Here’s part 2 of the Nintendo Dream interview! This part discusses all the DLC characters.
Part 1 – Sakurai talks about DLC Development.
Part 3 – All about the stages and some new information about the costumes.
We also did a discussion video that covers all three parts.
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The following is translated from Nintendo Dream volume 264, April 2016. The magazine was published February 20th, 2016.
This translation is for fan use only, and may not accurately reflect the opinions of Masahiro Sakurai.
The original version of this article stated Shin Hadouken instead of Shin Shoryuken for Ryu’s Final Smash. It has been corrected.
The Inevitable Seven
Of the characters available as DLC, three are returning veterans, and four are brand new to Smash. We sat down with Sakurai to learn about how they were made.
Sakurai: Among the veteran fighters who didn’t appear in Smash for 3DS/Wii U, Mewtwo was particularly popular, and it was clear many people wanted him back. Unfortunately, it wasn’t possible to include him in the retail release. Thus, we decided that, if we were to release DLC, Mewtwo would be an effective veteran choice, so we began with him.
—What sort of concept did you have in mind when designing Mewtwo?
Sakurai: Powerful, but light—a glass cannon. When fine-tuning a character, you have to make sure they stay balanced, but “light weight” being a character’s weakness is difficult to convey to users, so we made it really obvious just how light Mewtwo is.
—You mean how he’s so floaty?
Sakurai: No, floatiness is different from being a lightweight. Falling slowly and flying far when launched are two different parameters. Mewtwo’s weakness is that he can’t take a hit. Also, we gave him a Final Smash this time around, and I wanted to create a PSI-style attack, something shocking and unrelenting. Ultimately, we went with Psystrike, an attack in which Mewtwo sends an electric shock through opponents’ heads. Of course, there were limits to how far we could go because of ratings issues, but we did what we could to give it some impact
—Speaking of his Final Smash, Mewtwo has two Mega forms, X and Y. Why did you pick the latter?
Sakurai: X wasn’t even an option (laughs). I mean, Mega Mewtwo X is about physical offense, which completely clashes with the concept I had for Mewtwo. From a gameplay perspective, I guess it could work to have him summon all his strength and deliver a powerful punch to his opponents, but that’s not the type of character Mewtwo is in Smash.
Sakurai: I was aware that, following Mewtwo, Lucas and Roy also enjoy considerable popularity. If we were to bring back a total of three fighters, I knew we couldn’t go wrong with these three. With Lucas, we made use of his unique playstyle from Brawl. At the same time, we originally created him using Ness as a base, so we once again started with Ness and made changes from there. In order to bring out the difference between the two, we made Lucas’s attacks more powerful but slower to finish, playing with the balance of strengths and weaknesses.
—Several new palette swaps feature characters from MOTHER 3, like Boney and Baby Drago. Were those your ideas?
Sakurai: No, one of the designers came up with those. They incorporated some memorable elements from the original game.
—I also noticed his Final Smash functions differently than in Brawl. Why is that?
Sakurai: In Brawl, you were able to unleash meteors one by one, but that wasn’t feasible this time around because of the limitations of the 3DS’s processor. To compensate, we animated the effect to look as if a slew of meteors are showering down at once to simulate the look of his original Final Smash even though its function has changed.
Sakurai: Roy from the Fire Emblem series (FE below) is a character who hits hardest at close range, just like in Melee. If pressed, I’d have to say Marth was stronger than Roy back then, so in Smash for 3DS/Wii U, we gave Roy more power, even adding strength to his animations.
—In what way?
Sakurai: To start with, we gave him a reverse grip. In Melee, we cloned Roy directly from Marth and continued development with the idea that we would simply tweak his parameters. This time, however, we remade a lot of his animations, using his reverse grip to emphasize his superior strength at close range.
—How did you go about updating his design?
