The Sonic Frontiers media tour was hosted by Sega of America starting October 17, 2022. Gaming media from around the world were invited to play the game and interview the developers. The main content of the event was the longest play test experience ever allowed, which lasted for six hours.
The most recent opportunity to play the first island, Kronos Island, was at the Tokyo Game Show 2022 (TGS2022) and in-store play test sessions at various stores, but lasted only about 15 minutes.
This was the first time for most of the media to have a chance to play the game, so this article will give you my impressions of the six hours of gameplay, as well as a recap of the game content, including the newly released areas: Ares Island and Chaos Island. The report will also provide an overview of the game’s content.
The following is a summary of the gameplay loop and impressions revealed by playing the game in a reasonable amount of time. The article will be long, so let’s start with a conclusion before we begin:
It’s… I’ll just say “I have a feeling it’s the best game of the year” since I haven’t completed the entire game, even though I’ve played it for 6 hours, and there’s always December.
Anyway, this experience has made me decide to buy this game on the day of its release.
- I didn’t know Sonic and open world would go so well together.
- The exhilarating feeling of running on a beautiful island
- A tribute to the past, the mini-games in Cyber Space are both challenging and rewarding
- Fast-paced exploration and stress-free puzzle solving
- “Aren’t you bored?” I’m not. A smooth game cycle
- A story that is easy for anyone to understand, or so I thought…
- There are also growth elements such as offensive and defensive capabilities, skill systems, etc.
- Just the right amount to prevent a game over even for beginners
- Thorough tutorials
- Boss fights are super exciting!
- Good tempo in all aspects, the fun starts very quickly.
- I dare say I have some concerns.
- Game Overview & Islands Introduction
- Sonic is evolving at the speed of sound into a new era. If you’re too slow, you’ll be left behind!
I didn’t know Sonic and open world would go so well together.
The most important concept of this game is “Sonic in an open world”.
This is the best combination ever. I had no idea that such a simple method could create such a new level of enjoyment. It was beyond my imagination.
Strictly speaking, the field of this title is divided into the Starfall Islands, and each area (island) is more like an “open field” or “open area” than an open world.
The official name of the game is “Open Zone,” in keeping with the Sonic series. Regardless of what it is called, this title allows players to freely run around in a wide, open area in three dimensions, as opposed to the stage-clearing style of the previous titles in the series.
Now, let’s talk about the “Open Zone x Sonic Action”.
The story begins when Sonic is separated from his friends Tails and Amy and must search for them.
To do so, a variety of challenges await you as you explore the island, including small puzzles to expand the map, a slightly challenging mid-boss, and a mini-game that allows you to play a short course like in the traditional Sonic games.
As you continue to explore, rails are automatically set up on the island, allowing Sonic to move from point A to point B (even though he runs faster for free) at high speed. Of course, during that rail travel, as in the previous series, there are springs, enemies in just the right spots that are pleasant, and rings to pick up. It never gets boring.
While I understand that this is role-playing that is always found in open-world games and that it gives you a sense of “traveling in a vast world,” I cannot say that it is exhilarating to travel long distances. However, in this game, it is not a chore at all, and it is a lot of fun.
The exhilarating feeling of running on a beautiful island
After all, it is Sonic. He is a hedgehog as fast the speed of sound.
He runs in all directions, jumps, curls up, and attacks with his body. The action is a real treat.
The islands of the Starfall Islands play another key role in this title. The first island you explore, Kronos Island, is a beautiful place with mossy ancient ruins under a clear blue sky. The steep, rocky coastline is not sandy, but rather cliff-like, and although the climate is not known, the terrain is more reminiscent of Ireland or Iceland than Hawaii or South Island.
Sonic runs freely through the beautiful landscape. As he accelerates, the landscape melts away.
“It feels good to run in the field”. This may sound too simple, but this simple exhilaration, which has been present in the Sonic series since the first title, has been expressed with modern technology. This is the greatest appeal of this title.
In most open world games, the main character is usually on foot at first. Sometimes they run, but only at the speed of a human. But then he is able to ride a horse or a car, and the player is able to appreciate how big the world really is. “Wow, this is such a big world!” is the feeling you’ll get.
