Sakurai On: Character Choices

Sakurai On

Today, I will be doing a followup to Soma’s wonderful Sakurai on Smash 64: A Phenomenon is Born, and Sakurai on Melee: Pushing the Limits. If you haven’t read those, then please check them out as the post will try to emulate that format. Furthermore, I should clarify that this is a collection of all the information that I could think of when writing this article. I try to be as definitive as possible, but we are still parsing through ‘new’ information. Stay tuned as we continue to provide translations, summaries and investigations in all things Smash Bros and Nintendo!  

Super Smash Bros is a game loved by many people. The latest entry in the series have sold over 10 million copies total, and the games are played for a long time. Super Smash Bros Brawl was one of the most played games on the Wii. Besides the series’ crisp, unique gameplay, one of the most attractive features is the fighters themselves. Masahiro Sakurai has made Super Smash Bros into a character driven fighting game and wants Smash to be the ‘best character fighting game in the world’. Character choices is something that a lot of people pay attention to, which is why Sakurai has decided to release characters as DLC for Super Smash Brothers for Wii U and 3DS:

Moreover, we decided to release other characters as well because part of the fun of Smash is the anticipation: “Which character will join the fray next!?” If we keep distributing content, we can maintain that excitement, and I think that’s a really great thing.”The Creator’s Hands are Alive and Well vol 477  

For Sakurai’s GDC 2008 speech, Sakurai solely focused on character choices. Source Gaming has provided a full translation of the slides Sakurai that has used. I’d also strongly encourage people who are interested in learning more about that presentation to also listen to an audio recording of Sakurai’s speech (translated into English).

Perhaps the most noteworthy part of the GDC speech and the slides, is Sakurai’s supposed rules for character selection. Please note, that the numbers were NOT present in the original image. I added them to make it easier to talk about each point. More importantly, in my original translation, I missed “only”. I bolded the word below, and added a note to the GDC slide translation. We will fix the images ASAP. 

  1. The character must display personality in their game

  2. It’s important to have something only that character can do.

  3. Potential development issues, and game balance is also taken into some consideration

  4. Distribution among the franchises is also taken into consideration.

There is also an important note:

Characters are not picked at random. After fully understanding the character’s personality, development advances while taking into consideration how those characters can be fun to play in “Smash”. There are some characters that can’t join the battle, even if they meet the qualifications.

With all that in mind, let’s separate each point.

The original lineup.

For the first point, displaying personality is extremely important. Sakurai expanded upon this idea in his Are the Characters Dancing? column.

To be blunt, if I think I can do it then I can envision a concrete embodiment of the character, but if I cannot do that the character cannot be made.” This is a big factor. Of course getting permission and understanding from the original creators is necessary, but whether the image of the character in my head is dancing powerfully, or not. This is of the utmost importance. Are the Characters Dancing  vol 430

Having a moveset appear to Sakurai is very important– but it’s not the end of the road. In some cases, Sakurai will revisit or come back to characters that he’s shot down. Mii Fighters, Pac-Man and the Villager are three examples of characters that Sakurai initially decided were ‘unsuitable’ for fighting. It may be coincidence, but all of the characters in Smash are either protagonists, or recurring characters — with the exception of Greninja and Sheik…and technically Ganondorf— at the time of his first appearance.

Melee expanded the roster greatly.

For the second point, being unique is extremely important to Smash Bros. Every character has a role in the game. Roy was chosen because he could actually be unique not only in his sword properties, but to appear in Smash Bros. before his regular game. When talking about his selection for Roy and Lucas, it seemed that they were chosen to represent the ‘cut characters of _____’. Every character needs to have a reason to be in. In the GDC slides and talk, Sakurai discusses creating a ‘marketing slogan’ for each fighter. Here are some examples:

Metaknight: Pointed Sword Dancer
Ike: Burly Swordsman
Snake: Heavy Weapons Specialist
Zero Suit Samus: Flexible Martial Artist

Sakurai talks about this point once again in his Famitsu column, ‘Thinking about Video Games’.

On the contrary, no matter how suited a character may be to fighting, if I cannot meaningfully distinguish them from other characters, or create fun unique characteristics of the characters, then that’s the end for them. Are the Characters Dancing  vol 430

Characters are often grouped by series/debut in the Smash games.

Sakurai wants each character to have it’s own unique draw. Something to pull you in, something to make the players want to pick up every single character, or be able to find one that suits their preference or playstyle. Having unique fighters is part of the reason that Sakurai even added Nintendo characters in the first place:

It’s hard for original, new fighting games that are developed for home consoles to be acknowledged and recognized. In addition, all of the popular fighting games have characters that all have an abundance of unique traits. Each consumer has a character they individually like, and each character is a key component in the game. So in addition to creating the game, it’s vitally important that you take these 8, or 16 characters and make them shine without diluting their unique flavor, and get them to stick in the audience’s head.  

We were told that there hadn’t been many successful original fighting games for home consoles, for example, so in order for this game to avoid that, we really thought carefully about what kind of fighting game this should be to bring something newsworthy to the 64 software lineup. To have unique selling points that other games could not mimic. And we thought up a lot of ideas, but in the end, we went with the concept of “Nintendo characters in a battle royale.” We were confident that it was an idea that a lot of people would endorse, and most importantly, we were confident that there was a large audience that was waiting for this kind of game. Sakurai and Iwata interview with Shigesato Itoi part 1

You might be asking yourself, “what about clones?”. Frostwraith has already done an amazing job collecting quotes and information about clone development. Essentially, Sakurai treats the clones as a “free desert” and are NOT planned characters. Clone characters are started when there is some available time and resource for their development. Some of the clones (and semi-clones) in Brawl were nearly not added to the game (while others were dropped).