Sakurai: If you look at his Melee design today, it certainly seems old (laughs). That’s why I thought it was necessary to give him a more modern look. However, it was a pretty difficult process. Perhaps it’s because he’s a swordsman in a fantasy setting, but during the design process he took on a sort of Tales-ish appearance (laughs). I mean, the modelers responsible for his design also worked on the Tales series, so it makes sense (laughs).
When a character appears in spin-offs of their main series, designers have a hard time deciding which of their looks to use. For example, our designers might have considered basing Marth’s appearance this time on the illustrations Masamune Shirow drew for FE: Shadow Dragon.
—True. When a series has gone on for a long time, settling on one design could be tough.
Sakurai: It’s important to find the right balance. If you go too far, people will say, “Who’s this!?”
—For Melee, you included Roy in Smash before his own game was released. Did you incorporate elements from his original game this time around?
If we didn’t base the new Roy on his appearance in Melee, he wouldn’t be the same, so we think of Smash Roy as separate from his appearance in FE: Binding Blade. When Roy uses his Final Smash, Critical Hit, he swings his sword in a circular motion before striking as a reference to his original game. Aside from that, however, he’s very much a unique incarnation of Roy. That’s why he’s more spirited in Smash than he is in Binding Blade (laughs).
Sakurai: My goal with Ryu was to incorporate input-based light and heavy attacks. I also wanted to make him a character that could combo. Smash is not a combo-heavy game; rather, Smash was actually designed as a response to the fear of matches becoming too formulaic because of combos. However, I think the fun of 2D fighting games is inherently connected to pulling off consecutive hits, so I made it possible to string together combos in Smash, too. The length of a button press allows players to alternate between light and heavy attacks, a system inspired by a little old game called Street Fighter (laughs). His attacks change depending on how hard the button is pressed just like in the original game, so Ryu is provided with a plethora of attack options. I think the sheer variety of moves makes controlling him feel really good, but also inherently makes mastering him very difficult!
—You even included command inputs in Smash!
Sakurai: The disparity between attacks performed normally and those performed using command inputs actually quite substantial. For example, Shōryūken naturally maintains its invincibility in both versions, but its speed and landing lag differ. Using the command input Special Moves always proves advantageous, even in the smallest way. Since entering the command input itself takes several frames, we had to balance that out by adding something beneficial. Truth be told, I felt exaggerating the difference between the command input Specials and the normal Special Moves even more would have made for a more interesting experience, but I ultimately didn’t do it.
Sakurai: If I had gone too far, the character might have felt too weak to someone unable to effectively perform the command inputs. That reminds me—Yoko Shimomura, the composer for Ryu’s Theme, bragged to me, “Even I can perform a Shōryūken!” (laughs)
—There were people in the editorial department saying the same thing.
Sakurai: Honestly, Ryu remade the preexisting Smash system. For example, when entering the command input for Tatsumaki Senpūkyaku, the character turns around. It was essential for us to make sure the program accurately recognized the command input even though it begins while Ryu is turned around. It was quite a struggle since command inputs are a completely foreign concept to Smash, and we had to completely redesign the system.
—You say it was “quite a struggle,” but you wanted to implement it, didn’t you? (laughs)
Sakurai: Ryu wouldn’t be the same without command inputs (laughs). Also, I was very particular about his animations. I essentially based Ryu’s motions off his attacks in Street Fighter II, but creating the full animations required more work. For example, when Ryu punches, his extended arm pose is the same, but the animations for extending and retracting his arm were brought to life using the animation know-how we’ve amassed making Smash.
—Why did Ryu become the first Smash character to have two Final Smashes?
Sakurai: Personally, I feel Shin-Shōryūken is the only real option—it just feels so exhilarating. On the other hand, it feels far less exhilarating when the attack doesn’t connect. After you’ve fought tooth and nail for the Smash Ball, even unleashing an ultimate attack feels like a real letdown when it just grazes your opponent. I thus decided to include Shinkū-Hadōken to provide a little more flexibility. In the Street Fighter series, players can pick special moves to match their own personal playstyle, so I thought it would be a good match.
