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[MAJOR SPOILERS] Review #1: Sonic Frontiers - Forging The Future

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I will say it outright: Sonic Frontiers is amazing. It’s a near one-eighty from Sonic Forces and is a structurally sound entry in the series. It’s the most fun I’ve had with a 3D Sonic game since Sonic Generations and it certainly is something. It’s not a perfect game, but there are few issues that I have with it.

Starting with the story, I love it. The story practically captivated me throughout the whole game and really made me reminisce of the storylines in the Adventure games. Ian Flynn’s writing really helps carry the game’s story and it especially pleased me to see the various references to Sonic’s history thrown into the story. For instance, Sonic compares the waterfalls of Kronos Island to those of the Ancient Ruins from Sonic Adventure. Or how the balloons scattered across the Islands remind Sonic of those from Spagonia in Sonic Unleashed. Or something more outlandish like how one of the Cyber Space levels reminds Sonic of Babylon Garden to the point where he wonders how Jet is doing. One thing I was really looking forward to seeing in the story was how much Flynn paid respect to other Sonic characters and events despite their absence. And I can most certainly say that he did this really well. More on that later, though.

The story itself is a lot more serious than those in other Sonic games, however there are plenty of more light-hearted moments that cement the nature of the Sonic series. The characterization is also super on-point. There were some lines that I just couldn’t help but chuckle at like Sonic saying “‘Careful?’ Where’s the fun in that?”, Sonic scoffing “That was a warning?” to Sage when the Wyvern Titan nearly turned him to sand, and Sonic cheerfully saying “No I’m not. Trust me.” after Knuckles says “You’re true trusting, Sonic.”. I’m one hundred percent convinced that the latter line will become a meme at some point. But I especially love how all of the characters are very self-aware of themselves and their history. Sonic is charismatic and determined, Tails is serious and open-minded, Knuckles is whimsical but earnest, Amy is compassionate and down-to-earth rather than a stalker, and Eggman is serious and not presented as a joke. Sage’s character is genuinely interesting too: she’s young and naive but those traits factor into what makes her character and her development so compelling. In a sense, she’s basically better Infinite with an actually developed character. Although, I wonder how Sage was specifically created. I do recognize that Eggman created her and that her capabilities were modified when she integrated with Cyber Space, but her origins don’t really go beyond that. Really, if there’s one other thing that makes Sage remind me of Infinite besides her appearance, it’s the lack of explaining her origin. But that’s admittedly minor.

The story revolves around Sonic, Tails, and Amy visiting the ancient Starfall Islands to investigate its peculiar readings. But suddenly, the trio is sucked into a vortex that causes Tails, Amy, and later Knuckles to be trapped between reality and the world of Cyber Space. Sonic manages to recover on one of the Islands—Kronos Island—and sets out to find the Chaos Emeralds, save his friends, and uncover the secrets of the Starfall Islands. But in the midst of all this is an entity named Sage, who is identified to have been created by Eggman—not something that I was expecting, but I digress. Sage is Sonic’s greatest obstacle in his endeavors as she constantly pressures Sonic to leave the Starfall Islands or it will lead to his end. Sonic, as we know him to be, insists that he has a job to do and that he will stop at nothing to make sure his friends are safe. The interesting element here is that Sage is not necessarily a villain, as she ultimately doesn’t want to put Sonic or his friends in jeopardy. But this dichotomy is not something new and it’s something that we’ve seen presented many times before. To further clarify this, when Sonic first gets to know Sage, he quotes her as “a fan” even when she spites his personality, qualities, and weaknesses. But I like to think that the reason Sonic doesn’t specifically bash Sage back is because he doesn’t necessarily sense bad in her, which he indicates in a later conversation between the two. To me, that kind of dialogue really works here. In the past, Sonic has faced adversaries that have exhibited opposing viewpoints and intentions. And although most of those adversaries are taken care of without Sonic fully addressing them, there have been times where Sonic has really thought about his enemies and looked for the silver lining in their characters. Blaze never meant bad intentions but her duty to protect the Sol Emeralds caused her to shut people out and keep to herself. And Sonic taught her that she needed to be true to herself, otherwise it’s all for nothing. Shahra did care for Erazor Djinn—who was Sonic’s enemy—and Sonic helping her indirectly meant that he was helping the two revitalize their connection. But even when it’s revealed that Shahra and Erazor had some form of an active partnership and she felt hurtful for betraying Sonic, Sonic was still respectful of Shahra because he recognized what she went through and that she was misguided—and he ultimately taught her to value herself rather than what stopped valuing her. And Merlina essentially used Sonic to rid of King Arthur and the Knights of the Underworld so she could freely take the power of Excalibur and apply its immortality to her otherwise doomed kingdom. But that was because Merlina had developed a nihilistic sense of the world to the point where she was not confident in her ability to stop King Arthur and the Knights and truly achieve her desires. But even after Sonic was tricked and forced to confront Merlina’s bad side, Sonic stepped up to overcome and save her while telling her that every story will always have its end no matter what—it’s sad, but a mortal life able to be lived fully is better than an immortal life that takes too long to reach a satisfying end. I’m really going off track here, but my point is that Sonic not disrespecting his adversaries because he sees some form of good in them is very in-line with his character and nothing foreign to the series. It’s part of the things that makes Sonic Sonic, something that he would utterly not be like without it.

