I get the impression that Sonic Frontiers director Morio Kishimoto is a good, honest bloke. He just wants to make people happy. The poor fella has been on a mission over the last year to not only expand the base game’s content three times over, but make that content free for fans as well.
It’s a really noble thing to do, and Sonic Team should definitely get praise for the generous amount of effort and time they have put into this whole project. But sadly, for all the ambition and hard work that has clearly gone in here, the only people that I can see enjoying Final Horizon - a story-based expansion presented as an alternate ending - will be speed-runners and comic/lore enthusiasts.
For almost everyone else, this finale will be mostly a confusing, frustrating and tedious mess.
A Little Help From My Friends
Things start off well enough. A massive warp ring appears within the open zone, and you have the option to enter it or go about your merry way playing through the base game. If you opt to have Sonic leap through it, you’re treated to a preamble involving a new plan to fight back mysterious foe, The End. A plan with odds for success so infinitesimally small that Sage never thought to bring it up before. Given what you’re about to go through, she probably should have kept it to herself, really.
Sonic realises he can’t finish the fight alone, and so his pals Tails, Knuckles and Amy offer to lend a hand in hunting for the Chaos Emeralds dotted around Ouranos Island. From here, you periodically swap between characters as you work through various challenges to re-reveal the map - both from the familiar “red markers” and by reaching newly-introduced (and colour-coded) “Map Koco”.
Gameplay here is pretty inoffensive (with some glaring exceptions which I’ll go into later). Just like playing Sonic Frontiers itself for the first time, there’s a lot to discover and distract yourself in the open zone, and you’re given the space to just go at your own pace. This kind of casual platforming action built into massive playgrounds was one of the best things about the game, so I was very happy to indulge in “more of the same” with some brand new playable characters - despite some of the open zone puzzles being a little bit irritating to complete.
While it’s great to finally be able to play as Amy, Tails and Knuckles again, there are some finicky control issues with all three of them that turns things into a bit of a grind. Amy and Tails are generally fine, apart from some weird turning circles and unpredictable inertia. But there are techniques you can deploy to make things easier for yourself. Amy in particular has a very useful double-jump and glide ability that can allow her to cheese certain parts of an annoying puzzle.
Tails can also unlock an insanely cool boost mod which has him enter the Cyclone Tornado from Sonic Adventure 2, and this doubles as a plane that can take you to high altitudes. I definitely used this to skip an entire chunk of mid-air challenges required to progress through the story, and I definitely had a massive grin on my face while doing it.
Knuckles… is weird. I have no earthly idea how they managed to nerf the Master Emerald guardian so much in this. The first thing I did when I assumed control of him was try to glide towards a laser puzzle. I immediately died (and I immediately laughed) because for some inexplicable reason he has a second-long “priming” animation before he actually glides anywhere. When you’re being asked to engage in some pretty difficult platforming challenges, immediate character responsiveness is an absolute must, and this design decision instantly makes Knuckles a complete dump to play.
Even crazier is that the red porcupine on the block with the buff chest can’t climb on any surface that’s not specifically cyber-coloured in red. That has caused some hilarity when falling towards the ocean and your only tactic is to keep gliding in vain against a nearby cliff, unable to latch on but still slowly descending towards your imminent doom. But it's just another gameplay choice that takes you out of the experience - not that the climbing is any good when you are able to grab on to something, as Knuckles constantly clips off of surfaces and spins out from walls at the most inconvenient moments.
The third strike against Knuckles’ gameplay here is his sheer inability to fight any of the Guardians that loiter about the island. To be fair, all three characters here have this problem - you’ll never be strong enough to make a dent on most foes - but with Knuckles it’s especially outrageous given that his fighting proficiency is a defining character trait. Instead, combat with Amy, Tails or Knuckles is an utterly miserable experience and is best avoided.
Despite the above frustrations, though, you can run through the open zone sections as the three ‘amigo’ characters and still get a fair amount of enjoyment from all the exploration. This all changes when you find the Chaos Emeralds and hand control over to Sonic, though. The game completely flips on a dime and presents a gauntlet of some of the most unnecessary and poorly-executed challenges this side of S-Ranking Crisis City.
I should be absolutely clear at this point, that the problem with Sonic Frontiers: Final Horizon is not that it is ‘difficult’. There's nothing inherently wrong with an increased challenge. The problem is that the increased challenge has amplified all of the worst facets of Sonic Frontiers, bringing to the fore all of its control and gameplay flaws, while failing to inform you of the new twists and gimmicks that are key to success. Almost every activity is a total chore to accomplish.
Take, for example, the series of high-rise towers that Sonic is tasked with climbing. On the face of it, these platforming puzzles are nicely designed to scale, with more bumpers and gimmicks thrown in the harder you choose to play. When the game isn't fighting your control, climbing these towers can offer moments of exhilaration and satisfaction the higher up you go.
Unfortunately, at the end of the day, you are still just dealing with Sonic Frontiers' excessively janky physics and camera, all of which is present and incorrect - from the wonky inertia and the crooked jumps, to the unpredictable turning circles and lack of perspective that prevents you from landing your leaps correctly.
