This article contains full spoilers for the game. If you plan on playing it and haven’t done so yet, turn back now.
After waiting for the longest time, I can’t believe Sonic Frontiers is real.
Before this new entry, the most recent mainline title was Sonic Forces, which was half a decade ago. It’s a little surreal to think it’s been this long since then. Thankfully; it’s worth the wait. Let’s take a look at the hedgehog’s latest mainline installment.
The Starfall Islands
In Sonic Frontiers, the main objectives are to travel between the five Starfall Islands to collect the Chaos Emeralds, defeat the Titans, and save your friends, all while uncovering the mysteries of the Ancients.
Each island is built on Open Zone design, which is not exactly “open world”, but it’s broad enough for the player to explore while having platforming challenges spread across. The concept of Open Zone gameplay has been discussed among fans for years, but it has never been fully realized until now, like the name itself.
Each island is fully playable and accessible after completing the story for those islands. The first three locations are Kronos Island, Ares Island, and Chaos Island, each of which have their own environments that make them visually distinct compared to one another. Kronos has grassy fields and forests, Ares has deserts and canyons, and Chaos is ashy with mountains, rocks, and magma. But once you reach Rhea Island, the game becomes a little confusing and disappointing.
After defeating Knight, you are suddenly in Rhea, a Kronos look-a-like. Unlike the previous two islands, there is no scene depicting Sonic travelling to the new location, and Tails is inexplicably there with him. Rhea’s sole purpose is to progress the story, and there isn’t as much exploration at all compared to the past islands.
I suppose it’s fine, but actually playing through Rhea… I felt it was a drag. The player is required to climb six towers to shut them down, and each time, you’ll witness memories of the Ancients. Climbing the towers starts to get a little boring after the third, because by that point, it feels like you’ve been there, done that.
Beyond Rhea is Ouranos Island, another Kronos look-a-like, which, again, has no transitional scene from the previous island to itself. Ouranos has stronger enemies and new Guardians, but aside from that, it’s just like Kronos. It feels like Frontiers had something going with the first three islands… but then stopped short? Not having enough time is understandable, but a solution that feels reasonable, at least to me, is to change the colours of the final two islands. Maybe even re-use aesthetics from more than just Kronos. An island that combined aspects of the previous three would’ve been really cool and less of a ball drop than what we were given.
In the Open Zone, the platforming works well with how Sonic controls, and you can even use Sonic’s speed and the terrain to your advantage in several scenarios. This is the most versatile the control has been in a very long time. In the future, games should encourage techniques that take advantage of character controls and speed. Launching off a cliff or platform and seeing how far Sonic goes feels good and helps with getting to a desired destination in unorthodox, yet very fun ways.
Within the Open Zone, you can fight Guardians and enemies spread around the islands. New additions to this game include a combat system and a skill tree. Similar to action role-playing games, you can defeat enemies and gain experience, or in this game’s case, skill points. Having enough points allows you to unlock new abilities in the skill tree.
The combat in Frontiers is what I’ve wanted for a long time and does good for a first attempt (of sorts). It’s very flashy, especially with the opportunity to have different abilities chained together in combos. It can all be very satisfying to pull off, especially against tougher enemies that can be found in the later islands. All that is needed is for it to be expanded upon and further improved in future games. For example, the parry should be more challenging to pull off. You can almost indefinitely hold the parry and just wait for the enemy to hit you. Usually, a parry requires correct timing to initiate.
Attack on Titans
The Titan bosses themselves are pretty fun to go up against. During these encounters, Sonic’s attacks gets a boost in strength because of his Super state, and it’s very cool to see. The Cyloop has different effects on each Titan, temporarily imprisoning them and giving you time to deal some extra damage. Each has its own unique attack patterns and cinematics, along with their own music, and each track is ear candy. Please listen to them if you haven’t. But if you know, you know.
Wyvern, the Titan of Ares Island, is the most intimidating and fun to fight against. The song accompanying it, Break Through It All (featuring Kellin Quinn), is my favorite of them as well. It would be my personal favorite boss, but… Knight blew me away with how its fight ended. Sonic with a giant sword… so cool…
Supreme is my least favorite boss. Its design is very good, but the yellow bullets are a nuisance to get around and its badass sniper should’ve been utilized more within the fight itself.
Entering Cyber Space
Within the Open Zone, you can fight Guardians for portal gears, or just find them at random treasure spots to enter Cyber Space, a digital dimension that plays similarly to past boost-style titles. Unfortunately, Sonic doesn’t control well in these stages compared to the Open Zone. In particular, I feel like he’s a little sluggish and heavy when platforming.
The level design in Cyber Space is pretty decent. Some of the highlight levels can be found in the third and fourth islands, where you can find a lot more original layouts. Cyber Space takes a lot of design cues from past games, and personally, I feel this isn’t much of a problem, but it isn’t as exciting to go in and out of when you see the same four level themes throughout all 30 of its stages. If Cyber Space is meant to take from Sonic’s memories of his past adventures, then it should have more themes.
