Two weeks ago, Team HORI’s sako rose to victory at Capcom Cup 2013, claiming the Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition ver. 2012 championship with his masterful Evil Ryu play. In a recent interview with Famitsu, sako talks about his win in Capcom’s official tournament and shares how simply enjoying games leads him to victory.
Later, Capcom assistant producer Tomoaki Ayano joins the interview as sako gives his impressions on Ultra Street Fighter IV and what he wants to see in the upcoming title. He also provides a few interesting tidbits on the upcoming title’s fifth new character, so read on!
Enjoying games brought victory
Famitsu: Congratulations on winning the Capcom Cup. How do you feel right now?
sako: Until now I’ve played a variety of Capcom games for a long time, but I’ve almost never been in any official tournaments. Playing in the Capcom Cup, and what’s more, winning the tournament with Evil Ryu, makes me very happy.
Famitsu: It is surprising that you haven’t participated in any official tournaments before now.
sako: It was always bad timing, like being busy with work.
Famitsu: I thought it was because console versions usually have a late start compared to the arcade that the timing was bad, but that’s not the case, is it.
sako: I may have the image of being a console player, but I was originally a child of the arcade. I used to stop at the arcade after work then after closing time play the console versions at home… This was almost everyday (laughs).
Famitsu: So was it at the time of the original Street Fighter IV that you primarily began to play the home versions?
sako: At the time of SFIV I didn’t have time to travel to game centers in Osaka, so I went to a local one. Unfortunately it closed down so I wasn’t able to play that much.
Famitsu: The point where you could no longer play in the arcade just happened to be when the home version was released.
sako: Yes. I had heard very good things about the console version of SFIV, so I immediately when to go buy it, but it was sold out at all of the Osaka stores… I remember my wife going to a game shop in her hometown Kagawa to buy it (laughs).
Famitsu: The original SFIV did sold very well. There’s no closing time for home versions so you never knew when you would stop playing?
sako: That’s right. At that time there were no other fighting games you could play online with low lag, so it was really too good. I thought, “What the heck, I might not be able to leave the house” (laughs).
Famitsu: (Laughs) Going back to the Capcom Cup, being happy to win with Evil Ryu, is he a character to whom you’re that attached?
sako: He is. Instead of the obvious strong characters I often play the characters that you realize are actually strong from play. In this game that’s Evil Ryu. When he was added as a new character in SSFIV AE I secretly started playing him, but I didn’t really have a chance to use him in tournament.
Famitsu: So you took notice of Evil Ryu from a rather early stage. What potential did you see in him?
sako: First, having a Hadoken was a big thing. If you have a projectile you can make the opponent move, so you can set the pace of the match. Throw Hadoken and make the opponent act, and as they do that stick out a crouching Medium Kick and land big damage. Making that sort of strategy from scratch is very fun.
Famitsu: At Capcom Cup, you often landed combos from crouch MK for big damage from the opponent moving and whiffing moves.
sako: Evil Ryu, differing from normal Ryu, has a massive return from landing crouch MK. He also has Kujinkyaku (divekick) so his wake-up offense too is strong. If you’re not familiar with it it’s difficult to block.
Famitsu: I’m guessing you discovered your “sako Special” using Ryusokyaku a long time ago?
sako: Yes, I found it a long time ago.
Famitsu: That’s amazing (laughs). Incidentally, was it difficult to shift attitudes after a disappointing result in TOPANGA League, which took place just before Capcom Cup?
sako: I was very busy with work during TOPANGA League and wasn’t able to practice very much, but I think the biggest reason for failure was in my mentality. Because I won TOPANGA Asia League in May, undefeated, everyone’s expectations were high. I felt that I had to win…
Famitsu: Even you have felt that kind of pressure before.
sako: It feels horrible. I even thought, “Why am I even playing games now?” I participated in a tournament in Thailand that was held during TOPANGA League, and everyone was playing with smiles on their face. Looking at that, I realized that in the end, you have to enjoy games. That’s what’s important.
Famitsu: And that’s when you were able to switch your attitude.
sako: Right. I’m really glad I went to Thailand. With this new attitude I took on Capcom Cup to enjoy myself. My first round opponent was ChrisG, who was in high spirits after just winning the UMVC3 tournament, so naturally I was nervous. But after the first game I was about to relax and play.
Famitsu: R, who was commentating on the Japanese broadcast, mistook the format to be first-to-2 instead of first-to-3, so the viewers might have been even more nervous than you (laughs).
sako: I knew that it was first-to-3 when I was playing, so I was okay in that front (laughs). I did lose a game, but as the match went the more I felt, “I can do this.”
