cvxfreak_main.jpg

Based in Tokyo, Japan, this is the blog of alex aniel (cvxfreak). His posts discuss the resident evil video game series through interviews, podcasts and articles translated from japanese to english.

Crunching Some Numbers: Third Party Representation in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

Crunching Some Numbers: Third Party Representation in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

A History of Third Party Reps in Smash Bros.

Ever since Metal Gear’s Solid Snake snuck onto the scene in the E3 2006 teaser trailer for Super Smash Bros. Brawl, the possibilities of video game characters from properties made by companies other than Nintendo have captured the imagination of gamers. Solid Snake was soon joined by Sega’s Sonic the Hedgehog, making reality a scenario that children of the 90s could only have fantasized about in schoolyard debates.

Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS and Super Smash Bros. for Wii U followed in 2014. For reasons unverified, Solid Snake sat this title out, while Sonic returned. Joining him were Capcom’s Mega Man and Namco Bandai’s Pac-Man, transforming Smash for into a true crossover of Japanese gaming mascots. But Nintendo wasn’t done; after the game’s release, the following third party characters were added as DLC: Sega/PlatinumGames’ Bayonetta, Square Enix’s Cloud Strife from Final Fantasy VII and Capcom’s Ryu from the Street Fighter series.

Smash for’s DLC established some interesting new precedents. First, third parties could have more than one rep, with Ryu joining Mega Man from Capcom and Bayonetta joining Sonic to rep Sega (although Nintendo published Bayonetta and Bayonetta 2 on Wii U, the IP and therefore the character is still owned by Sega). Second, company reps didn’t necessarily need to have a deep history with Nintendo systems, with Cloud having been firmly a PlayStation Icon for almost all of his existence.

When Nintendo unveiled Super Smash Bros. Ultimate for Nintendo Switch at E3 2018, series Director Masahiro Sakurai emphasized repeatedly that “everyone is here,meaning that all fighters in Smash history were appearing in Ultimate. Most notably, Solid Snake (among others) was back after being absent in Smash for, with Sonic, Mega Man and Pac-Man reprising their roles. Ryu, Bayonetta and Cloud were back too, this time as part of the main package rather than as DLC.

Later, Nintendo unveiled that Konami’s Castlevania series was joining the Ultimate showdown with both Simon and Richter Belmont. Street Fighter got one more rep in the form of Ken Masters. These revelations brought Konami and Capcom’s total number of reps to three. And at The Game Awards 2018, Nintendo revealed that Atlus’ Joker from Persona 5 was the first of five characters to be featured in the upcoming “Fighters Pass” DLC. Joker’s inclusion was quite surprising to many, especially since Persona 5 had not appeared on a Nintendo platform at the time of its announcement. Depending on how one views Atlus within the Sega portfolio, Joker can perhaps be counted as Sega’s third rep.

Now, there are unconfirmed and unsubstantiated rumors that Erdrick from Dragon Quest III is the second Fighters Pass DLC character, bringing the number of Square Enix reps to two. We won’t know until Nintendo decides to unveil who the other characters are, but the rumor, coupled with Joker’s inclusion, had me wondering just who else could possibly be up for consideration in the future, whether as DLC or even a far-off sequel.

I haven’t even mentioned Ultimate’s Spirits or Assist Trophies yet — many third party characters appear in Smash through these random elements as well. And in Smash for, there were Mii Fighters modeled after various first and third party characters.

Choosing Third Party Reps: Popularity Contest?

Nobody except Sakurai and Nintendo know what goes into the selection of any character in Smash Bros., whether it’s first or third party. We can assume it to be a combination of fan popularity, developer nepotism, commercial viability and creative feasibility. Sakurai has explained the selection criteria in various interviews over the years, but it’s likely to be a fluid, ever-evolving process. We’ll likely never really know for sure.

Still, it’s fun to imagine some of the potential possibilities, right?