That’s all well and good, of course, but Sonic Frontiers is full speed ahead from the start. Because it’s Sonic. He’s very fast. An open-world game where you can move extremely fast from the start. This is an unlikely thing to happen.
Because usually, the faster you can move, the faster you can clear the game, which leads to a play time problem. In addition, the freedom of movement is usually consciously limited in order to allow the player to feel the progression of the game and the expansiveness of the world. There is certainly some excitement to be experienced by being able to run and fly in the second half of the game, where at first you can only toddle along.
But with this title, you can enjoy the “delicious parts of an open-world game” right from the start. Generous!
Of course, this might raise the question, “Won’t that shorten the time it takes to complete the game?” But producer Takashi Iizuka said, “This is not an RPG, but an action game using open spaces,” so I guess they decided to cut the issue to the chase.
It would be easier to understand if you recall the Emerald Coast stage in Dreamcast’s Sonic Adventure, where the killer whale appears, but there have been several stages in the series where the players have to run at a furious speed through scenic locations.
In other words, imagine a game where Sonic can move freely through such beautiful stages while maintaining the same sense of speed and excitement, with moderately strong mid-bosses, small puzzles, and challenging mini-games, and players can play them in any order they like.
Sounds interesting, doesn’t it? It’s fun.
A tribute to the past, the mini-games in Cyber Space are both challenging and rewarding
Among the various activities available on the islands, the ” Cyber Space” is one of the best. This is a limited course similar to those in the previous games in the series, and can be accessed from a stone monument-like location on the island.
In Cyber Space, the objectives are:
- Reach the goal;
- Clear the course with a S rank time;
- Clear the course with 150 rings;
- Find 5 Red Star Rings;
The conditions are set, and by clearing them, you can get a new key.
In Cyber Space there is a short course, about one minute from the start to the goal. This is a good balance. When I made a mistake and had to start over again, I didn’t feel annoyed and felt positive, “If it’s this long, I’ll just give it a quick try!” I can feel positive about it. However, it usually doesn’t go well the first time, so I pull back and say, “Let’s try… just one more time!” and I end up repeating it again and again.
Some of the Cyber Space levels are a tribute to past works, and it is fun to find these mini-courses. The background music is great too!
Fast-paced exploration and stress-free puzzle solving
The map opens up unexpectedly quickly, thanks in part to Sonic’s movement speed. The map opens up so quickly that you may think, “Eh, is it okay for it to open up so quickly?” The riddles to expand the map sometimes make you wonder, “What’s going on?”
The puzzles to expand the map are not intricate, although there are a few that make you go “Hmmm?” The puzzles to expand the map are not intricate, but rather simple and not too difficult, such as “walk on 20 squares in a single stroke” or “run the designated course within the time limit”. They are simple not that difficult. It is nice to be able to proceed with the main course without tripping over a few bumps.
This is not to say that the difficulty level is low or that there are no challenging elements, but rather that the difficulty level can be adjusted through the settings, and challenging elements are provided in areas other than the main story, such as exploring the island and clearing all conditions in Cyber Space.
“Aren’t you bored?” I’m not. A smooth game cycle
The general progression of the game is:
- Arrive at a new island;
- Explore the island (with a moderate amount of battles with small enemies, mini-games, and puzzles);
- Find your friends trapped on the island;
- Explore the island to save your friends (there are some small enemies to battle and a moderate amount of mini-games and puzzles to solve);
- Free your friends, improve your abilities, and open up every corner of the map;
- Defend the island (?) by battling bosses.
This is the flow of the game. And, as I mentioned in earlier sections, these are very relatively close to each other, so the game progresses at a good rhythm. The tempo is good. The small and big enjoyments are placed appropriately, so that even when you feel like “I’m done with this,” you can’t help but continue to play.
A story that is easy for anyone to understand, or so I thought…
About the Story.
The story of this title begins with Sonic, separated from his friends, looking for them and finding them, but being held captive by someone. Since they are trapped, they must be saved, and it seems that the ever-familiar Eggman’s influence is indeed at play.
