Sakurai is an Artist, Not a Businessman


Since the reveal of Cloud has sent intense shockwaves throughout the Smash fanbase, I would like to take a moment to expand upon a point I make during the upcoming SourceCast (which will be posted later this week)—the point being, that Sakurai is an artist, not a businessman. I have seen a lot of comments complaining about Cloud’s inclusion because he is not tied to Nintendo. That is to say, Sakurai is “promoting” a rival company’s product. Promotion has never been a component of the Smash Bros. franchise. Instead, it’s best to look at Smash Bros. as a celebration of what gaming has to offer. There is only one case (Roy in Melee) and that’s part of the reason Sakurai was drawn to the fire swordsman in the first place. It was something that only Roy could be in Smash. I’ve said this before, and I would like to relate it to third parties and the franchise in general. 

I love this image.

As I mentioned in The Future of Smash is Characters, Sakurai left HAL for two reasons. Firstly, he was unsatisfied with the current trend in video games (perhaps the expectations of sequels for video games) and secondly, because he wanted to work with a variety of content creators. This led him to create Sora Ltd. Sora, meaning “sky” in English, represents this “freedom” to Sakurai in many ways. He is a freelance employee not bound by the rules and regulations of the video game industry. He is allowed to paint his canvas however he may want, and he does so with every game he creates. Since leaving HAL, Sakurai has continually worked with other content creators or their franchises either directly or indirectly in all of the projects he has undertaken. It is worth noting that Brawl was the first Smash game Sakurai produced after leaving HAL—and also the advent of third-party characters in Smash. I don’t think this is a coincidence; rather, it represents Sakurai’s freedom as an artist. Of course, there were some third party characters planned in Melee, but Sakurai was trapped and due to ‘adult circumstances’ or timing, none of them came to fruition.


This is not to say that Smash is not about Nintendo. Smash obviously has its roots within the variety of Nintendo franchises and IPs rich with history. Sakurai is humbled by the opportunity  to work with so many well respected IPs and characters through Smash. I have quoted it before in The Future of Smash is Characters, but I really feel the following quote best illustrates Sakurai’s approach to Smash:

I never would have imagined that I personally would be able to work with the main character from such a game…Of course, I felt the same way with Mario, Pit, and Megaman. As a video game designer, I have probably worked with the largest amount of popular video game characters in the world.–The Little Pepper is Hot!

With the inclusion of third-party characters, Sakurai has the ability to reach out and work with a variety of other IPs and fanbases. He is able to add them to his canvas—that is, Smash. I honestly do not think it matters much where a character is from; it is more about who and why.


Cloud’s, Ryu’s, and Snake’s inclusions in Smash illustrate how, even without a strong connection to Nintendo at present, these revered characters and their respective franchises are indicative of the best that gaming has to offer. It doesn’t matter whether the FFVII remake comes to a Nintendo platform—just like it how it doesn’t matter that Ryu’s Street Fighter V or Snake’s Metal Gear Solid 4 are not coming to Nintendo consoles. Sakurai’s focus is not publicizing Nintendo consoles; it is celebrating gaming itself. We need to let go of the notion that Smash is a giant commercial, and appreciate it for the beautiful piece of art that it is.

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  1. I can understand some of the dislike of Cloud and how some feel the series premise has been “betrayed,” but if you step back and look at the Roster you have to think this is the best spread of characters in any media. This entire game is a fever dream of child-like fan service: Snakes Codecs about Nintendo characters, Mario VS. Sonic, Link VS. Cloud Strife, Pikachu fighting along side Samus against MegaMan and Kirby, etc. I really think if people just stepped back and saw the bigger picture they would appreciate how much work and love was poured into this game and the characters, and the entire roster- it truly is the most impressive “character game” ever. I mean when we are complaining about Cloud, originator of the Melodramatic Spiky Swordsman trope and Mr. RPG himself, then we have it pretty good, don’t we?

    Interesting Sidenote- we are seeing more and more people in Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo talking about the competitors very respectfully and I have the feeling they are getting tired of the “console wars” and think it is degrading to the Industry as a whole (especially when they respect their comrades because they understand their work and have probably had some shared employees over the years.)

