On Character Selection: Smash For DLC and Beyond

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

No CSS this time but who cares about any of the base characters when you have Corri -boom-.

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.

 

Ryu:

I wonder how people would react to Ken in Smash? The original clone.

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.

Sources:

 

Cloud:

How cool would it have been if Cloud got the Mega Man treatment from Sakurai; Looking exactly like this. Maybe cool isn’t the right word.

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.

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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 this is where you’ve been all these years. I think Retro was looking for you… was it Retro?

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.

 

Bayonetta:

“Oh boys, don’t you know salty tears are what give us Umbra Witches their power.”

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.

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Corrin:

“So, I’m outta here! Ring me when only one of you is left standing.”

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
  • Splatoon
  • Yoshi’s Woolly World
  • Fire Emblem Fates
  • Pokemon Rumble World
  • Girls Mode 3
  • Daigassō! Band Brothers P – Debut
  • Rhythm Tengoku: The Best +
  • Stretchmo
  • 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.

Sources:

 

As much as we would all love this it won’t happen. I know, I’m sad as well.

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.

NantenJex
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NantenJex

Video Content Lead at Source Gaming
If video game historian was a career that would be my goal in life. I have spent a lot of my life studying various histories and so I am super familiar with sourcing, which is pretty essential for this site and just a good thing to do in general so you do not spread lies. I have a huge fascination with the old days and ips with Nintendo. There is so much potential for old franchises like Balloon Fight, Marvelous, Nazo no Murusame Jo and more to come back in the modern age. At least Smash celebrates those games! My focus for source gaming are the Dream articles and working on Project Omega. I hope you enjoy reading my work.
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4 comments

  1. Ryu’s inclusion was a surprise…well, at least if it wasn’t for that leak that came out before then. That leak pretty much ruin the expectations upon who we wanna see, but somehow I wasn’t disappointed with Ryu’s inclusion, but instead glad to see him in Smash. But even then, didn’t quite understand why two Capcom characters were allowed while others didn’t. Still doesn’t know what’s the actual rule and limit of bringing third party characters. I do think Sakurai need to explain about it sometime so we could fully understand how he’s choosing characters.

    For Cloud’s case, unlike Ryu’s, his entry was a huge surprise since there was no leak regarding to his inclusion. I was surprised when one of my co-workers at my job informed me about his inclusion, which was unbelievable that they finally brought a Square Enix character which thought to be impossible. We’ve always thought having Square Enix join Smash was too impossible and futile due to their relationship back in the console wars, but realized that things have changed since then and now that Square Enix is being more supportive with Nintendo, and that was the good sign. Eventually, having Cloud in Smash was part of my crossover dreams, and I’m glad he made it in without a problem.

    Bayonetta’s entry was another unexpected surprise so far. Well, I knew many were voting for her, but didn’t know she’d win the poll. But most of her popularity was mainly from Europe than America and Japan, so she was strongly voted by European fans alright. But eventually, although I hardly use her, I was glad that she made it to Smash, so she’s widely welcome on my watch.

    At the same time, Corrin’s inclusion was another surprise to me. I knew he was popular in Japan, especially his female version since she’s the most popular female character in Fates, but seen many Western viewers were so angry with this inclusion. Too many FE characters, too many sword fighters, blah blah blah…the complaints never stopped since then. But the difference between him and others were that his movesets weren’t mainly focused upon his sword, but with his shape-shifting ability, which made him more unique since we didn’t have such type before. As much I ignore these meaningless whining, I’m glad to see Corrin join the game.

    But eventually, putting Square Enix aside, Bandai Namco didn’t provide their second fighter. I could’ve accepted Heihachi if possible, but couldn’t due to his movesets wouldn’t work well in Smash. Klonoa or even any Tales characters would’ve been possible, but didn’t instead becoming a Mii costume. It could’ve been interesting if it was Mametchi though. (lol) But who could’ve joined in instead? There could’ve been many possibilities…

    But even then, reading this series were enjoyable. So far, since we don’t know when the next Smash’s gonna be released, we can at least expect something more in a surprise. Every character can be surprising, good or worst, and that’s something we’re hoping to experience. There’ll be lots of time to predict, unless we hype responsibly.

    Great job on the article! Thanks for sharing us such wonder series! Keep up a good work!

