The Fighting Game Diaries: (Not) On Floor 10

Since the last Fighting Game Diaries, Baiken has achieved a few things. She reached the mark of 1,000 wins. She achieved a character level of 100 – for which the game gave me a Baiken Master Badge – I don’t fully agree but I’ll take it. And finally, at long last she reached floor 10 of the Tower. For me that’s the big one.

Getting back to floor 9 and the 1,000th win, back to back. Pretty cool.

If by chance you have read previous posts on this blog, it might be apparent that floor 10 became something of an obsession. I know full well there are levels beyond floor 10, but I kept on getting close to floor 10. So much so that floor 10 became the goal. Well, the current goal. There wasn’t much sense in looking beyond floor 10 when I wasn’t there yet.

There are 2 chances that I had to get to floor 10 that stand out. I’m sure there are a bunch of straight up losses when I saw the chance to go up and just panicked and made a mess of it. But of the 2 that stand out, one caught me off guard. I beat a Zato player 2 – 1 (nothing major I thought) and then the second match against a Ky player was for promotion. It felt too quick. And I messed up, losing the first two matches before taking the third, all for nothing. At least in the moment. You can take things from any match but in the moment it felt hollow.

The second one was a set against an Ino player. This set I distinctly remember because it came down to a single hit. And I had it. And I messed it up. I did not cleanly input Baiken’s Gun Super. Final round, and Ino was in the middle of firing off a note. I saw it, I tried to get the gun off and I just didn’t. I must have hurried it, fumbled it or a combination of the two. The chance went, the match went with it. The second match was also close (and possibly still a chance at going up), but again, the Ino player saw it out while I didn’t. Come the third match my tendencies were figured out, my confidence had bottomed out and it wasn’t that close of a finish. I hung on to that for a while.

Then came the extended life of being a floor 8.5, before holding my own on 9. With some rare trips down to 7. Those didn’t last long though. Holding my own on 9 was a big deal. I was managing to climb back for 8 pretty quickly as well. It’s all progress. New base lines are nice.

The night before this happened I was sent back down to 8 after trials and tribulations against Asuka’s (they are everywhere – the tower, the park – it’s oop’s all Asuka’s). I got back to 9 but faced another relegation against – guess who – Asuka. Turns out all the matches before had done some good – I got out with a 3 – 0, in addition to another 3 – 0 against another Asuka. It’s a tough match up but it’s doable. The morning after I’m texting a friend and decide to play some Gear – I had some time. After avoiding some Asuka’s (fatigue more than anything else) I fought a Bridget. There was no promotion icon next to my name, no mention of it on the match screen. Everything said it was going to be a regular set in the tower.

It was a good set. The matches where close – exceedingly so in some cases. The set could have gone either way – those are the best ones. After a bad first round I get a 1 – 0 lead. That becomes a 2 – 0 lead before turning into a 3 – 0 win. I feel pretty good about it. I’m getting ready for the next set.

Finally making Floor 10. Pretty cool.

Well, it turned out the 3 – 0 rescue job against Asuka counted for more than just preserving my floor 9 status. The set against Bridget finishes and out of nowhere it’s the ranking update. I don’t quite know what to do. It’s sudden, it’s unexpected – I’m not prepared to see the words floor 10. I’m very excited. I text my friend – she keeps up with my progress and cheers me on – believes in me when I don’t. I walk around the room. I walk around floor 10. I don’t fight anyone – I just take in being there. I finally belong. I might get sent back down (late edit – I was – went 1 – 5 and back to 9 – won a match though, so that’s good), but I have made it. And that counts for something. It means I can make it again if the worst happens. I think I work better when I don’t know a promotion is coming.

An actual safe jump. Neat.

I know in the context of Strive floor 10 isn’t everything. It’s not the end. It’s taken me a while to get here. There are videos and comments on YouTube of people making it in 10 days (Celestial even), people getting there in 25 hours. None of that is stopping me feeling good about this. I’ve worked hard for this. I’ve put the time in for this. I’ve come a long way from when I started. And with Baiken, I can finally say (to a point) I’ve learned a fighting game character. Prior to this it would have been Yoshimitsu in Tekken 3, 5 and Tag Tournament but those where only ever AI matches. Baiken represents the first time that I have played with people and got a character to the point I can do stuff. It’s been a great journey so far.

The hit that got me there.

