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Byleth's inclusion in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate feels more a result of business strategy than fan service but Fighters Pass 1 is still an overall win

Posted by John 'Velociraptor' Guerrero • February 7, 2020 at 2:57 p.m. PST • Comments: 17

Especially when compared to the rest of the Fighters Pass DLC roster members that have been released over the course of the last year, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate's latest newcomer, Byleth, has been met with a lukewarm reception.

While imaginations and hopes saw exceptionally hype characters like Devil May Cry's Dante as the potential final reveal for this first wave of DLC, an eighth guest from Fire Emblem and yet another sword-wielding fighter was not the number one choice from fans.This was a surprise to no one, apparently even including Ultimate's Designer, Masahiro Sakurai.

We recently got a bit of perspective on this thanks to his latest Famitsu column wherein he clearly stated that he's well aware of his audience's preferences not to have yet another sword fighting Fire Emblem character, and even mentioned that the decision was already made and that his hands were essentially tied.

"New fighters aren't decided by my own tastes but are brought in by Nintendo. The theme this time was "something fresh." For Smash Bros., we tend to always bring in fighters with a lot of history. Dragon Quest's Hero, Banjo & Kazooie, Fatal Fury's Terry, all of these characters first appeared around 20-30 years ago. There's a lot to incorporate from.

"This time, we thought it important to have a character from a game people are playing right now, and have them almost immediately get to play them in Smash Bros. Because of this, we had to try our hand at a game that was currently in development at the time. Even I don't know what Nintendo are set to sell next, so it was difficult to figure it out. And so, the timing for 'Three Houses' fit well.

"I understand what you're saying. First of all, there are too many Fire Emblem characters. And there are also too many swordsmen. But, since it was already decided, I had to follow this path. I can't spend time thinking on it, but must focus on other things instead," he concluded.

One could argue that the same level of heart that went into the previous DLC characters was not obviously there for the development of Byleth. Sakurai himself, in the moments before the reveal on the live stream, stated: "Even if you say, 'that's not the character I was picturing' I hope you don't have any hard feelings."

Though it's not unusual for Sakurai to go into a bit of the history of a newcomer's franchise, after listing the 17 Fire Emblem titles in existence he devoted a few minutes of the showcase to explaining how to use your hands to count in binary. While not at all an egregious sin, this felt odd and almost like a time filler. At the very least, it certainly did not portray a sense of excitement to get to the actual showcase.

Once we did start seeing the character in action, things didn't get all that much better. Joker, Hero, Banjo and Kazooie, and Terry all have distinct special mechanics that have come to be something of an expectation for new DLC characters, but the closest thing Byleth has to such a mechanic seems to be the underwhelming fact that they use various weapons in addition to their sword.

This wasn't the first choice from the game's head developer and it certainly wasn't the first choice from fans, and so it's pretty clearly looking like the first choice from Nintendo to help cross-promote two flourishing franchises. While that's not exactly a look that fans are likely to be fond of, we can't be all that quick to anger considering the successes of Ultimate.

The other four Fighters Pass characters have been received as overwhelming home runs (yes, even Hero, if more so in Japan than other areas) that have checked multiple boxes when it comes to making fans feel acknowledged.

Though Byleth was a somewhat questionable way to end the first season of Ultimate DLC, they are sandwiched between the success of the previous reveals and the exciting potential of Fighters Pass 2. It's also worth noting that they seem to be settling in at an unobtrusive low-mid tier rank, and that fact paired with the community's underwhelmed reactions means they'll likely fade into the background after not too long.

Dancing to the beat of Nintendo's business drum for one in five DLC characters is a digestibly small price to pay when you're also getting the plethora of successes that come with owning Ultimate. One would hope examples like this will be few and far between, but thankfully this call, though widely underwhelming, does not look like it will do too much in the way of dampening Smash Ultimate's forward momentum.

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