Checking the Score: Sonic Frontiers OST Brings Mature Sounds, Familiar Cues

While many point to how lifelike the next blockbuster action title is or how gorgeous an artistic indie darling is when it comes to evaluating a game, these visuals would lose their impact without a stirring soundtrack to score them. From the chip-tunes of Super Mario Bros to the Gregorian chants of Halo, video game music brings players closer to immersion and fantasy. Much like how a movie’s soundtrack sets the tone for dramatic scenes, game music also helps players connect emotionally with the story.

Checking the Score is a monthly feature devoted to these crucial compositions which are literally the soundtrack to our gaming lives. Delving into what makes them impactful, the process of composing them and the intricacies of each score, our aim is to put a spotlight on the aural backbone of gaming.

The Blue Blur returned to favorable form this past year and brought along fresh takes to the decades-old franchise beyond just its gameplay. Sonic Frontiers proved that Big Blue can find success in an open-world style game — and we can thank its OST for setting a proper tone. The soundtrack takes many inspirations from previous Sonic jingles while also evolving the sound for a new era. With such big changes in the first Sonic title of its kind, there needed to be varying levels of sound to compliment gameplay and story themes. Sonic Frontiers’ OST does just that, as it’s jam-packed with a hefty amount of fanfare, cinematic themes and level music. Titled “Stillness & Motion,” it’s a soundtrack that makes a lot of thematical sense with its juxtaposition of tranquility and kinesis. It’s a robust 6-disc treasure trove that covers all kinds of musical bases: from lonely themes that amplify solitary areas to frantic synth-pop elements for high-speed levels and even head-bangers for boss fights. With a myriad of gameplay elements that make up Sonic Frontiers, it also means that musical diversity is necessary. For the uninitiated: Sonic Frontiers provides a sprawling open world for our titular hero to speed through, while also providing separate enclosed levels for a more “traditional” Sonic experience. It’s not uncommon for the mood to drastically change as Sonic makes his way through desolate landscapes and suddenly jumps into frenetic speedster levels. The OST does a great job of delineating action because it knows when to play more exploratory themes with an orchestra, but then turns into an EDM-fueled dance party when transported into more traditional Sonic levels outside of the open world. This balance is essential, as it becomes the game’s identity throughout — balance is needed when exploring and when facing challenges. The new open world gameplay provides interesting aesthetic we’ve not experienced before, as orchestral themes help elevate areas while driving home the severity of these wild lands. The OST finds ample opportunity to use its robust sound to amplify moods, boss encounters and more while still staying true to its Sonic identity. Let’s dive in and run around some memorable tracks at the speed of sound. To best discuss the title’s soundtrack, we will be touching on light spoilers.

Our story opens with some general Dr. Eggman shenanigans, as our main antagonist finds things he’s not supposed to touch and starts touching them anyway. This leads to an accidental tear in the fabric of time and space that also swallows Sonic and the gang whole. Transported to a new world, Sonic finds himself trapped in a cyber-realm that he’ll have to speed out of. This is our first point of gameplay and instantly sets the musical tone for title. For about the first minute, I did nothing but stand in one spot absorbing the intensity of this track as I cracked some glow-sticks to rave. It’s intense in the best way, as the melody uses electronic beats to mimic alarms. A sampling of vocals gives the feel of emergency systems asking us to evacuate a building before it explodes. It’s a strong initial impression for the many levels we’ll eventually navigate, and plays deeply on the theme of cyberspace. One of my favorites ended up being a later level theme, but by this point in the story, we aren’t give a lot of context and the music speaks volumes. It does initially give us the impression that we’re not exactly in a physical world. With as fast as Sonic moves, it’s possible to get through some levels in half a minute, while others may take a little longer. Sega Sound Team should be celebrated when so many level themes are composed to get a full dose of musical experience in a short time. As with all level themes moving forward, “Database” offers a high-octane BPM (Beats Per Minute) that perfectly blends with the gameplay right out of the gate.

Once Sonic has navigated out of cyberspace, he’s dropped into a lush, yet abandoned, world. With all kinds of space to run around in and explore, our musical cues help create identity for this area. It’s no secret that Sonic Frontiers, in general, takes much inspiration from other open-world sources. Yet the inspiration taken from some titles is more indicative than others. First impressions of this new world hearken to themes we may hear in Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild — which makes sense. This is Sonic’s first open world and there is no shame in giving nods to major titles of the genre. There are even jingles in Sonic Frontiers that sound similar to those found in Breath of the Wild. “Kronos Island: 2nd Movement”, one of the main themes for this first area, plays heavily on a simple arrangement of piano and strings. The piano does much of the work with its staccato notes and elegant composition. String instruments compliment the piano to create a solitary experience while adding optimism with melody. Through story elements, we learn that Kronos Island is deserted after a series of apocalyptic events. Remnants of the previous civilization lie scattered about and make for a desolate experience as Sonic speeds through various technological ruins. Pianos have the amazing versatility of being tranquil and lonely, but also upbeat when needed. This particular melody does give us optimism, however, as we learn there are also millennia-old survivors still carving out an existence in this treacherous world. This tonal shift from a cyberspace level to the real world shows just how much attention to detail within the entire soundtrack.