I think what has excited me the most is that throughout all of this, there has never been anything, even close to a character crisis. I’ve rolled with Baiken and stuck with Baiken. Even during the struggles, I went with Baiken. I’ve tried other characters for fun and none of them come close to her. I’ll only climb the ranks with another character once Baiken finishes her journey. Not before. No other character vibes with me like Baiken does. I dig that.

A few notes on ranked

I’ve spoken about this before in various posts, but I’ll take this chance to collect my thoughts on the Tower. The Tower…it can be a little volatile for a ranked mode. Sometimes. And sometimes it just confuses me. Like, in this post when I talked about beating the Asuka player to stay up. Prior to that I went 5 – 1 across two sets and then fought a Bridget player. I lost that set 3 – 0 and then it was the relegation set. I somehow went 5 – 4 and had a chance to be relegated. How often, in any context, in any competition can you win more than you lose and be threatened with relegation? I can’t imagine its many.

I have no gifs for this section so here are some random gifs from me playing Baiken.

You get a sense of when a promotion shot is coming – there is an upwards pointing arrow on your R-code and by your name. That’s good. It helps with knowing you’re doing good are and it helps with confidence. It if keeps up a promotion shot is on the cards. Conversely, there is nothing to indicate the opposite. You know when you’re on bad run, but you have no idea when the relegation shot is coming. It can be incredibly stressful to deal with.  Because sometimes it comes on far quicker than expected. One time I got to floor 9 from the night before. The day after I went back to the tower, completely fresh – no prior wins and losses on floor 9. I fight a Potemkin player. I lose 3 – 0. Okay, they were better than me, I can live with that. I am immediately relegated – no warning, no nothing. I think I learned on that day that if you have a good number of wins against an opponent (most of my wins are against Potemkin) the game expects you to win. And if you don’t you are judged, seemingly accordingly, at least according to the game.  The second most wins I have are against Bridget players. It probably explains the previous example of this.

This can also apply to being promoted. Like I mentioned in the post, I won one match 2 – 1 with no prior wins and losses and suddenly had a shot at promotion. This can lead to climbing floors too quickly, finding oneself out of their depth (happened to me) and then bouncing between floors. Because there comes a point where one is too good for lower floors but not quite good enough for higher floors because of the volatile nature of ranked, not enough time is spent on the higher floors but enough skill has been acquired to render the lower floors not that much of a challenge. Like, when that Potemkin sent me down I got back out of 8 real quick. Might have been 10 minutes of work. It would have been much better to hang around 9 and get more experience there.

Ranked is still fun, and more or less, I’ve found, I’ll get to a point where I belong. Eventually. I just wish it was less volatile. If I could change it, I would have it be a set amount of wins and losses sends one up and down. Like, say, 9. That’s three full sets. Win 9 matches, go up. Lose 9 matches, go down. Whichever gets reached first. I’d always know where I would stand, and there would be no surprises. But I guess no system is perfect. Knowing the number of losses could induce anxiety, particularly if that number is approaching. But I do think I would prefer that. Ah well, I’ll deal with what’s here.

I do want to mention here that I do like the R-code. I love that is shows the wins and not the losses. A player knows, at least roughly, the amount of losses. We don’t need reminding. Playing Dragon Ball Fighter Z online is different – seeing my player card broadcasting to everyone that I’ve won 7 but lost 30 – thanks game, really makes me feel good. I know I’m not doing good – no need to tell everyone else. The R-code just lists wins and all that good stuff. In fact, Strive in general (ranked volatility aside) is good at instilling confidence. There are little messages everywhere that just broadcast good vibes – badges being the “crystalisation of hard work, blood, sweat and tears”, your character being expression of your hopes, wishes and skill or how you can always change how you play by hard work and practice – nothing is set in stone. I dig all of it. It’s helped me a lot when I’ve been struggling with my performance.

The Fighting Game Diaries: I do(n’t) have a backup character

Still striving with Baiken. The game has turned into the quest to reach floor 10. I’m not concerning myself with what comes after floor 10. I just want to get to floor 10. Then I’ll take it from there. So, while Baiken takes up the majority of my Strive time, I do on occasion head off to the Park to fight with other characters. Partly because the variety is nice, and partly because having a second character on deck does help. More knowledge of the game, and other characters can handle certain matchups better.

Baiken combo. Felt great.

Of the characters on Strive’s roster who aren’t Baiken I have tried Potemkin, Bridget, Testament, Goldlewis Dickinson, Zato, Ky and Sin Kiske and Ramlethal Valentine. Each of them has had their moments and have been fun to use. I picked up a few wins with Potemkin (5 wins), Bridget (14 wins), Testament (3 wins), Goldlewis (2 wins), Sin (11 wins) and Ramlethal (15 wins). Zato and Ky I went winless with but had some fun regardless. It’s hard not to have fun in the Park. No ranking points does help with that. It shouldn’t, but it does.