As the story unfolds, Sonic traverses across each of the five Starfall Islands to rescue his friends and locate the Chaos Emeralds. But in between all that, Sonic and each of his friends have moments together that really work well. One of my favorite things about this game’s story is how when each of Sonic’s friends help the Koko—they are like Chao, but I will go more into this later—it consequently helps them too. As Sonic and Amy help a Koko find their true love and reunite with their family, Amy becomes bolder and wants to become someone who can share love with the world even if such love isn’t to the world’s benefit. As Sonic and Knuckles help Koko regather and become a unit again, Knuckles learns to value teamwork to a greater extent and recognize that even though he is the last of his species, he is not alone and still has a lot to live for. And as Sonic and Tails help a Koko apprentice of a top pilot find the parts needed to complete their final weapons, Tails reevaluates his lack of confidence in prior years and aspires to become someone who can believe in himself more and fly high. I like how Amy looks out for Sonic and stands up for him against Sage. I like how Knuckles has cheesy conversations and facial exchanges with Sonic that really helps establish their unique, rough-and-tough relationship. The two also had a lot of time to reflect on Tikal and the roots of Angel Island, and there’s even a screenshot shown of when Knuckles first meets Sonic and Tails in Sonic 3 & Knuckles. The same thing happens with Tails which I really appreciate. Lastly, I like how Tails recognizes his confidence with Sonic but also how much his own confidence has dwindled. Tails asking Sonic if he is a burden to him—particularly in the face of Infinite—was something that I was genuinely not expecting, but it pleased me to see such ideas being reflected on. When Sonic evaluates Tails’ claim about being a burden, Sonic reminds Tails that he stopped Eggman from blowing up Station Square in Sonic Adventure, broke him out of prison in Sonic Adventure 2, and saved him from the Deadly Six’s trap in Sonic Lost World. So no matter what Tails thought of himself, he’s still a brave individual and Sonic acknowledges this. I just love Sonic and Tails’ brotherly moments throughout the story. They both support each other even when times are tough and that’s what makes their bond so special. The portrayal of their bond in this game is just perfect to me.

By Sage’s influence, Sonic is pressured to defeat four Titans that are all definitely final-boss potential. And they absolutely wreck the hell out of Sonic without the Chaos Emeralds. This especially establishes how much of a threat the Titans are and really do make the game feel comparable to Sonic Unleashed in scale. But when you are actually able to stand up against these foes as Super Sonic, it’s freakin’ awesome! All of the fights with the Titan bosses are just superb. The first Titan—Giganto—is a load of fun and the vocal track “Undefeatable” that backs it is absolutely fantastic. The second Titan—Wyvern—is equally awesome and a constantly moving fight. “Break Through It All” is a great vocal track for this fight as well. The third Titan—Knight—is extremely menacing and puts a lot of effective emphasis on the parry technique. “Find Your Flame” as a backing vocal track is absolute fire and definitely on par with my love for “Undefeatable”. Also, Sonic picking up the Knight Titan’s sword with the Cyloop ability and slashing the Titan in half with it is not only raw but has to be a direct reference to Sonic and the Black Knight, and maybe indirectly a reference to Final Fantasy Sonic X—if you know what I mean. Lastly the fourth Titan—Supreme—is awesome and the fact that he wields a giant laser gun is equally awesome. And “I’m Here”, as I’m sure it’s been established, is equally, equally awesome. Really, every Titan boss in this game is not only worthy of being the final boss but they are also some of the best bosses in the entire series. I can’t esteem their awesomeness enough.

