Super Smash Bros. Ultimate’s newest character, the Hero from Dragon Quest, might be the weirdest cast member in the game. Since his release last month, the Smash community has argued over his place in high-level competition, and recently, a group of events in Australia chose to ban him from play altogether.
Hero is the latest third-party character to join the Super Smash Bros. Ultimate roster after Persona 5’s Joker, whose own strength has also been the subject of debate.. Hero’s repertoire of attacks features several classic Dragon Quest spells like Frizz and Woosh, but he really stands out when it comes to his Command Selection special. Upon activation, Command Selection presents the player with a list of four randomly selected moves from a pool five times as deep. These moves include several attacks as well as support techniques that heal Hero and increase the damage of his next move.
Things get really weird, however, when Hocus Pocus is thrown into the mix. Hocus Pocus produces a random effect, anything from a super powerful attack to a self-destruct, and each move within the Hocus Pocus pool has its own rate of appearance. If a player wanted to turn invisible, for instance, they would have to be lucky enough for Hocus Pocus to show up in Command Selection and then for Hocus Pocus to give them that effect, both of which have low odds separately.
Hero, then, adds an interesting layer to Super Smash Bros. Ultimate competition. While he’s hard to grapple with, both to play as and as an opponent, his randomness can lead to incredible moments. One such moment punctuated a local event in the U.K. when two Hero players met in bracket. The opening seconds of their fight saw both competitors use Hocus Pocus, with two very different effects: one player was slowed to a crawl while the other grew gigantic, and the latter earned a quick kill thanks to the differential. While the odds of this sequence of events occurring are extremely low, it’s just one example of the chaos players must be ready for as soon as Hero steps foot into a match.
This randomness immediately made Hero a contentious figure in the competitive Super Smash Bros. Ultimate community, with some even calling (perhaps facetiously) for a ban as soon as series director Masahiro Sakurai demonstrated Hero’s techniques during a pre-release broadcast. The discussion would be tabled for a bit due to the Evolution Championship Series, or Evo, which didn’t allow Hero due to the proximity of his release. Calls for a ban restarted in earnest a week later leading up to Super Smash Con, a major competition that acted as Hero’s competitive debut. Unsurprisingly, few Hero players made it far in the bracket, but there were brief flashes of brilliance from young Japanese competitor Sota “zackray” Okada, who ended his weekend tied for ninth place mostly off the strength of his other main character, Wolf.
Hero remains controversial thanks to the Smash community’s perspective on high-level play. Super Smash Bros. is, at its core, a party game. The franchise was never meant to be competitive, but was forced into that niche by a dedicated community that never hesitated to implement drastic rules and guidelines, such as entirely removing items from serious matches. That said, elements of randomness remain in characters like Mr. Game & Watch and Peach. Hero goes a step too far for some, however, and a few loud voices have continued to call for his banning since release. That includes top players like William “Leffen” Hjelte and Adam “Armada” Lindgren, both of whom have decried Hero’s randomness as a detriment to competition.
Despite complaints, Super Smash Bros. tournament organizers have taken a wait-and-see approach to Hero in these early weeks. Super Smash Con allowed his use without seeing numerous Hero players overrun competition, and local events have similarly not been dominated by the Dragon Quest guest. Still, the Smash community is always full of surprises, and a group of tournaments in Australia announced a sweeping ban of the character at events.
“After deliberation and plenty of discussion we have concluded that Hero’s design as a character is fundamentally dependant [sic] on randomness to the point that it is not reasonable in a competitive environment,” the group’s official announcement reads. “[Randomness] permeates every element of Hero’s design, from spell selection to random critical hits and Hocus Pocus effects. While randomness has to varying degrees always been present in competitive games and other Smash games, Hero is so dependent on randomness that it cannot be ‘played around’ or accounted for in competitive play. The argument is similar to the reason why items are banned in competitive play.”
The statement insists that the ban was implemented not because Hero is too strong, but because he is “anti-competitive.” Hero, the group believes, deemphasizes player skill, making him unfair for serious competition where the better player should always win. The ban is not permanent, however, and the tournament organizers plan to reexamine the situation in a few months, allowing the players to adapt to Hero and possible balance changes through patches.
Is Hero too strong? Is he unfair? Does he violate some notion of competitive integrity? It’s simply too early to know. Hero is a cool character with a number of unique abilities that, unfortunately, fly in the face of the competitive Super Smash Bros. community’s traditions and ethos. That said, fighting games have a tendency to evolve as time goes on. Super Smash Bros. is ostensibly a party game that serious players have beaten into submission, and it’s clear they are happy to dictate competition at every step in order to maintain a clear set of principles. If anything, it should at least be interesting to see if tournaments in more central competitive hubs like the United States and Europe follow Australia’s lead on the Hero ban discussion. For now, all we can do is wait.