Over at Tokyo Game Show 2022, we had the opportunity to talk with Takashi Iizuka Head of Sonic Team and Morio Kishimoto Sonic Frontiers Director in an in-person interview about Sonic Frontiers.
Note: The Interview has been edited for clarity.
Sonic Frontiers presents a whole new style of gameplay to the Sonic franchise. Can you tell us how you decided on this approach for the game?
Kishimoto: The Sonic series has over 31 years of history, with the first sonic title being born as a side scroller game and with Sonic Adventure being made into a 3D action game, so through the years of Sonic history, we continued on with that path of developing the Sonic series of games as a 3D action genre.
Since the launch of Sonic 4 back in 2014, we’ve been thinking about how we can push the series forward and improving it even after 10 or 20 years. Without stepping up and pushing the series forward, we cannot hope to be successful in the future, so that is why in Sonic Frontiers, we introduced a brand new concept of an Open Zone design so that hopefully we can push the series forward and have the series evolve and adapt in the future.
As to the reasons why we chose this particular Open Zone style, since there’s different approaches to rebuild the series, during the process with the Sonic development team producing mainline Sonic titles in these 10 or 20 years, we would really like to reintroduce the Sonic brand to be world-renowned so that players all over the world can enjoy.
After the second generation of Sonic titles with Sonic Adventure, we’ve always been making them to be the 3D action game genre. We’ve been thinking a lot with ourselves and how can we push the series forward in the third generation, so we decided to introduce this Open Zone concept which might look like an open world but it’s not. We have the ambition of introducing this brand new style of concept to help us transform the Sonic IP into something top notch. And while this ambitious might give us with a lot of difficulties, we still want to take up that challenge.
How open is the open zone? How many of these open zones can players expect to explore?
Kishimoto: About the first part of the question with how open is the Open Zone, since as you know that Sonic’s Speed is actually faster than the high speed Shinkansen train in Japan, so if you just let Sonic run about through the whole map, you’ll eventually get tired, so from that saying you can pretty much tell how broad the zone would be like.
Going with the second part of the question with how many of these Open Zones are there in Sonic Frontiers, there’s actually a couple of different island scattered around in this world. We’ve currently already confirmed that there’s 5 islands, so you can consider it as 5 Open Zones.
Since the game’s reveal, there have been many people who expressed concerns regarding the gameplay and open-zone concept. How have you improved upon those criticisms since?
Kishimoto: In regards to this question, one of the unique styles during our development process is that we really listened in to our user’s feedback and hear what they have to say about the game, along with the process of playtesting, we asked users about their thoughts on the game’s demo about what they like or what they think needs to be improved.
For previous Sonic titles, we would normally only have 2 times of playtesting but for Sonic Frontiers, we been through 7 times of those playtests. After receiving user feedback or those sessions, we managed to addressed a lot of things. And no matter what those feedback were, whether it’d be in regards to the Open Zone, the control style for Sonic, the level design or even the puzzles, we’ve all did the best of what we could to adjust Sonic Frontiers to fit in with the user’s preferences.
We also believe that the user’s feedback is the right feedback so we really listen to what they have to say and even considered that as one of our styles for our development.
This has been the first proper sonic game by the Sonic Team since Sonic Forces, what lessons did the team learn from that to put into Frontiers?
Kishimoto: After we completed the development of Sonic Forces, we found out the boundaries of the way of production of the whole series. So with how to improve the series going forward and with that intention, Sonic Frontiers is our first challenge and with us previously mentioning that we have the ambition to reintroduce the whole sonic theme and series to the world as a top world-class brand.
That was what we felt right after the development of Sonic Forces, so we can say that without Sonic Forces, we may have not find the exact way to go through with Sonic Frontiers, and that’s the main takeaway that we had. from Forces.
Sonic has a lot of different villains, and there’s often a strong temptation to just reuse older ones. How is the team balancing fanservice vs new ideas with Frontiers.
Kishimoto: In Sonic Forces, we had the intention to bring back all of the old characters from previous Sonic titles which is within the original game design for it. Whereas in Sonic Frontiers, we based the game’s background with Sonic going to a foreign and mysterious place in mind, and that he doesn’t know what mysteries lie awaiting him, you can also see this theme being shown during the trailers and previous information that we’ve given out.
And with all the enemy types, not a single one of those enemies had Sonic encountered before, so we can say that that’s actually a brand new direction that we’re trying for in Sonic Frontiers. But on the topic of fanservice, we’ve included in a ton of cyber city elements in Sonic Frontiers where you can play and be reminiscent of the class Sonic Speedrun gameplay. That’s actually part of the level design to service our old fans to provide them with a nostalgic feeling they can get from the Sonic Series.
I think many Sonic fans like the high-execution gameplay of previous titles, constantly replaying them to get better times and scores. What is Frontiers doing to improve on that experience?
Kishimoto: Of course we’re bringing back the element of replaying the game to get a better score and record time attack (RTA), so please do enjoy this gameplay as you did before.