However, a mysterious girl named Sage (voiced by Megumi Hayashibara) makes a meaningful appearance in the first island, Kronos, giving the impression of some secret lying on the island and an epic story. Ian Flynn, who was in charge of the scenario for this work, also said, “The story is easy to understand at first glance, but we have created a system that allows players to actively enjoy a deeper, larger story by collecting fragments” and it seems that there is more to the story than appears on the surface.
Although we were able to get a glimpse of the game during our playtest, the majority of the game remains a mystery. This is something we will have to wait for when we actually play the full release of the game.
There are also growth elements such as offensive and defensive capabilities, skill systems, etc.
I mentioned earlier that “this is not an RPG but an action game,” but there are RPG-like elements such as growth of attack and defense skills and a skill tree. Some skills are automatically unlocked as the story progresses, while others can be unlocked to your liking by accumulating skill points.
Attack and defense skills, as well as movement speed, can be upgraded by using items collected through exploration. If you find action and battles easy, you can choose to play the game without developing any skills, in addition to the aforementioned difficulty settings.
On the other hand, even if you are not good at fighting, if you keep on developing your skills, you will be able to defeat even the most powerful enemies.
Just the right amount to prevent a game over even for beginners
Let me talk about the difficulty level of the combat and action.
Even though I have almost no experience playing the Sonic series, I found the difficulty level to be “just right”. Some of the mid-bosses are a bit tough, and the big bosses have events that make you think, “I might get killed!” But in the end, you will be victorious.
However, if this is your first time playing a Sonic game, you may be a little bit confused at first by the fast and furious action.
However, the action itself is simple (after all, Sonic’s biggest attack is a “body slam”), and the tutorial is well-designed, so you don’t have to worry.
What may seem obvious, but I appreciate, is the detailed and easy-to-understand tutorial.
The tutorial explains how to move Sonic, gives hints for solving puzzles, and explains the new “cy-loop” ability in a helpful but not redundant manner. I feel that it is rare for an open world game to include such a tutorial. I appreciate it.
Also, when you need to perform an unusual action or use a new skill, you can practice your action in a virtual space that looks like a menu screen. This kind of thoughtfulness and care is typical of Japanese games.
Boss fights are super exciting!
For some reason, I can’t show you pictures, but I was able to try a battle with a giant boss called “Kyoshin” (lit. Giant God) at the hands-on event. I won’t explain how the battle progresses, but it is very cool, exciting, and thrilling, and it is a great feeling when you successfully complete some of the more severe action inputs.
I saw some of the other participants make a lot of mistakes in their action inputs. It seems that bosses with flashy effects and special command inputs appear at every stage of the game. I must say that the sense of accomplishment I felt when I was able to defeat a huge boss was quite impressive.
Good tempo in all aspects, the fun starts very quickly.
Producer Iizuka explained that the secret of the physical enjoyment of the “Sonic” series is the “tempo” that has been inherited from the first game.
He was referring to attractions such as the rails and springs on the island and the way the stages are designed to be pleasant to play on, but the “good tempo” that the Sonic team has valued since the first title is also evident in the open fields of this title. I felt that this philosophy was spread throughout the entire game in this title, where the field is now an open zone.
The game’s level design is well thought out in every aspect of the game, including enemy placement in the field, exploration, puzzle solving, map liberation, cyber space, challenging mid-bosses, exploration after defeating them, rail travel, and coin pickup.
The player can quickly find another small goal in addition to advancing the story, and since it can be accomplished quickly and easily, the multi-layered enjoyment is so intoxicating that the player loses sight of when to quit.
I was hooked on the game cycle and my Sonic kept running in circles, and before I knew it, Hawaii was in the twilight of the sunset, and my play time had flown by. Is this the time difference between Japan and Hawaii?
I found myself completely addicted to Sonic.
I dare say I have some concerns.
Although I have been raving about the game, I would like to lay out some of my concerns.