I baited a burst. About time.

A few almost made it though. I remember Bridget being a blast – I managed to beat a floor 10 Testament with her, despite not knowing the Blanka Ball move, Scoot and only knowing one of the yo-yo tosses. I mean, I got bodied after that, but I got one (this was when I was like floor 5 or 6). Potemkin and Sin though have made a bigger impression on me though.

Sin feels super fun to use. I’m beginning to think I have a thing for characters that yell out their moves. First Baiken, then Sin (BEAK DRIVVVVAAAAAAA!!!!). I do harbour a secret desire to have a good Potemkin – but boy do I suck at kara inputs. Same with charge inputs. Well, I’ve gotten a little better with charge inputs but kara inputs are something else entirely.

Always good to see FAB in action.

I do dig Potemkin. I love watching Potemkin’s go to work, and I do like fighting them. I know there is more than a few memes’ about Baiken and Potemkin fights. Baiken’s sure do love jumping attacks and Potemkin’s sure do love people jumping at them. It’s a fun cat and mouse game. Some of my favourite experiences in Strive have been fighting Potemkin. Also, some of my most traumatic experiences. But can’t have the fun stuff without the bad stuff. I know Potemkin isn’t considered to be one of the best characters, but when I’m stuck in the corner without a burst Potemkin is one of the most terrifying things in the game (I’d say Goldlewis is the other one). There is going to be a Garuda Impact, and there is either going to be a Potemkin Buster and they are going to go low with 2D and then there’s a juggle probably ending with a Heat Knuckle. It’s a fun guessing game for everyone involved.

And Snake Eyez. Just utter brilliance.

This may have turned into a love letter to Potemkin. Let’s keep writing it. He is completely different to Baiken – design, fighting style – everything. I think that’s part of the appeal – playing the game in a different way. I normally play characters who have a dash. Potemkin doesn’t have a dash. He does have Hammerfall and Mega Fist though, which can function as dashes. Well, not really but also yes. I would like to hit a Heavenly Potemkin Buster. Just once in my life.

However, Potemkin doesn’t have a Dragon Punch. He has a DP input but no DP. I do like DP’s. I do envy those who has DP’s. Wake up DP is one of my favourite things. Hell, the DP in general is one of my favourite fighting game moves. Of the characters I have tried out, Ky and Sin have a DP. If Baiken had a DP that would be nice.

Sin’s one of the few characters I’ve tried that has a meter. It’s not the most complicated meter in terms of management but it is something that’s new to me. It’s a fun challenge. I think from some of the footage I have you can see I can be guilty of burning through it. But those meter attacks have cool visual effects and feel like they hit like a truck. It’s fun to do them. Another reason I like Sin is that he has gotten me to use the throw button more. Confession time: I have almost 1,000 wins as Baiken and I barely throw. I know I should, but I don’t. It would help a lot. I should get on that. But perhaps it is the fact I am using a Kiske that compels me to throw, sometimes from a full screen sprint. It’s like their magic power. I like it.

Just run up and throw. The Kiske special.

Sin also looks cool as a character. Design wise, I dig him. I love his weapon. It’s like having a halberd user in Strive. It’s hard to turn down a halberd. Especially one with a flag waving around with every swing. It’s pretty awesome visually. It makes his fighting style both brutal and graceful. He hits like a truck, and the animation and sound design aids massively with that. Yet, with the flag flowing with each swing each attack is filled with beauty and grace. Beauty and grace that breaks faces. And as someone who used to wear jackets around his waist a lot, his design speaks to me on some level. And finally, as mentioned above the voice actor puts everything into his move names. It’s hard not to get excited when hearing Sin belting out those names.

Once I’m finished with Baiken (wherever that ends up), maybe I’ll spend more time with Potemkin and Sin. We’ll see. Because I have said in the past I’ve got a second character, only to keep on trucking with Baiken.

A Sin combo. Fun to do.

So yeah, we’ll see.

The Fighting Game Diaries: I did (not) climb a mountain

Last week in Strive I got to 500 wins with Baiken. I don’t know how I got there. I don’t know. 500 is a big number (relatively). I’m a little confused that I’ve made it this far. I’m a little scared. 500 is a lot, but it’s also a reminder of how far there is to go. In many ways this journey has barely begun. A mountain has been climbed. Many taller, more treacherous mountains are in the distance. I guess I should be able to climb those too (in theory – foreshadowing).