  2. People seem to forget that Sakurai isn’t the only person involved with these decisions. Nintendo must have okayed the decision, or else the idea would never have seen the light of day. At the end of the day it is a Nintendo game. Which makes the inclusion of Cloud all the more mind boggling. Not only does he have nothing to do with Nintendo, but he seems to strictly represent FFXII, not the FF series as a whole. Not to mention that Square hasn’t been the kindest to Nintendo with the switching over their competitor.

    Also, I don’t see anywhere where the FFXII remake is actually called a PS4 exclusive, and even if it is(which seems really likely) exclusivity deals have been broken before(as unlikely as it may be).

    1. To imply that Square hasn’t had a kind relationship with Nintendo over the past years simply because the main series of the game had switched over to Sony consoles is to disregard all of the spin-off titles, remakes, and other Square games that have continued to appear on Nintendo consoles ever since. I mean, look at Theatrhythm Final Fantasy and its sequel, a celebration of the most popular music that had appeared in the main series (and some spin-offs), both appeared on the 3DS. A lot of the games and characters represented there had never appeared on a Nintendo console before then.

  3. I agree with this article wholeheartedly. I’m not trying to brag, but I get the feeling that I’m one of those people who don’t mind the roster THAT much, and are more than happy to play just about any character Sakurai throws in. Smash isn’t just a celebration of Nintendo’s history, but now gaming as a whole.

  4. I really agree with this article push.Sakurai is an artist he does things that he feels is right despite what the outsside world may think.He doesn’t like at a character by sales by what they bring to the bigger picture and that’s what i feel cloud is.Another piece to already beautiful picture

  5. There’re a lot of misconceptions about how Sakurai goes about choosing which characters to bring into each new game. Here, you touched on one of the big ones: assuming a character will make it in to promote their home series. We’ve never seen a clear-cut case of it before (even Roy in Melee started with Sakurai looking for potential clone characters to round out the roster), and yet you still have people arguing as if it’s a sure thing. It came up regarding the release of Bayonetta 2, the Wii U version of Shovel Knight, and more famously, everyone who believe the Inklings would becoming Smash DLC last May to promote Splatoon. There are even some members of the community who’ve become infamous for relying on cross-promotion as an argument for inclusion.

    Yet as we’ve seen and as you’ve said, it’s never been the main reason a character got in. Sakurai is an artist and a gamer, not a businessman, and he wants his masterpiece to be, first and foremost, a celebration of Nintendo and gaming as a whole, not a soulless marketing tool. While there’s undoubtedly been other content brought in for promotional reasons, it seems he wants the _characters_ to get in on their own merits…and that’s honestly a really good decision.

    That said, there are other things I keep seeing that are assumed true yet actually anything but. There’s this obsession with “reps”, this idea that characters are limited by what series they hail from or even what company. “One DLC rep per series”, you hear all the time, “no more Pokémon reps”, “(insert series here) deserves another rep”, “we need an indie rep”, et cetera. It seems as if a lot of the fans see a character’s identity as their most important aspect when that isn’t necessarily true–as we’ve seen with the occasionally lopsided “reps” and multiple newcomers from the same series even in Smash 4 already. Meanwhile, things like a character’s moveset potential, ease of moveset creation, and now unique they’d feel compared to the characters already in are overlooked, even though Sakurai has gone on record saying they’re some of the most important factors in a character’s chances.

    So you have fans running around acting like characters are brought in to fulfill a “reps” quota or to promote new games, then treating movesets as an afterthough and saying “eh, I’m sure Sakurai can come up with something”, when it’s actually far from the truth!

    Not that it stops people from assuming it is anyway…

    That said, I still don’t think we’ll see anyone more outlandish than Cloud. Sakurai can definitely throw a few more curveballs our way, but there are still limits…even if they’re not necessarily the ones that are assumed to exist by most.

    1. Reading your post – and being reminded of how people try to predict Sakurai – made me think about the Smash 64 roster. Fans have noted how Falcon and Ness are non-existent outside Smash (and how the latter, Marth, and Roy all helped promote their own games), but it wasn’t really like that at first. F-Zero X was really important for the N64, and MOTHER 3 was already in development. With the exception of the Ice Climbers, Roy, and debatably Mr. Game & Watch (mostly because he’s an amalgamation of multiple games instead of a pre-existing icon), there hasn’t really been a truly obscure character added. Even Lucas was fairly popular before being confirmed for Brawl. Certainly some franchises have done worse after being added, but Sakurai’s generally been pretty good about understanding which franchises are going to be hanging around – and not just because they were represented.

