In a (not-so) recent interview conducted in the Fire Emblem 25th Anniversary Book, Sakurai made a comment on how he creates the roster for each Smash game and it really shed some much-needed light when it came to fans trying to predict what to expect.
“Industry trends around the time when development begins is a pretty big factor. I started development on Smash for 3DS/ Wii U right after I’d wrapped up Kid Icarus: Uprising, and Fire Emblem Awakening was released one month after Uprising. So what’s popular around the time when I begin designing the game is important.” – Masahiro Sakurai (Translation by Soma).
With this new information in mind, I got curious. Is this something new for Super Smash Bros for Wii U & 3DS or has this been Sakurai’s philosophy throughout the Super Smash Bros series? Could the trends of the time really help to influence the roster this much? Does this mean that with the seemingly eventual Smash for Switch we should not start predicting characters until it is actually announced?
DLC: September 2014-August 2015
Smash For was a game of firsts cross-release, puppet character, amiibo, and so on. Arguably the biggest first, though, was Smash’s addition of downloadable content after release. Supporting a game after release is fairly common nowadays, especially for fighting games, so it was not a surprise when Mewtwo was announced as the first DLC for Super Smash Bros. 3DS & Wii U. However, DLC development in any game is almost always different from regular development. It’s often done with a smaller team, and the priority is to get people to buy each thing individually rather than as a whole package. For Smash and Sakurai, who often decides everything early on and rarely strays from the plan, this demands a very different form of development and causes characters to be chosen in a very different way.
In total, we got seven characters for DLC; three of whom were veterans (Mewtwo, Roy and Lucas). While no specific reason has been given for why these three were chosen other than their individual popularity among Smash fans, it has been thought that Mewtwo was decided on because he was the most popular omission (remember the outcry after Brawl?) and the other two were the most popular omission of their respective Smash games (Melee & Brawl).
Of the remaining four fighters, three were guest characters, so there was clearly a push for these types of characters. The most likely reason for this goes back to buying characters individually. While Dixie Kong, as an example, might be a popular choice amongst Nintendo fans she isn’t nearly as well known as Street Fighter’s Ryu, a massive icon across the gaming spectrum. When people buy a game they get fourteen new characters; fighters like Dixie Kong, Krystal, or Bandanna Dee are just one of many. With DLC they have to stand alone, and it is easier for guest characters to do this. But why were these guest characters chosen? Well, let’s take a look.
All of the guest characters so far have been major icons in gaming and Ryu follows this pattern. Many see him as “Mr. Fighting Game,” – Sakurai commented that he has had the most crossovers of any video game icon – so his inclusion in Smash was really a matter of when and not why. In the past, Sakurai has expressed interest in adding a fighting game character and even considered Heihachi at one point, but Ryu’s greater renown makes him a far more sensible choice. Using his traditional Street Fighter inputs also allowed Ryu to be unique from most Smash newcomers, which fit in with the criteria for DLC newcomers. Some people theorise that Mega Man already being in Smash helped with Ryu getting in, but this might not be true. Checking the copyright in Smash reveals that Ryu and Mega Man are owned by individual divisions of Capcom and not the company as a whole, so Sakurai may have had to go through all new means again.
- http://sourcegaming.info/2015/06/25/ryu-roy-and-lucas-join-the-battle-sakurai-famitsu-column-vol-481/ – Roy, Ryu & Lucas
- http://sourcegaming.info/2015/10/05/sakuraithirdparty/ – on 3rd Party
- http://sourcegaming.info/2016/02/20/nintendo-dream-interview-with-sakurai-part-1/ – Nintendo Dream 1
Cloud fits a lot of the same criteria that was mentioned with Ryu. He is a big gaming icon, the limit-break is a unique mechanic, he can be considered as ‘Mr. RPG’ and he fits very easily into Smash. But, Sakurai has given us more in-depth details for why Cloud might have made the cut. Sakurai said he specifically wanted to represent Final Fantasy as a series rather than any individual character, and of all the protagonists of the Final Fantasy series Cloud is by far the most popular and most well-known hero. He commented on Cloud’s lack of a Nintendo presence but did say that he has appeared on Nintendo before, even if it is more as cameos.