Two things we can say for sure with playable Smash Bros. characters is that they’re fictional characters from Japanese video game properties. That’s it. They can be based on humans, animals, deities, aliens, inorganic sentient beings or, starting in 2019, plants.

Let’s look at the second criteria: Japanese video game properties. If we look at every piece of representation so far in Ultimate, we see something very expansive - Katamari Damacy, Tekken, Virtua Fighter, Fatal Frame, Bomberman and Monster Hunter; even Western characters like Rayman, Rabbids and Indie superstar Shovel Knight appear, but the bulk are Japanese.

This brings me to my “ultimate” question: if we used sales as a barometer, which third party Japanese game franchises are still unrepresented in Smash Bros.?

Before I dive in, I need to emphasize that sales are obviously not the only criteria Nintendo and Sakurai use. For better or worse, Bayonetta is probably living proof of this fact — the series has never really been a blockbuster hit on the scale of, say, literally every property in the fighters list. Even Castlevania isn’t a tremendous hit on the scale of the Metal Gear series. Regardless, there does seem to be at least some correlation between popularity and potential for inclusion.

So, let’s have a look at what I came up with. All data used to compile these charts is courtesy of Game Data Library for Japan only. The reason I use Japanese sales is because the available public data is expansive. North American and European sales are usually greater than Japan’s, but data is less plentiful. Highest selling titles are in parenthesis; wherever possible, data combines sales of all versions of a game, but excludes things like sales of the Classic NES/SNES Mini consoles. Also, Sony-published games or Sony-owned IP are excluded.

Top 11 Japanese Third Party Game Franchises Unrepresented in Smash (Based on All Time Sales)

  1. Yo-kai Watch (Yo-kai Watch 2 - 5.957 million)

  2. Dragon Quest (Dragon Quest IX - 4.4 million)

  3. Resident Evil (Resident Evil 2 - 2.5 million)

  4. Family Stadium (Pro Baseball: Family Stadium 2.05 million)

  5. Chrono Trigger (Chrono Trigger: 2.03 million)

  6. Kingdom Hearts (Kingdom Hearts II - 2.0 million)

  7. Derby Stallion (Derby Stallion - 2.0 million)

  8. Puyo Puyo (Super Puyo Puyo - 1.6 million)

  9. Puzzles & Dragons (PazuDora Z: Puzzle & Dragons Z - 1.55 million)

  10. Mana / Seiken Densetsu (Secret of Mana - 1.5 million)

  11. Inazuma Eleven (Inazuma Eleven 3 - 1.5 million)

As you can see, Yo-kai Watch, Dragon Quest and Resident Evil round out the top 3. Family Stadium (aka Famitsa) makes a surprise appearance at No. 4, having been very popular on the Famicom during the 1980s. Chrono Trigger is another surprising entrant, but seems to rank only when combining its SNES and DS versions. Derby Stallion and Puyo Puyo show us how different the gaming marketplace was in previous decades. Kingdom Hearts isn’t surprising, though Puzzles & Dragons Z ranks surprisingly high given its recent and seemingly temporary popularity in the non-mobile gaming space. Rounding out the list is the Mana/Seiken Densetsu series, tied with Inazuma Eleven. Surprisingly, every franchise in the list has seen a major release in some format in the last few years; the top 3, plus Kingdom Hearts have releases scheduled in 2019 in the console realm.

If Minecraft were included in the list, it would be at No. 3 for sales of around 3.83 million and growing. In all likelihood, it will one day overtake Dragon Quest IX, assuming the rumors of its upcoming rep prove to be unfounded.

Interestingly, Grand Theft Auto V would be in the running if Western franchises were eligible. It would rank at No. 7 with about 1.6 million in sales and growing.

Another property I decided to exclude was Yu-Gi-Oh, of which Yu-Gi-Oh: Duel Monsters 4 sold a massive 2.5 million copes back in 2000. Yu-Gi-Oh as a manga franchise began in 1996, while its first game did not release until 1998. Although they don’t rank on any list, I would exclude properties like One Piece, Naruto and Tamagotchi for similar reasons.

