Sora was the most desired character for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. When you have a character with so wide an appeal, it behooves the creators to make him accessible to the fans eager to use him. In this respect, I think Sakurai and his team have succeeded in spades, but I’ve also been watching the pros try their hands at Sora, and I’ve noticed that the character seems to have a very high ceiling for what is possible. From this, I find that Sora is built very firmly on a classic concept of game design: easy to learn, but difficult to master.
Surprisingly, that combination isn’t all that common among characters in Smash—all the more odd because it’s a franchise built around that very idea. Often, characters who are simple to pick up don’t get absurdly tricky at higher levels, and the characters who are difficult to get the hang of remain complicated even at higher levels of play. Sora, in contrast, has a relatively simple and easy-to-understand game plan, but the room for optimization looks endless.
Sora’s enormously generous air mobility and the ease by which he can get his Kingdom Hearts–esque combos started (neutral air, forward air, and down tilt are all strong tools) means that neutral isn’t overly complicated. At the same time, the ability to delay or interrupt hits means that players will likely get better and better at maximizing damage. His special moves also allow players to do a lot right off the bat, but their intricacies are deep. The very fact that his neutral special, Magic, switches between three very different attacks every time you hit the B button makes it so that players have to subtly change strategies every time they use the move.
One thing that’s very unusual about Sora is his movement. Overall, he’s below average in nearly every mobility category, but a combination of an enormous second jump reminiscent of Ness and Mewtwo—as well as a level of floatiness that’s strange even compared to other generally similar characters—means that Sora ironically can feel more strange to those with lots of Smash experience. As a Mewtwo user myself, one would think that Sora would feel right at home, but even I found the character’s physics to be bizarre at first blush. On a technical level, this is owing to a combination of very low fall speed and extremely low gravity, a stat that determines how quickly a character hits their top vertical speed in the air. The result is a character who just ends up spending a lot of time in the air. His high-altitude juggling and deep offstage edgeguarding are, as expected, both incredibly powerful.
At the same time, Sora doesn’t look like a slouch on the ground either. What I find is that, due to the contrast between his mediocre-yet-funky mobility and the relative safety of his disjointed Keyblade attacks, Sora is neither especially good nor especially bad at getting in on his opponents. Against those who like to fight up close, Sora should have no trouble making it happen. In fact, more often I could see the fight coming to him. And against characters who like to play more of a bait-and-punish style, Sora can contend decently well. It’s the strong zoners, the ones who excel at running away and have either one or more long-range tool, who can give Sora trouble. From a Mewtwo perspective, I can see my character doing well because of a combination of Shadow Ball and just across-the-board superior mobility that allows Mewtwo to both play keepaway and chase Sora down in the air, which is supposed to be Sora’s specialty.
I predict Sora is going to get better and better over the course of Ultimate competitive play, but he won’t necessarily be able to ignore his weaknesses the same way other characters can. He might always have at least a few bad matchups where he has trouble getting his game plan started, but against most of the cast, Sora shouldn’t have much trouble playing Kingdom Hearts in Smash. And he’ll always be that accessible character who eases people into Smash but provides ample room for players to grow, and for the experts to flex their skills.