Well, I certainly didn’t see this coming.
This announcement came on Thursday (11/12/2015), and I’ve taken the last few days to process it. I’m still not sure that I have processed it…
Allow me to state the obvious right now: Cloud Strife’s inclusion is significant.
First, a bit of background.
Who is Cloud Strife?
Cloud is a character who belongs to Square-Enix (which is the hybrid company that was formed after SquareSoft and Enix merged in the early 2000s). He’s from a game called Final Fantasy VII.
What is Final Fantasy?
Final Fantasy is a series of Japanese Role-Playing Games (or JRPGs for short).
Side note: JRPGs differ from American RPGs in that, in JRPGs, you’re often given a character (or party of characters) at the beginning and are expected to build up their statistics (such as strength, magic ability, etc.) throughout the progression of the story. In an American RPG, you’re often tasked with building one character from the ground-up (name, height, weight, even background in some cases) and progressing through an open-ended, loose story. Really, JRPGs are more straightforward in that there’s less room for customization, but they arguably tell more coherent stories.
Thus far, there have been fifteen main-series installments in the Final Fantasy series, with countless other side-stories and spin-offs appearing across all consoles.
It sounds like Final Fantasy has a great video game tradition.
It absolutely does–and Final Fantasy VII is arguably the reason that the series is still around. It was wildly popular when it was released for the Sony Playstation in 1997, and remains to this day a game that often finds itself in the top spot of most “greatest games of the 1990s” lists (with its closest rival being Nintendo’s own The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time). When it comes to historical significance, FFVII is no joke.
Why didn’t I even mention Cloud very much (if at all) in the last few Smash Bros. posts?
That’s…complicated. Truthfully, I didn’t think Cloud had a chance.
SquareSoft and Nintendo used to be close back in the day–so close, in fact, that the first six numbered iterations of the Final Fantasy series were exclusively on Nintendo consoles (three on the original NES and three on the Super NES). That changed with the release of Final Fantasy VII. At the time, FFVII was meant to be on the N64–but development was an uphill battle, and the system’s cartridges just weren’t large enough to hold all the data necessary to tell Square’s next story. Square went elsewhere. Not only was FFVII not released for a Nintendo system (it was released for the Sony Playstation), but it was unbelievably successful. How successful? Well, remember when I said that games like Mega Man and Castlevania sold NES consoles to children? FFVII did that with the Playstation, and in record numbers. Arguably, it’s because of FFVII that the Sony Playstation was able to win that generation’s console war against the N64, thereby dethroning Nintendo as the top dog in the video game market after roughly a decade and a half.
So, though SquareSoft (now Square-Enix) has still been on speaking terms with Nintendo (and, indeed, they still release arguably lesser titles for Nintendo systems), things have been decidedly icy for awhile. That’s why I never mentioned Cloud.
Okay. So, what we have here is the inclusion of a character who helped put one of Nintendo’s competitors at the top of the heap at the end of the last century.
How do I feel about this?
I’m not against it, if that’s the question. In fact, as a huge fan of FFVII, I love Cloud’s inclusion. I was hoping for Simon, and we still might get Simon (more on way in a couple of paragraphs), but Cloud is hardly bad news. In fact, it’s great.
With Cloud, Nintendo has successfully integrated the characters of six different companies (playable characters from Capcom, Sega, Square-Enix, and Namco, and trophies from Choice Provision Games and Ubi-Soft) in one game. To my knowledge, that’s the most of any non-indie, officially licensed game thus far. That’s an amazing accomplishment, and only Nintendo could pull it off.
Isn’t Cloud’s inclusion a slap in the face to Nintendo fans?
Not as I see it, no. Though Cloud helped Sony rise to the top, Cloud is not a Sony character. This isn’t Kratos (from God of War), or Nathan Drake (from Uncharted), or Microsoft’s Master Chief (from Halo). Cloud still belongs to Square-Enix, and Square-Enix is not Nintendo’s competitor–in fact, Square-Enix, like Capcom, Namco, and Konami, helped support Nintendo in its glory days. Where some might view this as an invasion, I view it as a “coming home again” for Square-Enix.