Top 11 Japanese Third Party Franchises Unrepresented in Smash (1990 and Later)

Now let’s make a list featuring only games released from 1990 onward. This results in excluding most Famicom games.

  1. Yo-kai Watch (Yo-kai Watch 2 - 5.957 million)

  2. Dragon Quest (Dragon Quest IX - 4.4 million)

  3. Resident Evil (Resident Evil 2 - 2.5 million)

  4. Chrono Trigger (Chrono Trigger: 2.03 million)

  5. Kingdom Hearts (Kingdom Hearts II - 2.0 million)

  6. Derby Stallion (Derby Stallion - 2.0 million)

  7. Puyo Puyo (Super Puyo Puyo - 1.6 million)

  8. Puzzles & Dragons (PazuDora Z: Puzzle & Dragons Z - 1.55 million)

  9. Mana / Seiken Densetsu (Secret of Mana - 1.5 million)

  10. Inazuma Eleven (Inazuma Eleven 3 - 1.5 million)

  11. SaGa (Romancing SaGa 3 - 1.29 million)

Here, the list doesn’t change too much if we take out games from the 1980s. Family Stadium goes away, moving everything below it up one position. SaGa thus enters the Top 11 — technically, Tekken 3 (1.4 million) would have been above Romancing SaGa 3, but Tekken is technically represented in Ultimate already.

Top 10 Japanese Third Party Franchises Unrepresented in Smash (2000 and Later)

Let’s try games from 2000 and onward.

  1. Yo-kai Watch (Yo-kai Watch 2 - 5.957 million)

  2. Dragon Quest (Dragon Quest IX - 4.4 million)

  3. Kingdom Hearts (Kingdom Hearts II - 2.0 million)

  4. Puzzles & Dragons (PazuDora Z: Puzzle & Dragons Z - 1.55 million)

  5. Inazuma Eleven (Inazuma Eleven 3 - 1.5 million)

  6. Resident Evil (Resident Evil 4 - 1.3 million)

  7. Warriors / Musou (Dynasty Warriors 4 - 1.24 million)

  8. Love & Berry (Oshare Majo Love & Berry: DS Collection - 1.11 million)

  9. Onimusha (Onimusha 2 - 1.1 million)

  10. Professor Layton (Professor Layton and the Curious Village - 1.01 million)

Excluding games from the 90s changes the list up considerably. Resident Evil drops three places, being surpassed by Kingdom Hearts, Puzzles & Dragons and Inazuma Eleven. We see some of the big new third party franchises of the 2000s make their appearances here, including Koei Tecmo’s Warriors series, Professor Layton from Level 5, and even the one-hit wonder, Love & Berry from Sega, which hit the DS in 2006. Onimusha is the other new entrant, having been one of the most popular PlayStation 2 franchises even worldwide, before declining dramatically with the third game in 2004. Coincidentally, a remaster of the first game hits all current gen platforms starting December 20.

I specifically excluded Konami’s once-popular Winning Eleven / Pro Evolution Soccer series, which would have ranked at No. 8 thanks to World Soccer Winning Eleven 9 at 1.16 million sales. The chances of real world soccer players appearing in Smash are somewhere close to 0. That said, this does bring up an interesting conundrum with two other major franchises in here: Onimusha and the Warriors games are loosely based on historical figures in China and Japan. While this may not necessarily count characters like Nobunaga Oda or Jubei Yagyu out of the running, I can’t really find a good precedent for it either. If we take Onimusha and Warriors out, we actually run out of franchises that have sold over 1 million copies in Japan, which makes it trickier to find placements. Jissen Pachi-Slot Secrets! Fist of the North Star, a pachinko game themed after the Fist of the North Star property, comes close at around 970K, as does the 2015 3DS release of Mixi’s Monster Strike at around 968K.

