This episode of my “New Content Approaching” series was originally published on November 28, 2015, at Nerd Underground under its original title, “Cloud is ‘Super Smash Bros.’ DLC, but does he “deserve” it?”
It seemed like Shovel Knight might join the battle at the time, and I recall some “rumors” concerning the Inklings, too. So, under an uncharacteristic impulse, I decided to plan ahead in case they panned out, so I started working on articles about them. I also worked on pieces concerning a few other characters, including Dixie Kong and Wolf.
Needless to say, Cloud’s reveal was a plot twist I didn’t foresee. It seemed like a lot of other people were caught off guard, too, so I reacted with this piece. Did Cloud “deserve” his spot in Smash? That’s what I sought to answer, and while everyone has probably long since accepted his presence, you can now relive the mass hysteria Sakurai caused last year. Of course, the reveal that followed Cloud was pretty polarizing as well, but we’ll reminisce about that next time.
So, without further ado, here’s Cloud:
The latest Nintendo Direct certainly ended with a twist, didn’t it? I don’t think anyone could have predicted Cloud Strife from Final Fantasy VII would join the Super Smash Bros. roster. The revelation crashed the internet, and those of us who survived were left in a state of bewilderment. Rules once held up to the heavens no longer rang true, and we all tried to piece our sanity back together.
My favorite part about Cloud’s announcement? It wasn’t leaked. No one could have seen it coming, and Masahiro Sakurai was finally permitted to surprise his fans again.
Enough time has passed and we’ve all calmed ourselves, so I’d like to talk about Cloud.
I’m morally obligated to inform you that I have no personal investment in Cloud’s character nor do I harbor any nostalgia for his game or series. I don’t personally care for role-playing games, and Final Fantasy is a language I’m entirely unfamiliar with. To circumnavigate this, I enlisted the help of our own Goob to proof this article. (And if you end up disliking this piece, then the blame rests entirely on him, really.)
Despite my handicap, I am familiar with Super Smash Bros., and I really want to discuss its newest character. No, I’m incapable of detailing all of the lovingly crafted references in his trailer, and I’m not qualified to discuss how he might fare in the competitive scene. If that’s what you’d like to see, please allow me to direct you to GameXplain‘s and GimR‘s videos.
I’m going to discuss Cloud’s and Final Fantasy‘s place in the world, and whether they warrant the development team’s resources to bring them into Smash.
Now, I’m also morally obligated to mention that the following assortment of words will articulate my opinions. Certain things are non-negotiable (you can’t really argue against documented sales data, for example), but my conclusion is open for debate, and you’re welcomed – and encouraged! – to offer your own thoughts.
Of every character to have ever received an invitation to the Super Smash Bros. series, Konami’s Snake will probably always hold the title of being the most surprising. He was the first non-Nintendo character to appear in Smash, and he represents an M-rated series that’s associated more with Sony’s systems than Nintendo’s. As Sakurai put it, Snake’s appearance was “law breaking,” and, at least as of 2008, Sakurai agreed Snake’s reveal would be hard to top.
Of every character to have been in Smash so far, I consider Square Enix’s Cloud to easily be the second most startling addition. He’s the fifth guest character to be announced for Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS and Wii U, with Sonic, Mega Man, and Pac-Man being in the base games, and Ryu having been added earlier this year as downloadable content. (Snake…had a hard life.)
Finally, we’re about to begin Cloud’s trial. But first, I’d like you to read one of Sakurai’s goals in developing Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS and Wii U, and please keep the following quote in mind as we move forward into the legacy of Final Fantasy:
“I’m aiming to make this the number one character game in the world.”
Does Final Fantasy deserve a character in Smash?
Final Fantasy is a JRPG (Japanese role-playing game) series developed and owned by Square Enix.
According to Square Enix’s IR website, Final Fantasy‘s first release was back in December 1987, and it was for the Nintendo Entertainment System. (Back then, they were just Square, not Square Enix.) The series grew, and it accumulated an approximate total of 110 million units sold across 48 titles. Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn is credited as being the latest release, and it won’t be the last.
