I truly didn’t think it was possible.
Knowing Disney and knowing Square-Enix, the amount of hurdles it must have taken for Smash Bros. director Sakurai Masahiro to bring Sora into the greatest and most celebrated gathering of video game icons is a feat beyond Herculean. But this is a tale as old as Smash itself: every time I think there’s a ceiling, Sakurai manages to bust right through if given enough time. Whether it’s “This character wouldn’t work as a fighter!” or “That company would never let their baby go anywhere!” the only limit left is “They have to actually be actively video game–related (sorry, Goku).
I’m pretty neutral when it comes to Kingdom Hearts, having only experienced the game passively through others—notably watching one friend fight Sephiroth over and over because he enjoyed the boss encounter that much. However, even if I don’t have a strong affinity for Sora myself, I can feel the love from all the fans, the creators, and the Smash developers. Everything about the way Sora moves in the Smash Ultimate footage we’ve seen screams care and attention to detail, whether it’s the swift swings of his Keyblade to mimic the play style of the source games or the unique buoyancy of his jumps, it’s as if the team wants you to genuinely feel like you’re controlling Sora in an exciting, new setting.
I just know the way I felt seeing Mega Man’s helmet warp onto his head for the Smash 4 trailer over eight years ago is the same as how many felt yesterday seeing that Mickey keychain dangling. Though, as much as I love Mega Man music, having Sora’s trailer feature an instrumental version of Utada Hikaru’s “Hikari”/”Simple and Clean” hits differently. It’s a shame that they couldn’t get it into Smash Ultimate itself.
In his final presentation, Sakurai draws attention to the fact that it’s Kingdom Hearts I Sora, and I think there’s a real significance to that. Back in the Smash 4 days, there was concern among fans that if Pac-Man were to actually get into Smash, it would be his modernized Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures iteration as opposed to his retro design. After all, it’s the new thing, and they would want to synergize with the current stuff, right? But Pac-Man came in as classic 1980s Pac-Man, and I’d like to think it’s because Sakurai understands where the love for the character lies. While Sora’s older selves in the sequels wouldn’t be nearly as divisive as Ghostly Adventures Pac-Man, it feels as if the Kingdom hearts I Sora embodies fans’ youth and nostalgia in a way his later designs would.
What a ride, and what a way to send off Smash Ultimate. Even if he wasn’t my dream pick, Sora feels all too appropriate as the bookend to a nearly four-year journey that’s seen the world go through the unimaginable as once-farfetched roster choices kept getting in one after the other. And while speculation doesn’t come with actual stakes and anticipation anymore, I’ll still keep thinking of ideas for new characters because there’s still plenty of video game history to tap into. Fans find in Smash Bros. comfort and a spirit of genuine love for video games in an increasingly cynical world. Thank you, Sakurai.
PS: I’m looking forward to that next balance patch, though. (Mewtwo buffs prayer circle.)