500th win. It’s pretty good.

I’ve been thinking about the journey – where and when it started, how it’s going and where and when (if) it’s going to finish. I’ve had this realisation before, but now it has become clearer. I cannot look at this like a, let’s call it a traditional sports journey. Those journey’s end with someone winning and being number one. And in some cases, unless that happens the whole thing is a failure. An unfair and harsh viewpoint, but it’s out there. In all honesty, for 99% of fighting game players (me included) – that win isn’t coming. That would be winning EVO, and I’m not saying you reading this cannot do it (go for it, why not) but odds on for most of us, it’s not happening. The skill and luck to get that far is… it’s hard to process.

The way I have to look at this journey (and sorry if this is pretentious) is akin to a Monk seeking enlightenment (wonder why I vibe with Baiken). It’s not a competition – well, it is but it’s not. It’s a quest to learn new things, be a little better than I was before and come to a realisation – whether that’s a level I’m aiming for, studying and mastering a new combo and simply learning how to counter a move. If I look at this only in terms of winning and losing – I’ll lose myself. I’ve lost so much – I went 0 – 20 Vs a Testament a few days ago (I try so hard but that match up for me is incredibly difficult) – that if I reduced this to such a binary level I’d have quit so long ago. The winning and losing is secondary to learning – about the game, the character and myself.

I should probably stop conceding so much space and start dash blocking. And timing jump in better. I can be done, but with Testament’s 6P covering an area about the size of the Pacific Ocean, it’s tricky.
That said I can get wins here and there. Still, this set ended 14 – 3 to the Testament. Still, better than 20 – 0. Also, after this I went to training, set up a Testament to 6P and spent half an hour practicing with it. Felt good.

All of that being said, as much as I try to maintain that way of thinking I can find myself slipping. I still get anxious fighting other people – both in the park and tower. It’s more pronounced in the tower but I can still feel it in the park. It’s been a while since I’ve been in the tower. I can even feel it in wins, and after successes. I suspect it’s always going to be there – something I’m going to have to deal with. To live with and to mitigate. I’m the sort of person that would be in Celestial and still I’d wonder if I’m good. I’ll never be sure of it. You can tell me I’m good, and I’m going to do my best to deflect and downplay.

On the plus side, finally didn’t fall for the raw super. Progress.

The game says I’m on floor 8 but I don’t buy it. That’s affecting me. I need to stop thinking in terms of numbers and ranks and I need to look at it sorely as that learning process. Once the numbers and ranks lose their meanings, then the anxiety should lessen. It’s just taking a while to get to that point. It’s hard – years of education and society have reinforced the idea that the higher number is better, and if you aren’t the higher number…well, that’s terrible. You should be the higher number. I need to get past it.

I know all of that makes it seems like I’m not having fun. But I am. Sort of. It’s complicated. There are times things are really enjoyable, even in the losses. I’m learning and cool stuff happens. That’s great. There are other times where from match 2 or 3 I’m cranky. I’m getting a little scrubby, then I’m flubbing inputs and then the whole thing feels like a wash out. One night this week I went 7 – 12 vs a I-no. It should have been fun. But by match 2 I was already mumbling about bullshit. It wasn’t bullshit – I wasn’t doing good. But in the moment that perspective wasn’t there and I probably, by my mentality, ruined what should have been a lot of fun. And the rest of the night was losing 38 matches whilst winning 11. That’s… not great.

I sometimes feel like I’ve peaked, and this it all I’ll ever be. An (apparently) floor 8 that gets wins here and there but nothing more. I don’t know how good or bad that is. I mean, I’ve made it further than I ever thought I would (it’s 500 wins – that’s not the worst in the world) but getting beyond feels like something else. It’s a struggle – I’m struggling. I know it – I struggle to vary my offence – I try and practice more advanced combos and stuff but I have trouble executing them and I default to my basic stuff that I can do. I hold out on defence but eventually it crumbles. A saving grace is I can beat people I’m (in theory) meant to beat. Floors 6’s and 7’s I’m normally good against – so there’s a base line. I need to figure out how to raise it.

I guess I should still celebrate doing cool stuff.

You can tell I’m focusing on the numbers. This is now a quest to escape the tyranny of numbers. Ignore the wins, ignore the losses – just keep playing the game, keep learning, don’t get too up or too down about it. It’s going to take some time. I’m going have to stop checking the win column. I’m going to have to stop getting invested in the little win loss tabs at the end of matches. I’m going to have to stop focusing on other people’s levels and progress – judge myself against myself and how I’m getting better or going to get better.

