Byleth is here. Are you happy? Upset? I don’t care, let’s talk about how they play.
Super Smash Bros. has always had a close relationship with the tactical Fire Emblem franchise, making Byleth the latest in a long line of sword-wielding fighters to join the Nintendo crossover. But a sword is just a small part of their arsenal, which also includes a bow, an axe, and a lance. These weapons give the Three Houses protagonist a varied yet surprisingly basic moveset that gives players all the tools they need to succeed in just about every situation, almost as if they were walking onto a Fire Emblem battlefield with a full army instead of just one character.
Byleth’s versatility in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate should make sense to anyone who played Fire Emblem: Three Houses. In that game, the young mercenary is tasked with teaching a group of plucky teenagers the basics of war. This means training front-line fighters, archers, mounted knights, sorcerers, and everything in between. Due to their upbringing, Byleth has a jack-of-all-trades skill set that translates perfectly to this environment. Three Houses will vary from player to player depending on how they decide to level up Byleth and train their students, but the potential and versatility they show in that game is reflected perfectly in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.
While using Byleth, players will want to remember that a single weapon is assigned to each direction. Neutral attacks utilize the long-range Failnaught bow, upwards attacks employ the whip-like Sword of the Creator, sideways attacks focus on the Areadbhar spear (their back air is going to be killer in competition, I think), and downwards attacks take advantage of the massive Aymr axe. This applies to both normal and special attacks, so ingraining these direction-exclusive weapons to muscle memory will be vital to excelling with Byleth.
As far as special attacks go, not all of Byleth’s are created equal. Their neutral special fires off a single arrow, which should be great as a way to attack opponents from far away as well as harass folks who have been knocked off-stage, but the lengthy charge time means it won’t be as dependable as, say, Fox’s lasers. Using the up special causes Byleth to whip their sword upwards, which attaches to opponents and ledges before retracting and launching Byleth towards them. If the opponent is above 50% damage, they will instead be smashed downwards, increasing the move’s potency as a killing blow over the course of a match. Players have already started piecing together some great combos with this move, and it appears as if it will be a core component of Byleth’s offense and recovery options moving forward. Byleth’s side special gives them access to a wide, sweeping attack with their spear. When used in the air, this move covers a large half-circle area in front of Byleth, making it a powerful tool for approaching opponents. And finally, the downwards special is a large crushing blow with the axe. This move has a huge startup window but is blessed with some armor that allows Byleth to power through attacks while it winds up. It will be a difficult attack to land, but the massive damage more than makes up for its shortcomings. Funny enough, Byleth can also “grab” platform edges with this move if it’s timed correctly.
Even with all that in mind, Byleth is pretty simple compared to their fellow Super Smash Bros. Ultimate newcomers. Players won’t need to keep track of a special meter like Persona 5 guest Joker, command inputs like Fatal Fury’s Terry Bogard, or even the randomness of Dragon Quest’s Hero. Similar to the other Fire Emblem characters that came before them, Byleth is a solid fighter capable of outputting massive damage in the right situations. Mastering fundamentals like neutral and spacing will go far, but don’t pick Byleth expecting a light-footed fighter capable of dashing around the stage in the blink of an eye. They may look waifish, but Byleth moves like someone weighed down by several ancient weapons because, well, they are. They also have pretty poor air mobility due to their up special acting as a tether rather than a move that shoots them upwards like most Smash characters. This can be beneficial in stages with walls or large undersides, as Byleth can essentially climb upwards with smart special usage, but I can see getting back to the stage being an ongoing problem for even the best Byleth players.
Byleth feels downright quaint compared to their predecessors, all of whom featured something new and exciting to mix up the standard Super Smash Bros. formula. In some ways, Byleth’s arrival hearkens back to the heady days of Melee competition, where the unassuming swordsman Marth ranked among the best characters in the game alongside speed demons like Fox and Sheik. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is a much different game, to be sure, with an added focus on bolstering several distinct playstyles compared to previous iterations. At the moment, it’s difficult to understand how Byleth will jive with that presumed design goal due to their bread-and-butter moveset, but I look forward to seeing how they fare in competition alongside the wild antics of the high-tier characters that have come to define Ultimate competition over the last few years.
Ian Walker loves fighting games and loves writing about them even more. You can find him on Twitter at @iantothemax.