The Ice Climbers are another example of just how important having a unique moveset is. Despite being a very unpopular choice in the “If There Was a Smash 2 Poll“, Ice Climbers were chosen as the ‘retro representative’, beating a lot more characters:

Also, in character selection, whether they have “things only that character can do” is important.

With the Ice Climbers, we thought it’s interesting to translate that game’s simultaneous 2-player play to having both characters move simultaneously here, so that’s how they joined in. News Flash! Smash Bros. Dojo: Ice Climbers

Ridley is perhaps the best example of a character breaking the third rule…potential game development issues and game balance. LIQUID12A and Spazzy_D have just written an article exploring Ridley’s relationship with the Smash Brothers series.

Sakurai was asked about Ridley in a May 2008 interview with Nintendo Power, “Way of the Sakurai”.

There was a rumor at one point about Ridley being playable. Was that ever a consideration?

I think that would probably be pretty impossible. [Laughs] If we had put our best efforts into it, we may have been able to do it. But he might have been a little slow. Would that be all right? [laughs]

The current lineup.

Distribution among the franchises and series representation is something that Sakurai is paying attention to. This is the main reason why Wario wasn’t added in Melee. This is something that I’d like to really explore in the future, as Source Gaming hasn’t explored the topic quite yet. I know that it’s something that Sakurai has taken into consideration since Smash 64. Fan demand, and proper series representation is a complicated topic.

Sakurai has repeatedly said that even if they fulfill some of criteria, some characters can’t join the battle. Waluigi is perhaps the best example of this. Sakurai stated this on Miiverse when revealing Waluigi was an assist trophy:

…Which also means he’s not a playable character. Just because you try hard doesn’t mean you’ll make it into the battle. Miiverse, February 27th

Of course, Sakurai does change his mind, so it’s not the end of the road for Waluigi or for any other character that ‘can’t join the battle’. At the end of the day, only Sakurai has complete understanding on how he picks the characters.


If you are interested in reading more about character choices, as talked about by Sakurai I’d suggest checking out Character Design 101. I’ve rounded up all the translations we have done that involve characters design or selection in some way. Go check it out, and learn more about how fighters are picked in Smash!

I would like to do a sequel to this post concerning 3rd party characters, but I need to gather some additional information. Please be patient. 

Let me know in the comments what you think about character choices in Smash Brothers.

PushDustIn loves talking about the characters in Smash Bros. You can follow him on Twitter, or like the Source Gaming Facebook page to stay updated.

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  1. Actually being representative of the series you’re from is clearly a big factor. Obscure source material is fair game, but Sakurai doesn’t cherry-pick obscure characters within each series, no matter how “distinctive” they are (unless they’re an extension of another character in some way, like Sheik and the clones are). There’s a reason all the Fire Enblem characters are “lords”, despite the existence of more diverse weapon types and dedicated magic users in that series. And while Waluigi is hardly obscure, but it’s probable that he’s never been chosen due to being a spin-off only character.

    1. i have to disagree, for one reason… Rosalina. The entire reason Rosalina got in, so I read, was because she had a “unique moveset”, and she’s hardly representative of the Mario series.

      1. Ironically, Rosalina was also announced being playable in Mario Kart 8 and Super Mario 3D World at the same time during the Direct some day last year. I just wondered why Rosalina was chosen in Smash instead…was there something special for her back in that day?

        1. I think rosalina is this weird case in that she is a part of the main series mario games. Miyamoto has commented before saying that daisy and wario rarely appear in main mario titles because they did not originate from there and so he did not make them. Rosalina did however. So she was already deemed more important to the mario series than daisy or waluigi because of this. The latter two only have a chance if sakurai want to represent the mario spin-off series as well (I also think paper mario and baby bros also fall into this category representing the rpg series).

  2. “Clones in Brawl”

    I hope you just mean Toon Link (and even he is much more of a semi-clone), because Wolf was a unique character that only fools think is a clone. He has 20ish unique moves, compared to 4 SIMILAR (not shared) moves.

    1. “On that point, with Wolf we already have some knowledge of how to model his character, and would require about 70% of the effort required to create a whole new character” -

      I’m well aware of Wolf’s differences.

    1. Knuckles can be seen as a trophy and Sora is the name of one of the studios that worked in the game and you can see it’s logo in the credits, there you go, now you can see them in Smash.

  3. My Top 5 Characters I wanna see in Smash.
    1. Impa: Maybe a Shiek clone who can be a little slow but powerful than Shiek. Using a Skyward Sword design into a Twilight Princess taste.
    2. Medusa: Maybe a Palutena clone who can be slow but powerful in strength and durability, and had a Final Smash to turn into a giant monster in the background and control it to attack opponents freely.
    3. Krystal: Using a bow rather than blasters, and maybe Assault’s explosions. Final Smash can be using Arwing or Cloud Runner rather than Land Master.
    4. Bandanna Dee: Using a spear as main weapon but also using parasol and mine carts as part of the moveset. His Megaton Punch can be his Final Smash.
    5. Inklings: Girl as her default design while Boy is an alternate color pallete, and maybe Octoling can be part of it too. May fight like Mega Man but not as being his clone.

  4. Still pushing for that Custom Robo love. Any of the Rays would be great representatives; Ray Mk III in particular has the benefit of having appeared as an Assist in Brawl (one has to wonder why he and Isaac were cut…)

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