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Sonic Frontiers is planning to release this festive season for PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X / S, Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. But fans are debating if it should.
Responding to most of the trailers, but I got a chance to play some of the Sonic Frontiers during the Summer Game Fest Play Days event last week. And what I tried is a promise. Running around in an open environment with Sonic can feel free and enjoyable. I also enjoyed the combat, which manages to mix Sonic’s speed with modern action game basics like combos and dodging.
But there is also room for concern. While running, grinding and dashing feel good in the world, the movements become more awkward when you slow down. At one point, I wanted to jump on the roof of a ruined temple. Sonic’s maneuvers seem rough during tight platforms like this, especially when the object feels like they have random hit detection.
Speaking of hit detection, I also fell off the ground and died after hitting the boss. Such errors are not uncommon for a game that is still in development, but Sonic has a history of such problems. It is related. Basically, what I played was promising but without polish.
At Summer Game Fest Play Days, I also had the opportunity to speak with Sonic Frontiers’ creative officer and long-time Shepherd Takashi Izuka of the Sonic series. I asked him about taking Sonic in this new direction and if he thinks Frontiers will hit his holiday launch target.
Gamesbeat: What was the hardest thing when it came to translating Sonic into this more open world design?
Takashi Izuka: This really talks about the difficulties of making these games. But both classic sonic games and even more sophisticated sonic games were the beginning and the end of it all. We put Sonic somewhere. We know where he is going. In the meantime we fill that space with multiple platform actions. Through that design, we are able to capture high speed action and deliver Sonic to the target while you have fun.
But now that we have the challenge, now that we have this huge 3D open area, the open zone gameplay we need to create is to incorporate the same high speed platform action that we’ve experienced in every Sonic game so far, but this huge, Extended 3D format. It was a lot to make sure that the open zone still featured high speed platforming and action, all in this brand new format.
Gamesbeat: Is it difficult to decide how fast Sonic should be in this kind of open game?
Izuka: If you slow down Sonic, you will lose some of Sonic’s essence. We couldn’t really slow it down. In fact, we kept it that way. We also have a boost feature. It’s a very similar motion for Sonic, Sonic’s realization. We want to make sure he stays in the game. The only way we could sustain it was to expand the island. That’s really where we had the biggest challenge. We had to build this really huge island, because Sonic should be fast, but he just can’t run fast all the way around the island. So how big an island can we build? It became a challenge.
Gamesbeat: We’ve seen this grassy area of the island so far. Will there be other different looking places?
Izuka: Sonic Frontiers takes place on the Starfall Islands, the whole world. We are just showing the first island. On that first island we have these grassy, revolving hills. We also have waterfall area, cliffs, mountains and other areas on that island. But yes, on the Starfall Islands, yes, there will be other islands. We can’t talk about it right now, but there will be islands that look and feel different.
Gamesbeat: Does the Sonic team look at lots of other open world games for ideas or inspiration?
Izuka: Open World Games are very popular. I play a lot of them myself and a lot of people on the team too. But the open zone game we are creating is not really an open world. It comes from a different kind of world design. We want to take that linear platform action format and expand it. Instead of starting to accomplish the goal in a linear format, we want to build this huge island and allow you to move freely wherever you want while you are doing action platforming. Instead of trying to create a world, create people in that world, create details of all these worlds, we want to expand on action platforms and create open zones in the island where 3D action platforms can take place.
We know a lot of people watch the video and think, oh, this is an open world game, but the whole design element, the starting point and the idea behind the island we created, was really linear platform action, not building open world.
Gamesbeat: Some sonic games have a lot of story elements and some don’t. Where does Frontier land?
Izuka: In many previous games, storytelling was very straightforward for the player. It will always be, Agman has come, Agman has done something wrong, now I have to do something to Agman to do something. It was to tell this straightforward story where you would passively accept all these things and then go out and do something about it.
The storytelling techniques we are using for Frontiers are a bit different. We want you to experience things the way Sonic will experience them, in a very mysterious format. You will appear on the island, but why are you here on the island? What are these islands too? This is the secret we want to set, and you will discover it as you explore the islands. You go around and discover more secrets. You are learning more about what is going on in the story. Because you’re going out and experiencing it while playing Sonic. We’re moving forward with storytelling, and that’s what I think will be a different storytelling at Frontiers than previous Sonic games.
Gamesbeat: The music also sounds interestingly different. Sonic music is usually loud and energetic. This is almost a kind of … soft and beautiful? Why change to this game?
Izuka: It’s a kind of connection to the story. We have Tomoya Ohtani, who has been a musician in many Sonic Games before, and a lot of her music is really heavy rock, which means to get you excited, to get you excited, to go out and have fun. He has done this kind of music before. When he heard the story, and the kind of mystery and intrigue that would be presented on the islands, he went and made music that would be right for that realization. If you have this mysterious music with a mysterious story, it really fits. We think he’s done a great job of making sure you get a little anxious, in the sense that you’re not sure what’s going on, it’s a mystery. It’s all part of the music that matches the game.
Gamesbeat: Sonic fans can be very intense, very passionate. What can sometimes be scary is showing a new game, especially one that is a little different,
Izuka: I’m always interested in how fans react to the things we reveal, the things we show them. They are, as you say, a very passionate group. When we look at previous games, the first generation was side-scrolling, the classic sonic gameplay. The second generation had more modern gameplay than Sonic Adventure On. We are now taking the next step in what we are doing. This is almost the third generation. We know we’re showing fans something new that they probably don’t understand yet.
But we really want to think about where we need to take Sonic for the next 10 years. What kind of gameplay do we need to create to keep people excited for the future? Sonic Frontiers is the next step for the next 10 years. We hope fans believe in us and enjoy what we show them. We are waiting to see when they will play it and really understand what it is.
GamesBeat: We’re already seeing a lot of gameplay, and you’re still targeting this year for release. Do you still feel confident about that release window?
Izuka: Everyone is working very hard to keep everything moving forward for the release this year. We’re having a great time sitting here, but the Tokyo team is taking a really long time to make sure we can offer something wonderful for the fans this year. Game development is always very difficult. We want to put more. We want to do better. We want to make sure fans are impressed. Everyone in Tokyo is working hard to make it happen.
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