Famitsu: After defeating ChrisG, you faced Gackt then Fuudo, who both play Fei Long.
sako: Fei Long is a match-up I’ve practiced excessively, unrelated to the tournament. I played thousands of matches on console to determine whether Evil Ryu can take on Fei Long. To put it in terms of time, for about two months I was constantly requesting Fei Long players in Endless Battle (laughs).
Famitsu: So you’ve played the match-up that thoroughly. Which character does the match-up favor?
sako: Ultimately, I think that it’s an advantageous match-up for Evil Ryu. However, it’s easy for Fei Long to drive you to the corner, and he’s very dangerous in the corner, so even when saying that it’s in Evil Ryu’s favor, it’s only slightly. That said, at Capcom Cup I was able to set the pace of the match as normal.
Famitsu: I see. Incidentally, Evil Ryu has low health, but is that a point of concern?
sako: No, Ibuki, Gen, the characters I use fundamentally have low health so it doesn’t bother me. So sometimes when I mess around with Zangief for fun I think, “What the heck, that does no damage” (laughs).
Famitsu: (Laughs) How was Xian, the Gen player you faced in the final?
sako: Xian is the Evo 2013 champ, and the player who has made the biggest splash in 2013. He breaks into top placement at every tournament he enters and has become incredibly strong as of late.
Famitsu: So your opponent becoming stronger is something you feel?
sako: You can sense it. It seems like at every tournament he’s in the top spots claiming a prize, and watching videos of him in tournament, he shows good play.
Famitsu: So you too research your opponent’s videos.
sako: I wonder about how the opponent plays. You can gather information on the opponent to a certain extent.
Famitsu: The grand final went all too well I thought.
sako: It did. I’d studied videos and I also play Gen myself, so it was easy to predict at what points he would use what moves. With that awareness I’d take position and bait the opponent’s moves and then counter-poke in return. I think it was a match where I was able to control Xian’s movement well.
Famitsu: Without a doubt, the crouch Medium Kicks and Focus Attacks you landed were very good. Even more, you were able to beat your opponent’s Focus Attacks.
sako: When aiming for a Focus Attack, you narrow it down to specific points, so you can land them well. On the other hand, for the opponent’s Focus, I was able to predict when he would use it to counter Hadoken. Being conscious of that, when he would Focus Attack I would immediately beat it with normal attacks.
Famitsu: And with that you were able to respond so quickly. And at the end you overwhelmed him with a Raging Demon.
sako: Before that stage I had been beating his crouch tech, so he gradually began to stop moving. My final match with Xian was a sum of everything. The pace of the match went exactly how I imagined, so of all my matches at Capcom it was the one to leave the biggest impression.
Famitsu: What do you think played the biggest role in your victory?
sako: I’ve come up with ways of pressing buttons and refined the technical side of things, but I think the biggest thing was enjoying tournaments.
Famitsu: So the mindset is essential isn’t it.
sako: There are some people who’ve won playing under an “absolutely have to win” type of pressure, but in my case if I’m not enjoying myself and relaxing, I’m very weak. Because of that, this has been a good experience for me. I think as a player I’ve taken the next step. Thinking of it that way, losing in TOPANGA League was a very positive thing. I was able to reset my attitude in a good way, so in the end, I’m glad I lost. The things you can’t see if you don’t lose, and the things you can’t see if you don’t win, being able to experience both sides is important.
What about the next Capcom Cup?
Famitsu: Continuing on, from now we will have Ayano of Capcom present. Ono (Capcom executive producer) said he wanted to continue the Capcom Cup, can you tell us about that?
Tomoaki Ayano (below, Ayano): We certainly want to host it again in 2014. Summer is Evo, the end of the year is Capcom Cup is an ideal way of doing it.
Famitsu: There aren’t that many official tournaments from global-scale companies, so as a fan I’m glad.
Ayano: Right. We have Ultra Street Fighter IV in 2014, so we also want to do exciting things in Japan.
sako: A lot of serious gamers play because there are tournaments, so I want them to continue with official tournaments. On top of that, if there is a second tournament, the title will switch to USFIV, so there will be a new enjoyment to it. Personally I hope that it becomes a tournament aimed at people who play Street Fighter.
Famitsu: If there is a second tournament, I think a lot of players will be aiming for sako.
sako: When a new game is released the player population grows and everyone gets restart so it’s a chance to improve. I hope that a lot of people try the game, even if just a little.
Famitsu: You’re waiting for challenges from those players?
sako: Yes, bring it on (laughs). I want a lot players that I’ve never heard of to rise up in USFIV. I’m looking forward to being able to play with those new people.
What is sako’s first impression of Ultra Street Fighter IV?
