Super Smash Bros. series director Masahiro Sakurai is currently my favorite game developer. He eats, sleeps, and breathes Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. The recent news about the addition of six new fighters is assurance that he won't be finished with the series anytime soon.
Nevertheless, when Sakurai appears on Smash Direct presentations, he doesn't exude a crumb of bitterness. At the same time, he's not breathlessly in love with Smash. It's as if Smash is Sakurai's Sisyphean boulder—an obstacle he needs to overcome against impossible odds. He shoulders the burden with grace. He's clearly proud of his work, as he should be, but the combined pressure of Smash development plus endless yelling from the series' fans has seemingly tempered his witty, sarcastic sense of humor.
We saw a great example of Sakurai's slightly warped idea of fun a couple of days before the January 16 Smash Direct presentation. Social media lit up with a picture of Sakurai flashing a sideways "3," and fevered speculation instantly tore through the digital crowd. "Dante will be the next Smash reveal!" people cried. "Devil May Cry 3 is coming to Switch, hence the '3!'"
guys sakurai just wanted to look cool, he isn't hinting at anything and he does, he looks fresh as hell let's go sakurai pic.twitter.com/FrDKQrK31W— Locus Bogard (@LocusSK) January 14, 2020
Dante was the most popular choice, though other theories rose up from the hype. "It's someone from Mother 3!" "It's Sora from Kingdom Hearts 3!" "It's Crash Bandicoot—he makes the same gesture in his redesign!"
Turns out the Smash newcomer is Byleth, the protagonist from Fire Emblem: Three Houses. The internet is generally bummed over another Fire Emblem character joining the fight, especially after they whipped themselves into a froth over fantasy additions like Dante, Sora, and Gex (??).
That means Sakurai's "3" was a red herring, right? Something to tease the fans who hound him constantly about putting Goku in Smash? Nope. Sakurai was giving us the answer all along. Fire Emblem: Three Houses is the 17th game in the series—and 3 is binary for 17.
If you're justifiably confused, Sakurai explains himself in the "Fire Emblem 'Can You Say It' Challenge" around the 7:30 mark in the Direct video. As Sakurai counts off each title, his fingers tally the count in binary. When he gets to Three Houses, he assumes the three-finger pose that drove the internet wild. "There you go," he says. "17."
Maybe it's not cool to say "What an epic troll," but man. What an epic troll. I love it. Sakurai's "game" demonstrates he's still all-in on making Smash content, but he's not above turning Smash fans' hype against them. It seems like a fun way to let off a little steam when your life's work takes top billing in the industry.
Even if you're disappointed with the Byleth reveal, you have to give mountains of credit to Sakurai for the work he does to make Smash Bros. Ultimate such an amazing party/fighting game. Byleth wasn't my first choice either, but I was enthralled with Sakurai's demonstration of how they fight. He's not afraid to come on camera and joke around, and I appreciate developers who take the time to forge an online audience and personality. His wry sense of humor makes me wonder how he plans to spice up the next fighter reveal. I await the next riddle.
Also, Sakurai has an amazing head of hair. Anyone can appreciate that.