Byleth was a Strange Choice...
There sure is a lot of Sire Emblem in my Smash Bros...
That brings the total number of Fire Emblem characters in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate to 8. That’s on par with Pokemon, and just shy of Super Mario. Last week’s reveal seems to have left the internet split into two camps. The first is easily the loudest, which is the camp who thinks this was a bad choice for the final DLC character in the first Fighters Pass. The second are people who think Byleth is an excellent choice, and that everyone who is disappointed should just shut up and stop being salty.
I am firmly in the first camp. If you had asked me on Wednesday what character my absolute dead last realistic choice would be, I would have said “another Fire Emblem character.” Now, this isn’t because of some deep hatred of Fire Emblem. I have no beef with the series. I’d love to have the time to try and get into it someday. I also don’t have any real attachment to it. So why am I salty about Byleth being in Smash? Well, two big reasons. But before I get there, I have to say a few things.
First and foremost, I am in no way ungrateful for what Sakurai and his team have done thus far. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is a freaking masterpiece that I will be happily playing for years. The roster is completely bananas, and honestly the only classic character left who I really want to see is Ryu Hayabusa. Byleth doesn’t ruin Smash, and while I am massively disappointed, this doesn’t make me love the game any less.
Sakurai clearly loves Fire Emblem, and he should get to make whatever characters he wants. If Byleth makes him happy, then so be it. (Yes, I know Nintendo chose these characters, but you get my meaning).
Okay, let’s get to it.
We've been here before
My biggest gripe with Byleth is that the character doesn't add anything to Smash. I don’t mean from a gameplay perspective, but from an overall appeal perspective. Smash isn’t just about the core gameplay. For many (myself included) it’s an amazing opportunity to see characters from all manner of different franchises in the same place at the same time. The DLC thus far has been absolutely incredible at adding to that already bonkers array of worlds to pull from. It’s the reason I’ve been hoping so hard for Ninja Gaiden. Each pack has given us representation from a different company that has made an impact on the gaming world.
Joker brought Atlus’ unique flair in the form of a Persona character, which while doesn’t hold any real interest for me, was a very unique addition. Hero brought classic Enix into the fold by way of one of the most important and longest-running video game franchises on the planet, and did so in spectacular fashion with the multiple costumes, effectively giving representation to four different main protagonists. (What a novel idea…) Banjo-Kazooie brought us Rare, a hugely important piece of Nintendo’s history, and with it one of the most beloved characters of the Nintendo 64 era back to Nintendo’s platform. Terry showed the US that SNK isn’t only a huge part of video game history, but that Terry is a pretty kick-ass character in his own right. Byleth brings us… more Fire Emblem.
We already have 7 characters, a number of stages, and tons of music. I’m sure the new songs are great if you’ve played Three Houses, but as someone who hasn’t played much Fire Emblem, I already have a hard time differentiating one song from another. It’s just not that distinct to my ears. The stage is kind of cool, but we already have a Fire Emblem stage that goes from location to location. And as for the character, just look at this.
If you told me this was the same character in 4 different costumes, I’d believe you. Say what you will about the characters released so far, but at least they’re distinct. They all bring something to the table. This does not. Tecmo, Sunsoft, Taito, these names and more are home to any number of characters and worlds that would make the already impressive Smash universe all the more impressive.
The good news (with a catch)
It’s not all bad news, as Byleth does a lot of things right. They’re probably the best Fire Emblem representation they’ve added so far because unlike the 7 other FE characters, Byleth actually incorporates Fire Emblem’s gameplay elements into their play style. The weapon triangle is apparently a big part of FE, and having it be an integral part in how the character plays is fantastic. But if my timeline is correct, DLC fighters were always going to be a thing, and Nintendo themselves already picked which characters they were going to be a while ago.
So if Byleth was going to make the roster anyway, why did they add Chrom? It’s not like Fire Emblem fans didn’t already have PLENTY of reasons to play Smash. Fire Emblem was already very well represented in the game, and adding Chrom was beating the already dead horse, especially when they could have put that effort into any number of other Echo Fighters that would add more diversity to the cast.
