Sonic Frontiers aims to develop the battle of the long-running franchise in meaningful and unprecedented ways. Part of that process includes the introduction of a skill tree, the first of its kind within the franchise. Sonic has long had adventures where he unlocks new skills, but by introducing a full skill tree into Frontiers, Sonic Team hopes to further improve what it believes will be the longest main game in the franchise’s history.
“Fighting enemies is an important part of Sonic Frontiers,” said Takashi Iizuka, Sonic Team creative officer. “Starting with Sonic at full power would make the combat easy and repetitive, so we made it so that the player gradually unlocks Sonic’s skills through the skill tree. The player collects the points needed to unlock skills by defeating enemies and explore the island, so they can unlock more powerful abilities by playing longer.”
Early in my hands-on time with Frontiers, enemies spawn near me. I take out these simple bad guys with ease, but skill pieces are on the ground in the wake of the barrage of homing attacks. I run to pick them up, which adds up to a meter. This first encounter isn’t enough to give me my first skill point, but later battles push the gauge to capacity and I get an upgrade point. Unfortunately I have to progress further in the game before I can unlock anything.
After my first boss fight against a Ninja, a huge gate opens and I gain access to a new area. After completing a basic platform sequence, I open another door and an in-game message says I can now unlock Sonic’s Cyloop ability. This first upgrade leaves a blue trail behind Sonic when activated and creates different effects based on the situation. Regardless of the application, it seems like you have to draw a full circle for any of these effects to work; drawing a circle in an empty field spawns rings as I put it around a series of torches, extinguishing them at the same time and helping me solve a puzzle. The Cyloop can also be used in combat, either as a zone of effect attack when drawn around multiple enemies, as a way to break through the armor of stronger creatures, or even as a way to finish off individual parts of bosses like the tower. to break. .
Cyloop seems like the fundamental ability for Sonic in Frontiers, but it’s far from the only upgrade he can get through his skill tree. Once Cyloop is unlocked, Sonic can unlock 11 additional abilities as part of the main tree, plus three additional abilities through the progression of the main story. The story progression skills are behind question marks, but I’ve gotten a full picture of the skill tree that players can go through during the adventure.
The next unlock level includes Sonic Boom (a move that shoots projectile blades in a combo), Speed Burst (increases your power when you have max combo), and Air Tricks (the ability to create a showboat in mid-air to progress to skill points). You can then open Wild Crash (a move where you run at enemies in a zigzag pattern to attack) and Stomp Attack. From there, you can unlock several skills, including Auto Combo, a skill where combat skills are automatically activated during combos (if you unlock it and don’t like the autopilot, you can toggle it on and off in the options menu). There’s also Quick Cyloop (the ability for Sonic to automatically draw his Cyloop circles), Homing Shot (an attack where Sonic launches a volley of energy orbs at an enemy), Spin Slash (a move where Sonic surrounds an enemy with a multi- hit spinning attack) and Loop Kick (a looping, fast-accelerating kick in the air). The final unlock in the main skill tree is Recovery Smash, where if you get blown away by an attack and successfully complete certain prompts before hitting the ground, you can immediately counter-attack.
These abilities seem to not only give Sonic a sense of progression during his adventure, but also diversify the combat in meaningful ways to avoid monotony. However, part of the challenge Sonic Team faced was creating skills that feel like they belong in Sonic’s battle arsenal. “There are many games with their own unique combat systems, but for this title we wanted to focus on what a Sonic fighting style would be, what kinds of enemies should exist, what skills Sonic would have to defeat them, and so on,” says director Morio Kishimoto. “We’re not making a Sonic game where fighting and fighting is the main fun element, but we want to present a game with a fun battle that fits Sonic’s character — that’s the fundamental idea.”
In the skill tree, Sonic learns his new moves, but it’s not the only way to improve the Blue Blur. The mysterious Koco, small stone creatures that inhabit the islands, can also upgrade certain elements of Sonic if you look for the special types. If you find a Hermit Koco in the open zone, you can trade seeds you’ve collected to boost Sonic’s strength or defense; in my playthrough I charged up power to give Sonic more powerful homing attacks and combos. Meanwhile, if you come across an Elder Koco, you can return the lost Koco you find during your travels to increase Sonic’s top speed or ring capacity. As with the Hermit Koco, I decided to pour all my upgrades with the Elder Koco into one bucket: speed. The increase in speed isn’t as noticeable as the increase in attack power, but every little bit helps when you’re exploring such a large, open area.
We won’t know how impactful all these new abilities and upgrades are or what the hidden story progress abilities might be until launch. But on the face of it, it looks like Sonic Team is on the right track with its method of expanding its battle suite over the course of Sonic’s latest adventure. Sonic Frontiers launches this holiday season on PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch and PC.
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