After the impressive and surprising list of DLC characters Super Smash Bros. Ultimate’s first Fighter’s Pass has brought so far, the most recent and final addition, Byleth from Fire Emblem: Three Houses, feels like an incredibly safe pick – in more ways than one. They’re not as mechanically complex as the likes of Hero or Terry Bogard, and not as fan-servingly exciting as Joker or Banjo & Kazooie. And yet, a bit of vanilla to round out this already vibrant pack of extra fighters doesn’t stop Byleth from proudly standing out among their Fire Emblem peers and the rest of Ultimate’s extensive roster.
As an anime-looking sword-wielder, Byleth certainly has their work cut out for them in trying to convince people to pick them up over any of the other similar options – and thankfully, they’ve got plenty to work with in that regard. Out of the five other Fire Emblem reps (seven if you count Echo Fighters), Byleth manages to be the only one to showcase the strategic weapon variety that’s core to the series. Using special weapons from Three Houses known as Heroes’ Relics, Byleth can seamlessly swap out their whip-sword for a hefty axe, lengthy spear, or powerful bow, and each has their own unique strengths that make them a ton of fun to smash your opponents with.[widget path="global/article/imagegallery" parameters="albumSlug=every-super-smash-bros-ultimate-fighter&captions=true"]
Rather than have them haphazardly attached to various moves, Byleth’s different weapons are smartly mapped to your directional inputs. While their neutral special incorporates the bow, side attacks utilize their spear, down attacks summon the axe, and lighter swipes and overhead moves uses the whip-sword. Beyond each one looking awesome when summoned in a fight, the directional based context gives Byleth a feeling of smart cohesion that’s incredibly easy to pick up and understand.
Byleth’s moveset is also one of the big reasons why this DLC fighter seems fairly simple compared to the others that have arrived post-launch – for better and for worse. Where Terry’s button inputs could be too technical for some, Hero’s random moves and magic meter could feel too chaotic, and the meters and consumables of Joker and Banjo too much to keep track of, Byleth forgoes all of it. Their “gimmick” essentially lies in the simplicity of a man/woman-at-arms, with a weapon for every situation, providing a different type of challenge in knowing when to use the right one rather than learning how to wield them at all.
If Byleth does have a gaping flaw, it’s commitment. While each weapon type can deal a staggering amount of damage when they connect, they’ll often leave Byleth wide open to counters from a skilled or perceptive opponent. The bow, known as Failnaught, can be charged up to deal devastating precision damage at long range, but once you’ve charged past a certain threshold, you can’t get out of the move early. Similarly, aiming your attacks downward with the axe Amyr can demolish anyone standing nearby, but the lengthy startup and finish (and the time you’re left vulnerable after landing with a downward aerial strike) means you’ll either have to be very good at predicting an opponent, or drop in on a group of distracted fighters. The slow nature of these kinds of “unsafe” moves might not turn a lot of heads in the competitive scene, but it may entice newer players who aren’t afraid of making mistakes with an easy-to-grasp moveset and tons of strong attacks.
Even without the additional weaponry, Byleth’s Sword of the Creator (which is generally linked to up-attacks, but can also act as a sort of default for many others) holds some very interesting and fun properties. Able to be used like a whip, it gives Byleth’s quicker moves and upward attacks more options, thanks in part to their unique recovery move. While other characters like Zero Suit Samus and Joker can use similar tools to grab or hook onto ledges and pull themselves up, Byleth’s up-B can also latch onto opponents and use them as a stepping stone to launch high up while sending their target screaming downwards once they’ve hit a certain damage threshold – which makes it deliciously evil to use off the stage, yanking poor souls down to their doom before they can react. I was even pleased to find some clever applications when used above platforms, giving me different options to follow up with other moves depending on how damaged my opponent was, or how far my opponent bounced back off the ground below me. That said, smaller ledges have sometimes been my downfall, as the Sword of the Creator has either been unwilling or unable to hook onto tiny platforms to save me from plummeting and the move itself gives no recovery if nothing connects.
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As part of Byleth’s character pack, there’s also the addition of a host of new themed Spirit Battles. These are as ingeniously crafted as ever, and Three Houses fans will appreciate all the fun details – like Dimitri’s Spirit Battle including a tough Ganondorf in place of Dimitri’s stalwart bodyguard, Dedue. That being said, those who haven’t already played through the Three Houses story may wish to hold off on some of the tougher Spirit Battles, which inadvertently spoil some plot points by way of the battle’s surprise mechanics.
As for the stage, Garreg Mach Monastery feels surprisingly bland. While stages that tour around a large location usually offer up an array of different battlefields to fight in and adapt to, each of the monastery’s four areas are flat, walk-off arenas with the bare minimum inclusion of a few small temporary platforms. Even the guest appearances by students and house leaders of each of the three houses seem a bit dull - especially when spotted standing in an otherwise deserted grand hall. Garreg Mach Monastery isn’t exactly a disappointing place for a fight, but when you look at the variety of architecture in other Fire Emblem levels like Castle Siege and the Coliseum, the monastery just feels stale in comparison. Luckily, the inclusion of some of the best music that Three Houses has to offer won't go unnoticed. The upbeat tempo of Fódlan Winds and The Edge of Dawn mesh perfectly with frantic large battles, while songs like The Apex of the World and Between Heaven and Earth give 1v1s a legendary feel.