- http://sourcegaming.info/2016/01/20/sakurai-x-nomura-creator-interview-2016-part-one/ – Sakurai x Nomura
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j1JERhUoQoU – Final Smash Direct
Sakurai likes to plan all his characters from the beginning, and it is my belief the DLC plan was decided at around the same time and only changed rarely, if at all. Mewtwo came as a bonus, but then when they decided to do DLC properly Lucas, Roy, Ryu, and Cloud were all decided on quickly. Judging by Square’s usual protection of their IP and the lack of Final Fantasy content in Smash, I believe that Cloud took slightly longer to get permission for, hence why he came much later. I also think that at this time they decided on a character for the Smash Ballot, but the actual character wouldn’t be decided for another few months.
So, Ryu and Cloud were decided first, and the other two were decided in July. The reason I think it was decided in July is because of the King K. Rool Mii Fighter costume. This costume was, without a doubt, chosen because of the Smash Ballot. It likely didn’t take long to make which means that the ballot, and Bayonetta, had been decided on before this time. Corrin was likely also considered at this time but development didn’t start until August, hence the lack of his file slot in the game’s data. So why were Bayonetta and Corrin chosen specifically? Let’s see.
So Bayonetta’s inclusion in this game is under very different circumstance from any other character in Smash before now (except for Ganondorf’s, to an extent). Bayonetta won the Smash Ballot, a worldwide poll in which fans could vote on which character they’d like to see in the game. This makes her inclusion primarily one based on popularity although we can easily see there are other factors involved. After all, she was, according to Sakurai, the most popular of the “realisable” characters which means other factors needed to be considered. Sakurai had to be able to envision her in his head and easily communicate with her original creators (PlatinumGames). We also know that Platinum gave some data to help make the Umbra Clock Tower stage, so they likely helped with some aspects of the character like concept art and textures. So while the ballot was the primary reason, she also needed some other factors to get her in.
- http://sourcegaming.info/2016/02/23/nintendo-dream-interview-with-sakurai-part-2/ – Nintendo Dream part 2
Corrin was the only 1st party newcomer added via Smash DLC and, according to the games’ internal files, was the last character decided on (most likely in July or August). Corrin was quite a controversial pick amongst fans. They were from a game that hadn’t launched in most of the world and from a series which had already seen two newcomers and one DLC character in this iteration of the series. Due to all this Sakurai has been quite open in justifying his decision and has acknowledged that these issues did cross his mind.
Corrin’s primary reason for being chosen was because the team wanted a character from a brand new Nintendo title. One of the things the DLC can do is represent games that only existed after the base game was released, and Smash as a platform is perfect for promoting them. It wasn’t just Corrin who was decided on for this reason; it is also why we got Splatoon Mii costumes and a Mario Maker stage. Corrin has a unique moveset being part dragon, a staple of the Fire Emblem series not yet seen in Smash, and was of course highly relevant. His game also not being released in the West was seen as a bonus as his launch in Smash could allow cross-promotion with its U.S. release.
I’ve seen many people argue that Fire Emblem Fates was not the only game that could’ve followed Sakurai’s philosophy. Games like Splatoon, Star Fox Zero, and Xenoblade Chronicles X might’ve made better choices, they argue, and after sitting down and ruminating on this I can see why Fates was chosen. And no, it is not Sakurai bias.
Sakurai commented that the game not being released in the west at this time was a “bonus,” and Corrin could help promote its launch. This has led many people to say that games like Star Fox Zero, Chibi-Robo: Zip Lash, and Metroid Prime: Federation Force could’ve also been up for consideration, however, this is not true. It was a “bonus,” an extra, and this implies that the game shown HAD to have at least been released somewhere (i.e. Japan) before July. So none of those games count, and it had to be a recent release as well otherwise it wouldn’t work as a promotion. So when we look at the Nintendo titles that launched in spring-summer of 2015 (the most likely timeframe) it ends up being narrowed down to just 11 potential candidates.