—Final Fantasy VII (FFVII below) has never been released on a Nintendo console, so how did Cloud end up appearing in Smash?
Sakurai: Final Fantasy (FF below) is one of the few uniquely Japanese game series revered by players around the world. I think fans across the globe have hoped a character from one of those series would appear in Smash, so it was only a matter of time. At the same time, there are only so many big-name titles we can work with at this point—mainly because we’ve covered most of those bases. Aside from the major globally-recognized franchises already featured in Smash, there really aren’t that many left.
—That’s true. No other franchises come to mind.
Sakurai: Exactly. And within the FF franchise, Cloud is without question the most popular choice. A number of people fixate on the fact his original game was never released on a Nintendo console, but if we were to limit our choices to characters who appeared on a Nintendo console, we’d end up with Bartz from FFV or the Onion Knight from FFIII—how would that work? Maybe they could change jobs or something… Actually, that would be kind of interesting (laughs).
Sakurai: At the same time, I think it’s only natural to prioritize the character who enjoys worldwide popularity. I might have had misgivings if Cloud had never appeared on a Nintendo console in any form, though.
—Recently, he’s shown up in the Theatrhythm and Kingdom Hearts series. He’s even branching out to the PS4 now with the FFVII remake.
Sakurai: Which is why I think we should forget about console wars and focus on what’s really important: enjoying the games themselves.
—On that note, can you tell us how you approached the creation of Cloud in Smash?
Sakurai: The biggest problem was that Cloud is simply too strong. He boasts long reach, plenty of power, and considerable speed. With all those strengths, he’s the perfect fighter.
—And he’s handsome to boot!
Sakurai: If you look at him in Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children (FFVII: AC below), he’s on a completely different plane, and I had a hard time trying to make that work within the game. Ultimately, I came up with a balanced solution as seen in attacks like his Side Smash: he takes a moment to charge up, then slashes with incredible speed.
—You also managed to incorporate his Limit Breaks.
Sakurai: Charging up to the limit and then unleashing a powerful attack really meshes with my impression of FFVII, so I think assigning Limit Charge as Cloud’s Down Special was a good idea. Technically, Cross Slash is one of his Limit Breaks in the original game, so I suppose it’s not a perfect fit, but still (laughs).
—Yeah, you can’t use Limit Breaks until the Limit Gauge is completely full.
Sakurai: Right—so by using the Limit Charge to strengthen Cloud’s Special Moves, I feel like we were able to assimilate the feel of Limits from the original game. Unlike other chargeable Special Moves, Limit Charge is unique in that the gauge doesn’t reset. Most other attacks in Smash reset if the user takes damage mid-charge, but Cloud can start charging where he left off.
—And why is that?
Sakurai: I felt a lot of new players would want to try him out, so I made him a little easier to use. Of course, if he did lose his charge after taking damage, that would allow us to make other changes instead. For example, if we made it harder to fill the Limit Gauge, we could make his Special Moves even stronger to compensate. Balancing in extremes makes for a much more exciting game.
—Cloud’s appearance has evolved over time alongside the technology responsible for each game. How did you approach his look in Smash?
Sakurai: Cloud’s recent appearances have gradually become more photorealistic—but Smash isn’t like that. When you look at all the characters side-by-side, none of them should feel out of place. It’s not easy, though. We approached Cloud as a realistic character while making adjustments so he would fit in. In that sense, Cloud’s Smash appearance might come off as slightly comical. By the way, we based his look off of his appearance in Dissidia Final Fantasy on the PSP.
—Did you reference the animations as well?
Sakurai: No. Aside from Special Moves like Cross Slash, I came up with all of his movements from scratch. Well, in FFVII: AC, there’s a sequence where he flies along the ground instead of running, but that’s the only other thing we incorporated into Cloud’s animations.
—Once you decided to include Cloud, what was the first attack that popped into your head?