In regards to the improvement which we did with the record time attack functions, this time we have designed the whole design to be an Open Zone concept, so from the start till the end of the game there’s a lot of record speed but we believe that some players will always try to find the shortest and most optimal course to complete the game. Usually the game is considered to have around 20-30 hours of play time but of course, from the previous titles we’ve seen a lot of players who have uploaded their playtime which are beyond our expectations which how they’ve completed the game in such a short time.
So with that, we’ve also want players to enjoy this RTA-like competition of gameplay in Sonic Frontiers as well.
After trying out the demo of Sonic Frontiers here at Tokyo Game Show, now that the game is Open Zone instead of the single track stage like previous titles, how was it like designing the boss fights because the combat has a lot of weight to them.
Kishimoto: We found that with Open Zone platformers are a good way to have a lot of elements be presented at the same time, like combat and exploration. With the high speed platforming from previous Sonic titles, we also did a lot of challenges on how to improve the battle experiences but we found that kind of difficult because we couldn’t find the right way to balance those experiences.
But with Sonic Frontiers, we think we managed to finally find the balance point. Of course you can choose to either battle with the enemies or avoid combat since you can proceed with the game in both ways, so if you really wanted to do a speedrun of the game without any battles, you can. But if you want to have more combat in Sonic Frontiers, we have improved the whole thing with the help of the feedback we’ve received during the playtest sessions to build a really interesting combo-action experience that incorporate’s Sonic’s style.
How does it feel to be part of a series that is still held in high regards to this day?
Kishimoto: We like to explore brand new categories for Sonic games with the introduction of Open Zone, we said in previous questions that we wanted to let the Sonic team shine as being the top world-class IP, but during the 20 years production of the second generation of Sonic 3D action game genre, we found those boundaries during production. That doesn’t mean that we don’t have takeaways or any disrespect to the first and second generation of Sonic titles, we would like to start the third generation with Sonic Frontiers based on all our previous takeaways and with our respect to the previous Sonic games.
To enter a new era and push to the next step in the Sonic series, we must’ve deny the first generation of the Sonic series so you can say that with full respect with the whole series and its high regards today, we would like to improve and push forward.
Considering the success of the Sonic movies, how does it feel knowing that Sonic is facing a new boost in popularity?
Iizuka: In 2016 in Los Angeles, we’ve established a department inside a company to deal with the Sonic IP that includes game production, animation and also the marketing department, all of which functions inside this department. By the time, we’ve actually thought about making a project on how to make Sonic as an entertainment icon so that we can push forward as an IP.
So of course we would base Sonic as a video game but we also wanted to explore the possibilities of how Sonic can be formed in other ways of entertainment, so within this kind of thought we also made games like Sonic Mania and also Team Sonic Racing as part of the project. We were really happy to see that Sonic The Hedgehog movie becoming such a hit and that makes us feel like we’ve made the right decisions back in 2016. We were really glad that with this project, we’ve managed to make a lot of people who didn’t play any Sonic games know about Sonic as a character.
What sort of impact do you wish to leave with Sonic Frontiers?
Kishimoto: The action game with the style of clearing one stage map has long been present in video game history with actually began with the television video game. As the impact we would like to leave with Sonic Frontiers, we wanted to introduce the game with the Open Zone design as the message to explore new areas as a brand new next generation of action games.
Is there anything you want to say to South East Asian users?
Kishimoto: We have a lot of announcements and information with all of the promotional media, so please look forward to that. We’re also really glad if some South East Asian users have come to know about the info of Sonic Frontiers. We will answer too all of the user’s expectations and betray those expectations but in a good way to shock them. As we’ve said during previous questions, we’ve done a lot of playtesting to make sure that we’ve adjusted the game to fit in our user’s preferences and we have the confidence that this game will be a satisfaction to you. So if you have any interest with Sonic Frontiers, I implore you to pick up a controller and play our games.
Iizuka: We’ve had a play demo of Sonic Frontiers last month at Gamescom in Poland and during that time, we had a waiting line of 3 hours while here at Tokyo Game Show, thanks to all the users we also had like a waiting line of 2 hours. But despite the long waiting time, we’ve seen a lot of user reactions on Social Media where they said they were really pleased with the game and we’re really happy that users can have those feedback and it also increased our confidence.
So this time with the Open Zone design, if you’ve previously think this while style of Sonic is too speedy and it’s a little bit scary for you to play but you can just take your time and choose whatever elements you’d like. But if you want that exciting gaming experience, you can also experience it with Sonic Frontiers, so please look forward to the game’s official launch.
We’d like to thank Mr Takashi Iizuka and Mr Morio Kishimoto to take the time to answer our questions regarding Sonic Frontiers.
We’ve also had the chance to try out a preview demo of Sonic Frontier at TGS 2022 and you can read our impressions here. The game officially launches in 8th November 2022 for Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X and Series S, and PC via Steam.