Masahiro Sakurai (born August 3, 1970) is a Japanese video game developer best known as the creator of both the Kirby and Super Smash Bros. series, creating the former series' namesake character under HAL Laboratory when he was only 19 years old. He has also served as the head of Sora Ltd. since 2005.
Seeing how it was the '90s, and most of Nintendo's games were infamous for their difficulty, Sakurai designed the original Kirby's Dream Land to be relatively easy so players wouldn't be alienated by the game being too hard. He directed a number of Kirby titles from there, playing a smaller and smaller role in development as time went on, culminating in him simply voicing King Dedede in Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards. He worked closely with the staff for the series' anime, Kirby: Right Back at Ya!, and he also worked as the designer on Kirby Air Ride, which was his final game in the series.
Sometime after the development of Kirby Super Star, Sakurai wanted to make a fighting game. It was developed again by HAL Laboratory, but during their spare time and with a shockingly small budget. He wanted to make it different from the others: not with combo-based combat, and with simultaneous four-player gameplay. Originally called Kakuto-Gemu Ryuonote , he felt it was somewhat bland. To remedy this, he added in characters from various Nintendo franchises, and the game was released as Super Smash Bros. 64 in 1999. The game was a Sleeper Hit, and although it was originally intended not to even leave Japan's shores, it was localized, where it also did well.
Over the following few years, Sakurai made Super Smash Bros. Melee before his resignation, which he stated was due to HAL Laboratory continually making sequels. It looked as though he wouldn't make another game in the series, as he formed his own company, Sora Ltd., and worked on original titles such as Meteos. However, he was approached by a good friend of his, then-president of Nintendo Satoru Iwata, who persuaded him to make Super Smash Bros. Brawl. During development, characters, items, and stages were posted on the official website, leading to fans eagerly awaiting possible character reveals. The event was dubbed "Japan Time" by fans and remains a memorable era in Smash history.
From there, Iwata and Sakurai wanted to work on an original game with both land and air combat for the Nintendo 3DS, but they realized that the Kid Icarus series would be a perfect fit, with its protagonist Pit and the goddess Palutena already having been given redesigns in Brawl. The end result, Kid Icarus: Uprising, has been generally praised as a must-have for the system, becoming its Killer App in early 2012.
At E3 2011, it was announced that Sakurai would be developing two new Super Smash Bros. games, one for the Wii U and one for the 3DS. Although he was uncomfortable with announcing a game before development had even startednote , but it allowed staff to be recruited. Around summer 2012, it was announced the game would be produced by a joint effort between Sora Ltd. and Bandai Namco Entertainment. Even after the previous Super Smash Bros. games, Sakurai — at the behest of Satoru Iwata — would go on to create a new game for the Switch as a culmination of all that came before, and then some.
Sakurai has also stopped tweeting as frequently in order to focus more on the games' development, and also because he grew tired of posting a game and fans instantly thinking the characters would be in the next Super Smash Bros. title.
In 2022, Sakurai created a YouTube channel titled Masahiro Sakurai on Creating Games, in which he would provide insight to viewers on his work in the game industry, and various easy-to-understand advice about game development, with the goal of "to try and help make games around the world a little more fun".
The English-speaking Super Smash Bros. community calls him "Daddy Sakurai", to the point that the nickname was adopted/translated by other language-speakers as well (for instance, part of the Japanese community calls him "Sakurai-papa"). Also common are jokingly-created Mondegreens of his actual name, such as "Mashpotato Samurai" and "Massive Hero Soccer Guy".
Works Sakurai has been involved in:
- Kid Icarus: Uprising (Nintendo 3DS)
- Kirby's Dream Land (Game Boy)
- Kirby's Adventure (Nintendo Entertainment System) and its remake, Kirby: Nightmare in Dream Land (Game Boy Advance)
- Kirby Super Star (Super Nintendo Entertainment System)
- Kirby Air Ride (started on the Nintendo 64, later moved to the Nintendo GameCube)
- Kirby & the Amazing Mirror (Game Boy Advance) (Special Advisor)
- Kirby: Right Back at Ya! (Anime)
- Kouchuu Ouja Mushiking (self-contained LCD Virtual Pet)
- Meteos (Nintendo DS)
- Super Smash Bros.
