Released to spurious levels of fan backlash, Byleth of Fire Emblem: Three Houses was announced as the newest character to join the Super Smash Bros. Ultimate roster. Dismissing him as “just another Fire Emblem character,” a huge portion of the Smash fanbase lobbed vitriolic disappointment at Byleth.
However, Byleth brings more to the table than a mere rehashed swordfighter in a game chock-full of the archetype. He stands out as one of the most unique additions to the Smash roster with a playstyle to match.
Reasons for Outrage
Byleth is the eighth Fire Emblem representative to join Ultimate. From an aesthetic standpoint, it is understandable why fans brushed him off as an uninspired Fire Emblem character. He retains Fire Emblem stereotypical anime-inspired design, sports brightly colored hair, and wields a sword as his weapon of choice—all similar characteristics to prior Fire Emblem reps.
After coming out in line of wholly unique DLC offerings, this outrage toward Byleth mainly stems from the fact that he is another character of an already well-represented Nintendo franchise. All characters before him represent series outside Nintendo and were thought impossible to join Smash. The ecstatic reactions toward Persona 5’s Joker, Rare’s Banjo and Kazooie, and Dragon Quest’s Hero are testaments to how jubilant the fanbase was to be proven wrong.
Because of the way the DLC had lined itself up, it set a precedent that Fighter Pass 1’s last DLC fighter would follow a similar pattern. Thanks to game director Masahiro Sakurai teasing the internet with a fighter reveal broadcast, hype skyrocketed. The Smash community went into a frenzy in trying to speculate which guest would join the pantheon of Smash.
Some suggested Dante from Devil May Cry due to an announcement video releasing the same day as the Smash Ultimate broadcast. Others looked at a featured image of the announcement and scoured for hints, remarking on Sakurai’s sideways-held three finger pose. Needless to say, the character reveal video blindsided almost everyone.
Said video has received the most dislikes of all of the Smash Ultimate character showcase videos, raking in over 77K dislikes over the week the video was published. For comparison, other videos rarely climb above 3-4 thousand dislikes. The fanbase’s disdain is clear as day. However, if they were to look past their disappointment, players will be able to see that Byleth is much more than meets the eye.
“Just another Fire Emblem character”
Sword users, or “swordies,” have a dominant place in Smash Ultimate’s meta. They have many strong tools at their disposal, whether it may be better striking range to win out in engagements, excellent mobility to weave in and out of fights, killing power to secure early stocks, or a combination of all three. While this isn’t a definitive list of swordies’ capabilities, they are the key strengths over unarmed opponents, leading to the prevalence these characters have in competitive scenes and the fatigue the community feels.
In a game of 74 characters (75 including Byleth), 19 fighters use bladed weaponry. Fire Emblem characters make up nearly half those numbers with eight reps including Byleth. It also does not help when half those representatives play the same.
Dubbed “Marth-clones” by the Smash community, characters like Lucina, Roy, and Chrom, follow the mold of Marth with their attacks, movement, and mechanics. While each character has their own unique, subtle quirks and attributes, all four have remarkably similar moves, further feeding the notion that Fire Emblem characters feel and look the same.
In contrast, Robin, Ike, and Corrin, who are not clones (but called such due to the power of memes), all play differently. Ike is a slow-moving hulk with immense KO potential and stellar reach. Corrin combines the power of long reach and projectiles in his kit, allowing him to maintain presence at different ranges. Robin is the slowest of the bunch with crippling movement offset by his incredible zoning game, providing a plethora of projectiles to harass opponents with.
Robin stands above the rest due to his kit’s subtle nods toward the franchise, like the weapon durability meter. Corrin references his home game, Fire Emblem Fates, in his special attacks where he unleashes his dragon-like abilities and attacks. Ike also had some of his graphical animations changed to fit with with his portrayal in his game, changing the flame trail effects on his sword from red to blue.
These intentional design choices and references show a clear distinction between the older and newer Fire Emblem characters, the Marth clones being products of a time when the franchise was not as popular in the west. However, gamers can see the development team behind Ultimate is striving to make these characters feel distinct and doing the best they can to retain a character’s identity while also making them feel fun to play. The same applies to Byleth.
The Furthest Thing from a Marth Clone
Both Smash and Fire Emblem fans will be pleased to know how faithfully Byleth has been adapted to Smash. Capable of wielding different weapons like he could in Three Houses, Byleth is the only Fire Emblem rep to use so many weapon types from his own game.
Ranging from spears to axes to swords, Byleth brought the iconic Fire Emblem trifecta, the Weapon Triangle, into Smash. The weapons in Byleth’s moveset are homage to the paths the player can take in Three Houses, each weapon being the regalia and heirloom of the three main characters featured in the game. Although the weapon triangle mechanic itself does not come with Byleth, nor does it in Three Houses, he more than makes up for it with his diverse attacks.
Sakurai himself stated that Byleth will be something of a “distance demon,” lacking in mobility, making up for his shortcomings with the plethora of options at his disposal. All directional-oriented attack the player performs has Byleth attacking with a different weapon.
- Attacks with no input have Byleth wield Failnaught, a powerful bow useful for zoning and flurry attacks
- Attacks to the side have Byleth wielding Areadbhar, a spear boasting unrivaled reach on a melee weapon
- Upward attacks uses the Sword of the Creator, Byleth’s signature weapon, a sword similar to that of other Fire Emblem characters
- Attacks downward feature Aymr, a monstrous axe with devastating kill power that can power through even the might of a Falcon Punch
His ability to use so many weapons on the dime sets Byleth apart from his swordie brethren, giving him a unique playstyle that has not really been seen before in-game. A swordie that lacks movement options is a death sentence in Ultimate, but Byleth’s diverse kit gives him breathing room to face enemies.
He can fight close quarters with Aymr and his sword, dishing out massive amounts of damage to foes that dare disrespect his space, play a decent keep-away game by poking at enemies with Areadbhar from both the air and ground, or resort to long-range zoning by the power Failnaught provides with the different ways its arrows can be fired.
He does not lock himself in any specific category as a fighter, but it’s this flexibility for which developers aimed. Byleth can be customized to fit whatever role desired in Three Houses, and this holds true for other games in the franchise, putting player choice at the forefront of every decision.
The fact that this attribute bleeds through into Smash shows the level of care that went into making Byleth to be not just another Fire Emblem character, but one that is able to represent the series in a way that no other character has achieved.