As a result, these otherwise well-designed sections often become a source of intense frustration and unnecessary risk, as you constantly try to course-correct your trajectory mid-air using erratic double jumps and desperately-deployed boosts.
Instead of being exhilarating, it's just anxiety-inducing - if you fall, you have to start all over again from the bottom. Checkpoints could have easily taken the edge off of this, but incredibly Sonic Team chose not to include these at any point during the expansion, even on Easy mode.
Bringing down the difficulty to Easy removes a lot of the pressure, of course (and from what I understand there's no story penalty in doing so this time around). But it also swings things too much the other way during tower climbs, placing a large number of springs and boosters that cut entire sections of platforming action, if not the whole thing (and even then I've still fallen down due to glitches!).
It’s a crying shame, because I love platforming puzzles and the towers would have undoubtedly been the best thing about the Final Horizon DLC for me… but all of the fun of the climb has been sucked out of it, thanks to both a challenge that is not balanced and a lower difficulty that amounts to an automated ride to the top. It’s sadly unsatisfying on both counts.
Fighting Through Cyberspace
The same balancing issues are prominent throughout the new combat challenges and Cyberspace stages as well. Already the two worst and forgettable parts of Sonic Frontiers, we really didn’t need any more focus on these - but here they are, back with a vengeance. And Sonic Team even had the stones to make all of the combat stuff mandatory, so there’s no way around it.
Enemies are stronger, faster, cheaper. On higher difficulty modes, you are given no time to respond to telegraphed attacks, and you spend most of your time flying onto the ground spilling rings. The first combat challenge - unlocked when you eventually manage to scale one of the towers as Sonic - is especially brutal, with no chance of completing a Cyloop to break one enemy's defences without another one scuttling over and beating you senseless. It’s downright insufferable to play and you will be forgiven for wanting to just delete the game and forget about ever completing it.
Perhaps the most criminal things here are the new “ultra-hard” Cyberspace stages. As I mentioned in my original review, Cyberspace was just dire - a series of monotonous late-stage ‘Boost Era’ challenges based on broken Sonic Forces-style mechanics, only made passable by being mercifully short and “easy” to complete.
But this time, Sonic Team took both of those saving graces away, making these new action stages longer, less forgiving and more complex, with several collectibles and side-objectives distracting you while the stage throws incredibly tedious curveballs at you in the name of “difficulty”. All of which are Not Very Good Things.
In just one of the Cyberspace stages I played, 4-B, I had a weird ghost-Tails racing against me, five moon coins littered about an early glitchy part of the level, three animals to rescue (which suddenly removes Sonic of his ability to perform any moves other than a single jump - that’s fun to discover when plummeting down a pit) AND five numbered gates to run through in order - all happening while having to survive a series of falling platform challenges that became more ridiculous as the stage went on; the dickhead camera insisting that I had no chance of seeing where I was jumping and where I was about to land. Talk about sensory overload!
Oh, and if you die (and you will die), you have to do the entire thing all over again - no checkpoints.
There are some thrills to be found in discovering shortcuts in these levels, if YouTube is any indication - with Sonic utilising Spin Dash, Boosts and various technical tricks to launch into the stratosphere and cut huge sections of track (indeed, it certainly seems like the real fun of Cyberspace lies in trying to play as little of it as possible!). But while it’s nice watching someone else do it, it’s a miserable experience when playing this yourself.
There are no real environmental clues that inform or inspire you to break off the beaten path, besides the odd ramp that, if Spin Dashed, could lead you absolutely anywhere (or nowhere). The poor draw distance makes it difficult to spot any far-off platforms and plan a route (and I’m amazed that there is this amount of pop-in for stages that barely have any geometry in them in the first place). The art of finding a shortcut amounts to spotting a curious platform, spin-dashing off of it, yanking Sonic in a random direction and hoping you find something during your leap of faith.
Linear action stages certainly have their place in the Sonic series, but not like this. Cyberspace stages have been built to be less about skilful jumps and thoughtful environmental puzzles, and more about keeping your vehicle on the race track and getting to the finish line as quickly as possible. The Sonic Adventure games, while not perfect, already managed to balance platform challenges with rewarding speed tracks incredibly well. It’s high time we got some of that level design philosophy back.
Knowledge is Power
Direction is a problem in Sonic Frontiers: Final Horizon. Whereas the base game assumed you knew nothing, bombarding you with hints on which button makes you jump, Final Horizon assumes you know everything - offering absolutely no guidance on the chaotic tornado of new gimmicks, key items or combat strategies that are suddenly thrown at you.
New open zone collectibles like the Map Koco and Lookout Koco are not explained. I’m still not sure what the latter is for, despite having beaten the whole thing. You're not told that your skill levels as Amy, Tails and Knuckles start at 1, and that basic attacks need to be unlocked, which can lead to some messy early scenarios with impossibly-powered Guardians. Even the practically-free Cyloop ability needs to be specifically unlocked in the menu first to use it, which is just pointless busywork. Why is it not unlocked for you at the start? It's small things like this which build up player frustration (and eventually impatience) with the game's broader design choices.