Sonic Frontiers establishes more, albeit odd, lore to the Chaos Emeralds, as well as provides great character interactions in cutscenes. Sage is a great addition to the Eggman family, and thanks to the post-game cutscene, it should be assumed that she’ll be returning. The relationship between Eggman and Sage is really adorable, and Dear Father (featuring Quinn Barnitt), the song to accompany one of the final scenes in the game, really does touch my heart. Listening to the Egg Memos obtained from Big’s fishing minigame is a treat, and gives more insight to Eggman as a character.
The scenes that take place between Sonic and his friends feel like the game trying to re-establish who these characters are and who they want to be. As a long-time fan, it’s a nice detail to see, especially if the series is going to focus more on character writing and story moving forward.
With that said, there are a few notable oddities when it comes to the story. Sonic consumes cybernetic energy after rescuing each of his friends, taking a toll on him throughout the entire campaign until he’s ultimately consumed by cyber-corruption by the end of Rhea Island. While it is a distressing scene, he is saved by his friends giving up their physical forms that they just got back only moments before. Miraculously, this causes Sonic to go back to normal.
It felt like there was a lot of build up towards something regarding the cyber energy. When rescuing Amy earlier in the story, Sonic said it gives him some kind of boost. Does he mean in terms of power? He has new abilities that stray away from his usual move set such as energy blasts, so that could be connected to the energy that corrupts him. But, even after he’s restored, he can still execute those moves.
During the battle with The End, Sonic is talking about The End destroying homes of some people. It can be assumed that he’s talking about the Ancients, but Sage had already taken over the control of Supreme, so who is he talking to? It felt like some context was missing during that dialogue, or at least more elaboration beforehand was needed.
The End’s fight itself is a mixed bag. It’s a cool concept, but it strays away from what the main gameplay was and uses mechanics from a mini-game. It doesn’t feel like a satisfactory final boss no matter how challenging it was. The End monologues a lot through out the battle and no one responds back. It got old real quick after hearing The End talk about their past as if we’re supposed to care or be intimidated. The End doesn’t feel like a character that was built up to properly or even fully addressed. It seems that they were the voice guiding Sonic, but even he doesn’t seem very concerned about The End aside from needing to destroy it. Other than that, the disconnected voice was a mystery until it finally became relevant as the true villain towards the end of the game.
The animation in Frontiers is a step up compared to past titles. The first encounter with Giganto felt cinematic, even though it was an in-game cutscene. Actions felt more impactful, and some of Sonic and co.’s faces were really expressive for the current models, which historically hasn’t always been the case.
Throughout the islands, you can collect Memory Tokens for each of Sonic’s friends and Sage to experience “side quests” with them, but they’re just cutscenes that feature conversation with that character. I’m not sure if ‘side quest’ is the right name for these, but that is what they’re officially called in-game. These conversations with the characters give more insight into what is going on around them, and generally have a feel-good vibe to them, allowing you to take a second to unwind from the chaos and listen to the characters just talk to each other as friends (or enemies).
The only issue I have with these cutscenes is their stiff and static animation. Not much happens in these scenes than heads robotically turning, mouth flaps, and the occasional pose shifting. Not all of these cutscenes require a ton of movement, but the characters should be a little more expressive (or illustrative some form of animation) when they have a more emotional tone or reaction. I feel like it would make them appear less robotic.
To the Future
This game felt like a celebration of what Sonic is and could be. It implements many mechanics into the series that pushed it forward in meaningful ways. There are many new and grand ideas implemented for this title, and while they still need to be ironed out, they are still commendable attempts.
Going into 2023, Sonic Frontiers will be receiving free major content updates, and the final update will include new playable characters and an additional story scenario. This type of additional content is unprecedented for a Sonic game, so it’s exciting to see how this will play out. The final update in particular is interesting as it’ll include new playable characters, which can inferred to be Amy, Knuckles, and Tails. These characters haven’t been playable in a 3D Sonic title since 2006.
It’s awesome to see that SEGA is interested in keeping the game relevant in 2023, especially in the form of free updates rather than paid DLC. At the time of this review being written, there are several free DLCs for the game containing costumes for Sonic to wear. The Monster Hunter DLC collaboration brought in a cooking mini-game within Big’s fishing spot with two costumes. SEGA should keep these updates and collaborations coming, as they’re a great way to keep interest in the game, especially with adding in neat things like mini-games.
Overall, Sonic Frontiers is a fun experience. Now being one of the best games in the series, Sonic Team should be able to improve and expand upon every new idea they put into this game. Many fans are rooting for this new take on the series, so hopefully they’ll recognize that this game isn’t a failure.
Frontiers can be the beginning of the next renaissance for Sonic games. Thank you, Sonic Team; the wait was worth it.
Note: Tails’ Channel has received a review copy on behalf of SEGA, but the writer has since opted to use a retail copy.