For comparison’s sake, Square Enix’s second bestseller is Dragon Quest at 66 million units. Tomb Raider is third at 42 million, and Kingdom Hearts is fourth at 21 million. As of this writing, every other franchise listed has failed to crack the 10 million mark. Square Enix certainly has a strong collection of IPs, but it’s safe to label Final Fantasy as their breadwinner.
(To clarify, other properties listed, such as Full Metal Alchemist and Black Butler, are not a factor within the context of Smash speculation. We’re talking about video game characters, and that’s the one criteria I believe will keep. Sakurai has recently laughed off Goku and SpongeBob as being “impossible,” for reference.)
For further comparisons, the “weakest” guest character would probably be Mega Man, as his franchise has “only” sold approximately 30,000,000 units. Regardless, Mega Man is still an extraordinary triumph, and no one questions whether the Blue Bomber has earned his place in Smash.
The original Final Fantasy was an unprecedented victory for the company, and several of its innovations – including its battle and magic systems – would go on to become the genre’s standard. While Final Fantasy‘s popularity couldn’t have been anticipated by Hironobu Sakaguchi and his team, their game would result in many sequels and spin-offs.
Square wasn’t content with keeping Final Fantasy‘s influence limited to Final Fantasy games, so its characters would go on to appear in the Kingdom Hearts series. Final Fantasy would also inspire other Square Enix franchises, such as Mana and SaGa. Furthermore, Final Fantasy has served as the basis for merchandise, animated adaptions, radio dramas, and more. It’s a recognizable brand.
A lot of people have played the Final Fantasy series, and it has managed to creep into pop culture. I remember when Leonard and Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory had their copies of the first six Final Fantasy titles stolen, and…you know, it’ll just be easier for me to link you to this.
In short, if one were to deny the significance of Final Fantasy, one would be denying reality. Square Enix’s golden child absolutely has the clout to justify a spot in Smash.
Of all Final Fantasy characters, why Cloud?
So far, I feel like we’re all probably still on the same page. Calling Final Fantasy successful isn’t controversial, so let’s continue.
Now, I’d like us to look back at every other third-party franchise that’s earned a playable character in Smash: Metal Gear, Sonic, Mega Man, Pac-Man, and Street Fighter. All five of them have a clear main character.
The classic Mega Man titles were integral to NES nostalgia, and they starred the most well-known Mega Man. Solid Snake is the original Metal Gear protagonist (and he’s, coincidentally, the one with the most exposure on Nintendo’s platforms). Ryu is indisputably the face of Street Fighter, and if you want a character from Sonic and Pac-Man for your crossover fighter, well, you’re going to ask for Sonic and Pac-Man.
Final Fantasy doesn’t work like that, as each numbered installment features a different world and cast. Final Fantasy isn’t unlike Nintendo’s Fire Emblem, which usually explores a new continent with each new release. In spite of that, Fire Emblem‘s Marth – who managed to star in multiple games, an OVA, and whose legacy was a plot point in the franchise-saving Awakening – serves as Fire Emblem‘s figurehead.
In my time lurking the internet, my extremely scientific observations have deduced that, when discussing a hypothetical Final Fantasy representative in Smash, there’s no clear conscious on whom it should be. Sometimes people would nominate a specific individual, such as Final Fantasy‘s Warrior of Light or Final Fantasy VI‘s Terra.
Other times, a generic class would be nominated – usually the Black Mage – under the logic that it would be better to represent Final Fantasy with a constant across multiple games, rather than someone who’s affiliated with just one. Speaking of Final Fantasy‘s species, Chocobo received some fan requests, too.
Final Fantasy has countless options for a playable character, so why pick Final Fantasy VII‘s Cloud over them? Easy, Final Fantasy VII and Cloud are significant.
Final Fantasy VII was originally released for the Sony PlayStation, and it would later be ported to other platforms, including the PC and iOS. Between these releases, VII has accumulated a grand total of 11 million units sold.