Although we played the game for 6 hours, we only played a small portion of each island (3 hours, 1.5 hours, and 1.5 hours), and we played the PC version on a high-performance gaming PC with a 4K monitor, which is close to the highest quality environment. It is not certain that there will not be some work involved in other parts of the game, and it remains to be seen whether similar experiences will be possible on other consoles as well.
The first island, “Kronos,” was a beautiful place full of green and light, and I was excited to explore it. However, the next island, “Ares,” was a desert, and the one after that, “Chaos,” was a volcano. The atmosphere was vague and desolate. According to Mr. Iizuka, there are still other areas to explore, and at this rate, other areas could be lonely snowfields or vast plains (or not).
Currently, it may be like eating only the sweet part of the center of a sliced watermelon, one bite at a time. I wonder if this strong taste will continue even after eating more. Well, if it’s this sweet here, I think it’s good all the way down to the rind.
Then there is the issue of quantity. Producer Iizuka estimates the time to complete the game to be “around 30 hours” for a normal player, based on the premise that the game is played in different ways by different people and that the time will vary greatly depending on the way the game is played. If you want to play through the entire game, it will take about twice as long.
The game is not an RPG, but an action game, and I think the time is about average for an action game, but I really felt that 6 hours of playtime was an instant.
Simply put, I am concerned that the game will be too interesting and that I will feel a lack of enjoyment when I complete it, but that is due to the power of this title, the waves of enjoyment that come in fast-paced, detailed waves, and even if that happens, it should be what the player wants.
As I have written so far, this is a “fun to touch and play” type of game, so if you feel that the game is not enough after you have cleared it, you can start over again from Kronos Island and you will be fine. I’m sorry to write this, but I think I’m worrying too much about what will happen after the game is cleared before it is released.
Game Overview & Islands Introduction
Before summarizing our conclusions, we would like to briefly introduce the areas we were able to sample this time.
Island 1: Scenic! Kronos Island
This is an area where information about it was released early on, and many of you may be familiar with it since you were able to try it out at Tokyo Game Show 2022 and other events. At first, a tutorial is provided to explain the actions and game progression.
This was the most enjoyable part of the game for me this time.
Island 2: Flat sand! Ares Island
Next is the desert area “Ares Island”. Sonic runs fast regardless of the sandy terrain. Hedgehogs are originally desert animals, so this area must be Sonic’s specialty.
The most appealing aspect of the game, “running around freely in the beautiful field,” is not as appealing as the giant fish-shaped enemy “SHARK” that appears in this area to fight, so please don’t forget to fight it!
Island 3: Full of flames! Chaos Island
The next stop was the volcanic area “Chaos Island”. The map is getting more and more complicated, and even in the daytime there is gas. It is a pity that Sonic suffers from holding his head down when he stops, probably because of the gas.
By this point in the game, the skill tree should be fully unlocked, and you will be able to unleash powerful moves. The battle action will become even deeper.
Sonic is evolving at the speed of sound into a new era. If you’re too slow, you’ll be left behind!
It’s been a long article already, but I’ll summarize my impressions of my time with the six-hour test drive.
The most important thing about this game is the excellent combination of the open field and Sonic. This is the key to the new era of the Sonic experience and playability.
The combination works so well that when you play Sonic Frontiers you wonder, “Why didn’t they do this before?”.
The exhilarating feeling of moving, collecting items, exploring the islands, the sense of accomplishment in mini-games such as Cyber Space and puzzle solving, and the challenge provided by boss enemies are well-balanced. The level design and the carefulness of the tutorial are also elements that should not be forgotten. This is due to the many years of experience that Sonic Team has.
This game was created and refined over a period of about five years with the grand goal of “reviving the Sonic brand”. The ambitious goal and the ambition to take on the new challenge of “Open Zone Sonic” can be felt everywhere in the game.
The action is as light and pleasing as ever. However, a “new Sonic” has certainly been created here. You may be thinking, “It’s the same as the previous Sonic games, isn’t it?”, “It’s not that different, is it?” – I would like to tell you that you are completely wrong.
Sonic has evolved, at the speed of sound.
Don’t miss the speed of this lightning-fast hedgehog!