Soma here with another short translation. This one is based off of incomplete scans that don’t contain the full interview, and even the pages that are included aren’t complete. You can see the images here: page 1 page 2. If you have the rest of the interview, please contact us via email or Twitter.
Sakurai: Initially, it [Smash] had nothing to do with these characters, we had a project proposal for a fighting game. Around November of 1996, with Mr. Iwata in charge of the code, I’d written the project plan out and was making models and animations for testing, and the basic skeleton of the game was all present at that point in time. We started full-scale development on the project in September of 1997. We made a prototype with Samus, Mario, Donkey Kong, and Fox. And we presented that to Nintendo at the end of 1997, and after that we started full-scale development and that’s how we got to where we are now.
Why Samus, Mario, Donkey Kong, and Fox were chosen first
Interviewer: When you say Nintendo characters, there’s an almost countless amount of Nintendo characters. From that, what standards did you use to end up with Samus and company first?
Sakurai: It’s easiest if you think about it as a process of elimination. Kirby and Yoshi aren’t humanoid, and they have special moves that involve copying other fighter’s abilities and laying eggs, which were above the threshold of difficulty for characters to include in a prototype. Also, Pikachu is a very popular character, and we were sure he would subject to a lot of editorial control, so we decided to err on the side of caution and include him later. Also, Link’s game, “The Legend of Zelda” was in development at the time, and I didn’t want to work on him until I got more details about what he was going to be like in his game.
Iwata: It’s just process of elimination. Basically, we based our selections on the whether or not we thought a character had a high chance of success, and if we would have to redo any work on that character later. I think that kind of work is up to the director. In my opinion, that kind of work needs logic, and precise thinking. I’m not being very modest (laughs).
On top of those four, Link, Pikachu, Kirby, and Yoshi were added
Interviewer: In Super Smash Bros., there are 8 characters that you can play as from the start. There were of course characters that weren’t chosen, like, for example, Princess Peach, can you elaborate on why characters weren’t chosen?
Sakurai: It’s a matter of balance. For example, when you think “who are the 8 greatest Nintendo characters?” I think those 8 are the ones you think of. And we didn’t want it to lean too heavily on Mario, so that was also a consideration. Actually, I also asked Mr. Miyamoto for his opinion. And for the four unlockable characters, I played around with that a bit. Hidden characters are a lot of fun. Because they have the benefit of appearing later, you can go a little crazy, be a little less reasonable with them. There’s some information about the unlockable characters floating around on the Internet, but some of it’s not true. If I can clarify one thing, I’ll say, I’ll say that Wario and Peach aren’t in this game (laughs). During the initial phases of development I was even asked “should we make this game “Super Mario Fighters?” Even I feel a certain sense of weirdness from watching Link slice Kirby up.