Not the cleanest, but I like the determination I showed. I should carry that forward.

To go back to the Monk and Enlightenment metaphor – for some monks that take a while to get there. In some cases 60+ years. It’s going to take a while. Hopefully not that long, but there’s going to be some adjustment. Both in terms of inputs and skill, and mind set.

Better get to it.

The Fighting Game Diaries: Things I do(n’t) like

I’ve found a lot of things to like in fighting games. There are things to dislike, but the majority has been positive. Which is sort of amazing, considering how long it took me to commit to them and how anxious I can get when fighting other people (still). But the good stuff makes it all worth it. Here are somethings I like with one thing I’m not the biggest fan of. Fighting games are tight.

Long Sets: The long set is special. Due to match limits, it doesn’t happen in ranked. I don’t think there’s a comparison in other games – due to relatively short match times a large number of matches can be fit into a session – and the one-on-one nature of fighting games – leads to deeply personal experience.

It’s magic. In a short set one player can be overwhelmed early on and the set slips away. I’ve done it – I’ve been down 2 – 0 and finally got to grips at in the third match. I’ve done it to other people – I’m sure they would have caught onto to me if there were more matches. In the long set there is the chance to adjust and come back – you can be down 3 – 0 but then find yourself 3 – 4, 3 – 5. And then that can be reversed as the other person gets used to your tendencies. It’s a constant back and forth, constant problem solving and planning – just wonderful.

What’s also magic is the wordless communication that can occur. To expand on the tendencies point – because of the amount of matches played you begin to know what the other person is going to do and vice versa. Beyond stuff that effects the match, it can lead to some funny moments – like two Baiken’s parrying at the same time. Or two Baiken’s trying to finish a match with gun shots. Or two Baiken’s…Baiken mirrors are the definition of fighting over the last brain cell – there great.

A match from the Potemkin set. The last round was highway robbery which I can only apologise for.

I had a fun long set against a Potemkin player. I got out to a 5 -2 lead, then it became 8 – 6 because they caught onto my jumping with Baiken and started catching that. Then I worked around that to take the last 2 matches. It was an exhilarating experience – pretty much unmatched in any other game I’ve played.

Stuff done in fighting games is cooler than in other games: I would like to think I have done some cool stuff in video games. Felling a boss with a certain attack, doing some pretty neat platforming, or just being stylish – stuff like that. For some reason, doing cool stuff in a fighting game feels cooler than doing it in other games. I think it has something to do with it being against a human and not an AI. Or maybe it’s the inputs required for certain combo chains. Doing something cool in a fighting game feels great.

It can be a big combo, it could be a read or just some neat spacing – getting any of those to work in a fighting game is… so damn good. Even me, with my meagre comboing – nailing a 6 hitter is just wonderful. And those rare times I get higher, boy howdy.

It ain’t much but it feels mighty good.

Getting a read maybe the best though. I’m pretty slow when it comes to these games so I don’t do it too often but when it happens, damn. Like, in this gif for some reason I knew that the Axel player was going to swing on wake up. Nothing conscious, but I must have picked it up during the set. So, I take the shot and get Baiken’s gun ready and kablamo – there it is. Damn it’s good.

The match.
Had a hunch they would swing on wake up.

Learning Stuff: In one of the previous fighting game diaries I wrote that I could not figure out comboing, beyond the basic gatlings. Cancelling moves confused me, when to cancel moves confused me and timing button presses was a mystery. The whole thing confused me.

Well, things have gotten better. I’m still not fully confident I know how the timing works – I’m just used to certain things and I’m running with that. My combo skills are still limited in comparison to other folks, but despite that I’m still very happy. Incredibly happy. I’ve worked on this. I’ve practiced this. I’ve made progress with this. Tangible progress. Here is me playing with Baiken early on against a Bridget player –

That’s some scuffed corner pressure. And now if there’s bar its straight into super, or roman cancelling to maintain pressure. It’s nice to see. It’s nice to be able to do it. There’s room for improvement, as always but from where I was, I’m feeling pretty good.

