The morning of January 16th, 2020 was rather quiet. A subtle, yet prominent expectation had clouded the minds of Nintendo fanatics across the globe. They would finally learn the identity of the last DLC character in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate‘s (first) Fighters Pass line-up. Rumors swirled just days prior of Dante from the Devil May Cry franchise possibly being behind the inevitable reveal, along with Doomslayer, another hot commodity within the fandom. Many woke up early, shuddering at the thought of a hype-worthy reveal just weeks into the new year. The clock struck 8:00 a.m. PST. All eyes glued to the screen, Sakurai took form and gave everyone what they were waiting for: the new DLC fighter for Smash Ultimate was Byleth, from Fire Emblem: Three Houses.
Instantaneously, a large portion of the crowd shrieked with rage. Another chunk simply shook their heads, numb to the pain whose cause was shown to them onscreen. The memes and knee-jerk reactions pillaged social media for the next 24 hours, full of contempt, mockery, and disappointment. Those in favor littered people’s timelines with grandiose images from Three Houses, adorned with “Hoes Mad” monikers. Those against cried foul at the decision, feeling the need to direct their attacks at the company handle and all else associated. It was the kind of saltstorm that anarchistic trolls fed upon like flies to garbage, with the whole gaming community ablaze with discussion. If any publicity is good publicity, Nintendo had struck diamonds.
Should the impact be shown in its purest form, simply look at the like-to-dislike ratio on the video below:
81,000 people outright rejected the idea of Byleth as the next DLC fighter in Smash Ultimate. No other DLC selection got anywhere near this amount of hostility. But where is the cause of all of this hatred? Is it only the idea of yet another Fire Emblem character added to the roster? Perhaps we can examine this conundrum from a variety of angles, to further investigate what it is about Byleth’s inclusion that made people so angry. It all may come down to expectations, and what the Fighters Pass could mean to those looking in.
In Defense of Byleth
Before anything, it should be said that Byleth, on their own, is not a bad choice in terms of compatibility. They come from a franchise that is constantly action-oriented and the amount of weapons/magic available makes them a formidable and potent candidate. Nintendo even addressed the “too many swordsmen” criticism by giving them alternative bow, axe, and lance attacks. It was a genuine attempt at varietizing the issue and making it more complex, even if I think the root of the problem was more complex.
Spoken from someone who had Fire Emblem: Three Houses as their 2019 GOTY choice, the decision was also not a surprising one. Many prominent characters from individual Fire Emblem games have made it in already, including Robin and Corrin, who are essentially the template hero character in a similar vein. Byleth as DLC for Smash Ultimate was, in hindsight, an obvious choice, considering the success of the game and the history of the game’s character roster. It was only a matter of time.
Considering the success of Three Houses, many should be ecstatic to see some quick representation. Provided with Byleth’s pack is a stage that stores cameos from other characters in the game, including the three house leaders. Even the gatekeeper got a mention! Fire Emblem is a beloved franchise that many hold dear, and that kind of inclusive nature of Nintendo to try and include everyone’s wishes is part of what makes Smash Ultimate so charming. Even if Byleth isn’t as much a household name on my side of the world, that may also be the case for Doomslayer in other parts. With so many voices, Nintendo has only so much capacity to listen to everyone. That (and money) may lead into why they decided to create a second Fighters Pass!
Why is the Fighters Pass Special?
A few years ago, I would’ve never believed Banjo and Kazooie would make it into Smash Bros. Those were the type of dream characters that just seemed too large an obstacle for Nintendo to face. Now, not only are they in, but prominent characters from Persona 5, Fatal Fury, and Dragon Quest have joined them. These DLC choices, along with ones made during the lifespan of Smash Wii U, have opened the door for near-endless possibilities. So much so, that I don’t even think Goku is guaranteed to stay out forever. Thus creates the expectation that if a fighter has enough historical prominence and moveset potential, they could be chosen. Almost like a rite of passage that has been pulled open by sheer force of will.
Which leads to a notable preference among certain players: let the Fighters Pass be reserved for those who are an outside chance. Let it stand as a testament to those whom, at one point, stood aside and watched Nintendo characters hog the fighting spotlight. Doomslayer? He could get in. Shantae? Absolutely, why not? Master Chief, Shovel Knight, Dante, Nightmare, Rayman, Lara Croft, Viewtiful Joe; all of these characters and more now have a shot at entering Final Destination. Such is the hope these DLC additions have provided.
Byleth Doesn’t Fit the Mold
With the presentation of the Fighters Pass above, many could see the inclusion of Byleth as Smash Ultimate DLC as a trivial replacement for someone more “deserving.” With who was available prior, all from series who had never had representation in Smash Bros., adding Byleth at the very end to an already crowded Fire Emblem pool seems like a slap in the face. At its core, it stems from an issue of a lack of diversity, where all inclusions before fit the newcomer mold. Byleth doesn’t fit that mold, born of a privileged status almost outright.
Fire Emblem is a popular game franchise, and the main characters have concocted a trend of appearing in Super Smash Bros. Assuming this trend continues, should players expect a new Fire Emblem protagonist after every new game? And of Three Houses specifically, what makes Byleth as the choice representative more disappointing is the abundant potential for other characters within the game. Tons of characters, all fleshed out and given backstories and unique capabilities, were prime for the picking. If based on popularity, why not choose Dimitri, the Blue Lions house leader, who was recently voted among the most popular Nintendo characters in a poll from Japanese publication Nintendo Dream? As a fan of the game, I would’ve been more supportive of anyone outside of Byleth, as while it would’ve been another Fire Emblem character, it at least breaks the trend.
Though the idea of Nintendo adding characters from prominent first-party titles via DLC isn’t exactly new. The aforementioned Corrin was among the last DLC additions to Smash Bros. Wii U, right off the heels of Fire Emblem: Fates. They also locked Mewtwo, Lucas, and Roy behind DLC walls just to have them return to the franchise. Nintendo seems committed to the idea of some variety in characters so long as players will throw them a bone and let them capitalize on recent success. That’s all Byleth was, as noted by Sakurai’s pleading with the audience to not be too upset by the reveal.
In the end, what will ultimately (no pun intended) determine its success are the sales figures. Fans can riot as much as they like, but if the Byleth pack sells well, they’ll only feel inclined to do more in the future. No matter your opinion of Byleth individually, their inclusion as Smash Ultimate DLC will forever be marred by utter disappointment. Or maybe that feeling, too, shall pass, as the new fighters promised will make up for one poor spot. It promises to be an interesting 2020 for Smash Bros. fans and their eternally sky-high expectations.
What do you think of Byleth getting into Super Smash Bros. Ultimate? Comment below and let us know. For what we thought of the game, check out our Super Smash Bros. Ultimate review!