by Cameron Morvant
When it was first released, Marvel Studio’s Infinity War was considered the largest crossover endeavor in history, with Endgame expanding on this conceit for a grand finale to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Such a claim might be true in the world of cinema, but the gaming world has witnessed a much larger crossover event around the same time. Released on December 7, 2018, Super Smash Brothers Ultimate is a cross between a highly technical fighting game and an easy-access party game that is designed for all types of gaming audiences. Smash Ultimate brings together not just the best characters from Nintendo, but all-stars from all of gaming. Representatives from video game studios such as Namco, Sega, Capcom, Square Enix, Atlus, SNK, Microsoft, and many more are featured alongside Nintendo favorites like Mario, Pikachu, and Kirby. It’s no stretch to say that Smash Ultimate is the biggest source of video game representation in a single title, with 69 fighters from 32 different game series. A lot of other series also received lesser representation in Ultimate’s large collection of music, costumes, items, and other features. With the release of additional paid content, six more characters from four new series have been added, bringing the roster total to a whopping 75. Since the series is known and beloved for its cast of characters, it seems that any addition to the game would be well-received. After all, why would anyone have a problem with another character being added to a game?
Well, there’s an answer to that; for now, though, just know that fans took issue with Byleth, the newest character added to the game. For context, let’s first consider the previous characters chosen as additional content, Piranha Plant from Super Marios Bros, Joker from Persona 5, Banjo and Kazooie from Banjo and Kazooie, the Hero from Dragon Quest, and Terry Bogard from King of Fighters/Fatal Fury. They were all incredibly well-received; looking to the Youtube trailers for these characters, each received fewer than 3,500 dislikes, with Joker having the highest amount of likes at 178,000 and Banjo with the lowest at 44,000.
It was Byleth from Fire Emblem: Three Houses proved divisive, receiving 84,000 dislikes alongside 141,000 likes. With regards to how Byleth plays, he is actually quite unique. He uses four different weapons from Three Houses: a sword with whip-like attributes, an axe, a bow, and a lance, with different movements determining which weapon is used. This tool variety gives them greater options for combos, with a healthy dose of power that makes their playstyle a fresh addition to the game’s formula. This brings me back to my original question: if this character brings so much to the table, why wasn’t he well-received?
Simple: Byleth is from Fire Emblem.
Fire Emblem has an infamous reputation in Smash history. As I mentioned earlier, there were 69 characters at launch. With this character pack complete, the roster now contains 75 characters. Of those 75, eight are now from Fire Emblem, those being Marth, Roy, Ike, Lucina, Robin, Corrin, Chrom, and Byleth. Ordinarily, this might not be a problem; Super Mario Bros. and Pokémon are two other series with 8 representatives, yet they are met with much less scrutiny. The issue lies in
the characters themselves. For one thing, all eight Fire Emblem characters use swords, causing them to play rather similarly from the get-go. Marth and Roy both have special mechanics for distributing damage, Lucina plays identically to them but without those mechanics, and Chrom plays particularly similar to Roy, save one move which he took from Ike. Ike is much heavier, Robin integrates magic into his kit, and Corrin uses various drill- and saw-like moves, but they don’t distract from the others enough to satisfy the fanbase. At the end of the day, the characters are just too similar to justify their inclusion.
The fact that Fire Emblem characters have been included in Smash as promotion for their series has also left a bad taste in people’s mouths. Both Roy and Corrin are guilty of this, being used to promote Fire Emblem: The Binding Blade and Fire Emblem: Fates respectively. While Byleth doesn’t follow this trend precisely, Nintendo did release new content for Fire Emblem: Three Houses on January 28th, the same day Byleth was officially added to Smash Ultimate.
Returning to where we began, Byleth was the only inclusion from character pack one to originate from a series featured in the base game. Fans had been expecting Nintendo to continue the trend of characters from new series, with Sora from Kingdom Hearts and Dante from Devil May Cry being heavily requested by western audiences. Rumors spreading in the final days before the direct made these requests seem much more of a reality, which made the disappointment all the greater.
Now, am I disappointed? I was. I bought into the hype as many did, thinking Nintendo could keep everyone happy the whole way through and give us the character everyone seemed to want. I’ve played the first three Devil May Cry games, and I would have particularly loved to see Dante in Smash. Having played Byleth now, though, I can safely say that he is a welcome addition, and his diverse move set justifies his inclusion. It’s also worth considering that characters like Banjo and Hero weren’t highly requested, but people still loved them and settled any discontentment they had long before the they were released. In short, everyone got over it and just enjoyed the game.