But surely there were better, more Nintendo-centric choices that could have been offered.
Sure, that’s true. One such choice I’ve seen suggested is the Black Mage, which is a character class. It’s look is rather distinctive, and anyone who is a fan of Final Fantasy as a series would instantly recognize the character.
But let’s consider Square-Enix’s position in this decision. It is no exaggeration to state that FFVII is Square-Enix’s single most successful game to date–so much so that Square-Enix is remaking it for next gen consoles (a remake which I don’t support, for reasons I’ll get to in a later post).
So, you’re Square-Enix. I don’t know what the details are of Nintendo’s meeting with Square-Enix or what prompted said meeting, but let’s say Nintendo approaches you and says, “We want to include a character from your company in our game.” Well, which character do you choose? You could go with the Black Mage, which has a history with Nintendo specifically (for it was featured in several of the original FF games), or you could go with the most recognizable character in Final Fantasy franchise history–one that is assured to make headlines on both Forbes and Yahoo News, among other places (which Cloud’s inclusion has done already).
But Cloud wasn’t even on a Nintendo console.
Not in any substantial way, no (though, he was in Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories, and Final Fantasy: Theatrhythm).
That’s pretty much a point of (loose) fact, and I won’t argue against that.
But looking at it from a business perspective, from the position that Square-Enix has no doubt taken, Cloud truly is the only choice that makes sense. And it’s not hurting Nintendo, since it’s generating a lot of buzz and is probably getting the attention of gamers who otherwise wouldn’t have concerned themselves with Smash Bros. at all. Who knows…it may even sell systems for the Big N.
How does this fit into my take on Smash Bros. being a history of video games, specifically with Nintendo’s place in it?
It actually reinforces that interpretation.
Like I’ve said, Final Fantasy VII essentially made video game history in 1997. So, if Smash Bros. is about video game history, Cloud can’t be ignored.
If Smash Bros. is about Nintendo’s place in video game history, Cloud shouldn’t be ignored. While it’s true that, again, Cloud is responsible for Sony’s ascension to dominance, he is also responsible then for Nintendo’s defeat–and history is made up of wins and losses, both. I know my losses have defined me, almost as much as my wins (more than, I might argue). Sometimes one finds themselves on the wrong side of history. It’s a part of life. It’s a part of business. Fans tend to take personally that which businesses cannot.
One might also look at this from the perspective of Nintendo thumbing its nose at Sony. Sure, Sony is the big man on campus now (thanks in no small part to FFVII and Cloud Strife), but Cloud is still a special character in one of Nintendo’s blockbuster games. This, then, might be a bit of flexing on Nintendo’s part.
Do I think FFVII Remake is coming to a Nintendo system?
We don’t know the business deals going on behind the scenes. While I suspect Nintendo is paying Square-Enix a tidy sum for the license, it’s possible that FFVII Remake will become a launch title for the Nintendo NX (Nintendo’s new console). But we don’t know that for sure, and I hesitate to speculate on that without stronger evidence.
All I know (or care about) at present is that Cloud is in Smash Bros.
Okay, so why might this help Simon?
Though Konami’s relationship with Nintendo is a little chilly, it was never as frozen as Square-Enix’s relationship with Nintendo. So, the fact that Cloud is coming to Smash Bros. indicates that Konami is likely either at the table, or is being brought to the table soon. It also means that Nintendo doesn’t really care about the money necessary to pay for third party licenses. I’m sure however you slice it, Cloud wasn’t cheap, and that’s good news for Konami and its characters.
Now, this may also hurt Simon because, though I’m like 75% sure Konami is at the table, they might be lobbying for their most famous character: the “fan favorite” Snake from Metal Gear. And though Snake isn’t as popular as Cloud Strife, he was in the last Smash Bros. game, and thus may require little in the way of upgrade and effort.