Famitsu: USFIV has been in location testing, and you’ve been able to see the new systems and the direction of the tuning. I don’t think you’ve been able to play much yet, but what do think of the current state of the changes?
sako: I’ve only been able to play a little so far, but fundamentally the strategy still seems the same. The overall changes are buffs so I’m looking forward to it.
Famitsu: With a focus on improving characters, the number of unusable will disappear.
Ayano: The upward tuning is because of users saying “we want you to make this better” and we’re adopting those points.
sako: When the character you use is weakened, the number of things you can do decrease. It’s disappointing when you can’t do what you’ve been practicing until now. On the other hand, while increasing the number of things a character can do is difficult, the game definitely becomes more interesting, so I want more upward adjustments than the current version. Maybe lowering the overall health so that a single combo does a lot of damage like in the original SFIV. If health is barely decreasing the match becomes drawn out and boring. But if one combo does a lot of damage, I think it becomes refreshing to both play and watch.
Famitsu: What do you think about the newly-added Delayed Standing system in USFIV?
sako: Wake-up offense becomes more difficult to do, so unless you increase the damage the number of slow matches will increase. Until now there was the pressure of taking a single knock down then having to deal with wake-up offense, but if there isn’t much damage, then it encourages sloppy play. “It’s alright if I eat this.” For example, in Street Fighter II, if you landed a 3-hit combo from a jump-in then it was a winning situation for any character. The combo damage was that high, so you tried to drop the opponent with a Shoryuken and also develop a zoning game with Hadoken.
Famitsu: It is true that if the damage is low, the tension is gone.
sako: I also think that if there is Delayed Standing, the chance of a beginner beating a veteran decreases. Until now, if you knew your wake-up offense, you could defeat your opponent, even if they were an expert. If that’s gone then you absolutely won’t be able to win. I think they should do something like forcing normal standing after a throw, or if they want to get rid of wake-up offense, reduce the frame advantage of landing a throw and speed up the game tempo.
Famitsu: If wake-up offense is weakened, then the pressure of throws and sweeps is lost.
sako: It’s a game that originally had a lot of escape options.
Ayano: Right. Just as sako talked about, we do think there need to be situations where you have to use normal wake-up. It’s something we grasp even as developers, and we don’t think it’s a wrong direction. Wake-up offense is still an element of play.
Famitsu: What are your impressions of the Ultra Combo Double system that let’s you use two Ultra Combos?
sako: I think it should have a little more damage. If you raise the damage it might be too strong, so maybe lower health instead.
Ayano: As developers, we don’t want Ultra Combo Double to be the only option. The idea is expanding Ultra Combo select, so ideally you’ll be wavering between the three choices of UC1, UC2 and UCW.
Famitsu: Do you think with the current changes you’ll be uncertain about UC select?
sako: Evil Ryu wouldn’t use UCW. Evil Ryu wants firepower. However, when Ibuki is up against a character where Yoroitoshi (UC1) is useful, there is the possibility of selecting UCW. That’s something you would pick through playing. Also, different players have different personalities.
Ayano: Picking UC1 or UC2 for firepower has been the concept behind it, so he’s right. We’re happy that by choosing UCW, the UC that’s been unused until now will see the light of day.
Famitsu: Since Ayano is here, do you have any suggestions for him regarding USFIV sako?
sako: In the end most of the strategies from the previous game will carry over, I want more spice, if just one thing. For instance, if you land Red Focus on an air opponent with something such as Shoryuken → Red Focus Attack, extend the length of the air combo. I think by just expanding air combos, things would change quite a bit.
Famitsu: That would interesting. However, currently Red Focus cancel costs 4 bars of the Super Combo Gauge, so it seems like it would have few uses.
sako: Right. There’s little reason to spend 4 bars to cancel into Red Focus, so if possible make it 3. With 4 bars stored you can use a Super Combo, so I think having the option burn 3 would be nice. 3 bars wouldn’t be too strong and would make the game more interesting.
Ayano: We’ve currently looking into whether it should cost 4 bars or 3 bars. To the point that there’s tension on the development team between those in favor of 4 bars and those in favor if 3 (laughs). Expanding on air combos is an interesting idea though. We’ll look into that.
Famitsu: If air combos are expanded, then even if new moves aren’t added possibilities increase so I think it’s a good incentive. It’s a system expansion so it would be usable by all characters.
sako: Ultimately I think gamers want to be developers themselves. Combos are just about maximized now, so they want to make their own new ones.
Famitsu: With expanded air combos a new “sako Special” might be born. Like landing multiple Ryusokyaku with Evil Ryu then launching for an air combo (laughs).
Ayano: Then it’s an entirely different game (laughs).
