exchanging information. I wanted to do something about both of these things with Sonic Frontiers.
Kishimoto-san: For those who feel that the previous Sonic games are too “quirky”, the Open Zone is the answer. In this game, you can actually advance the story just by exploring the Open Zone. Playing the Cyber Space stages is not mandatory, but merely one of the options for advancing the story.
4Gamer: That’s quite a bold move.
Kishimoto-san: The Open Zones we initially had in mind were more linear and limited, but as we continued playtesting, they became more and more flexible and turned into something that could be played on their own. The result was that the game could now be cleared even if all the Cyber Space stages and enemy battles were avoided. So each player can conquer the Starfall Islands simply by playing the way that he or she likes.4Gamer
As for the control sliders:
4Gamer: Sonic is an action game, but it also has the strictness of a racing game. Another point that caught my attention was the high degree of freedom in the control options. I was quite surprised to see that the player can change everything from the angle of the camera to the distance from Sonic, the maximum speed, and even the turning speed.
Kishimoto-san: Actually, that was one of the things that troubled me. We also tried to find the best answer to the control feel of the game through a lot of playtests, but we just couldn’t find the best answer. As a result, we decided to leave it to the player…4Gamer
Furthermore, it seems that regardless of the control options you chose or upgrades you’ve collected, the Cyber Space stages will always have their own feel.
Kishimoto-san: The Sonic-like control feel is acceptable to people who play a variety of games, but it is difficult for players of general action and action-adventure games. Since there was no way to avoid this conflict, we decided to leave it up to the customer to decide whether to choose a control feel that is easy to play or a control feel that is unique to Sonic.
However, we did not compromise on the control feel in the Cyber Space stages. I hope you will enjoy the game in the Sonic way (laughs). (…)
Of course, Sonic’s growth factor (in the Open Zone) is not involved in Cyber Space. In Cyber Space, all players are in equal terms!4Gamer
Ian Flynn is also confirmed once again to be the writer of the game’s script.
Iizuka-san: In designing this game, we needed to create a narrative in which Sonic, who knows nothing about the game’s setting, explores the location. Also, Ian Flynn, a writer who produces Sonic comics overseas, is very popular with fans, so we asked him to write the script for the game as well.
Kishimoto-san: What I asked for in terms of storytelling was to add flavor to the Japanese and Asian versions. The basic plot was perfect for Sonic, so I added some interesting elements from Japanese comic culture to the Japanese and Asian versions of the scenario, such as giving the dialogue a backstory and leaving room for the player’s imagination.4Gamer
Stay tuned for more Sonic Frontiers news!