Marth (マルス, Marth) debuted in the first game of the Fire Emblem series, Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light (Ankoku Ryuu to Hikari no Tsurugi). Marth was placed in Super Smash Bros. Melee due to heavy requests from Japanese players; as his games had never been released outside of Japan prior to Melee, his character was among the most obscure in the game in other regions. His popularity as a character, alongside Roy, eventually caused Nintendo to begin releasing the Fire Emblem games internationally; the first internationally released game came two years after Melee. He is voiced in Japanese by Hikaru Midorikawa, who reprises his role from the 1996 animated adaptation of Fire Emblem: Mystery of the Emblem; as Fire Emblem had, at that point, yet to officially make its debut overseas (aside from dubs of the animated adaptation), Marth's Japanese voice is used in all regions.
Marth currently ranks 3rd on the Melee tier list, in the S tier. Marth has many powerful tools at his disposal, including fast overall startup in his attacks, long and disjointed range, large amounts of additional power at the tip of his blade, very potent juggling and combo ability, the longest non-disjointed grab range, and great edgeguarding capabilities. Marth also has a multitude of good movement options to approach and pressure with; his dash-dance and wavedash are among the longest in the game, complementing his already-impressive range extremely well. Marth also has many options to KO his opponents and finish combos, such as his down aerial (a very potent spike when sweetspotted, and the closer to the notorious Ken Combo) and forward smash.
On the downside, his ability to punish approaches is somewhat limited in comparison to other top-tier characters due to his lack of a projectile and the short hitbox duration of his moves. Marth also has lackluster defensive properties; his weight makes him very easy to combo while not providing sufficient knockback resistance to survive heavy hits at kill-percent, and his out of shield game is notoriously poor despite his attacks' fast startups. His recovery is also problematic; while it is extendable with his side special and can end with a fast up special that covers decent distance, it is also rather predictable. However, Marth's main weakness is the fact that most of his moves have considerable endlag and are thus very punishable if whiffed. As such, Marth is very susceptible to momentum shifts; a punished move puts Marth in a defensive position where he has few options to retake the advantage.
Regardless, his pros greatly outweigh his cons, and Fox is notable for being one of only four characters in the series (the other three being Pikachu in Smash 64, Falco in Melee, and Meta Knight in Brawl) to have no disadvantageous matchups, with only three (Falco, Marth and Samus) being considered even.
Despite his low technical learning curve, many consider Marth to be one of the most difficult characters to play at high levels due to the intricate spacing ability required of top-level players to overcome his aforementioned flaws. Regardless of these flaws, Marth has excellent matchups against many characters, including six that are nearly unloseable.
Marth falls under the fighter archetype of being mobile, with the ability to easily outmaneuver most of his opponents; Marth has a very fast dashing speed, a long wavedash (specifically the fourth longest in the game) and rather good jumping speed, with average falling speed, contributing to a good SHFFL. With a large dash-dance window and a disjointed hitbox, Marth has great approach options in this game, both on the ground and in the air.
Marth's primary strength is his range in his normal attacks; the Falchion grants Marth a very large disjointed hitbox that can allow him to safely attack from a distance. Additionally, the tip of the Falchion, its sweetspot, is remarkably easy to connect, making Marth stronger when he is further from his opponent. In addition to this, Marth's attacks are very quick in terms of startup lag, and his long wavedash and dash-dance allow him to further extend his already long reach. This long hitbox with a far away sweetspot also contributes to Marth's superb combo game.
In addition to his disjointed range, Marth has a fantastic combo and juggle ability; despite a slightly below average air speed, with a combination of good jumping prowess, and an average falling speed, as well as quick, low lag, high-ranged, easy-to-sweetspot aerials, Marth has among the best air games in Melee, and a great combo ability. Additionally, Marth's grab game is also good, as mentioned before due to a surprisingly long grab range (the longest of the non-grapple grabs, thanks to it extending far past his hand). His throws possess low damage and knockback, allowing him to chain his throws into each other and combo into other attacks. In particular, his up throw can chain throw most fast fallers at low to mid percentages, and it can directly segue into an up tilt or an aerial, and can be used for KOing at high percents on a platform due to being the third strongest up throw in the game. Marth's long dash-dance also makes him a superb tech-chaser.
Marth's primary flaw is his lack of kill options. While Marth's tipper mechanic on his forward smash can kill at virtually any percent, almost none of the rest his moveset has huge knockback. This forces Marth to rely on killing at early percents (fortunately, this is something Marth is very good at). However, if Marth fails to do so, he suffers from something known by the Melee community as Marth Syndrome. Commonly used when regarding Marth, Marth Syndrome is a term used to show Marth's lackluster killing power. As stated before, if Marth fails to kill his opponent early (before ~100%), it may take upwards of another 25-50%, sometimes 75% when regarding Dream Land N64, to kill them.