Sakurai: Hm… I don’t think I came up with anything in particular, but I knew from the get-go I wanted to include Cross Slash. At the same time, it presents an incompatibility, since the move itself doesn’t fit with a game viewed entirely from the side. Actually, it might be the first move in Smash to be completely different depending on whether Cloud is facing right or left.
Sakurai: Put simply, we had to make sure Cloud properly slashes out the character 凶 regardless of which side he’s facing. The hitboxes are completely different (laughs).
—Ah, now that you mention it, the character doesn’t flip around when Cloud changes direction. It’s legible as 凶 either way.
Sakurai: Right. In FFVII, Cloud starts slashing from the corner and finishes with the cross in the middle, but in Smash, we had him draw it the correct way: start with the cross, then finish with the outline. This adjustment makes it easier to string together all the hits since Cloud begins the attack from the middle.
—While we’re talking about third-party characters, did you ever consider including characters like Cloud and Ryu in previous Smash games?
Sakurai: The thought crossed my mind for a fleeting instant—”I wonder how I could make that work”—but I quickly dismissed the idea (laughs).
Sakurai: Those third-party characters are huge icons of their respective companies, so such an opportunity is hard to come by. That being said, now that Smash has grown into a well-known franchise, the creators recognize the merits of allowing us to use their characters, so negotiations have tended to go rather smoothly.
—Nevertheless, it’s so impressive you were able to bring Cloud into Smash.
Sakurai: I’m pretty impressed myself (laughs).
—Did Square Enix make any requests?
Sakurai: They supervised the development, providing detailed feedback and harsh criticism, but they didn’t make much in the way of requests. We have our own format for designing content in Smash, and they were gracious enough to grant us considerable freedom when devising Cloud’s attacks, animations, and Special Moves.
—What was the voice recording process like?
Sakurai: Cloud’s voice actor is Takahiro Sakurai, so we talked about how we have the same last name.
Sakurai: I paid special attention to the intensity of his lines. Cloud is fundamentally a detached character, but it would make for a pretty boring battle if he were too dispassionate. During the recording session, I spoke with a sound director from the FF series. My conception of what Cloud would do and say completely matched theirs, so I think Cloud’s lines turned out perfect.
—Still, Ryu and Cloud crossing over into Smash must surely be a smash hit with long-time gamers. You really know how to make people happy.
Sakurai: At the same time, gamers from that generation probably already have all the characters they could want. Mega Man has also joined the fray, so there might not be anyone left.
—I guess that means you’re going to have to include Donbe after all.
Sakurai: I’ll leave that up to you (laughs).
—Corrin marks the sixth Fire Emblem character to appear in Smash.
Sakurai: There are too many Fire Emblem characters! The decision to include Corrin was admittedly strategic, but I genuinely worried we might be adding too many characters from the series. That said, once the FE Fates developers shared their idea with me, I knew I could make Corrin into an interesting fighter. Their unique characteristic in Smash is their incredible reach, attacking from further away than anyone else. Even in the midst of a heated melee, Corrin can poke with their lance from afar and pierce opponents. They can transform one part of their body and extend it to hit opponents. I guess you could say they’re like Dhalsim… Well, maybe not quite (laughs).
It’s always interesting to see the difference in strategies which arise when a unique character comes out. When Corrin enters the fray, you have to pay attention to the distance between the two of you. On the other hand, that’s less of a concern with returning characters like Roy and Lucas with preexisting strategies. In that sense, I feel Corrin is a really important addition.
—Did you decide from the beginning to allow players to select Corrin’s gender?
Sakurai: Of course. I had even hoped to allow players to choose from a variety of heads and palette swaps, but I realized including all of them would be impossible.
—That makes sense since the original game provides players with a lot of freedom regarding Corrin’s hairstyle.
Sakurai: In the box art for Fates, Corrin♂ is drawn as a young man, whereas Corrin♀ is depicted as an adult woman—and we paralleled those designs in Smash. We watched some videos for reference and decided Corrin♂ would feel wrong as an adult but also feel too young as a child. Likewise, Corrin♀ could be seen as feminine, which caused its own difficulties.