Interestingly, the Titans’ power is revealed to be influenced by the Chaos Emeralds and were used by these Chaos-looking lifeforms called the Ancients to counteract a threat that destroyed their planet and their way of civilization. And the Koko are revealed to be the spirits of the Ancients. I find it particularly interesting how when the Koko do die and their spirits pass on, it is interpreted as a completion and comfort rather than a debacle and unease. But it’s all ultimately for the better. And in order to preserve their history, the Ancients used the Cyber Space dimension to upload their memories and access them whenever they desired. Which explains why when Sonic goes through Cyber Space, he revisits older zones with layouts from other zones but his memory is jaggy at the same time due to not necessarily being a part of that dimension. With that in mind, it does make sense for Sonic to revisit these older zones even though not much is reflected on with regards to him running through Green Hill, Chemical Plant, Sky Sanctuary, and this city locale. Sonic does recognize that he’s running through older zones, but he really only reflects on it in one conversation with Sage towards the end of the game. On that note though, let’s actually talk about the Cyber Space levels now that I’ve made a good segue for them.

The Cyber Space levels themselves range from “Oh, that’s pretty cool!” to “Oh, it’s over already?”. To be more specific, I’m going to briefly go over each level one by one just for the sake of me choosing to do so.

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  • Level 1-1. It’s pretty much Windmill Isle from Sonic Unleashed only with a Green Hill code of paint. It’s nothing remarkable but it’s a good starting level to get into the game. I like the music track too.
  • Level 1-2. A Sky Sanctuary-themed level that I believe borrows assets from Sonic Colors? I’m not sure. The level itself is fine, although getting an S rank for it was a headache. Pretty good music track here though.
  • Level 1-3. The first full 2D and city-themed level that I think also borrows assets from Sonic Colors? It reminded me of Tropical Resort a bit. It’s a perfectly fine level for what it’s worth. It has a nice backing track too.
  • Level 1-4. It’s literally Modern Green Hill from Sonic Generations only with a Sunset aesthetic. Not a bad level but nothing you haven’t seen before. I like the music track here though.
  • Level 1-5. Continuing the trend of Generations-themed stages, now we have Modern Chemical Plant from Sonic Generations. It’s nothing too different, but I like how the multiple pathways were still incorporated from the Generations level. Least they were being true to the layout. Music’s perfectly fine too.
  • Level 1-6. It’s literally Classic Green Hill from Sonic Generations. Nothing to really remark about here since it’s also largely a cut-and-paste level. Music’s cool though.
  • Level 1-7. This level heavily borrows assets from City Escape from Sonic Adventure 2, however to the level’s credit it also contains numerous cyber-constructed helicopters and tanks that stand in Sonic’s way which is a really nice reference to when Sonic was evading GUN during the start of Sonic Adventure 2. Music track’s cool too. It’s definitely my favorite Cyber Space level from Kronos Island.
  • Level 2-1. Another sunset Green Hill level that I think mainly incorporates assets from the 2D parts of Modern Green Hill from Sonic Generations. It’s a perfectly fine level. The music’s perfectly fine too.
  • Level 2-2. A pretty cool level that’s pretty much inspired by Dragon Road from Sonic Unleashed. Music’s perfectly fine as well.
  • Level 2-3. Another Chemical Plant-themed level, however I don’t know if it’s original or referencing a level from another game. Regardless, it’s a pretty solid level. I like the music track too.
  • Level 2-4. It’s another Chemical Plant-themed level but it looks like it’s inspired by Radical Highway from Sonic Adventure 2. That’s pretty cool, and the level’s cool too. I love the music track especially.
  • Level 2-5. It’s sunset Sky Sanctuary that I think is inspired by one of the Sky Sanctuary levels from Sonic Generations. It’s nothing too great but perfectly fine. Music’s pretty good though.