  2. Pretty good article. I do believe that DLC was probably planned near the game’s release and probably started development around December. The only thing that I’m not sure is when exactly was Mewtwo decided to be a bonus character. But, Sakurai did shout out at a Pokemon X and Y table conference said “we are thinking are about” back in 2013 and the roster plan was finished the year before. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think that Mewtwo was intended to be in the base game in Smash 4. But since data from melee was too old, Sakurai decided to make him a special bonus character instead and eventually made him paid DLC. I always thought that Mewtwo was one of the first “new” characters to be in Smash 4 since he was probably next in line for Brawl (just like Wario almost made it to melee and one of the first newcomers in Brawl). But, I guess plans changes and the rise of DLC the development team didn’t have to worry about putting Mewtwo in the base game. Either way, Mewtwo would’ve probably made it in regardless since he is very popular and a huge demand for his comeback.
    Source: https://mynintendonews.com/2013/06/19/sakurai-is-considering-mewtwo-for-smash-bros-wii-u-3ds/
    Some of the comments from the source gives me cancer. Wish you guys were there at the time because it would’ve been cool to hear your opinions about it. Oh well, the most important thing out of this is that MEWTWO STRIKES BACK!

    1. I would also like to talk about Lucas, Roy, Wolf, and Jigglypuff. I believe that they were also meant to return in order to beef up the roster. But were listed as low priority and time constraints happened. Therefore, they were scrapped. It could also be possible they were cut in favor of trying to get Bowser Jr in and the 3DS. Since Sakurai doesn’t like to use unfinished content as DLC, I would guess that Lucas and Roy didn’t get worked on due to being “dead characters”. Although Roy did appear in Awakening, it was only DLC and I don’t think that was enough to make him a priority. Ness does have Lucas specials as custom moves, but they aren’t 100% the same. Wolf was possibly worked on because Fox has a custom side special that work exactly like his and name too. His lylat conversion is a low poly model, has his own trophy box, he or the wolfen does not appear in the Wii U version StarFox stage, and three versions of his theme. Plus his series wasn’t dead, but was barely active at the time (StarFox 64 3DS) so some new fans would recognize him. Unfortunately, development for him didn’t get very far as there isn’t a victory tune for him or any data left from him. So when DLC was officially planned, Sakurai didn’t want to sell Wolf because he was worked on. Instead, he chose Lucas and Roy because they were probably planned to be in the base game and were veterans. We don’t know officially why Wolf was cut and why Lucas and Roy weren’t in the base game, but we can assume that low priority and time constraints is the answer. He did say that he cuts low priority characters as development went on. Plus, we know how Sakurai selects his characters and likes to add extra characters to beef up the roster.

      Now on to the puff. In the slot files (at least for the Wii U version), it appears that Jigglypuff comes after Shulk, but before the two new clones and Greninja/new third-parties. I’m assuming Dr. Mario comes after Sonic because he is using the original MarioD slot from brawl (it was the last slot in brawl). Judging from this, I think that Jigglypuff was almost cut again if developers had less time just like in brawl. He is also the last character to unlock if one does only VS matches in the 3DS version. The unlock character VS method follows the exact order from Brawl for the unlockable veterans (except for Dr. Mario and Wario). I’m assuming this would’ve happened in the Wii U version, but Sakurai changed his mind when unlocking characters for the Wii U version. Most importantly, the model is almost the exact same from X and Y with a few differences. It also didn’t get lots of changes either like most veterans. If everything I said were true, then Wolf, Lucas, and Roy would come after the Puff. Plus, they would probably need to be unlocked after Jigglypuff when playing VS mode. There could be other characters too, but veterans are easier to predict. If I were to say which ones, they would be Dixie Kong and Toon Zelda. Since they were worked on in brawl and would be easy to develop. Again, this is just my speculation and I could be wrong about this.

      Sources: http://www.neogaf.com/forum/showthread.php?t=962896
      https://pbs.twimg.com/media/CfHLoJWUEAAuZlG.jpg:large thanks to Smb123w64gb for this image
      http://nintendoeverything.com/sakurai-talks-a-bit-about-smash-bros-dlc/
      https://smashboards.com/threads/swamps-social-thread-3-and-now-the-end-is-near-and-so-i-face-the-final-curtain.422414/page-825#post-20669342 thanks to Frostwraith for his theory.

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