It's in combat where the lack of guidance becomes the most fatal issue. If you fail a combat trial one too many times, you are asked if you'd like to draw down the difficulty level. But this is no comfort to players who are struggling to understand exactly what they are doing wrong (or not doing right). Being politely called a dumbass when you're completely unaware of the existence of things like perfectly-timed parries - a concept that is only explained in vague terms during the final trial - is a little bit insulting.
Similarly, the Titan Boss Rush trial relies on the use of skills and attack combos that you may never have engaged with on your main story playthrough. Using the Quick Cyloop during stun windows is required knowledge for this challenge, even on Easy mode, but it was something I never really thought about doing because I chose, when playing the main game, to largely ignore much of the combat.
Even when I swotted up on the combat skills suite, I was not making good time. I should not have to research online to figure out how to do a boss battle on the simplest difficulty mode! If you’re stuck, like I was for a good couple of days, here's a tip: spamming the Stomp move is your friend.
Once you fight through the insanely unbalanced Towers and Combat Trials as Sonic, you’re finally given the opportunity to take on the new endgame boss. And while it is quite the spectacle (and thankfully offers the right level of difficulty in general, in spite of some camera-hogging trees!), the lack of any clear targets, indicators or suggested strategy means that you’ll be spending more time than necessary wondering exactly what to do. And that is a heartbreakingly frustrating experience to have on such an important set-piece as this.
In spite of this, I was able to enjoy Supreme/The End anyway because by that point, after all that I had been through, I suspected that some kind of obtuse nonsense was going to happen so I looked up a guide (and I’ll link it here in case you’re curious too). I don't usually spoil games for myself when playing for the first time, but the situation definitely called for it, and I can say now that I made the right choice. I don’t want to spoil anything here, but suffice to say that if I had not known the strategy going into that final fight, I might have actually thrown myself into a wall in sheer despair.
Flashy Final Fight
Although the new ending sequence is pretty cool and enjoyable to watch, generally speaking the storytelling and writing throughout the DLC is pretty clumsy this time around. Sonic’s characterisation is entirely off throughout (including some weird passive-aggressive energy towards the Koco leaders that - we’re now being told - he directly endangered with his actions in the main story), the scripting around the series of combat trials at the mid-point is not convincing and the dialogue in general is a bit of a dud.
More disappointing is that this expansion does not appear to offer much in the way of meaningful plot development, or context to the main story mode. Tails, Amy and Knuckles aren’t given any real space to further explore the insecurities they were battling in the base game - it would have been interesting to have seen the results of these characters’ personal challenges integrate more into their otherwise-mundane Chaos Emerald hunt.
The End has been stripped of seemingly all dialogue during the new final boss fight, which is a little bit of a buzzkill despite the rest of the boss battle being quite flashy. While I wouldn’t say the quiet mumbling in the original was better (or even good), I think conceptually The End’s gaslighting taunts did add an almost haunting tone, and bringing some of that over to Final Horizon would have helped stay in keeping with the overarching themes of ‘insecurity’ that underlined the rest of the game.
We’re also none the wiser on some of the mysteries outlined in the original ending - did those glyphs ever get explained in a meaningful way? I’m wondering if there actually was an explanation and my brain just checked out, but it’s not a good sign that I don’t remember. Not for the game and certainly not for my memory - I need to get that looked at.
Music Makes The People Come Together
Once again, the music of Sonic Frontiers: Final Horizon has proved to be the DLC’s highest point. Mirroring the colossal effort that the rest of Sonic Team put in on this expansion, sound director Tomoya Ohtani has gone above and beyond with the soundtrack to Final Horizon, offering a full-blown record’s worth of new material to cover all of the content.
And while it might all sound a bit experimental for a Sonic game, it definitely suits the mood - Amy’s melancholic “Maybe If...” setting the perfect tone right from the start. It’s a shame the Cyberspace stages are utterly avoidable, because the remixed tracks serve some serious beats.
Ohtani-san gets better with each game he works on, and Final Horizon is another step up for the composer. I also have to thank Ohtani once again for the hard rock sounds of the Titan boss battles, without which I no doubt would have lost my mind on the fiftieth run-through of the Master King Koco Combat Trial.
Sadly, Sonic Frontiers: Final Horizon is an unbalanced and frustrating affair in the gameplay department, amplifying the very worst elements of the game's original release while offering little in reward. As a story, it bumbles along but it does offer a delightfully fantastic set-piece for the final boss. That payoff is almost not worth taking the tedious, unbalanced and frankly unfinished ride to get there, though. Your mileage, ultimately, may vary.
Sonic Team deserves our thanks (and a good long rest) for serving the fans for so long after the original release of Sonic Frontiers. The effort and commitment made here, across all three DLC expansions, should be celebrated. It’s just a shame that with this ambitious finale, the studio couldn’t quite stick the landing.
Die-hard speed runners, and those who masochistically enjoy Kaizo-style games, may find enjoyment here, but for anyone else I would recommend you watch the final boss and ending on YouTube. Think of it as an animated comic, and you'll get everything you need from it.