On April 17th, 2019, the first Challenger Pack DLC for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate launched alongside the version 3.0 update. (While Piranha Plant was the first DLC character to be added to the game in January 2019, it was not as part of the planned season pass content.) The long-anticipated update added Joker, the main protagonist from Atlus RPG Persona 5, to the already prolific Smash roster. The Phantom Thief of Hearts explodes onto the scene, wielding a variety of attacks both martial and mystical. The most important mechanic separating Joker from the rest of the cast is his Rebellion Gauge, which summons the Persona Arsene to assist Joker in his attacks. The DLC also included the new stage Mementos, a landscape inspired by the world of subconscious thought that the Phantom Thieves travel through in Persona 5.
The TAG @ UCI Ultimate weekly tournament was hot off the heels of the update, although it wasn’t the first Southern California weekly to actually run the new patch. (That honor would go to the April 17th Wednesday Night Fights event held at the Santa Ana Esports Arena.) With 44 entrants, the weekly was also notable for the appearance of two top SoCal players, Matt “Elegant” Fitzpatrick and Mr. ConCon– the former currently ranked 10th with Luigi on the SoCal Ultimate Power Rankings, and the latter an honorable mention with the same character. Justin “Muskrat Catcher” Muscat, head TO for the TAG @ UCI Ultimate club, also placed a humble five-dollar bounty on the highest placing player who exclusively played Joker for the duration of the tournament. However, while Elegant did use the new character in many of his games, he ultimately returned to his main for a few matches, and grand finals of the tournament was a Luigi ditto between him and Mr. ConCon.
I asked top UCI players for their opinions on the new character after they had a day to see what he was capable of. “The most amazing thing to me, is that last night at Wednesday Night Fights, Joker almost won the tournament,” Muskrat Catcher explained to me, referring to grand finals of WNF 1.9 (4/17/19) between Mr. E’s Lucina and SweetT’s Joker. “He took grand finals to a game five scenario, so obviously he has promise as a character.” Muskrat’s personal belief was that Joker was neither a bad character nor an overtuned one, and that the future metagame would be very interesting with his introduction.
Rafael “Rafi” Guadron disagreed with Muskrat’s assessment, however. “[He’s] a mid-tier, mid-high character. He seems pretty annoying, and I don’t like that he has that Arsene [mechanic.]” Functionally, when Joker summons Arsene, his damage output and the rest of his abilities increase dramatically. The Redemption Gauge that marks the time until the Persona appears fills up in small increments when Joker takes damage, and in major increments when Joker successfully counters attacks. “I’m probably not gonna play him,” Rafi stated bluntly.
When I asked Uyiosa “Uyi” Igbinigie for his opinion on Joker, he gave me a very straightforward rundown of how he feels the character functions. “[Joker’s] definitely looking like a technical character. If we were trying to put him in a character archetype, [he’d be] more along the combo characters like Sheik and such, where you have to do a lot of hits in order to do massive damage, but then you get Arsene, which functions like [Cloud’s Limit Break mechanic] so you can get KOs really well.” Incidentally, even though he had a relatively low placing of 17th at the tournament, Uyi was also the winner of Muskrat’s five dollar Joker bounty, being the highest-placing solo Joker at the event.
Meanwhile, Mementos was also the subject of debate in regards to the stagelist moving forward. With the Hazards toggle set to Off, the harmful elements of Mementos (namely the trains that pass through the top and bottom blastzones) disappear, leaving a large, asymmetrical stage with a slope in the center, and two platforms in the center and on the left. “If 2GGaming [the major Southern California grassroots Ultimate tournament organization] runs it at their events, we’ll have to play on it,” Rafi said. At the moment, due to Mementos’s asymmetrical nature, the stage may only be run as a counterpick rather than a neutral starter stage. However, its unique aesthetic and acid jazz Persona soundtrack make it an endearing fan-favorite, so players strongly advocate for its inclusion in official stagelists.
In the end, Joker’s stunning inclusion into Smash alongside the Mementos stage are bound to shake up the Ultimate metagame. The new character has stolen the hearts of both new and current players, and once his abilities are further explored, he may even have the potential to clinch out tournament wins. While it’s safe to say that no one saw Joker’s invite to the prestigious mascot fighter coming, everyone is still excited to see how he’ll perform.