In addition to being a commercial success, Final Fantasy VII was a critical darling, and it became a defining title for Sony’s first console. Between its newfangled cutscenes and sprawling open world, Cloud’s game was a technical marvel, and it left a lasting impression.
The Final Fantasy lineage is revered, and its seventh installment in particular became a focal point. In fact, Final Fantasy VII‘s staying power is so great that it became a brand unto itself. The Compilation of Final Fantasy VII is a collective sub-series containing all media set within Gaia.
Final Fantasy VII, as you would expect, has been the subject of many homages. Some of these callbacks were made in Square Enix’s own work, some were made by others, and one was even made in Disney’s Wreck-It Ralph.
During Sony’s E3 2015 conference, after years of speculation and demand, Square Enix finally announced a remake of Final Fantasy VII, further cementing its status as a pivotal Final Fantasy game. (And yes, Goob’s excited for it, too.)
Now, Cloud’s game is definitely respected, but does that prestige extend to him? You better believe it! I mean, Cloud’s Wikipedia article has a “Cultural impact” section.
Sure, I wouldn’t expect Cloud to be as recognizable to your average person as, say, Mario or Pac-Man, but the mercenary and his Buster Sword are still indicative of Final Fantasy. Cloud regularly shows up in Final Fantasy spin-offs, and he even appears in otherwise unrelated titles, including Ehrgeiz and Final Fantasy Tactics. For the former, Cloud’s even centered on its cover; Square wanted consumers to be aware he was in the game.
Cloud and Final Fantasy VIII‘s Squall were plastered over a limited Coca-Cola bottle in Japan, and a plethora of Cloud-themed merchandise is available to purchase. Cloud sells, and that’s an important characteristic for a DLC fighter to have.
As Source Gaming pointed out, Cloud’s an actual character, with his own personality and goals, giving him an advantage over nominees like the Black Mage. While I admittedly only have my gut feeling, I feel confident in claiming other Final Fantasy characters – be it the Black Mage, the Warrior of Light, or whoever – would fail to generate the buzz Cloud’s reveal has achieved.
Cloud isn’t just the face of Final Fantasy VII, he’s a face for all of Final Fantasy. He’s recognizable, liked, and a symbol for his franchise and its genre.
Is Cloud an appropriate pick for Smash?
Here’s where the real controversy starts to arise.
Super Smash Bros. started as a humble Nintendo crossover, and it grew into a lovingly crafted museum in dedication to their history. Guests were first introduced in Brawl, adding a new dimension to the series, and Sakurai was pleased with what Snake and Sonic brought to the experience.
Making a new entry in the Super Smash Bros. series must be stressful, as it has a radically diverse fanbase. Everyone has their own particular vision, from who “deserves” to be added to how the game should play. Ultimately, one man has the final say, and he allowed Cloud in.
Some people don’t understand why, and honestly? Cloud is an unexpected pick, especially if you’re aware of Final Fantasy VII‘s development history. Not only did Cloud’s game fail to release on a Nintendo console, it was also the Final Fantasy game to symbolize a divorce between Nintendo and Square. Final Fantasy VII was released on a competitor’s system, and that’s where it earned its place as a beloved classic.
Cloud would (at least in theory) be more at home in PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale. Given this troubled history, is Cloud really an appropriate choice for Nintendo’s crossover fighter?
Well, the auteur of the Super Smash Bros. series certainly believes so!
Final Fantasy VII hasn’t seen a release on a Nintendo system, but Cloud has made a few appearances on Nintendo’s handhelds. A trailer for Final Fantasy Explorers aired shortly before Cloud’s Smash reveal, in fact.
Now, you may point out how, in the grand scheme of Cloud’s resume, those titles aren’t significant. You’d be right; they’re, at best, vaguely interesting footnotes, and Cloud’s portrayal in Smash is clearly taking after Final Fantasy VII (and Advent Children), not those games. I mainly mentioned them for the sake of completeness, and to show, yes, Cloud isn’t entirely allergic to Nintendo.
