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Masahiro Sakurai explains his philosophy used to balance Super Smash Bros. Ultimate's roster

Posted by Justin 'AdaptiveTrigger' Gordon • November 13, 2021 at 11 a.m. PST • Comments: 17

The addition of Kingdom Hearts' Sora to Super Smash Bros. Ultimate as the final character to join the fight has expanded the roster count to a whopping 86. Despite the massive size of the character select screen, it's often said that Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is actually the most balanced entry in the series. This is particularly interesting as it tends to be more difficult to make a fighting game balanced the more varied the fighters are from one another.

In Masahiro Sakurai's final Famitsu Column (as translated by Kody Nokolo and PushDustIn), Sakurai briefly explained the philosophy behind balance decisions for the game.

"When it came to balancing, it was important to keep the features that made each character unique and not to eliminate their weaknesses outright," summarized Kody Nokolo in regards to what was said. "Sakurai believed it was best not to eliminate characters' strong points, just to add other weaknesses to compensate."

It does appear that the balance patches followed this approach, for the most part. For example, Pichu was initially seen as being very strong during the early parts of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate's meta, but the self-damaging penalties associated with using electric attacks were greatly increased in an attempt to weaken the Pokémon in a certain patch.

Of course, it was also deemed that forward tilt for Pichu was a bit too strong which caused it to be nerfed. Though this was a major strength of Pichu's that was toned down, the move itself is still technically good albeit worse than before.

However, it's probably this design philosophy that has held back characters like Little Mac. At a glance, it's clear that Little Mac is intended to be a ground specialist that excels at raw speed and power.

Unfortunately, a great deal of emphasis is placed on jumping actions in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. Additionally, Little Mac is designed to have one of the most exploitable recoveries in the game.

"To make things fair, you have to standardize many things. And when you do, every character ends up feeling the same." - Masahiro Sakurai

Though there have been a few balance patches that tried to improve Little Mac, his poor aerials and awful recovery were basically left as they were. In other words, the developers believed that Little Mac's weaknesses were part of what made him unique and didn't attempt to eliminate them outright.

In a previous interview with DenFamiNicoGamer, Masahiro Sakurai also noted that "a game is no fun if it is fair." It seems that Sakurai is content with some imbalance.

"To make things fair, you have to standardize many things," said Sakurai during the 2018 interview. "And when you do, every character ends up feeling the same."

Back in a 2014 issue of the Famitsu Column (translated by Source Gaming), Sakurai mentioned that if he really wanted to balance Smash Bros., he would just make everyone play similarly.

"There’s no point in making the game more balanced if it decreases the fun factor," said Sakurai. "To give an extreme example, I could make all the characters perform similarly to Mario and achieve perfect balance. However, that probably wouldn’t be very fun at all."

Overall though, it feels like Super Smash Bros. Ultimate strikes a good balance in terms of both fairness and fun factor.

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