Top 12 Japanese Third Party Franchises Unrepresented in Smash (2010 and Later)

Let’s try the games released during the current decade, from 2010 onwards.

  1. Yo-kai Watch (Yo-kai Watch 2 - 5.957 million)

  2. Dragon Quest (Dragon Quest XI - 3.43 million)

  3. Puzzles & Dragons (PazuDora Z: Puzzle & Dragons Z - 1.55 million)

  4. Inazuma Eleven (Inazuma Eleven 3 - 1.5 million)

  5. Kingdom Hearts (Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep - 1.25 million)

  6. God Eater (God Eater 2 - 1.05 million)

  7. Resident Evil (Resident Evil 6 - 1 million)

  8. Monster Strike (Monster Strike - 968K)

  9. Dragon’s Dogma (Dragon’s Dogma - 710K)

  10. Dark Souls (Dark Souls - 706K)

  11. Yakuza (Yakuza 5 - 586K)

  12. NieR (NieR:Automata - 521K)

This is where things get tricky. The Japanese market has experienced an overall sales downturn for most of the decade, so the numbers are lower all around. A lot of numbers depend on the existence of multiple versions (i.e originals and HD remasters), and download sales data is inconsistent and unreliable. To compensate, I made the list a Top 12 instead.

Dragon Quest XI replaces Dragon Quest XI and remains at No. 2, despite selling nearly 1 million fewer units than IX. A Switch version of XI is in development, which may sell well and keep the franchise in its No. 2 position.

Inazuma Eleven moves up, while Kingdom Hearts stays on thanks to the January 2010 release of Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep and its remasters on PS3 and PS4.

God Eater is an interesting addition, one that I’m hesitant to include as a million seller because its inclusion depends on counting both the original release and God Eater 2: Rage Burst (as opposed to Yo-kai Watch, which would still rank on every chart even if we split its major releases up). It is, however, undeniably one of the most popular Japanese franchises of this decade and deserves mention.

Resident Evil once again ranks, thanks to a strong performance from Resident Evil 6. Resident Evil 7 proved to be much less popular in Japan, but the franchise has maintained its overall presence regardless. Monster Strike is here too, and the list is rounded out by other PlayStation hits, such as Dragon’s Dogma, Yakuza 5 and a recent favorite, NieR:Automata.

Observations and Conclusion

Most consistently throughout the different lists appear the following franchises: Yo-kai Watch, Dragon Quest, Resident Evil and Kingdom Hearts. All of these have had a rich, colorful and perhaps even controversial history on Nintendo platforms. Any of them would make great fits, so it wouldn’t be too surprising to see one of them finally make it onboard, especially Dragon Quest and Yo-kai Watch.

Notably, there are a number of popular Japanese franchises that don’t rank in the top 10/11/12 in terms of sales even if they’d unequivocally be good fits: Ace Attorney, Viewtiful Joe, Devil May Cry, Ghosts ‘n Goblins, Ninja Gaiden, No More Heroes, Bravely Default/Second, SoulCalibur, King of Fighters (or anything SNK), Phantasy Star, Streets of Rage, Contra, etc. Also notable are franchises that are technically represented already, but would still make excellent new reps: anyone from a Final Fantasy game actually on a Nintendo system, Tales of, Tekken, Katamari, etc.

Who do you think would make a good third party rep in Smash? How much influence do you think sales have in it? Feel free to leave a comment.

Sources:
Game Data Library
Super Smash Bros. Wiki

Part 4: [PS Classic] The Origin of the Survival Horror Hit: Resident Evil: Director's Cut

Part 4: [PS Classic] The Origin of the Survival Horror Hit: Resident Evil: Director's Cut

Part 3: [PS Classic] The Origin of the Survival Horror Hit: Resident Evil: Director's Cut

Part 3: [PS Classic] The Origin of the Survival Horror Hit: Resident Evil: Director's Cut