—Deciding on the right tone for Corrin is something players dealt with in Fates, too.
Sakurai: I spoke with Corrin♂’s voice actor, Nobunaga Shimazaki, and asked him to aim for something between child and adult. He performed a whole range of voices, and we eventually settled on an ambiguous middle ground for Smash.
—How did you come up with Corrin’s animations?
Sakurai: Basically, I just took the animations from Fates and expanded upon them. I determined Corrin’s ability to transform part of their body was crucial in gaining the advantage in battle. In the original game, however, Corrin’s feet never change shape. Their legs morph into drills for some attacks in Smash, but the creators have thankfully allowed me some creative freedom. Unfortunately, that also means most of the attention is drawn away from their actual weapon—the Yato.
—Really? When I saw their trailer, I immediately thought, “That looks like it would hurt!”
Sakurai: I was surprised at first, too: “Huh? Is the blade spinning?” (laughs) I wanted to incorporate that surprise into Smash, so when you charge Corrin’s Side Smash, you can deal damage with the chainsaw.
—The Yato changes shape several times over the course of Fates. What made you decide to use its Omega form?
Sakurai: We’ve traditionally equipped all the Fire Emblem characters with their strongest swords in Smash, so the decision didn’t require much thought. At the same time, the Omega form doesn’t show up for very long in the original game.
—For their Final Smash, Corrin transforms into a dragon. How did you come up with the idea for Torrential Roar?
Sakurai: First of all, I knew they had to become a dragon. I also decided they should use water, and eventually the attack took its current shape. Dragging opponents into another world is a neat effect, but overusing it can lead to an overabundance of visual sequences. At the same time, I felt incorporating some flashiness was necessary for Corrin, especially as a new character.
Sakurai: My first concern with Bayonetta was devising a way to maintain the flavor of her games.
—What does that mean specifically?
Sakurai: In order to efficiently progress through the original Bayonetta, her Dodge Offset technique is absolutely essential since it allows you to dodge mid-attack and continue a combo. I wanted to preserve the concept of holding down the attack button being advantageous, so I included her Bullet Arts in Smash. In addition, I took pains to implement combo and Special cancels for stringing together chains in true Bayonetta fashion. Unfortunately, combo characters don’t exactly fit the fundamental model of Smash…
—In Smash, the higher an opponent’s percentage, the farther they fly when hit with the exact same attack.
Sakurai: Exactly. Depending on how much damage an opponent has accumulated, some attack strings will fall apart midway through. That sort of uncertainty is a key part of what Smash is, so I avoided creating “true combos” guaranteed to connect under any and all circumstances. Also, I realized it would be obnoxious if Witch Time activated every time Bayonetta dodged an attack, so I made it into one of her Special Moves instead.
—Bayonetta is a character who shows a lot of skin, but Smash is a game rated for all ages. What kind of adjustments did you have to make?
Sakurai: It took a lot of effort (laughs). For example, her Bayonetta 2 costume features diamond slits on the back of her thighs. We were warned too much skin showing through would clash with the game’s age rating, so we touched up those spots and made them darker. Bayonetta also shows quite a bit of skin when summoning her Wicked Weaves, so those were also quite a challenge to adjust. We had no choice, though, since her design needed to pass ratings inspections in all regions.
—What can you say about the voice work?
Sakurai: One aspect that stands out to me is Bayonetta’s announcement trailer. We got Pit and Palutena’s voice actresses (Minami Takayama and Aya Hisakawa, respectively) back in the studio to record a few exchanges. Since Corrin and Bayonetta’s trailers were the last ones for this cycle of Smash, we decided a number of other characters should make cameo appearances, so we naturally asked the actors to record for us. I felt a little guilty calling so many famous voice actors into the studio for only a handful of lines, but it was a lot of fun.
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The full interview is now available in English!