The following contains mild spoilers for the first two islands of Sonic Frontiers, available now on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, and PC.
Every game in the long-running Sonic franchise has introduced new characters, causing the cast’s size to balloon to an unmanageable magnitude. Fortunately, the newest entry in the series, Sonic Frontiers, has selected a handful of characters to star in the title, allowing them to receive more in-depth characterization than previous games. Frontiers intelligently uses interactions between Sonic, his friends, and the world around them to build off prior elements of their personalities and delve deeper into their motivations.
Sonic Frontiers follows the titular hedgehog after he and his friends crash into the Starfall Islands and are separated. After waking up, Sonic quickly finds out that his companions are being held captive on the islands, setting him off on his newest adventure. As he explores these unknown locations, Sonic must find a way to free his friends while solving the island’s many mysteries and contending with the new antagonist, Sage.
Amy Rose Is a Lover, Not a Fighter
The first area players explore in Sonic Frontiers is Kronos Island, where Amy Rose is being held captive. As Sonic explores this region, side stories containing unique conversations can be unlocked by finding a collectible called “Memory Tokens.” These conversations quickly develop into a sub-plot where Amy is trying to help the Kocos, the island’s inhabitants. Her assistance involves reuniting young Kocos with their mother and helping a lonely Koco find their missing lover.
In previous games, Amy was incredibly one-note with her obsession with Sonic being her defining attribute. In Sonic Frontiers, Amy’s primary trait is a sense of duty to help those in need with a disregard for herself. At one point, Sonic mentions that he can’t help with the Kocos because he needs to free her and find Tails. Amy gets frustrated by this comment and questions how Sonic could ignore creatures in need. It is only when Sonic promises to help them after he saves her that she relents. Sonic Frontiers‘ structure allows fans to see that Amy’s love is not solely for Sonic but for all living things.
Knuckles Is Paying for His People’s Sins
Like Sonic and Amy, Knuckles also benefits from Sonic Frontiers‘ reduced roster. In previous Sonic games, Knuckles’ responsibility as the protector of the Master Emerald has been his only concern. While this remains true in Frontiers, players learn a little more about this drive in the anime prologue Divergence and the game itself. In the animated short, Knuckles relays his race’s history with the Master Emerald. Overcome with greed, his ancestors attempted to control the artifact, awakening a power that was not theirs, leading to destruction. Knuckles views his duty as penance for their sins despite bearing no responsibility for the transgression himself.
Knuckles’ regret further informs his actions throughout the game. When unlocked, his sub-story centers on his need for relief from his obligation. Years spent solely focused on guarding the emerald have taken their toll on Knuckles, yet he won’t admit he needs a break. His ancestors’ crime still weighs heavily on him to the point that he disregards his own desires.
Frontiers also reminds fans that Knuckles is a warrior. Another plot line through his side stories is him filling the role of commander to a troop of warrior Kocos. Previous entries showed Knuckles as Sonic’s rival in strength, but Frontiers reminds players that Knuckles does come from a race of soldiers. He is not just a palette swap of the protagonist — he is a unique character with his own personal history and strengths.
Many of the characters in the Sonic franchise are well-loved by fans, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be improved. While some fan favorites are left out of Sonic Frontiers, those who remain reach a level of depth previously unexplored in the series. The game shows fans just how heroic these gaming icons can be and elaborates on their previously superficial motivations. Hopefully, the inevitable sequel will provide an entirely new cast with the same treatment.