Tropes commonly used by Masahiro Sakurai:
- Artist Disillusionment: Sakurai departed from HAL Laboratory as he was disappointed with the "sequelization" of the company (particularly in regards to Kirby) and the industry as a whole. Of course, this hasn't stopped him from developing four more installments in the Super Smash Bros. series, but even then, several interviews have given subtle hints that he is dissatisfied with doing so. That being said, he said during the Banjo & Kazooie fighter presentation that he was enjoying his work on Ultimate a lot, and that he plans to continue adding as many characters as he can to the game.
- Borrowing from the Sister Series: He has brought gameplay features wholesale from the other games he's worked on to the Super Smash Bros. series:
- Brawl: The Challenges section is derived from Kirby Air Ride's Checklist system, where each unlockable is hidden behind a square and unlocked squares show the unlock conditions of adjacent squares.
- 3DS/Wii U changed the difficulty setting in Classic Mode to use Intensity point, where raising (or lowering) the difficulty also increases the amount of Gold used to play the game, while also making rewards scale with Intensity, and using continues lowers the Intensity. This system is identical to the Fiend's Cauldron in Kid Icarus: Uprising.
- Descended Creator: In Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards, as well as the Smash series, he provides the voice of King Dedede.
- Five-Second Foreshadowing: During the final video presentation for Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS and Wii U, Sakurai says it's "finally the climax" of DLC fighter releases. And sure enough, Bayonetta was revealed just seconds later.
- Not Me This Time: The vast majority of the fighters in the first Fighter Pass for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate being related to franchises that he likes led to fans assuming he picked them (especially once Byleth was revealed). However, he specified that this is not the case, as Nintendo was ultimately responsible for choosing fighters meant for Fighter Pass DLC. (More specifically, Nintendo gave him a list of potential characters, and Sakurai was allowed to choose which ones he wanted to add to the game)
- Signature Style: He's developed a set of features that are commonly associated with his games:
- Achievement System: A grid of achievements, some more significant than others, such that you cannot see what the other achievements are until you have completed achievements that border them. A few Effortless Achievements are thrown into the mix to get you started, and limited-supply items that automatically claim an achievement are often included — but often can't be used on certain goals!
- Boss Rush: The player fights several bosses with breaks in between with limited opportunities to heal. In later games this ended in a more advanced version of the Final Boss.
- Dynamic Difficulty: First used in Kid Icarus: Uprising then later implemented in Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS and Wii U, players wager in-game currency to increase the difficulty and the value of potential rewards. Failure will lower the difficulty and the reward value, and the player loses part of the wager. There are also special areas that require a minimum difficulty level to enter.
- Large, colorful buttons on his more recent main menus. Meteos◊, Super Smash Bros. Brawl◊, Kid Icarus: Uprising◊, and Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS◊ all feature screen-filling, multicolored buttons designed by his wife, Michiko.
- A staple of his earlier games like Kirby and Super Smash Bros. is that they're designed to be more beginner-friendly than their genres were usually known for at the time. Kirby got around Platform Hell by letting the protagonist fly, and Super Smash Bros. averted complicated button inputs frequent in the Fighting Game genre by making all special moves into simple "direction + button" inputs.
- Running commentary done by characters, during gameplay. This started in Revenge of Meta Knight's Halberd stages, and was later used in the Super Smash Bros. series, in the form of the secret Star Fox transmissions and codecs by using the taunt button. This became fully expanded for the entirety of Kid Icarus: Uprising, with Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS and Wii U introducing Palutena's Guidance with some of the game's cast as tutors.
- So What Do We Do Now?: He has gone on record to say that making Super Smash Bros. Ultimate was the final mission given to him by his friend and mentor Satoru Iwata, before the latter's untimely passing. His response about what his next plan after that? "God only knows." Although he sees Ultimate's DLC as already outside of Iwata's mission.
- Start My Own: After squaring off against a couple during a round of The King of Fighters '95 and noticing their struggles with playing, this gave him the idea to pursue his own fighting game that anyone could play without much difficulty, which would later become Super Smash Bros.
- Take That!: Has made a few in his "Mr. Sakurai Presents" videos for Ultimate's DLC characters.
- In Hero's presentation, he mentioned that it would be a shame if they could include only two songs from Dragon Quest — a very obvious jab at Square Enix, the franchise's owner, who previously only allowed two songs from the eye-blindingly popular Final Fantasy games in Smash (until Sephiroth's inclusion), in comparison to Konami allowing thirty-four songs from Castlevania, Capcom allowing over thirty songs from Mega Man and Street Fighter each, Sega allowing seventeen from for Sonic the Hedgehog and 8 from the first Bayonetta, and later on, SNK allowing fifty tracks from their entire library of songs.
