It’s been a rough year for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and me, mostly because with the ongoing pandemic I haven’t been able to play it IRL with anyone. The game’s new limited-time Sephiroth boss fight has helped me fall back in love with it though, by giving me a brief but excellent new single-player challenge to overcome.
Final Fantasy VII’s infamous (and sexy) villain was added to Smash Bros. Ultimate yesterday, and while he doesn’t officially go live until December 22, enterprising players can unlock him early by paying for him now and beating him in a fight. Simple enough. This is how new fighter unlocks have traditionally worked in the game and the series, but Sephiroth’s has been built out into something more.
You face him on one of three difficulties — Easy, Normal, or Very Hard — and once he’s defeated he’ll be added to your roster. But even after your first victory you can keep going back for more, if you want. The game even adds a little check mark to the difficulties you’ve already completed and records your fastest time. There’s no official leaderboard, but you can share your times online and in spirit at least it adds a little old-school arcade charm to the modern Nintendo platformer fighter.
It’s also pretty tough on the hardest difficulty, but rewardingly so. I thought I’d initially defeated Sephiroth on Very Hard, and was let down by what a cakewalk it was. I’d actually beaten him on Normal though. Very Hard ratchets things up to another level entirely, giving Sephiroth 200% health to your standard 150%, and making his attacks deal extra damage while yours are nerfed. All of that in addition to the fact that on Very Hard Sephiroth is quick, performs aerial combos, and dodges with ease — making him feel just a bit more difficult than your average level-nine CPU opponent. Make sloppy mistakes or fail to capitalise on openings and Sephiroth will punish you for it, just like one of the pals you’ve been playing Smash with for years.
He’s not just any ordinary opponent either, he’s fucking Sephiroth. Hitting legendary bad dude status shortly after Final Fantasy VII was originally released, this year’s Final Fantasy VII Remake re-asserted his all-star status and staying power. The fight to unlock him takes place on his new stage, a Final Destination variant that’s a single, flat platform overlooking the crater from the end of Final Fantasy VII, all while the Advent Children version of “One-Winged Angel” plays in the background.
As the fight goes on the platform eventually descends into the crater, bathing you in the pale, green glow of the Lifestream. Once below 75% health, Sephiroth’s sole, black wing will even pop out, a nod to his final transformation in the source material. It’s an incredibly worthy and effective homage, and the best sort of fanservice you could hope for out of a game built around watching random gaming mascots beat the shit out of each other.
When I finally beat Sephiroth with Link thanks to a constant barrage of arrows, bombs, and boomerangs punctuated by the hero of time’s wicked smash attacks, I was equal parts relieved, hyped, and breathless. It took me a dozen tries and even my win came with a final match time well over two minutes (some non-scrubs are clocking in under 30 seconds), but it was worth it to see two of my childhood favourites epically wack each other over the head with swords.
The Smash Bros. series has a long and tragic history of wonky single-player adventure modes. Smash Bros. Ultimate’s Spirit board is no exception. I love Spirit battles on their own, and the system as a whole, but producing cool fights artfully linked back to the games that inspired them is not one of Ultimate’s strong suits. Yet the Sephiroth Challenge nails it. Maybe it’s a sign of more to come on that front? The game’s second fighter pass still has three more characters to reveal. Hopefully they’ll each get a suitably special showdown introducing them, too. (And please, oh please, let one of them be Goku.)