Rivals of Aether's sixth and final DLC character is set to be revealed on August 10th, 2018 during the development team's panel at Super Smash Con. Like Ori, this character is going to be another guest character, and people have been waiting to see who it would be since Rivals was still in Early Access. The speculation surrounding them should feel familiar to Super Smash Bros. fans, though with a couple of key differences.
What We Know and What We Can Infer
While Dan Fornace likes to mess with Rivals players, he's also more open about his plans than Nintendo is about theirs. He never reveals enough to completely give away the game but has said enough to establish some concrete expectations. When Fornace first brought up the idea of guest characters, he gave three pieces of information about his plans - any guest characters would come from other indie games, they'd have to fit in with the world of Aether, and unlike Rivals' original characters, they would not be associated with any of the four classical elements.
At first, this doesn't seem like much. It tells us more about who can't make it in than who can, but that's just the thing - it tells us who can't make it in. That's something people have never known for sure about Smash - there have been educated guesses and popular assumptions, but time and time again, these guesses and assumptions have been proven wrong. Rivals players have concrete rules to work with.
A lot of Rivals guest character speculation is based on those elements alone, though there’s one more aspect that sometimes goes overlooked - moveset design. Many considerations are the same as they would be for Smash or any other fighting game - characters who don’t offer a lot in terms of potential attacks likely wouldn’t make the cut.
Many Rivals players are savvy to this fact and account for it in their predictions, but there’s one extra element of the game’s moveset design that sets it apart from other platform fighters - its approach to character-specific mechanics. Every character has unique mechanics that generally help provide a persistent stage presence or passively apply pressure to the opponent.
This of course, leads us to an important question: who is and isn’t a viable candidate for the guest character? Let’s start by breaking down some of the most popular predictions. Note that these are all based on a personal interpretation of these requirements - for all we know, Dan Fornace and his team may have a completely different interpretation.
Shovel Knight (Shovel Knight)
For a long time, Shovel Knight was arguably the most popular candidate, though his popularity has waned. In terms of the criteria laid out by Dan Fornace, he fits the bill pretty well. His abilities aren’t directly tied to any one of the four elements, and his own game is set in a medieval fantasy world with steampunk elements, much like that of Rivals. It’s also hinted that he may be an anthropomorphic fish of some sort, both through an in-game NPC and a piece of official merchandise.
Things start to fall apart when you look at his moveset potential. While he’s got plenty of potential as a platform fighter character, with his shovel blade and arsenal of relics in tow, he doesn’t offer too much in terms of unique mechanics, especially ones that follow the same patterns seen in Rivals’ roster.
With that in mind - and the recent reveal of his assist trophy in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate - Shovel Knight’s chances seem fairly slim, though not impossible.
Quote (Cave Story)
Among all of the popular guest characters, I’ve got a bit of a personal connection to Quote - I was actually one of the earliest advocates for him, and as my interest has waned, I started to realize how poor of a fit he would be - he’s an advanced, human-like robot from a science fantasy game, not quite the absolute farthest you could get from Rivals’ setting, but pretty far.
And then you have his potential moveset, which suffers from the same problem as Shovel Knight - despite his potential as a platform fighter character in general, Quote doesn’t actually have much to offer in terms of unique mechanics that fit the same template as the existing roster.
On top of this, there’s one external factor that may just kill any chances Quote may have: Nicalis is known to be very strict with letting outside developers work with properties they own the rights to.
Car (Rocket League)
This is a joke prediction that went too far. Its chances are slim to none.
Sash Lilac (Freedom Planet)
In terms of her background, Lilac seems like a perfect fit for Rivals - while her source material’s setting is certainly far more futuristic than that of Rivals, that doesn’t carry over into her design enough for her to clash with Rivals’ setting and existing roster.
Lilac’s moveset potential, on the other hand, is a different story. Constructing a good platform fighter moveset out of the abilities she displays in Freedom Planet wouldn’t be too hard - she’d actually make for a very good fast, close-range character in the vein of Fox, Sheik or Sonic in Smash. The one problem is that, at least in the first Freedom Planet game, she doesn’t really have much to offer in terms of unique stage control mechanics. Her abilities are very basic and straightforward in their design, and it’s likely that the same would apply if implemented in a platform fighter.
Dust and Fidget (Dust: An Elysian Tail)
Of the most popular predictions, Dust and Fidget actually seem to fit the bill the best. In terms of their background and presentation, the biggest concern is less how well they fit in with Rivals’ setting and more how they fit in with its art style, as Fidget’s size and the complexity of Dust’s design may be hard to translate into the game’s sprite animations. They, like Ori and Sein before them, also have the benefit of coming from a game that Dan Fornace previously worked on, which may aid in license negotiations.
As for their moveset, Dust could easily play the role of the game’s third sword character, and his Dust Storm attack would likely add something this game doesn’t have yet: an attack with a wind box. However, there’s the concern that the duo would be too similar in concept to Ori and Sein. Ori even had an alternate color based on Fidget, though it was replaced for unknown reasons. All in all, they have a lot going for them, but still have one or two complications that may or may not get in the way of their inclusions.
The Knight (Hollow Knight)
Of all of the popular picks for potential guest characters, Hollow Knight’s protagonist, simply called the Knight in most material, is the most recent one to gain traction. While every other character on this list pre-dates Rivals’ early access debut, Hollow Knight wasn’t released until shortly before Rivals’ full launch. Rivals already has another insect character, and Ori shows that Dan Fornace and his team wouldn’t shy away from scaling up a character if necessary, so the Knight wouldn’t be too out of place.
As for its moveset, the main issue is that the most obvious idea for a unique mechanic, Hollow Knight’s SOUL gauge and spells don’t quite fall into the same pattern as other unique mechanics in Rivals. It would definitely translate well into a platform fighter, and aside from the lack of an obvious up-special, the Knight’s full arsenal of moves would work well in a platform fighter of any sort - there’s just the question of whether the SOUL gauge offers what the Rivals team is looking for.
Again, this is all based on a personal interpretation of the restrictions given - perhaps any unique mechanics this next guest character has won’t fit into the same pattern as the rest of the roster. Perhaps the pattern was never a requirement to begin with. Perhaps Dan Fornace and his team have a different idea of what fits into the setting than the community does. On top of this, most of the popular predictions are the main protagonist of their source material - we may instead end up seeing a supporting character or even a villain, as several other fighting games have done with their guest characters.