Xenoblade Chronicles X
- Yoshi’s Woolly World
- Fire Emblem Fates
- Pokemon Rumble World
- Girls Mode 3
- Daigassō! Band Brothers P – Debut
- Rhythm Tengoku: The Best +
- Dr. Mario Miracle Cure
Animal Crossing Happy Home Designer
Now let’s trim the fat. We need to remove any eShop only titles (Dr. Mario, Stretchmo, Pokémon) as they lose out to a main retail release. That leaves us with eight. Sakurai has commented in the past that a game needs a worldwide appeal for Smash, so any game without a western release announced at the time should also be cut (Girls Mode, Daigasso, Rhythm Tengoku). Now we have five candidates left. Yoshi doesn’t really have any characters that are important enough for Smash, and most of Animal Crossing’s cast has already been used in other areas of Smash. Splatoon was a popular choice but what most people don’t consider is that it was already being promoted in Smash thanks to the Mii Fighter costume. This costume was decided on long before they wanted to make a character for promotion and it makes no sense to promote the game twice when other games needed promotion. Thus, there are two candidates: Xenoblade X and Fire Emblem Fates. This is where the issue of DLC comes in. It still needs to stand on its own, and of these two series Fire Emblem clearly is the more popular. Thus, Fire Emblem Fates won out.
- http://sourcegaming.info/2016/02/09/famitsu499/ – Exhaustion and Excitement
- http://sourcegaming.info/2015/12/21/the-corrin-controversy/ – Corrin Controversy end
- http://sourcegaming.info/2016/12/16/the-substantial-barrier-of-aaa-games-sakurai-col-514/ – Substantial Barrier of AAA games
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j1JERhUoQoU – Final Smash Direct
- https://twitter.com/ShinyQuagsire/status/649793444844466176 – Mario character slots
With that, I have finally covered every single fighter that has made it into the Super Smash Bros. series, including those considered, and so before I sign off I want to talk about what this should mean for Smash speculation in the future. Not just any character makes it into Smash and as it turns out, there are recurring requirements and themes with every Smash game.
- Every character is decided at the beginning of the game except for clones / semi-clones which get added towards the end of development.
- Every character has to add something unique to Smash, whether it is in their moveset or in their appearance. Clones are the exception to this as they are considered ‘extras’.
- A character has to be important to their series. Either the main protagonist, a recurring character or a main villain.
- Sakurai has to be able to envision that character. It doesn’t matter how big they are, if he can’t imagine how they might fight or feels they don’t suit a fighting game, then they won’t get in.
- The importance of the series compared to the characters in Smash is something considered but is not a major deciding point.
- A character has to have a worldwide appeal. Japan-only and especially western-only will not make the cut (Lucas and Fire Emblem in Melee were the big exceptions to this and had other reasons for their inclusion).
- Guest characters have a special position in Smash. They need to be a character or from a series that is really important to both Nintendo and/or gaming as a whole. They aren’t exclusive to series made in Japan, but Sakurai needs to be able to communicate easily with the original creators, so those will be more likely.
- A character’s popularity and fan-demand will always play a role. If you really want a character in then keep making noise because Sakurai does listen. Just do so without being a jerk about it.
- There are always specific slots that get filled, such as a surprise rep or a retro rep.
- Relevancy will always play a role. The more relevant a character is the more likely they will be.
As for the amount of newcomers, the average has been about twelve. The number has increased from game-to-game but Sakurai has made a comment that eventually we will get to a hundred characters and they will stop feeling special: the implication being that if we are to expect this amount of newcomers in the future, then we should expect more and more cuts.
Of course, DLC runs on its own rules and so we need to consider other factors as well. Three newcomers were the original plan but an extra fourth one was decided later on.
- Each character needs to stand on his or her own. So big gaming icons, even third party, will win out against smaller first-party icons.
- The majority of characters are still decided at the beginning of DLC development, but the possibility of characters being decided later on is higher.
- DLC allows characters that come out after the game to get in, and they may get priority.
- Finally, the uniqueness factor is pushed up to eleven as every DLC character must add something unique and stand-out above and beyond the rest.
These are the factors we need to look at for future Smash games. But what if the next game is a port? We’ve never had that before. Well, it’s my belief that they would follow a combination of logic from the DLC and from the base game.
- Not every character needs to a massive icon but they do all need to be unique.
- They would all be decided at the beginning (except clones) but the amount of characters would be about the size of DLC (three to four at most).
- The character still needs worldwide appeal and needs to be important in its own series.
- Finally, relevancy is still super important but specific slots, such as a surprise character, won’t be a factor due to the roster size.
So, with the possibility of a new Smash on the horizon it may not be long before we return to Smash but until then let me know what you think about all of this in the comments below. If you liked this article then please share it amongst your friends and in places where speculation is high as I am sure this article will be of great use to them. On Character Selection isn’t over though. While Smash is done (outside of one bonus article coming up 😉 ) we can move onto other big games with large casts. So look forward to the next issue of On Character Selection.