How does this tower work again?: The Tower in Strive is where ranked game play exists. The actual fighting of people is not what stresses me out the most – it’s the nature of the promotions and demotions. I still haven’t figured out how and when they happen, or when to expect them. That’s why I’m not the biggest fan of ranked right now. And it goes both ways – getting demoted quickly means I don’t have time to adjust to the new level, and the same applies to getting promoted too quickly – I’m out of my depth. I’ve been demoted after losing a single set 3 – 0 and I’ve been promoted after winning 5 in a row – it all feels too sudden. I’d rather have a cumulative situation – say, 10 wins gets a promotion, and 10 losses gets a demotion. But, it is what is and I’m going to have to roll with it. Well, not right now. I’m sick as a dog so I’m sticking to the park until I’m feeling better.

New character shenanigans: No matter what happens, I always go back to Baiken. I dig her. But I do like, on occasion taking a new character to the Park and messing around with them. This time around I’ve been using Sin Kiske. Apparently, Sin’s not the best according to tier lists and what not. He is incredibly fun to use though, he looks cool and his moves look cool. That’s enough. Also, massive props to his voice actor – the guy goes all out.

This match (and the set) wasn’t exactly high quality GGST – look at all the counter hits. Mighty fun though. I think what I like the most is how much impact Sin’s moves have – he looks and feels like he hits like a truck. An incredibly quick and heavy truck. I’m tempted to spend a little more time with him – because now I know what his supers are (that’s why I was not using supers – didn’t know them – sometimes I should do more than a quick glance at the move list). Baiken’s still the main, but Sin is a lot of fun to play as.

Beak Drriiiivvveeeeeer!!!!!!

Baiken and Sekiro and their similarities

I have been continuing my efforts with Strive and continuing to play with Baiken. There are a few reasons to like Baiken, one of those being her similarities with the main character of my favourite game, Sekiro. There are a few surface level similarities – they both use a Katana, for example – but the more I thought about it, the more I realised there are some similarities between the characters that went a little deeper. It makes me appreciate the two of them even more.

They both lost an arm and have weapons associated with that: Sekiro loses his arm not long into the game. However the first encounter with Genichiro ends, his arm will be separated from his body. Not long after this the Sculptor finds and rescues Sekiro, providing him with a prosthetic arm. Baiken also has a missing arm, lost during an attack on her home village (more on that later).

Both Baiken and Sekiro adapt to this and use it for offence. Sekiro’s prosthetic, as well as having a grapple hook can be outfitted with many different offensive tools. 10 in total, with three being equipped at any given time. Baiken makes do with missing an arm by equipping a bunch of hidden weapons where the arm used to be. She has a gun, a cannon, two types of chains and a fan sword. That’s a lot of stuff.

While Sekiro never uses his grapple hook in the manner that Baiken uses Kabari, he can use a spear in a similar manner, at least on smaller enemies. He can grapple hook towards bigger enemies though. And while Sekiro doesn’t have a gun like Baiken, he does have a flame barrel, which is a little similar. Both Baiken and Sekiro have a fan styled weapon – Baiken with the Ryosanzen, and Sekiro with the Umbrellas. Both are extremely effective.

They both have a life event that gave them PTSD: Sekiro the game begins with Sekiro the character stuck in hole, both metaphorically and literally. He has been captured and in being held prisoner… in a hole. His confidence is shot to pieces, in addition to his combat prowess being the lowest it could be (his fumbling of his sword in the Genichiro cutscene). All of this goes back to Sekiro being betrayed and being stabbed in the back by his Foster Father and left for dead. A portion of the game is Sekiro dealing with and overcoming this, climaxing with the fight against Owl Father in the Hirata Estate memory. While we are here, Sekiro’s upbringing is also incredibly tragic. He’s an orphan, and the from the opening cutscene it seems Sekiro wanders battlefields in order to collect swords, probably to sell them. A battlefield is no place for a child – he must have been exposed to some utterly horrific sights, sounds and smells. His Foster Father, Owl’s parenting skills are also… terrible. Neglect and abuse where his calling cards. It’s beautiful when Sekiro finally fells him.

An impressive video essay that talks about Sekiro and his PTSD. Pretty long (about 35 minutes) but worth a watch if the time can be spared.

Baiken lost both her arm and her eye (Sekiro has two working eyes so has that going for him) in an attack on her home. She also lost her family and friends, making her an orphan (that’s another similarity.) Baiken then spends the majority of her life looking for revenge against the perpetrator of the attack. Having done some reading about the Guilty Gear story, and Baiken’s place within that story, it appears that it is only around Xrd (the game before Strive) that Baiken’s personality begins to mellow – in Baiken terms. Prior to Xrd, it’s debateable if she is even a functional human being. Her one friend… person she tolerates is Anji Mito. Otherwise, she struggles (or doesn’t want to) to form anything resembling a friendship or a relationship. Everything is focused on revenge. It’s only Anji who can get through to her, and it’s only with Anji she will have extended conversations. And again, sometimes that’s grudgingly. Everyone else is ignored in favour of getting her vengeance. Xrd sees her relax a little (only a little) before she gets a new perspective in Strive. And that takes a little while, and a little help from Anji. 