Sakurai has discussed his criteria for third party characters, and there’s a complete writeup of them over yonder. I strongly suggest reading it, and take care to note the following guideline:
“3. The character must carry game history with them.
Besides that, it might be something like a courtesy to include a character who has the experience of being on a Nintendo platform.”
Keeping Sakurai’s words in mind, let’s review every other guest Smash has had thus far: Snake, Sonic, Mega Man, Pac-Man, and Ryu. They actually have a few key characteristics in common for such a diverse bunch: they’re emblematic of this industry, they starred in genre-defining games, and they hail from successful franchises.
When Ryu was officially announced, I mainly discussed how the character is an icon. Ryu isn’t synonymous with Nintendo’s history, but he’s Ryu, and that’s why he’s in. Besides, Snake, the original guest, is primarily known for his appearances on non-Nintendo systems. (Incidentally, Snake’s abstinence from Nintendo is one of the reasons Hideo Kojima wanted him to join the battle.)
Sakurai has, thus far, only accepted guests who carry a renowned existence. Final Fantasy is a titan, and Cloud and his game are its peak. His tenuous connection to Nintendo notwithstanding, Square Enix’s mercenary is an apt pick for the “number one character game in the world.”
…By the way, remember the Smash Bros. Fighter Ballot?
According to the man himself, Cloud was “a fairly difficult request.” Sakurai has talked about fan requests before, but could the Ballot have influenced the decision to include Cloud? Ryu, Lucas, and Roy were in-development before the Ballot went live, but I suppose Cloud could have been in the works then, too.
Chances are we’ll know next month.
(Safe predictions: I expect Cloud to be released for download immediately after the presentation ends, and I expect him to follow the same pricing structure as Ryu.)
Are there too many “anime swordsmen” on the roster?
This isn’t directed exclusively at Cloud, but it is something I’d like to discuss.
When I’m browsing the web engaging in my aforementioned scientifically sound surveys, I notice a few recurring complains: “too many sword-users” and “too much anime.” While I’m not claiming those comments are reflective of the entire Smash community, I’ve seen them often enough to feel compelled to address them.
Several characters in the roster have an anime-esque art style, with the Fire Emblem crew probably attracting the most ire. Xenoblade‘s Shulk and now Cloud fit this label, too. (In my lurking, I find the Zelda cast is usually excluded from these complaints, and the Kid Icarus crew usually is, too.)
Now, art direction is a subjective thing, and you’re not wrong for preferring characters with different aesthetics. However, I’d like to point out how Nintendo’s history – and the history of video games in general – includes a lot of range. Super Smash Bros. is a celebration of that history, and to properly represent it, there will be characters you may not personally care for.
Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS and Wii U still have 56 characters to play as. You don’t have to be enthralled for all of them, and I agree there’s still a few holes (we really could use a Donkey Kong newcomer), but I’m confident there’s a character or two for you to pick.
Moreover, while the act of hitting people with swords sounds redundant, it should be remembered that the majority of swordsmen on the cast offer unique movesets. Link, Marth, Ike, and Shulk may contain some stylistic overlap in their designs, but they play completely differently, and isn’t that the most important thing?
(P.S. Sakurai, please include Takamaru next time. He’s cool.)
So, what’re my thoughts on Cloud Strife?
In conclusion, Cloud is an exceedingly popular character, he’s going to sell, his game is important, his franchise is massive, and Sakurai thought he’d be a worthwhile addition to the Super Smash Bros. family.
We’re finally prepared to tackle the real issues: what do I, Cart Boy, think of Cloud Strife? Am I happy he’s in?
This’ll be my first experience with Cloud, and I’m excited for it! Yes, I have no connection to the character, and I know little about him (besides a few spoilers everyone probably knows by now).
Nevertheless, I do know how powerful Final Fantasy is, and I believe Cloud is a perfect choice to represent it in Smash.
Congratulations, Cloud! You were chosen by the Planet!