If they had skipped Chrom entirely and had Byleth as the only new Fire Emblem character this time around, it probably would have played out a lot better. Not perfect, mind you, since Fire Emblem is already pretty saturated as-is, but it would be more understandable. Byleth’s moveset is a worthy addition, especially in the way that it represents the actual game of Fire Emblem and not just the characters and world, but it’s too much too late.
The "Smash Effect" isn't a factor
This being the case, the “Smash Effect” is basically negated. The Smash Effect is effectively what happened to Fire Emblem in the US in the first place. Marth and Roy were in Melee, and nobody knew what Fire Emblem was outside of Japan because it hadn’t been localized. After Smash, interest in those characters rose, Fire Emblem games were eventually released outside Japan, and now it’s a freaking juggernaut. The Fighter’s Pass seemed like it was after some of that sweet Smash Effect goodness, and set itself up for it pretty well.
I have no doubt some folks tried out Persona 5 for the first time after seeing Joker in Smash. (Probably a metric ton more would have had Persona 5 been on Switch, but that’s still mysteriously not a thing). Dragon Quest XI S probably got a bit of a sales boon with Hero on the roster, Banjo on Xbox One sales probably ticked up a tad, and I’m absolutely certain some folks discovered the wonderful world of SNK fighters with the release of Terry. Byleth though, does none of that.
I doubt very many Smash fans are going to look at this 8th character and think to themselves, “You know, I really should go buy Three Houses. The other 7 characters didn’t move the needle, but this one does!” And of course, the other direction would be Fire Emblem fans buying Smash, but I can’t imagine there were a lot of folks out there saying “Those other 7 Fire Emblem characters didn’t really do it for me, but now that Byleth is in Smash, I think I’ll give it a shot!” That just leaves people who experienced Three Houses as their first Fire Emblem game who also don’t already have Smash as potential sales based on the character. That has to be an extremely small number of people.
I’m not saying Smash characters are solely based on their sales potential for other products, but it’s probably at least a factor.
Multiple worlds of opportunity
The bigger problem however, stems from just how much has been left on the table in favor of “yet another Fire Emblem character.” I’m not suggesting that grabbing other 3rd Party characters is the easiest thing to do. The first 5 were 3rd party, but there’s no shame in Nintendo sticking to their own house. It’s a mighty big house after all, and there are a metric ton of characters sitting in there waiting to open Smash up to potential new audiences, and that’s the problem. Why keep diving in the Fire emblem well when there’s so, so much more to pull from?
The lineup of characters and franchises Nintendo hasn’t represented yet isn’t as vast as it once was, but there are a surprising number of relatively obvious choices still waiting from either new worlds or as expansions of existing brands. ARMS is the first one that comes to mind. Sure, it didn’t set the world on fire the way Splatoon did, but it still did pretty darn well for itself, and its character designs are its strongest suit. Min Min has a dragon for one arm and Ramen noodles for the other. She’s awesome, just like pretty much all of the character designs in ARMS, and just about any one of them, Min Min, Ninjara, Twintelle, would have been much more interesting choices than Byleth.
Speaking of Splatoon, what about the Octolings? I’m not sure how to differentiate them from the Inklings too much, but there’s no shortage of weapons in Splatoon to pick from. It wasn’t a problem for Chrom, and Splatoon is an enormously popular IP. They’re really cool character designs too.
Dixie Kong is just sitting around waiting to use her ponytail for all sorts of Smash goodness. Like a less chaotic version of Diddy Kong. Any opportunity to push a few more copies of Tropical Freeze is good, and Dixie would be a great addition.
Or in the other direction of Donkey Kong representation, why not give old Stanley the Bugman some love? This poor guy was meant to fill Mario’s shoes after he moved on to Mario Bros., and he’s never gotten a fair shake. Put Stanley in an actually good game and see if he sticks.
If we’re talking about heroes, Isaac from Golden Sun is a pretty highly requested character. If we’re going to be putting anime swordsmen into Smash, why not open it up to a whole new fandom instead of just the Fire Emblem crowd?