Another problem for Marth is his lack of defensive options. His weight does not enable him to survive powerful attacks, while also being enough to be vulnerable to combos such as Fox's waveshine combos in NTSC regions (although he is light enough to not be waveshined in PAL regions). More significantly, while Marth's attacks are very fast in terms of startup, they travel in predictable, low-duration arcs and have high ending lag (his down aerial is an example of this, having the quickest startup lag but among the highest ending lag for a spike or meteor smash). This leads to Marth having a terrible out of shield game due to the low duration and high ending lag of his moves, while also being open to punishment. Marth also requires significant knowledge of spacing with his aerials in order to properly combo. For most of his attacks, the sweetspot hitboxes have the lowest priority, so they only hit if none of the weaker hitboxes connect on that frame. As such, Marth requires significant knowledge of hitbox spacing with his moves due to the non-tipper and tipper hitboxes of Marth's moves having very different knockback values and angles. In many cases, a specific hitbox is needed to extend the punish.
Luckily, Marth does have some powerful attacks; some of these attacks are very fast and have high range, such as his up tilt, while others can KO at close ranges, such as the Reverse Dolphin Slash technique. Marth's forward smash is feared due to its high speed and power when tipped, with the capability to "break" through some projectiles found in the game thanks to its priority; it also works well when wave-smashed, due to Marth's long wavedash. Marth's down tilt and Shield Breaker act as good edgeguarding options, with the former being a semi-spike and the latter have a large hitbox. Most notable, however, is his down aerial, which acts as a powerful spike in NTSC regions, and an equally powerful meteor smash in PAL regions; it can KO reliably even as low as 40%, and many of Marth's attacks can easily combo into his down air, most notably his forward aerial as part of the Ken Combo. Marth also has access to a grounded meteor in his Dancing Blade. While its uses for KOing are somewhat situational, it can set up tech-chases well, as well as free jab resets.
Overall, Marth's long reach, excellent combos, and powerful finishers result in him being a very potent character in the current metagame. A Marth player must be wary of his weaknesses and spacing, but due to his low technical learning curve, Marth is an effective character to pick up and play.
According to the most recent matchup chart in 2010, Marth is soft countered by two characters, has four even matchups, soft counters three characters, counters ten, and hard counters six.
Due to Marth's very favorable attributes for forcing openings, such as his quick down tilt and long dash dance, Marth has the advantage against characters who lack strong tools of their own to combat him in the neutral game. Characters such as Mario, Zelda, and many other low-tiered characters do not have the means to match his speed and range near the ground, and at high levels of play, are unable to get many openings outside of poor matchup knowledge or poor execution from the Marth player. Marth also has very strong punishes against the majority of the cast, and can cover the vast majority of edgeguarding situations in the game with the proper execution. Characters with linear recoveries, such as Luigi, can thus struggle once sent off-stage against Marth.
However, Marth is the perfect combo weight for several characters to exploit. Marth may win the neutral game against these characters, such as Captain Falcon, Jigglypuff, and Sheik, but once they find an opening, they can punish Marth much harder than he can in return, and in some cases, even KO him outright. Thus, these matchups are close to even or slightly disadvantageous for Marth due to how carefully he must play. On the other hand, Marth finds himself in a roughly reversed situation against Fox and Falco, two of the only characters who can dictate the pace of neutral against him; while he has an easier combo game on them, they hold a significant advantage in neutral with their superior speed and strong projectile, respectively, keeping their matchups close to even.
In the modern metagame, advancements in Marth's punish game have mostly evened out his matchup against Sheik and Jigglypuff. At the highest level, the Sheik matchup is considered even, although not easy to play for Marth, while the Jigglypuff matchup is slightly disadvantageous at worst for him. Marth is now considered by many to be a soft counter to Falco (and sometimes even Fox), as the risk-reward in that matchup is considered to be against Falco due to how easily he can be dismantled after a single mistake. Paradoxically, Marth's weakest performances at the top level have recently been against two of the mid-tiers that he has long been considered to beat: Pikachu and Yoshi. While Marth theoretically still wins against Pikachu, Axe's knowledge in the matchup has led him to be highly successful against Marth players, exploiting Pikachu's tricky recovery and ability to push Marth horizontally away from the stage, where he struggles to recover from. Yoshi's character strengths actually seem to work very well against Marth, causing many to think that the matchup is even at best for Marth; Yoshi cannot be comboed easily due to his weight and floatiness, and cannot be edgeguarded easily due to his double jump armor, taking away key advantages that Marth has against other characters.
All things considered, Marth is one of the most difficult matchups for many of the characters in Melee, with not many characters having the tools to properly deal with him at the highest level of play.