However, that wasn’t quite the case with Byleth. Tweets and Youtube perpetuated the sentiment of dissatisfaction reflected in the dislike ratio on the official release video. The discontentment continued to die down as the release approached, but people were up in arms over this character choice, with rumors of trying to get staff members of Nintendo fired spreading quickly after the trailer dropped. Needless to say, other gaming groups found it comical to see Smash Bros.
When everyone saw the trailer, we all thought the same thing: “people aren’t going to be happy about this.” Fortunately, the team behind Smash thought this too, and went ahead and announced that six new characters would be added following Byleth’s release. But if they knew this wasn’t going to be as well-received, why release it at all? Well, aside from being locked into a schedule and needing to boost sales for other Nintendo titles, Nintendo included a number of their own characters as additional content in the past. Super Smash Bros. for Wii U/3DS, the previous title in the series, featured four characters from existing series as additional content—including one from Fire Emblem—and three from new series. Even this year, Piranha Plant was added outside the pack and was met with confused yet open arms, likely because it was a bonus character and not part of the paid content pack. Nintendo was gracious with their inclusion of other series in their celebration of video games, but this shouldn’t come at the expense of their own franchises.
Nintendo needs to represent themselves as much as anyone, and they shouldn’t receive any flak for doing so. Still, this didn’t come out of nowhere. While fan reactions might have been over-the-top, their disappointment is understandable. Outside of video newsletters, the company isn’t known for giving regular updates, with Smash being guilty of this more than others. With so little information given, fans are left to speculate and build up impossible expectations. Considering the strong addition of Joker at the beginning of the pack, as well as fan-favorite characters being added to the base game prior to the announcement of the content pack, expectations were already high. The next three characters being from new series increased excitement further, with the fifth fighter being expected to follow the trend. Additionally, the middle three characters were released relatively close together, and the fighters were available for purchase and download immediately after their gameplay reveals. The fourth character, Terry, was revealed with gameplay and released on November 6th after being initially announced on September 4th. Comparatively, Byleth’s gameplay announcement was revealed on January 16th, to be released two weeks later. This occurred months after the Terry gameplay announcement, despite Byleth’s gameplay announcement being originally filmed in November. With more wait time and less information, expectations grew out of proportion, and so did the disappointment that inevitably followed. But what could Nintendo do? If they started with Byleth, fewer people would have bought the character pack. They needed Joker to go first to ensure the majority of players would invest in their paid content early. Hero and Banjo would need to be together, since they appealed to eastern and western audiences respectively, and Terry wouldn’t be ready until much later on, either because of scheduling or production issues. Perhaps they could have moved Byleth around a bit, but they weren’t going to be the favorite pick no matter where he went. Announcing six more characters should have been an effective way to soften the blow, but it just wasn’t enough. The stigma against Fire Emblem far exceeds many of the other series represented, and the Fire Emblem games never gained the traction in the west they gained in Japan, despite Nintendo’s best efforts.
Now, a lot of this sounds like complaining; I want to stress that I don’t think Byleth in Smash is a bad thing, nor is it wholly self-serving of Nintendo to add the character. He is a fun addition, and I think people will learn to appreciate him as they have any other character met with disappointment in the past. I’ve played games in the Fire Emblem franchise before, and it’s worth noting that each game has an entirely new cast of characters that ranges from 20 to 50 in size. With each of the 17 games having unique characters, it makes sense they would have representation that rivals Pokémon in Smash. However, having played other series with fewer characters—Kirby, Metroid, F-Zero, Sonic the Hedgehog, Donkey Kong, etc.—I still would have liked a less represented series to have received a new fighter, as would many others. Admittedly, it feels like favoritism, and maybe it is. The fact remains, though, that the Fire Emblem issue does not and should not rest solely on Byleth’s shoulders.
Of course, with Byleth having been released, most people should be satisfied, right? It’s one thing to dislike a concept, but if the character is fun, no one should have any room to complain. Well, that’s not precisely true. Admittedly, a good majority of people are happy for the new addition. With Byleth being built around slow but powerful moves, though, many were concerned about his viability in the game and its competitive elements. Some of the same voices of dissent claim the character is too slow to do any good, and is ultimately still a waste of an inclusion. It’s hard to say
if this stems from legitimate concerns or residual disappointment, but it’s neither here nor there. The character plays well enough, was generally well-received after being released. The worst thing that can happen now is people who bought the character won’t play them.
All of this will likely blow over within a week or two, or when the next character is announced if nothing else. In the meantime, let this serve as a reminder of how Nintendo nearly did the impossible and satisfied fans the world over, only to fall short in the home stretch. And, for those not satisfied with the inclusion, remember how very little this means and how very little a reaction is warranted outside of disappointment. Shake it off, move on, and keep celebrating video games. Because that is what Smash is all about, and we’d all do well to remember it.