Smash has a villain problem, as in there aren’t nearly enough villains. Which is why I’m shocked Hades from Kid Icarus hasn’t shown up yet. He’s an outstanding villain with a wicked cool design, and Kid Icarus Uprising was a Sakurai joint, so he’d be bringing in his own character into his most well known game. I’m kinda surprised Medusa wasn’t already an echo for Palutena too, but whatever. Hades would be amazing.
Nintendo obscurity can be fun!
Of course if those are too mainstream, (Okay, Stanley the Bugman isn’t mainstream, but roll with it) Nintendo could decide to get super weird. Characters like ROB, Ice Climber, and Duck Hunt turned plenty of heads, and breathing new life into old properties is something Smash does extremely well.
People have been clamoring for a Balloon Fighter ever since the Ice Climbers were in Melee, so I say give Alice from Balloon Kid a shot. Or how about Mach Rider? Super awesome motorcycle dude from a black box NES game nobody’s ever played. He’d be great! Oo how about someone from Pro Wrestling or Urban Champion? Those are actual Nintendo-published fighting games!
Or what about thinking outside the box and giving us an Excitebike or WaveRace rep? You know, Ring Fit adventure has been a pretty huge success, how about adding the Ring Fit player character in there? Drageaux as a boss character or background element, and some of the game’s sweet music too, that would be great.
But what if we took it a step even safer. Nintendo’s biggest franchise by far is Super Mario, and there are still a number of great untapped options. The most obvious being Paper Mario. Mr. Game & Watch has proven that a straight up 2D character works fine in Smash, and Paper Mario could come with an incredibly cool stage and a wild moveset. And speaking of spinoffs, how about Captain Toad? It’s freaking Toad, man! He’s been around for ages in one form or another, and since he’s basically a part of Peach’s moveset, Captain Toad is a great workaround. And like Tropical Freeze, there’s never a bad time to get more people to try out Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker.
Going back to the Donkey Kong connection, how about Pauline? She’s as old a character as Mario, and she played a big part in the mega smash hit Super Mario Odyssey. She would make a killer character, and finally having a chance to see Pauline beat up Donkey Kong would be a real old-schooler’s treat.
My pick above all else would have to be Wart, though. This poor guy gets so little love, but there was a time when he was just as prolific a Mario villain as Bowser. I’ve been dying for a proper sequel to Super Mario Bros. 2 since I was a kid, and Wart’s inclusion as a playable character wouldn’t just be a nice consolation prize for the game that will never be, but it would help with Samsh’s villain problem.
And what about Waluigi? I mean, I don’t care about the character, but come on. It’s not like Waluigi fans have exactly been quiet about wanting him on the roster.
Heroes (and villains) of Hyrule
Already too many Mario reps? What about Zelda? One of Nintendo’s biggest names and the representation is pitifully anemic. There are technically 6 fighters, but 3 of them are different flavors of Link, and Zelda and Sheik are technically the same character.
If we’re playing that game, how about Ganon? The big blue pig monster from the original Zelda games would be a terrific and unique addition. Or if you want to avoid different versions of existing characters, how about Vaati? He’s been the primary villain in more than one Zelda game, surely that earns him some notoriety.
On the good guy side, Impa’s design in Skyward Sword was super awesome, and the addition of that giant sword in Hyrule Warriors made her even cooler. Or if they’re just dying to add yet another Link to the bunch, how about Midna riding Wolf Link from Twilight Princess? There aren’t that many 4-legged Smash fighters, and the moveset for this duo would be killer.
I just rattled off 21 1st party Nintendo characters that would have been better picks than Byleth for a number of reasons. They aren’t all the kinds of characters that would bring unbridled hype, but they would have been at the very least more interesting, and brought something new to the table in some way shape or form. And I’m sure I’m missing plenty of other obvious choices.
So what do you think? Should I just shut up and be happy about Byleth? Was it a bad choice and they should have gone with a different pick? Let me know!