      He also definitely understands Smash‘s marketing potential – he openly talked about merchandising when the amiibos were first unveiled, and he’s the main figure behind a lot of the series’ advertising – but promoting other games has never been a concern. Even stuff like the Dunban, Majora’s Mask, and Inkling costumes still feel legitimate, since they’re from games people liked (even if the Inkling was made before Splatoon was released). He needs to make games that are commercially successful, critically acclaimed, and personally satisfying, but he’s under no obligation to help struggling franchises.

      And characters are definitely at least partially meant to fill specific positions, but it’s like…Duck Hunt is a unique projectile master and a surprise character and a American icon. DLC fighters from the same series are less “likely” only because they potentially fill similar niches or are less unique for design, art style, attitude; it would never be a set in stone rule. If he was choosing fighters specifically to bolster franchises or promote games, we’d probably have a vastly less interesting roster.

  6. “It is worth noting that Brawl was the first game Sakurai produced after leaving HAL”

    Wait… I’m pretty sure Sakurai headed development of the DS game Meteos, which came out in 2005.

  7. This article is so stupid. Sakurai isn’t a businessman? That’s the most naive, childish statement I’ve ever heard. The amount of praise people give to Sakurai is ****ing absurd.

    1. I’ve censored your swear word, but the content remains the same.

      Good job rebutting my article Jason. I really liked how you constructively tore apart my arguments instead of relying on an argumentum ad hominem. /s If you have no evidence to support your claim…besides your own personal bias, then there is no reason to entertain your childish statements. Come back and prove me wrong.

      The amount of **** that Sakurai gets in this fanbase is ****ing absurd. He puts extreme care and work into making everything he does. When you play Megaman in Smash for 3DS/ Wii U…it’s like playing a Megaman game. How are we not constantly blown away by the roster? The fanbase needs to be more appreciative of Sakurai and his team.

  8. Y’know… for a while, I was kinda on the fence about third party characters, but seeing Cloud’s reveal and the various discussions about it have opened my mind a bit.

    I think the problem is, much like myself not too long ago, the Smash fanbase is not thinking outside the box. It seems like a lot of Smash fans are stuck in these made up notions of how they think Smash should be, rather than what it really is. Delzethin’s comments about fan-made “character quotas” really got me re-thinking about characters. This is why I was always confused about the K. Rool and Krystal support for Smash… I wasn’t really following the logic of “these series need more reps just cuz they’re underepped.” The fact that Krystal has a staff or Bandana Dee uses a spear doesn’t make them interesting. (Meanwhile, I’m still on board with the idea that Inkling would be a terrific Smash fighter. My other top picks are kind of questionable now.) Many fans would never admit it, but Sakurai knows what they want more than they know themselves.

    I’m looking forward to playing as Cloud in Smash. Thinking about him again made me go back and play Final Fantasy VII after not playing it for about ten years, and I’m beginning to finally appreciate it for what it is.

    And on the subject of Sakurai himself… he is most definitely an artist, not a businessman. You can definitely tell with the amount of care and fine details that are put into each character (like mentioned in the last SmashCast about Shulk retaining his derpy jump from Xenoblade Chronicles.) If you read his articles, you can tell… just look at the one about hitstop: Sakurai cares about the minute details most people just take for granted to be there. The fact that there isn’t a cross-promotion with every new thing that comes out in Smash shows that he’s more concerned about making a great game than making tons of money being a marketing machine.

    And you know what? Because Smash is such a phenomenal game, it sells itself.

    1. You say you question the popularity of some characters because people wanted them for invisible “character quotas,” but the thing is, almost all of the characters that people used that argument for that was only a small piece of the argument. Typically, people don’t want characters “just” because the series needs more representation, it’s because they love the character that they are rooting for, and they see other reasons why their inclusion would be good as well. Some people want K Rool for the new move potential of a new heavy weight. But they also want him because of his character in the Donkey Kong series. In a character driven game like Smash, a strong villain/character from one of Nintendo’s most prominent franchises seems like an obvious choice. If people just wanted another DK rep, then Dixie and K Rool supporters would have joined up and supported a single character. Still, I suppose others want him in hopes that it’ll revive his status as DK’s main villain, which I feel is a semi-fair reason. Even if he doesn’t make it in now though, I’d say Nintendo realizes how much people care for him, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him show up again in a main title soon.