Sonic Frontiers’ musical sequences continue to surprise as we hear even more tonal shifts when encountering enemies and bosses. Sonic Frontiers actually feels like its own version of Horizon Zero Dawn with its apocalyptic, yet technologically-saturated, world. This is also evident from the giant, mechanical beasts of a bygone age that roam the world. Engaging with these will instigate a major tonal shift in gameplay and music. Throughout the world, Sonic will encounter more difficult mechanized enemies known as “guardians.” These vary in shapes, sizes and attack maneuvers. Some guardians are as tall as skyscrapers, others look like mechanical animals and are more active in their attempts to deal damage. There are various types of guardians Sonic will encounter, and each has a unique theme that fits perfectly with the gameplay needed to defeat them. It’s difficult to pick just one theme to analyze, but a favorite ended up being the track used for the SHARK guardian we encounter later in a desert area. Using electronic beats, we’re given another taste of EDM (Electronic Dance Music) that plays effortlessly along with the action on screen. To defeat this guardian, Sonic must grab onto its finned tail and hold on tight for dear life as it tries various maneuvers to shake off our hero — often jumping out of the desert sand and dive-bombing back under. The composition of this electronic track takes BPM into consideration and breaks in the melody line up well with the SHARK’s attack timing. It’s a frantic track that thematically fits well as the guardian pulls us along at break-neck speed with its thrashing and diving. Percussive elements give a feeling of wild energy as well that make this encounter enjoyable.

Guardians can be difficult enemies, but nothing compares to the intensity of a battle with a “Titan.” Titans are the final bosses of each area that can only be defeated once Sonic has obtained all the Chaos Emeralds in each map. Titans also have their own themes, but are given the additional treatment of second-phase music. In a way, Titans have two themes: a first phase theme that plays heavily on orchestral elements and a second theme that feels like it could be its own pop-punk anime intro. These first phase fights often feel like they’re straight out of Elden Ring, as Sonic must speed up the side of these giants to find their weak spots. Heavy percussion and an orchestra of strings set the tone for these fights. We get an unshakeable feeling that our hero might be in way over his head. Yet everything changes when we hit the second phase and transform into Super Sonic. Suddenly a tone shifts to more optimistic beats while driving home incredible intensity with pop-punk melodies and vocals. In our very first Titan encounter with GIGANTO, we get the feeling of unease within the first phase but suddenly burst into action when the music changes to compliment our gameplay. Frankly, it’s literally the coolest thing to hear such a distinct change in sound going from one genre to a complete opposite. Sonic is suddenly the hero we need and deserve. The track “Undefeatable” immediately hits with squealing electric guitar chords and punk vocals from lead singer Kellin Quinn of Sleeping With Sirens. A few seconds later into the track and we get face-melting guitar shredding that makes us even wonder if we’re still playing Sonic? We are? Oh okay, I thought I was playing Guitar Hero for a moment. Screaming vocals hype us up and make us feel invincible as Super Sonic:

As a life-long Sonic fan, it feels different to hear an edgier sound come from the light-hearted franchise. I don’t say this in a negative way, however, as it feels like its paying homage to other source material like the comic books. The Archie Comics run of Sonic the Hedgehog that spanned from 1993 to 2017 tackled a lot of serious storylines and put our hero in many difficult situations (like the time Dr. Robotnik captured and roboticised all of Sonic’s family). It’s refreshing to see some of that come to life through beautifully-composed melodies and thoughtfully-constructed arrangements. There are even jingles that sound familiar to the franchise’s roots. Sonic has had decades of music, and there are so many iconic tracks that create the identity of the franchise. Sonic Frontiers feels like its taken risks in more than just gameplay, as there’s literally all kinds of genre compositions within its soundtrack. This may feel discordant, but each level fits together within the electronic genre, each new area has a distinct sound and boss battles feel epic because of vast selection of music. While specific levels are aesthetically different, the focus of area uniqueness has moved away from these “zones” to the open world areas. We know Green Hill Zone when we hear it. My mind can conjure the melody for Marble Zone in an instant. These are unique themes with different melodies and approaches that create identity for these various places. Yet it could be said there’s a “lack” of identity because it stays true to Sonic Frontier’s story. When Sonic goes through these various levels, he’s jumping into cyberspace. These places are simply constructs of their locations, not the physical location itself. If we take this into account, it makes a lot of sense as to why the OST leans so heavily into the electronic genre. Not only is it appropriate, but it further cements story elements within the title since so much of it takes place in-between reality and cyberspace. Sonic Frontiers’ OST, “Stillness & Motion,” is an amazing work of genius composition because it’s not afraid to take risks with its music. There are so many tracks that feel fresh and new to the franchise, but so many that also take major inspirations from previous Sonic music. The soundtrack is integral to the action players experience on screen and asks fans to appreciate a more mature sound from what we’d normally expect of a Sonic title. Whether you’re a decades-old fan or just getting into Sonic for the first time, “Stillness & Sound” is a masterpiece that elevates and enhances Sonic’s identity for a new age.