Here’s some important context to start: I’m a huge Kingdom Hearts fan. I’ll go to bat for the series every step of the way — though I won’t defend the copyright nightmare conglomerate known as Disney — and I’m not ashamed of it. But I’m no fool. I never believed that series protagonist Sora would be added to Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. How could he be, with the aforementioned company that owns everything also owning the rights to the character? Then, Smash Bros. director Masahiro Sakurai proved me wrong. And he did so with a character that really is the perfect finale to the Smash Bros. roster.
If you somehow don’t know anything about the Kingdom Hearts series, let me give you the elevator pitch: what if the worlds of classic Disney films and Square Enix JRPGs met in the most complicated of ways possible? The series sees prominent characters like Donald and Goofy befriending Sora, joining him on a journey across the worlds of Hercules, The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, and more. Along the way, they run into characters like Squall from Final Fantasy VIII and Cloud from FFVII. It’s weird, and it’s beautiful — and it positioned Sora as the crossover king right from 2002.
Remember when Marvel was calling Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame “the most ambitious crossover event of all time?” They were late by almost two decades. The Kingdom Hearts series has featured a huge range of Disney films, whether it’s through the worlds you visit, or cameo appearances dotted around. The first game went to some incredible lengths to stay true to the original films as well — an extreme example is how the original voice actress for Wendy from Peter Pan returned to voice the character, 50 years after she last played the role.
There’s a lot of love and detail put into the Kingdom Hearts games, and you can see that same care put into Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. The Smash Bros. series hasn’t always been this way, of course. The original game for the N64, and Melee only featured Nintendo characters — it’s only been since Brawl with the arrival of characters like Sonic and Snake, two icons of gaming that are distinctly not Nintendo IPs, that Smash became what it is today.
Ultimate now stands as a love letter to gaming as a whole — the plethora of games featured show this of course, but it shines best in the small details. It’s the things like being able to pull off Terry Bogard’s moves by inputting the combos from his original game. It’s Charizard and Incineroar taking damage from being in water because they’re fire-type. And it’s including minute details like the lock-on reticule in Sora’s moveset, along with fan service like Sora’s black and white look from Timeless River, in itself inspired by classic Disney cartoons.
Having 89 characters from a huge range of games to choose from is an incredible achievement itself. But the fact that these characters are so lovingly translated from their respective games in a way that doesn’t betray their original incarnations, but still fit into Smash Ultimate, is what really makes it such a special fighting game. If Ultimate or Kingdom Hearts didn’t go to the lengths they do to stay true to the properties they feature, any sense of love that might be there would feel inauthentic.
Everything about the final Sakurai Presents screamed how much Nintendo understood the gravity of this crossover. The whole roster was there for the reveal of Sora, every single character present for his dramatic entrance, and after flying around his splash screen was free from any puns and simply read “Sora Is Finally Here!” While Sakurai was showing off Sora’s moveset, he made sure to show every single fighter that is included in the game. They wanted you to know how impressive it is that they have so many notable video game characters, and how easily Sora fits amongst the ranks.
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is finally finished, or at least it will be on October 18 when Sora officially joins the roster. But it is jam packed with so much video game history it’s almost impossible to know where to start with it. Sora being in the roster just adds to that history tenfold, simply from how much he’s involved with other worlds. He won’t be for everyone, and that’s fine, but it’s impossible to deny he’s the perfect way to round off a franchise that’s filled with crossover.
Except for maybe Jonesy from Fortnite, but nobody wants that.