Since their acquisition in 2007, Monolith Soft has made a name for themselves as a key Nintendo developer. From helping out with large projects like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Pikmin 3, to creating intricate worlds of their own in the Xenoblade Chronicles series and elsewhere, their presence as a subsidiary has been extremely beneficial. The rewards for their work appear to be mighty – if the recent report from Nintendo Everything that Monolith has opened a fifth Japanese studio can be read into at all. Yet, for all the work they’ve done, and no doubt will continue to do, I have a question that’s been bugging me for days: why aren’t they better represented in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate?
To be clear, I’m not trying to come off as some ultra-fan that cares only about my favorite developer getting featured in a game I love. As it stands, Ultimate, like previous Smash games, is a towering achievement, and the accomplishments Masahiro Sakurai and the teams at Sora Ltd. and Bandai Namco cannot be overstated. With over 70+ characters, hundreds of songs, oodles of stages, and more promised in the future, I’m very happy with the game as it is. I just also think it’s odd that a major first party developer like Monolith is so left out.
It’s not that they’re excluded from Smash, but their contribution feels more like a third party effort than from Nintendo proper. Shulk from Xenoblade Chronicles is their only representative on the roster, and he one stage, a stage boss, and a decent amount of songs, Assist Trophies, and Spirits (seen in the World of Light adventure mode). Other Monolith games are referenced here and there, from Xenoblade Chronicles 2 to obscure titles like Baten Kaitos and Soma Bringer, but in the form of selected songs thrown into a few different stages, to more Spirits and costumes for Mii Fighters. The kind of stuff fans could recognize at a glance, but is barely noticeable to anyone else.
For those who know Monolith’s work, the most glaring hole is the lack of more Xeno content. Not just Xenoblade, but also Xenosaga – a sci-fi RPG trilogy created for the PS2 when the team was a developer under Namco (later Bandai Namco). Xenosaga is known for its dark storyline, intense focus on cinematics, and the character KOS-MOS, who remains a fan-favorite to this day. Given that she was featured in lists like Game Informer’s “30 Characters That Defined a Decade” in issue #212, and has shown up for cameos in games from Soulcalibur III to Xenoblade Chronicles 2, she’d be the most obvious inclusion for Smash. If I had to guess, she’d probably be among the heavier characters with a vast array of weapons, kind of like a mix between Mega Man, Bayonetta, and Ganondorf.
However, whether or not KOS-MOS, or some other Monolith character gets on the roster, my goal is to explore why Monolith is so excluded. I can see a couple arguments people might make to explain why games like Xenosaga and Baten Kaitos are absent: licensing issues, and the lack (in Xenosaga‘s case) of significant association with Nintendo hardware. Both of these arguments don’t hold water though, as Bandai Namco is the IP holder for Monolith’s old franchises, and they’re also one of the primary developers on Ultimate – they’d be licensing their own content. As for the second point, I don’t think association with Nintendo platforms matters like it used to. We saw Cloud come to Super Smash Bros. for 3DS and Wii U years before Final Fantasy VII debuted on Switch, and Joker from Persona 5 is the latest DLC release, even though Nintendo consoles are only seeing spin-offs like Persona Q2 and Persona 5 Scramble. Not to mention, these arguments don’t even touch Nintendo-owned IP like Disaster: Day of Crisis and other Xenoblade Chronicles titles.
To help understand what’s going on there, it’s good to realize that getting on the Smash roster is about popularity. Persona and Final Fantasy VII are more popular than Monolith’s games, and thus more likely to get representation. To get a greater understanding of how Sakurai and his team choose a Smash roster, I went back to an interview Game Informer held with Sakurai before the launch of Ultimate. He said, when asked how characters get considered for the roster: “…we take into consideration things like labor, man-hours, the time in which the title will be sold. We decide on the fighters from the very early planning stage, and… we don’t add or remove any characters during the project.”
I was also reminded of a column Sakurai wrote in Weekly Famitsu (which was translated and reported on by Kotaku) that goes further into the process of character selection, stating that “characters from a series that has no future are rarely chosen.” He goes on to say: “Basically any character is accepted if I believe it works [in the game]. On the other hand, even if a character is unique, if they overlap with other characters and aren’t unique as a fighter, they are rejected.” Lastly, according to an article Gaming Bolt ran, where Twitter user Push DustIn translated an article Sakurai gave with Nintendo DREAM, games like Xenoblade Chronicles 2 released too late for their characters to be added to the roster.
There’s just no reason to include older IP like Xenosaga and Baten Kaitos if bringing them back isn’t an active consideration. Xenoblade Chronicles 2 just missed the cutoff, so a DLC inclusion might still be possible. Other than that though – no one else comes from a game that’s popular enough to include in a significant way. Additionally, if there would need to be a significant amount of time spent on converting a combat style of a series to the Smash ruleset, that’s an even steeper uphill battle for Baten Kaitos‘ card-based combat.
In order to get an updated take on the situation, I reached out to Game Informer’s West Coast News Editor, Imran Khan. I figured with his expertise and industry knowledge, he might know something that I overlooked. As it turns out, though, there wasn’t much more to the story. Mr. Khan’s answer gets straight to the point: “I think it’s just Occam’s Razor. Sakurai chooses who he wants. He likes Fire Emblem, so there’s a lot of Fire Emblem characters… aside from Pokemon, I am not sure any games get a success-to-representation guarantee.”
It’s really not about whether Monolith’s done anything to deserve inclusion – the decision is Sakurai’s to make. I can come up with other arguments to say it makes less and less sense to leave them out (Project X-Zone is basically Monolith’s own massive crossover RPG) but none of it matters. The Smash developers have created a fighting game series that sells millions of copies and fuels fan furor like few other titles. If their judgment says that more Monolith content is not worth putting in the game, I can’t exactly fault them. I might not like it, but I also think Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is the best game in the series. I’d rather have that than a lesser version that has more Monolith content just because I wanted it.