      I also feel that some of these points apply to many of the characters that people said were from series that “needed more reps.” Star Fox fans either love Krystal or hate her….and I’d bet that most of her supporters as DLC want her much more than they would like Wolf to come back. It has nothing to do with the number of Star Fox reps. Also, I’d say calling the Star Fox series underrepresented to begin with is already a stretch. My point I’m getting at is that people want these characters BECAUSE Smash is a character driven game, not because of what game that character happens to be from. The only reason “too much” and “not enough” representation arguments exist to begin with is because fans of certain series will end up happier with the roster than others, and people feel there should be a balance with the size of the franchise/fan base with the character selection. While Sakurai has proven time and again that this isn’t a solid rule for characters in the game, I don’t particularly blame people who think it *should* be that way, since a character driven game would trend towards that result anyways.

      Aaaaand that’s my take on this. Does that sound about right to you, or would you say I’m off in my reasoning?

    2. Interestingly enough, from what I’ve seen, neither K. Rool nor Krystal get the brunt of their support from arguments that their series is under-repped. The former has been a fan favorite for a long time, and the latter is often supported because of how unique she’d be (especially compared to the other Star Fox characters) and how naturally the staff techniques in Star Fox Adventures would translate into a Smash moveset.

  9. I really like this article as I do agree with your point about Sakurai’s position. And honestly, don’t even mind on those negative comments as they’re saying that you’re stupid because you’re wrong; they just don’t want to understand.

    I don’t know if Sakurai’s not a businessman, but as he referred himself as the graphic designer, then he’s perfectly the artist, and there’s no doubt about it as he’s the one who’s responsible creating the fighters from scratch to finish. When you’re working for the company that you must follow, there will be limits that you cannot go beyond, but if you create your own company instead, then there won’t be any limits to worry about. I doesn’t mean he should put anybody or everybody in Smash without thinking, but he does choose characters with a purpose and reasons of why they’re eligible to be in Smash.
    As much you’re right about this, Smash isn’t just only for Nintendo, but its for the entire video games, and its true its the celebration of video games. Much to say, the very first Smash 64 was just an experiment of how the game will work and succeed, which using “Nintendo All-Stars” as a temporary title for the experiment. Now as Smash being successful, and as Sakurai has finally got out of the limitation prison, Smash is now an open country for video games. The game is now a “dream battle of video games”, where all those “what if” battles comes true, such as Mario VS Sonic, Samus VS Mega Man, Link VS Cloud, etc. It’s just like’s “Death Battle” series (or “One Minute Melee” series for without researches), but not something bloodier as that as you know what I mean. (lol) Smash is now the crossover fighting game where possibilities do become reality, and that’s a good reason. Some people may disgust that as being a character game, but it’s not just a character game…it’s THE character game.
    I think I do understand why Cloud got included for Smash. Not just he was popular among fanbase, but the game itself was the social phenomenon back then, which is why FFVII is still memorable throughout the society. The game was so strong and deep enough as it deserved to have many sequels and prequels to it. Yes, it also became a trigger to make Sony more successful as made Nintendo’s relationship with Square broken, but I think this phenomenon made other companies including Nintendo to put more effort and confidence on creating a game more successful than FFVII, like Pokemon. Furthermore, marketing and popularity may be important to Smash, but I think a shock wave that made the game so memorable for so many years is something that Sakurai is seeking for.

    Not to mention video games are being quite successful on attention by mixed medias now these days. Such as movies like Wreck-it-Ralph and Pixels (don’t judge me, I LOVE this movie), comics like Archie’s Sonic and Mega Man crossover comic “World’s Collide” and “World’s Unite”, and even some crossover games like Project X Zone series. Everybody’s celebrating video games, and Smash is one of that celebration too. Furthermore, I don’t know if we’ll be having more third parties other than Cloud for the next and final DLC which I doubt, but we now know there will be more possibilities upon third parties for Smash 5 in the future.

