Game Changers: Volume 25 – Super Smash Bros. Melee

Super Smash Bros. Melee is not an RPG in any way, shape, or form. So why, you might ask, is it the subject of this week’s column? The answer can be summed up in one word: Marth.

Yes, it's not an RPG. I know.
Yes, it’s not an RPG. I know.

A couple of columns back, we took a look at the sad state of the tactical RPG scene in North America prior to the release of Final Fantasy Tactics in 1998. Tactical RPGs had been around in Japan since the NES era, most notably with the Fire Emblem series. Fire Emblem: Ankoku Ryu to Hikari no Tsurugi (Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragons and the Blade of Light) was released in Japan in 1990 for the Famicon but, like most TRPGs of the age, never made it overseas. Final Fantasy Tactics helped to popularise the sub-genre in North America.

The fact that a popular franchise made a foray into the genre made a lot more people willing to try it out. It took a little more than that, though, to drum up interest in Fire Emblem. That “little more” turned out to be Nintendo’s GameCube sequel to their N64 cross-over fighting game Super Smash Bros. Here’s the thing… the Super Smash Bros. franchise is famous for unlockables, including hidden characters, and among the unlockable characters in the sequel were Marth and Roy, a pair total strangers to North American players. Though by 2001 when the Super Smash Bros. Melee was released, it was clear that the PlayStation was king of the console wars, Nintendo still had a slew of loyal customer and Melee moved 7 million units, making it the best selling game for the system. Of the seven million, more than five million were sold outside of Japan, so basically there were some five million gamers unlocking these supposedly famous Nintendo characters and asking themselves “Who the heck are these guys?”

Peach? Check. Link? Check. Bowser? Check. And... err... Wait a sec... Who the heck are those two guys with the swords over in the back?
Peach? Check. Link? Check. Bowser? Check. And… err… Wait a sec… Who the heck are those two guys with the swords over in the back?

Two years later, in 2003, North America got its first taste of Fire Emblem on the Game Boy Advance. To avoid scaring us all, the seventh installment in the series, Fire Emblem: Rekka no Ken in Japan, was released here simply as Fire Emblem. Of course we still didn’t know who Marth and Roy were as they came, respectively, from the first and sixth games, but at least it was progress.

In fact Nintendo very much had the North American market in mind when they devleoped the seventh game, as is obvious to anyone who’s played the game. Fire Emblem‘s prologue happens to be an extremely long series of tutorials, very much unnecessary for anyone familiar with TRPG conventions (Poor Lyndis really got shortchanged on that one!), but of course Nintendo was assuming that most North American simply wouldn’t be. Ever since then, Nintendo has been releasing Fire Emblem in North America and Europe, including the recent DS remake of the first Fire Emblem game so that players outside of Japan could finally see Marth and his famed Falchion for themselves. The music included in Melee, the Fire Emblem theme and “Together We Ride,” are now as familiar to TRPG fans worldwide as to those in Japan, and all this thanks to — of all things — a mash-up fighting game.

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