Both of them are Buddhists: Sekiro the game takes places in Sengoku Japan, where Buddhism would have been the dominant religion. The dominant religion in Ashina is Buddhism, headed up by Senpou Temple on mount Kongou. Sekiro being a Buddhist is more a formality than anything else. Also, when he rests at a Sculptors Idol he does a Buddhist prayer gesture. It would seem, based on Senpou Temple Shingon Buddhism is the Buddhism practiced in Ashina.

Baiken in Strive has a few connections to Buddhism. Her theme, Mirror of the World has the Buddhist Chant the Mantra of Light weaved into it. It is also known as the Mantra of the Unfailing Rope Snare – a perfect choice for Baiken. Incidentally, the mantra is used by Shingon Buddhism.

Baiken, in her pre-match quotes says a whole bunch of Buddhist stuff. Also, Baiken’s default stage is the Seventh Heaven District – with all the Buddhist Rocket Ships. I think that counts for something.

They both get a change of perspective thanks to children: In Sekiro’s case it’s two children. One is Kuro, the lord he is sworn to protect, and the other is the Divine Child of Rejuvenation, the remaining child of the experiments at Senpou Temple. Kuro, in addition to giving Sekiro something to strive for – curing his immortality – also teaches Sekiro a few life lessons. He teaches him to cook rice properly as an example – something Owl never bothered with. The Divine Child, as well as guiding Sekiro through the process of making sure that he and Kuro make it out of this alive, also gets out of Sekiro one of his first, honest human interactions. The Divine Child gets sick at one point, and Sekiro asks if she is all right and if she needs anything. Sekiro when talking to people isn’t particularly conversational – talking is difficult. I guess having the one strong relationship in your life end in betrayal doesn’t bode well for making connections with other people. In this instance though, he makes a breakthrough, and it’s great to see.

Baiken, in Strive’s second story mode is given a child to take care of by Anji – in his forever quest to keep Baiken from utterly ruining her life – and she reacts as Baiken does. Anji calls the child a mirror. The child in question is Delilah, the sister of character from Xrd, called Bedman. Bedman was killed by the same person who raided Baiken’s village and Delilah is aiming for the same thing as Baiken. Delilah gets stuck in a situation where in a quest for vengeance innocent lives are at stake, and when helping to resolve this, Baiken realises why Anji calls the child a mirror. Baiken sees that if Delilah keeps this up, not only are other people effected, but Delilah herself won’t have a life. There will be no friends, no family, no experiences. Just a lot of anger and a lot of sorrow. And in that moment Baiken decides to rather than push on with this, she’s going to be there for Delilah, and help to give her the life that Baiken didn’t have. Everything coming full circle. 

They both have an alternative ending that sees them lose themselves: There are four endings in Sekiro. Two would be classed as good endings (give or take), one is the cycle continues ending and the last one is the bad ending. Sekiro sides with his foster father, becoming a Shura – a being who kills for the sake of killing, insatiably so – resulting in a genocide. The DLC brought a new skin that shows Sekiro in this state, as well as a poem that recites his reign of terror. It’s a far cry from the Shinobi that does anything and everything to save his lord.

Older Guilty Gear games had arcade modes with different paths. In Accent Core Plus R, Baiken has two paths. One ending sees her wandering around with Anji and the other ending sees her turn into a serial killer. The second ending plays out what would happen if Baiken ever slipped. She’s been on the cusp for a while, and her hunt for revenge sees her torture a character to death for information. This awakens something in Baiken, and at a later date Ky Kiske tries to apprehend her, only for a crazed Baiken to force a fight to the death.

A nice ending.
A not so nice ending.

Both characters haven’t been that far from falling from grace, and these two endings take a look at that frightful possibility.

Notes and Asides

There are a few times in this post that I simplified things. For example, talking about the attack on Baiken’s village and her friendship with Anji. I have provided wiki links, because I feel like I got the general outline and that felt enough for this post. If I went the whole hog I would have to explain That Man, what a Gear is and Anji’s entire character and the post would balloon (it’s already pretty hefty). I also did the same thing with Sekiro – hit the general points. Also, that game is four years old – a lot of it has been laid bare.

