Sonic Frontiers looks to be the most ambitious entry in the game series yet – and not just in the gameplay department. While Sonic’s latest adventure does aim to reinvent the tried-and-tested format with its free-roaming ‘open zone’ concept, SEGA is also keen to use the game as a stepping stone to connect the multiple entertainment universes of Sonic the Hedgehog together in a unified way. And it all starts with Sonic Frontiers’ story, itself a collaboration between Sonic Team and IDW Sonic comic writer Ian Flynn.
We were given an opportunity to sit down with Takashi Iizuka, head of Sonic Team, for a brief five minutes, to discuss the implications of Flynn’s involvement with the game and what it could mean for other Sonic universes. We also asked about those darn cute Koco as well, don’t worry.
Sonic Stadium: Thank you very much for taking the time to speak with the Sonic community at Gamescom, Iizuka-san. I wanted to ask you about some of the things Sonic Team has revealed over the last week — first of all, the Kocos. They’re very cute! What’s their role in Sonic Frontiers, and do you see them as limited to the Starfall Islands? Or are they a bit like Wisps, where they may return in future Sonic titles?
Takashi Iizuka: The Koco are kind of a mysterious creature that exist all on the Starfall Islands and… well, they play into the story quite a bit so I’m afraid I can’t really talk about what they are too much [laughs]. We definitely don’t want to spoil the mystery.
Sonic Stadium: That’s understandable. I’ll just totally throw away my follow up question then [laughs]! But just for argument’s sake..! You know, the fanbase has taken one look at the Koco and the first thing they’ve collectively said is, ‘hey, they kind of look like the new Chao’. And as you know, a lot of fans are always asking about Chao in future Sonic games… so! I was going to ask; are Koco really the new Chao?
Takashi Iizuka: [Laughs] Well, the Chao and Koco are of course separate beings, really… in Sonic Frontiers you’re going to find a lot of these Koco all around the different islands. And as you’re picking them up, there’s going to be ways you can power up Sonic’s abilities [depending on how many you collect]. So I guess if we were to really compare them… it’s not like Chao, which are creatures you grow and nurture and play around with. The Koco’s unique feature is that they are tied to your actual progression and the fun things you can do on the islands.
Sonic Stadium: So there’s been a lot of excitement about Ian Flynn’s involvement in crafting the story beats with Sonic Team for Sonic Frontiers. What does it mean for the direction of the Sonic game series, to have people involved with the licensed comic book series contribute to the stories of mainline games?
Takashi Iizuka: We’ve had lots of different writers involved with the Sonic series for the longest time, but in this day and age it’s really interesting as we now have Sonic in games, Sonic in comic books, Sonic in movies… we have lots of different Sonics all throughout the different entertainment mediums for fans to see. And one of the things I really wanted to do is solidify everything, get it all a little tighter in terms of a unified Sonic experience.
So what I wanted to do [with Sonic Frontiers] was make sure that, while the past comic books were its own separate thing, by having Ian Flynn – who’s doing the IDW comics – also work with us on the game… it’s kind of bringing the comics and the games a little bit closer together, in this unified Sonic experience. It’s really all about that unification, to me, and making sure we’re putting a very unified version of Sonic out there.
Sonic Stadium: That’s very interesting! Then… should we expect to see more crossovers or collaborations between the games, comics – maybe even the movies – in the future? Or do you see each of those things as very much different universes in your mind, despite collaborations like in Sonic Frontiers?
Takashi Iizuka: Well I think that… even with the [Sonic] Netflix TV show that’s going to be on air soon and the [IDW] comic series… it’s always best having one universe [to connect them]. For the movies though, it’s a little too hard to reasonably incorporate this realistic-looking Sonic, with real human being friends and real planet Earth… all of those things are a bit difficult to put into the games [laughs]! But if we’re talking about the comics, the Netflix series and the games? Moving forward, the idea of trying to get all of them into the same universe – or even if it’s not exactly the same universe, at least having them feel like they’re part of a connected universe – is something that’s very important to us.
Sonic Stadium: Talking about the new trailer you guys showed this past week at Gamescom… there was the reveal of some new biomes, like a desert landscape and a tropical island. All of the open zones that we’ve seen so far seem more realistic in visual design than you’d expect to see in traditional Sonic games. Is that an intentional design choice? And do you see the Cyberspace stages as a way of perhaps being a little more expressive, with some more unrealistic stages environments like you’d see in say, Green Hill Zone?
Takashi Iizuka: The Starfall Islands is this mysterious new location that neither Sonic or Eggman have ever been to, so the team really wanted to go and build a mysterious new environment for them to explore, and introduce players to this new kind of world. When we talk about Cyberspace, these are environments that are created from Sonic’s memories, which have been put together in this digital format. So, these stages are all places Sonic has been to before, that he does have some memory of – but it’s being constructed in this, I guess you could say, ‘unreal’ way… through this digital recreation of his memories. That’s really the difference between the real world and the Cyberspace as you see it in Sonic Frontiers.
Sonic Stadium: One last question before I go – I recently watched the livestream for SEGA Japan’s Mega Drive Mini II console, and one of the announcements was that M2 had fully completed a game called ‘Devi & Pii’…
Takashi Iizuka: Oh, Devi and Pii [laughs]!
Sonic Stadium: I understand that – correct me if I’m wrong – this was a game that you designed? And I don’t think it ever got released. How does it make you feel that this game is finally completed and is able to be played by fans?
Takashi Iizuka: When I first heard that they were going to put the game in, I was like, “Wait, you can’t… are you kidding me? Do you guys even have the game data!?” This is going back 30 years ago! So I didn’t even believe it was real at first, I thought they were pulling a prank on me! But the team said, ‘No, we actually do still have the data at SEGA, and we are going to have it put into the final product’.
So… it’s kind of a mixed feeling, because obviously I’m very pleased that this game I created is finally going to see the light of day. But at the same time, it’s something I did when I first joined SEGA over 30 years ago.
Sonic Stadium: Before even Sonic 3!
Takashi Iizuka: [Laughs] Before even Sonic 3! And you know, it never saw the light of day back then, so you gotta wonder… But now it’s going to actually be played by consumers! How are they going to feel and react about this game I created 30 years ago..? So, it’s kind of this mixed bag of emotions for me – I’m really happy, but also a little curious and maybe a bit worried about how people are going to take to it!
Sonic Stadium: I guess you didn’t have much in the way of input with this completed version? M2 just put it all together based on untouched 30 year old data?
Takashi Iizuka: Yeah, I haven’t done anything to it, they just took the old data and now it’s playable. You know… that game was only created by two people, including myself!
Sonic Stadium: Really? Wow!
Takashi Iizuka: Yeah! I was the game designer, and also the graphic designer! The other person did all the programming.
Sonic Stadium: Well, I’m sure the fans will really love Devi & Pii when they finally get their hands on a Mega Drive Mini II. Thank you for talking to us about your memories and for giving us some more insight into Sonic Frontiers, Iizuka-san. We really appreciate your time!
Takashi Iizuka: Thank you!
Our preview of Sonic Frontiers from the Gamescom 2022 show will be published on Sonic Stadium soon.