Two sides to wisdom
Samurai Shodown may be one of the most misunderstood fighting game franchises ever made, with a lot of misunderstanding about how the game is meant to be played. As such, beginning players can easily develop a number of misconceptions about how to approach it competitively.
The truth of the matter is that Samurai Shodown plays quite differently from other fighters, with its own rules and idiosyncrasies to master. Players who understand these have a better chance of actually doing well with the series. Conversely, players who don’t are more likely to be the ones who drop out of the game, claiming they don’t understand it.
Of course, some of you may be wondering if there’s a key to understanding Samurai Shodown. Happily, there one such “key” exists. To put it succinctly, Samurai Shodown emphasizes what I like to call “the Knowledge.”
Now, this isn’t just “knowledge” of a single thing (nor is it, for our British readers, anyway related to being a London cabbie). Rather “the Knowledge” refers to awareness of two separate things which I shall discuss below.
Knowledge of the match-up
Of course, most folks are probably thinking that match-up knowledge is important in any game. Of course, they would be correct. That said, match-up knowledge is even more important in Samurai Shodown than in those games for one very good reason.
Samurai Shodown features what could be called “hard” match-ups between characters. This basically means that characters have tools that can, and will shut down other characters tools to the point where using them in a match would be detrimental.
The classic example for this would be Jubei’s “Nikkaku Ratou” dragon punch type special move. This special moves Jubei forward for a bit before he finally launches into the air. The problem with this is that its multiple hits, make it a prime target for Hanzo’s “Migawari no Jutsu” log escape. The latter move lets Hanzo players substitute themselves with a log on hit. Since Jubei’s move launches him into the air, Hanzo players can punish Jubei on hit by using the log escape move.
Of course, other examples of this kind of thing exist. A number of characters in these games posses moves that don’t have any advantage, or are even negative on hit. are usually meant to be used at certain ranges, at specific situations where they cannot be punished. However, certain characters will still have the range to punish these.
All this means that players must know what moves they can do, and when they can do them, or else they risk getting punished hard. More importantly, they need to know what moves of their opponents they can punish just as hard to win games.
Knowledge of your opponent
The other important “knowledge” that Samurai Shodown emphasizes, is that of your opponent. Samurai Shodown actually places greater importance on this due to its movement, its frame data, and its defensive options.
As many players are already aware, Samurai Shodown‘s characters move slower and tend to have very unsafe moves. This is on top of having a number of strong defensive options (on top of blocking, which is itself a strong option). Put these together and you get games where trying to play “footsies,” in the traditional Street Fighter sense doesn’t really work as well.
The same can be said of pressure and trying to do block strings. There are no turns so to speak where a player cannot press a button in defense, the frame data simply doesn’t allow it. At the same time, any of the game’s defensive options can stop anyone trying to go heavily on the offensive.
With this in mind, Samurai Showdown then becomes a much more reactive game. Players are asked to know, either through pattern recognition or simply knowing an opposing characters options, what it is their opponent wants to press in advance.
In simpler terms, traditional Street Fighter footsies are about doing move A trying to get an opponent to do move B, so it can be punished with move C. Samurai Shodown’s neutral on the other hand is knowing that an opponent can do move A and B but prefers to do B, which can then be countered with C.
Of course, that isn’t to say that Samurai Shodown doesn’t have moments where players can bait out reactions and punish them. However, these tend to be less common and they usually revolve around the game’s recoil cancel system. More importantly, getting it wrong here still leads to massive punishment.
Now this knowledge has been passed onto you…
For all it’s supposed simplicity, Samurai Shodown actually asks very different things from players compared to other fighters. It’s true, how the gameplay might not be for everyone. However, its emphasis on these two types of knowledge creates a unique experience that isn’t replicated by any other franchise in the market today.
With what’s has been written here then, players new to the series hopefully have a better understanding of what they need to know to be able to succeed in the game. More importantly by understanding these, they can hopefully continue to enjoy this unique series for years to come.
Thanks to the Samurai Shodown community, especially Sleepmode, who’s own essay on the series’ “footsies” helped inform that ideas put forth in this one.