  • Level 2-6. It’s literally Sky Rail from Sonic Adventure 2 yet it’s practically the whole level. Definite ambition here and I commend that. The music track is good too. Definitely my favorite Cyber Space level from Ares Island.
  • Level 2-7. Another 2D Sky Sanctuary-themed level that is inspired by Sonic Generations as well. It’s a perfectly fine level. The music track is nice and easy on the ears.
  • Level 3-1. It’s Green Forest from Sonic Adventure 2. That’s pretty cool, and it even incorporates the flying grappling things to operate like the vines from the original level. Music’s perfectly fine too. It’s probably my favorite Cyber Space level from Chaos Island.
  • Level 3-2. Another 2D Green Hill-themed level that I think is heavily inspired by Sweet Mountain from Sonic Colors. It’s a pretty decent level all things considered. I like the music track too.
  • Level 3-3. It’s Modern Sky Sanctuary from Sonic Generations, but it’s cool for what it’s worth. I really like the music track too. Although I think the teleporter animation looks kind of off. It’s lacking the visual effects when you actually go up through the teleporter.
  • Level 3-4. I feel like part of me has seen this layout before however I can’t determine what level it’s from. The level itself is perfectly fine though, so is the music.
  • Level 3-5. This level is really open yet there’s no enemies in it. The layout is clearly taken from that one Mazuri drifting mission from Sonic Unleashed, but it just doesn’t work as a standalone level. It’s so lifeless, and the drifting controls are kind of weird. They just don’t feel natural. I’m just not too big on this level personally. The music’s kind of forgettable too.
  • Level 3-6. The complete opposite of the previous level in terms of content. It’s another level that is heavily inspired by Sonic Unleashed, more specifically one of the Spagonia Daytime missions. But it actually has better set pieces and obstacles. It’s a pretty good level overall. I really like the music track too.
  • Level 3-7. It’s Chemical Plant once again—mainly the Classic version from Sonic Generations—which is not much to write home about. The level itself is fine. The music is pretty good too.
  • Level 4-1. Hey, it’s Metal Harbor from Sonic Adventure 2. That’s pretty cool. It even has the rocket set piece at the end and that brief board segment. Would’ve been cool if they incorporated a timer into the rocket segment, but I can live without it. Pretty good level overall. The music’s alright though.
  • Level 4-2. Now this was one of the levels I was most excited to play. Multiple pathways and cool set pieces? That’s a good fundamental Sonic level and this is definitely a really solid level. Music’s solid too. Definitely my favorite Cyber Space level from Ouranos Island.
  • Level 4-3. Is this level also inspired by Green Forest from Sonic Adventure 2? I’m confident it’s inspired by a level from that game, however I’m not sure what that level is. Still, this is a pretty solid level. Music’s pretty good too.
  • Level 4-4. A pretty lengthy yet fun level that I think is inspired by Radical Highway from Sonic Adventure 2 as well. The music sounds nice too.
  • Level 4-5. A very linear 3D Green Hill-themed level that I really don’t know the full reference to—if any. It’s a decent level but nothing more. Music’s fine too.
  • Level 4-6. Chemical Plant once again—mainly from Sonic 2 and Sonic Generations. It’s a pretty decent level. The music’s alright also.
  • Level 4-7. Another city-themed level that I think is inspired by Radical Highway again in some form. Perfectly solid but nothing special. Music’s fine too.
  • Level 4-8. A very short yet decent level. Could have been more though. Music’s fine overall.
  • Level 4-9. There’s a lot of skateboarding in this level which is really cool and it controls pretty well. The level itself is pretty cool for what it’s worth. The music’s not too bad either.

In all honesty, the Cyber Space levels are a mixed bag, but it does bother me that they kept the same four level themes for the entirety of the game. There are some pretty good levels in here and some that are downright inadequate, but for the most part they are fine and not the worst things in the world. The open world, on the other hand, is one of the best things that the series has offered.