    1. There’s probably a more simple explanation for why Cloud was chosen… Final Fantasy is Square-Enix’s most successful franchise, Final Fantasy VII was the best-selling title in that series, and Cloud is the protagonist of FFVII.

      Also, I wouldn’t be surprised if Snake came back (actually hoping he does)… but besides that, yeah, not sure what other third-party character would join the battle. For that matter, what first-party character(s) could possibly top Cloud for the hype factor?

      1. There are plenty of other third parties, the question is, how far can they be pushed before the series loses touch with what it really is.

        1. I meant how many iconic third-party characters on the level that the current ones are. I’ve seen Rayman and Master Chief mentioned, but how well are they really known in Japan? Every third-party character has worldwide recognition, to the point where even non-gamers recognize most of them.

          And as for “what Smash really is,” I touched upon that in my first comment. Obviously with the inclusion of Cloud, Nintendo purists have proof they were wrong in their notion of what Smash is… it’s first and foremost a Nintendo game with Nintendo characters, but now it’s become more of a character game and a celebration of gaming in general. Sakurai is careful in his choices with third-parties, so it’s obviously not going to become MUGEN-ized, but it’s not purely about Nintendo anymore.

      2. I can see Snake returning as I wouldn’t be surprised too, but the only part is whether that’ll mean they’ll bring back Shadow Moses Island too, or simply making a different one instead. Shadow Moses Island has an identical point, which is the codec conversation. As new fighters will be involved in that stage, I wouldn’t know if they’ll decide to add new conversation regarding to those characters. It wouldn’t make sense if they just brought the entire record from the previous Brawl to Smash 4 as they’ll just leave the new comers no comments. They might need to remake the conversation again instead. Not to mention they might change Campbell’s Japanese voice to Portable Ops version (Toshio Furukawa) since the previous (Takeshi Aono) passed away. And speaking of special conversations, since this will be the last DLC, I really like Sakurai to add in the DLC character’s info to Palutena’s Guidance; it’s really meaningless for treating them as an unidentified intruder.

        As I said before, I wouldn’t think the next and final DLC will be having anymore third parties other than Cloud, and returning veterans. But they did brought returning veterans, then it should be Wolf or Snake, while the last one could be a new fighter from the Nintendo franchise. I could suspect that Sakurai will bring a character that he made, like Bandanna Waddle Dee, or possibly another character from Kid Icarus, which I’m hoping for Medusa than Hades. However, if he’d brought a new character but rather make it simple, then that character might end up being a clone instead. But either way, although they’ll introduce something for next month, I wouldn’t think they’ll release the DLC at that time. Just like Mewtwo’s first reveal from the 50 Facts Direct since last year October, I think they’ll release it in next year spring, March for earliest, or April for latest.

      3. I don’t think topping Cloud is their intention, really. They revealed him now rather than next month to generate attention and win back a crowd that was having doubts about Nintendo’s holiday lineup. If there’s another character or two nearing release as well–and there probably are–they likely aren’t as massive a deal…but still pretty big deals themselves, because Smash characters always are.

        And I don’t know if any third party character could top Cloud at this point. Anyone crazier might leave fans scratching their heads if the character’s series was mainly (or entirely) from other systems. At least Final Fantasy has always had Nintendo presence in some form, even if just remakes of the first six!

        As far as first party characters…I think King K. Rool could come close, if anything for the “FINALLY!” factor of him getting in. But the only character who could actually top Cloud at this point would probably be Ridley…and as it stands, he’s next to impossible until the next game.

  10. Cloud is not on the same level as the other. Also, to all those clamoring about it being a celebration of gaming, I would like to direct your attention to the back of the Smash case. It clearly emphasizes the Nintendo all-stars with the others relegated to a small box as guest stars, nothing more. They are segregated from the others almost everywhere they appear, even Sonic despite being a veteran. They are extras that, while they can be exciting, are not part of the core experience.

  11. Screw the man. He is neither an artist nor a businessman, he is a self-absorbed ego satisfying his own self whilst pretending to be a god.