Famitsu: But since the title has changed to “Ultra”, I think change around the mechanics is fine. The existing characters don’t have new moves so I think there’s a limit to just adjusting the frames of moves. So if the breadth of air combos is widened, it would be easy to tell what’s changed just by looking… Now that we’re just talking about game balance tuning, so there anything else you’re wondering about sako?
sako: Hmm, are there new alternate costumes?
Ayano: You’d be looking forward to them if there were?
sako: I would. I’d be wondering when they release (laugh).
Ayano: Look forward to more information on that. At Capcom Cup we announced that the home versions would have online team battles. What did you think about that?
sako: Team battles differ from single ones with team-building and play order strategies, so I think it will be fun.
Famitsu: It looks like the breadth of online tournaments will expand. Just being noisy with everyone is fun. Online training mode has also been added to the game.
Ayano: Right. I can’t say anything yet, but we have a secret weapon for training mode that will keep sako from leaving the house.
Famitsu: Ooh, looking forward to it. Online training mode does seem very convenient. Gathering at a friend’s house or learning at the arcade might be difficult for some people, but being able to train at home with someone from a distance is big.
sako: With training mode it’s easy to explain things like how to counter a certain trick so the game will evolve ever faster.
Famitsu: Undoubtedly (laughs). But it’s a mode that will absolutely be appreciated by newcomers. Even with training mode, beginners don’t know what to practice. So if someone with experience uses this mode to teach those things, it’s easy to understand. As for my wants, I’d be happy if training mode had spectator function. Two people train, and the others spectate.
sako: Aah. That would be something (laughs).
Famitsu: Two experts show the model, the beginners watch.
Ayano: Sounds kind of like school (laughs).
Famitsu: As sako said, online training mode would speed the growth of strategy, but it would also widen the gate for newcomers, which is quite useful.
sako: It would be be great to be able to demonstrate, “Do this then practice it”.
The fifth new character is confirmed to be female!?
Famitsu: At Capcom Cup, Ono announced that the fifth character is female. Is that true?
Ayano: That is confirmed. An executive producer executes like that (laughs).
Famitsu: Is the rumor that the name starts with “R” true?
Ayano: That’s just a rumor.
Famitsu: Is it a character that’s made a playable appearance in a previous game?
Ayano: If it was a playable female character then there are only a handful left (laughs).
Famitsu: In that case, is it a character that was nonplayable in a previous game?
Ayano: You’re sharp! Hmm, that’s all the information I can tell currently. Look forward to more.
Looking back at 2013
Famitsu: Finally, looking back at the year 2013, what sort of year was it for you?
sako: A busy year. I’ve been able to do a lot of game-related work. The Vampire Resurrection project was especially fun.
Famitsu: As a fan I was glad to make that happen. Now if that new Vampire were to release.
Ayano: Hmm, if it sold five times more (laughs).
sako: (Laughs) It’s been a busy year, but I’m glad to be able to end it on high note by winning the Capcom Cup. Capcom Cup was my first official tournament championship, beating the Evo champ Xian for the championship, and also losing in TOPANGA League, with all those things together I’m very happy I won.
Famitsu: So for you it was a good year?
sako: Yes it was. I rose up to 5th place at Evo, and won a lot of tournaments, so looking back, it’s been my greatest year.
Famitsu: What kind of year do you want 2014 to be.
sako: Let’s see. I want to have fun while playing a variety of games. Of course USFIV will be my main, but as time allows I want to try out a variety of others.
Famitsu: I see, so how was 2013 for you Ayano?
Ayano: Privately it was an unproductive year… Not a good one. I wanted to move this year, but my washing machine suddenly broke and flooded the room…
Famitsu: Is that so (laughs).
Ayano: And with work I was busy with Vampire Resurrection then after that USFIV… It’s been a very hard year. But I am glad we were able to bring USFIV to the location testing stage.
Famitsu: I’m envious that you’re so deeply involved in fighting games.
Ayano: Well when I joined Capcom I thought I wanted to be, but my time to play games has really dropped… I haven’t been able to improve on that point yet, so for 2014 I want to be a year full of not just developing games but also playing them.
Famitsu: By the way, who do you play in USFIV?
Ayano: I’ve been thinking about playing Poison, but Hugo is also good. Since I don’t have time to practice combos I thought a throw character might be good (laughs).
sako: I think simple, easy-to-use characters are necessary for people like that.
Ayano: When the console version release, I want sako to teach me in online training mode while I aim for 2500PP.
Famitsu: Finally, do you have a message to the fans?
sako: I will try to go through 2014 at my own pace just like this year, so thank you for supporting me.
Ayano: USFIV releases in arcade in April, so look forward to that. After the release I hope to be able to finish up work within 23 hours at the most and be able to go the arcade. I want to be able to communicate with everyone as a player, so if you see me in the game center, I look forward to playing with you.