- In Terry's presentation, Sakurai made note of how out of the twenty SNK characters making cameos in the King of Fighters Stadium stage, Mai Shiranui wasn't amongst them. He said in the video that it was because "Smash is for good boys and girls of all ages", but an interview shortly after had him confirming that he was being sarcastic when he said that, because CERO (Japan's ESRB counterpart) objected to a Mai Shiranui cameo despite both Sakurai and SNK wanting her to appear. It's not the first time either, as Sakurai butted heads with CERO several times through Smash for 3DS/Wii U's development cycle over numerous revisions of Palutena and a Wonder Pink trophy, and his response when interviewed during that time was to call CERO's censorship practices "juvenile".
- A lighter and more playful example; when he was showcasing Terry's Classic Mode and fought Pac-Man at one point, Sakurai mentioned how he constantly reminds co-developer Bandai Namco that Pac-Man was their character, and that they forget that he belongs to them more often than they'd like to admit. Note that Sakurai said this while in a room with Bandai Namco employees present, so they clearly weren't offended by it too much.
- In Sephiroth's presentation, Sakurai talks about how Sephiroth's forward and back air attacks work. He then starts to harp on the technical details of the moves... before hanging on a second and throwing a huge jab at the Fighting Game Community.The forward air attack hits faster than the back air attack, so you'll need to be mindful of that. To be more specific, the attack activation for the forward air attack is 13 frames, and the one for the back air attack is 15 frames... (...) Wait. I can't say things like this. I'm just the guy who thought he wanted to make a party game. We can leave talk of details like this to the people who are playing at tournaments! So let's put it this way. Forward air attacks are fun to land. So are back air attacks. How's that?
- Trademark Favorite Food: Coke Zero. In an interview with Tekken series director Katsuhiro Harada, Sakurai admitted to drinking Coke Zero more than water. To the point where at Nintendo meetings, they would have the stuff prepared just for Sakurai.
- Trolling Creator: Almost as bad as fellow developer Hideo Kojima. This tends to show up especially in stuff involving Super Smash Bros., being rather aware of fan speculation, and using that to mess with fans.
- For Super Smash Bros. Wii U/3DS, he teased both fan favorite Ridley and the supposedly leaked Palutena several times in a very self-aware fashion, never doing reveals that outright confirmed or denied their playable presence for a long time.
- Objectively, Sakurai has almost never been outright deceptive. The Zero Suit Samus quote above was the only time he's stated something false to get a reaction — and even then, he came clean seconds later. Despite Sakurai's reputation as a troll, he's usually more coy than outright manipulative.
- Special mention goes to Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, where the character he chose for early-adopter bonus DLC wasn't a highly-anticipated big-name hero nor a highly-requested fighter, but Piranha Plant from Super Mario Bros.
- The reveal trailer for the long-anticipated announcement of King K. Rool started with a silhouette of the character... only to be revealed as King Dedede trolling the Kongs. Doubly notable as King Dedede is often associated as the Author Avatar for Sakurai, due to him voicing the character.
- Six months later, the reveal trailer for Banjo and Kazooie uses the exact same gag, with the Duck Hunt Dog and Duck as the trolls.
- During the reveal trailer for Byleth, Sothis lampshades the popular argument of too many swordsmen (to which their solution was to become a swordswoman and get the three Sacred Weapons) and the perceived over-representation of the Fire Emblem series in Smash. Following the reveal trailer, the Mr. Sakurai presentation would cut back to Sakurai taping a poster of both Byleths, before turning towards the camera to deliver a smug grin.
- Workaholic: Development for the Super Smash Bros. series alone has him burning the midnight oil. He and his team developed the first game as a side project while doing other full-time work, which required them to come in on evenings and weekends to get it done. Even after the game was a success and got a sequel with a proper budget and development schedule, he still rushed to develop Melee in just over a year to release it close to the GameCube's launch. He worked diligently on Smash 4 despite developing tendonitis in his right arm that made it difficult and painful for him to do his work. He's also returned to direct each new game in the series so far despite saying multiple times that the current game he's working on would be his last due to the heavy workload. He even lampshades this in the 11.1.2018 Smash Direct video.