    Why does Metaknight get buffed to the moon?
    Why did Dedede get immensely improved but other characters did not?
    Why do only his characters get new Final Smashes & not characters who actually need them like DK & Bowser?
    Why does Palutena get her own collection of special moves let alone even be a playable character, instead of a more important character like Medusa?
    Why does Dark Pit get to be a standalone character, instead of a more deserving character like classic Wario?
    Why is the Duck Hunt dog put in the game for selling “40 million copies” while Greninja’s game wasn’t even out yet at the time they put him in?
    Why is there a Yoshi’s Woolly World stage but no Hyrule Warriors stage?
    Why are the games he developed & he is a fan of like FE more represented than Donkey Kong & Wario?

    These questions come to him & he always has a “go-to”, that he works to haaaard. Oh poor Sakurai! His butt is sore from sitting in a chair all day! As if he’s the only person in the gaming industry works hard? 1. Games are a collaborative effort. 2. He is the director, who practically bosses everyone around. I don’t see why Etika sucks up to this guy. The world doesn’t revolve around him. He should retire. Maybe that pachinko worker at Konami can be the new director & he’ll actually put logical characters in the game for once.

    1. >Why does Metaknight get buffed to the moon? Why did Dedede get immensely improved but other characters did not?
      Both Metaknight and Dedede are weaker than they were in Brawl.

      >Why do only his characters get new Final Smashes & not characters who actually need them like DK & Bowser?
      9 characters got new Final Smashes: Charizard, Lucario, ROB, Ness, Zero Suit Samus, Kirby, Pit, Luigi and Dedede.
      Why do DK & Bowser *need* new Final Smashes?

      >Why does Palutena get her own collection of special moves let alone even be a playable character, instead of a more important character like Medusa?
      Palutena’s special moves are her gimmick. Kid Icarus is actually called Palutena’s Mirror in Japan, the game is literally named after her. She is also the second most popular Kid Icarus character according to Nintendo Dream magazine’s character popularity polls, followed by Dark Pit.

      >Why does Dark Pit get to be a standalone character, instead of a more deserving character like classic Wario?
      Dark Pit, like Lucina and Dr Mario, were originally alternate costumes for Pit, Marth and Mario respectively. During development, Sakurai gave these alternate costumes different functions because it didn’t feel right for Dark Pit to use the Three Sacred Treasures or for Dr Mario to use Fireballs, for example. And because they had different functions, Sakurai decided to make them standalone characters for balancing purposes. They are more “clonely” than clones from the previous games because Sakurai didn’t want to increase the man-hours spent on these characters.

      >Why is the Duck Hunt dog put in the game for selling “40 million copies” while Greninja’s game wasn’t even out yet at the time they put him in?
      Because for Sakurai, the sales of a game is not the only factor or even the main factor in determining whether a character can join Smash Bros. Some characters get in because they bring something unique to Smash Bros, some characters get in because they are popular, and some characters get in to help promote a game, etc. Greninja brings something unique to Smash Bros and helps promote Pokemon X/Y.

      >Why is there a Yoshi’s Woolly World stage but no Hyrule Warriors stage?
      Hyrule Warriors is developed by Koei Tecmo rather than Nintendo.

      >Why are the games he developed & he is a fan of like FE more represented than Donkey Kong & Wario?
      He actually developed a mini game for WarioWare DIY and helped with advertising, so you can’t say he’s not a fan. There could be many reasons why Donkey Kong & Wario don’t have more representation. Maybe because Donkey Kong and Wario are not as popular as FE in Japan currently. Or maybe because he can port models from Kid Icarus easily since he and his team had just finished working on it before they started working on Smash 4.

      >As if he’s the only person in the gaming industry works hard? 1. Games are a collaborative effort. 2. He is the director, who practically bosses everyone around.
      He’s not the only person in the gaming industry who works hard but he is a workaholic and he is exceptional. How many game directors move closer to work just so they can get to work earlier? How many game directors develop a game with an arm injury while taking pain killers? He likes doing as much of the grunt work himself as possible such as inputting all the frame data in every Smash game.

      >I don’t see why Etika sucks up to this guy.
      Etika respects him because he likes all of Sakurai’s games and Sakurai is a director that likes to create hype for his fans through character reveal trailers, Smash Directs and Pic of the Day. Not many directors are able to create as much hype as Sakurai.

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