For the first time in an official mainline Sonic game, Sonic has the freedom to run wherever he desires all across each of the Starfall Islands. And these Islands are massive. There's so much to do on them and there’s rarely a dull moment. Just when you think you’ve done everything, there’s always some other section that you will come across that you haven’t seen before. Although, I did not have the best experience with Chaos Island. I was practically stuck there for two hours doing things that I thought would progress the story but never did. Thankfully I figured it out, but still it was a headache. The missions are mostly solid and engaging and the enemies are pretty intriguing and make for good combat segments. Sonic’s controls are also practically in-line with how I desire for 3D Sonic to control. It was a little weird getting used to the Unleashed controls for the homing attack again, but I quickly grew used to it. I wish the last two Islands weren't repeats of Kronos Island though: an ice and industrial island would be really cool to be honest. Sonic’s combat controls are really good, even though they can often conflict with the regular controls. He even has a skill tree that contains some pretty cool moves. Sonic Boom is a little broken though because it makes quick work of enemies. They really should've fine-tuned this. I also wasn’t too big on Wild Rush and Auto Combo. For some reason, I can never perform Wild Rush. I don’t know if I’m putting my inputs in wrong, but I more often perform this move on complete accident because I don’t know how to use it otherwise even when I practice it in the tutorial. On the other hand, I know how to use Auto Combo but the fact that it makes me do moves that I don’t necessarily want to do can be aggravating. Thankfully, I was able to turn Auto Combo off in the settings so it’s really not that big of a deal all things considered. When you max out your ring count, Sonic can even gain access to this blue boost that makes you even faster and makes it even more fun to run across the Islands. I certainly abused the hell out of this mechanic, for good reason.

The music in this game is also some of the best that the series has had to offer. It gives off a lot of Adventure, Unleashed, and Forces vibes and works so well. I can’t really give one favorite track, but if I had to name a few I would say the vocal themes of course, the background themes for each of the Islands, that one S.O.S. mission theme, the theme of The End, and Big’s fishing theme which is literally lo-fi music in an official Sonic game which I am all for. Oh yeah, I forgot about Big in this game. He’s not something to take seriously, but the fishing here is actually relaxing and a nice distraction. I also thought it was a great way to grind for portal gears and memory tokens when the requirements were so high for some baffling reason.

All that remains is the endgame and it certainly gives off a mix of emotions. As Sonic saves each of his friends, he is slowly corrupted by cyber-energy to the point where it puts him in a stasis and traps him between realities. But thankfully, Tails, Knuckles, and Amy are returned to their normal selves and manage to nullify the cyber corruption, but this ultimately traps the trio in Cyber Space once more and leaves Sonic to team up with Eggman and Sage to find the Chaos Emeralds one more time and put an end to all of this. One thing I always found interesting about the story was that Sonic’s actions made him indirectly interpreted as the villain since his taking of the Chaos Emeralds and destroying the Titans was revealed to ultimately be endangering the Starfall Islands more than saving them. But even then, this approach is nothing we haven’t seen before. After all, Sonic has been shown to be a character who essentially does what he believes is right and not so much what he knows is right. And here, it’s certainly appropriate.

Before the final boss, Sonic must complete a pinball challenge in order to obtain the last Chaos Emerald. That certainly exists. Even Sonic was flabbergasted over its construction in the Island ruins. Well, I guess it wouldn’t be Sonic without some pinball reference, huh? Anyway, with the last of the Chaos Emeralds acquired for the fourth time, Sonic triumphs over the Supreme Titan but must navigate to space alongside Sage to stop the Titan from restoring itself in Cyber Space as well as stop the true final boss: a giant space rock called The End. And it’s literally just a quick time event that is literally over as it begins. Unless you play this boss through hard mode where it just becomes a glorified Galaga segment. Yeah not going to lie, the true final boss was kind of underwhelming. But at the same time, it’s something that I’m willing to excuse given the game had already given us four amazing bosses that all could have been the true final boss in their own right. Sage finally learns something from Sonic too: to support the ones she cares about and be her true self until the end. And in the end, Sage sacrifices herself to stop The End from crashing into Earth, in a way to vandalize her heart. Eggman is left to ponder the death of his creation as Sonic and his friends fly off into the horizon, thus ending Sonic Frontiers… or so it seemed. In the post-credits scene, Sage is revealed to be alive. I’m going to guess the reason for this is because since Sage has been integrated into Cyber Space, her spirit lives on there and Eggman can access it using the Ancients’ technology. This might mean that we could get a sequel to this game. And after a game as charming and compelling as Sonic Frontiers, I think it’s safe to say that I’m Here for that. But only time will tell.

In closing, what is there to say about this game that hasn’t already been said? It’s surely rough in some respects, but when it’s not it’s one of my favorite Sonic games of all time. It did so much well and helped Sonic regain his footing after several years of games that experimented with the series’ formula for better or for worse. Please play this game whether you are a longtime Sonic fan or someone who has left the series for some time. I promise there is so much to look forward to with this game. And at its core, Sonic Frontiers is certainly forging the future for the Sonic the Hedgehog series effectively.


*My Rating: 4.25 out of 5 stars*

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