Clone characters are a peculiar concept in Melee; they aren’t exactly skins, but from a casual perspective they aren’t that different from their original characters either. What’s also interesting is that clones seem to be a concept only really utilized in video games. Like when you’re writing two characters into a movie, you don’t have Han Solo be pretty much exactly like Luke Skywalker but with a different color jacket and a single hit down-air. But I digress.
For the majority of Melee’s cast, there’s an obvious inverse relationship of characters and their clones that make sense: Pichu is an elbow-nudging, intentionally shitty version of Pikachu, a tap-dancing midget of the game for us to throw darts at and laugh. Ganon is a sluggish, harder-hitting Falcon, Young Link is Link with a pituitary tumor, etc. However, the way in which Roy is different from Marth is a more abstract journey into crushing, existential inferiority.
Imagine we’re back in junior high, maybe a dark tunnel of memory for some of us, or just the waking life of people who play Smash 4. Wandering the halls would be Marth: the tall, handsome, third most popular kid in school, as well as promising athlete on the baseball team due to his ability to send the ball flying using only the tip of the bat. He listens to a pop-punk band called “The Ledge” and rumor has it he got to third base with that moody chick that dresses up like a ninja sometimes.
Down the hall, wheezing in the cafeteria, is a smaller, chubby student wearing thick glasses. He’s lactose intolerant and sounds like a 10-year old when he speaks, cramming frito-pie into his mouth while reading a book about clouds. This is Kirby (I just wanted to imagine that for a second).
Roy would be more like Marth’s younger brother, but smaller, slower, weaker, dumber, their mother’s depleted womb only able to cough up a shoddy imitation. They look similar, but Roy lacks the subtle features of Marth’s good looks. He’s got asthma. He’s pigeon-toed. He has trouble talking to girls. He’s on the C-team in baseball, and when he swings at the ball it either magically appears to travel through the bat or it limps to the ground in a way that is sadly unique to him. He stumbles over his words and once got a boner in health class that everyone saw through his shorts.
Years pass. Marth wins a D-1 sports scholarship to a prestigious university. Roy loses third chair in clarinet due to being hospitalized from his peanut allergy. It becomes apparent that Roy just wasn’t gifted with the proper tools to succeed like his counterpart. Sure, years of getting whaled on by bullies have given him a strong counterattack and leg sweep, but he ultimately doesn’t have much going for him. This is through no fault of his own; Roy was just dealt a shit hand in life by the genetic Sakurai lottery, the same way that some people have heart conditions or inexplicable depression or really big foreheads. He is an expression of cosmic failure, defined by all of the things he is not.
Choosing Roy at the character select screen is like preparing for a street fight by stabbing yourself in the stomach a few times. He’s got shit hitboxes, weight that makes him easy to KO, fall speed that makes him easy to combo, impractical strength toward his sword’s hilt, slower dash and jump speed, ad infinitum. He’s ranked 20th out of 26th on the tier list, sitting proudly between a tortured digital horror that flips sausages as a primary move and a telekinetic cat. Roy is so bad that he didn’t even make it into Brawl, a game that was designed to be shitty.
More importantly though, Roy’s shittiness is an allegory for the average Melee player. As the game attracts new players, the portion of those who will never touch greatness grows and grows. The majority of us will constantly live in the shadow of those who came first, of those who are smarter and faster and punish harder than we do. The culture itself subscribes to this idea, calling our best players “gods” in a fucked-up self-fulfilling prophecy, deifying them and distancing ourselves from their abilities. In the broad spectrum of the game, Roy will never be good, and neither will most of us.
But don’t jam your controller into the garbage disposal yet, because despite being collectively the Roys of real life, we share something crucial with good old number 20. Mango said it himself when referring to S2J’s drunken fighting rampage in an Australian bar during BAM 7: “Johnny’s like the Roy of fighting. He’s so bad, but everything he does has so much heart.” The Kid’s analogy holds weight. In game, Roy’s swings are accompanied by a confident thrust of the body, some with a determined, passionate shout, much like how I imagine a drunken S2J throws clumsy haymakers at some random Australian guy for calling him a yankee slut.
Just look at this face. This dude isn’t fucking around. He doesn’t care that he can fair someone at 400% and send them nowhere. He throws his whole frail little dumb body into his F-Smash. He shouts like an asshole when recovers on stage, because he truly believes that he’ll make it back. He spins his sword when he taunts in a way that says “come fucking get me bro.” He fights on defiantly in the face of Sakurai who crippled him. Provided he is skilled enough, Roy fights as if he could beat any fox.
We are Roy, and he is us, and it is for this reason that Roy is our boy.
The way Roy fights is the same way we fight week after week at our monthlies and locals, pool and pot fodder for TOs and top players. The only difference is that we can become better. The potential not to be a shitty loser lies dormant inside of us, unlike Roy who is forever bound to his worthless hex values. This is why actually maining Roy is a bit of a paradox. On one hand, you’re choosing to play a character that symbolizes hope and defiance in an unfair world. On the other hand, the same character is so shitty that playing him casts away any chance of rising past the bottom rung of the Melee ladder. Therefore, much like the Elephant’s Foot, Roy is best admired from a distance. And like a person with an elephant-sized foot, Roy mains should be shunned and mocked relentlessly until they decide to pick a real fucking character.
Unless you’re this guy. He seems to be doing alright.
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Unplug your controller, dawg.