Then again, when Capcom wanted Ryu from Street Fighter to be their offering, Nintendo blocked them and instead asked for Mega Man due to that character’s history with Nintendo (though Ryu found his way into Smash Bros., anyway–and, in a perfect world, both Capcom and Konami would ideally get two characters each, meaning Snake and Simon).
IMO, Simon still has a good chance, but I’m less sure of Simon’s inclusion than I am of a Konami character’s inclusion (which might be Simon or Snake at this point).
How do I know that there will be any more characters at all?
The game updates whenever there’s a new DLC released with a patch that allows even those who don’t purchase the character to be able to play against someone who has. In the last patch update, a hacker (the same one who reported Roy and Ryu before Nintendo did, actually) took a look at the code and found what he/she/it believes to be three character slots. Cloud obviously takes one of those, and if this hacker is correct, two remain. The hacker’s a reliable source, so I do believe that three is the magic number.
Do I think that Cloud is the fan’s choice poll character?
No. Masahiro Sakurai, the game’s lead developer, has stated that it takes his team about three months to properly create a character for the game. The fan poll ended in October (October 3, 2015 to be exact), and the trailer for Cloud reveals a character that seems to be in pretty good working order already. Not only that, but I can imagine a scenario where negotiations were potentially slow. No, I think Cloud was planned as early as July–and if his inclusion is at all related to the fan poll, it’s likely because Nintendo took an early peek at the results.
Do I feel that this game, a celebration of Nintendo’s rich history, is being deluded by third party characters?
With Cloud, the roster currently sits at 54 unique characters (more if you count Mii Costumes and reskinned characters, like Olimar and Bowser Jr.). Of those 54, all but five are Nintendo characters. Only two of those five are from the same company (Mega Man and Ryu are from Capcom).
You can only go to the well so many times before you have to look elsewhere for water.
But there are still plenty of Nintendo characters from which to choose for DLC.
Absolutely. And no one is saying that those characters won’t become DLC. For all I know, the next two characters might be King K. Rool and Ridley, or Krystal and Wolf O’Donnell, or an Ice Climber and Stevenson, or any mixture of those, or none of those. But even if the next two characters aren’t Nintendo characters at all, it’s not like there’s a severe lack of them to be found. This game is still very much about Nintendo characters.
Why do you think there are so many third party characters in this game, then?
Honestly? I think this is the last game in the series. How does one follow this act? You have Mega Man, Sonic, Pac-Man, Ryu, and Cloud Strife in the same game as Mario, Luigi, Link, Pikachu, Yoshi, Fox McCloud, Samus Aran, and Marth (to name a few). How do you up the ante beyond “all in”?
Now, I’m not saying there won’t be something similar to this game in Nintendo’s future. Though dinosaurs are gone, we still have birds. What we’re seeing potentially is an evolution of the series. Next time, we might see a game called “Super Smash All-Stars”, or “Smash Bros. Legends”, where we will see an increase in third party characters to a significant degree. We may see Nintendo vs. Capcom, where the most significant characters from both companies go head-to-head. Who knows. But one thing is for certain…there is no going back.
So, what’s coming up in the immediate future?
Nintendo is having a special Nintendo Direct livestream in December. It is to be the last Smash Bros.-centric livestream. This doesn’t mean that the DLC will necessarily end after December’s livestream, but it does mean that the huge, sprawling updates will likely cease. If I had money to wager, I’d say the next two characters (one of which will likely be the true fan poll character) will be revealed during that livestream. Other information to look forward to includes stage information, amiibo release dates, and feature updates.
The livestream will be at www.nintendo.com/nintendo-direct/. Actual date and time information is not yet available.
I think adding Cloud is a good thing. FFVII holds a regarded place in video game history, and a humbling place in Nintendo history (in the end, Cloud still wound up in this game). It opens the door for a third party character from Konami, which is fantastic (really, Konami needs a character in this game). It also perhaps gives us a look into the future evolution of the series.
NEXT: The Shovel Knight Upset (formerly conspiracy)