Regarding the section about Buddhism. I said that the Buddhist school in Ashina would be Shingon. I feel relatively confident stating that for the following reasons. Here are the Monks from Sekiro and here are some Shingon Buddhist Monks – the robe colours match up. In addition, these wood carvings from Senpou Temple are of the Four Celestial Kings.

There is normally a fifth king in the middle but in Shingon he is replaced by a deity called Kongo Yaksha – as is the case in Sekiro. Also, Fudo is venerated in Shingon Buddhism and here again, this applies to Senpou Temple. I hope all that stacks up.

Regarding the Seventh Heaven District Stage – it is also the default stage of Anji Mito, Nagoriyuki and Chip Zanuff.

The Fighting Game Diaries: (Not) Making Progress

More adventures in Guilty Gear Strive. Both in the Tower, and in the Park. In both places, progress has been made. Not what you would call seismic progress, but a definite sense of getting better. Mistakes are still there (weeding them out is an ongoing process), but I’m getting more wins, I’m taking advantage of more opportunities and more than ever in any game I am handling losses and wins way better. Not too despondent after a loss, not to jubilant after a win – barring special wins, like a rank up – that’s worth a little excitement (and confusion).

In the Tower I climbed from floor 5 to floor 7, and in the Park I managed to get some wins against higher ranked players than me. In some cases, not many wins, but after tasting 0 – 30, any wins against floor 10 folk will be appreciated on some level.

Both these things are a source of enjoyment. I’m still not where I want to be – my comboing is ropey and I tend to rely on simple combos accompanied by (semi) decent spacing, I’m not good with Roman Cancels and there are a few match ups that give me fits – Sin Kiske is one, and based on limited interactions, I need a lot of work with I-no – amongst other things. But I am better than I was, and I probably should celebrate that, while acknowledging that more work is needed.

The wins against higher ranked folks are the thing that I am most excited about. The Park is still one sided – me fighting floor 10’s is not pretty. I am getting some wins though, and after going 0 – 30, I’ll take any wins that come my way against floor 10 folks. 10 – 1 against a floor 10 Potemkin with my floor 5 (at the time) Baiken. Not great but you have no idea how good that one win felt. It’s hard to convey the confidence that comes from that – the sort of validation that can convince someone (me) that achieving things in a fighting game is a possibility. That led to a 4 -2 in my favour vs a floor 7 Giovanna (I would have fought longer but I had to sleep.) That included what might be my best round so far, so that’s pretty cool.

That second round went pretty well.

The Tower on the other hand, has been consistently good. When I stick to my level, I’m winning more than I’m losing which is just wonderful. And a pleasant surprise. As a natural downer, I’m do expect myself to fail at a lot of stuff. When I first played the game after the beta, the game assigned me floor 4. I told the game, out loud “I’m not a floor 4, that’s wrong.” The game didn’t listen. I guess the game knew more than I did. I guess I’m dealing with imposter syndrome because I still feel a little weird about this. I’m fully aware reacting like this over getting to floor 7 a bit silly, but it’s further than I thought I would get. It’s pretty neat.

The fight that sent me to floor 7.

I’ve played a whole bunch of games before Strive, and some of them have been incredibly rewarding journeys. The fighting game journey though may end up being the most rewarding of all. Most other games I play are single player, and as tough as some boss fights and areas can be, they are fixed in terms of AI and design. Do them enough times and their secrets will be exhausted. A bosses AI can only do so much, and a tough area will eventually be mapped out. The game will still be fun to play, but the journey of discovery will come to an end.

With fighting games, that journey never stops. Human beings lack the limits of AI and will do things in different ways – even a character a player is familiar with can be played in an entirely different way by a different player, presenting a new challenge and learning opportunity. As an example, Sol and Ky (roughly, this games Ken and Ryu) – you could play a lot of Sol’s, and a lot of Ky’s who play similarly, but then you can encounter people who play those characters completely differently – Mocchi for Sol and Churara for Ky – and there’s something new to learn all over again. The learning never stops, which is a little scary, but also very exciting.

Two folks who are infinitely better at this game than me.

Because I am going to have to learn again. If I keep going, I’m going to climb higher, and based on my previous fights against floor 9’s and 10’s I’m going to have to acquire a more diverse offence with longer combos and my defence will need improving. I’ll also have to gain proficiency with Roman Cancels, improve my bursting, try to use faultless defence – amongst other things. It’s all a little scary, but also a lot of fun. Improvement feels nice, even more so after a struggle.

Blocking helps.

A Late Edit:

On the night before this post was set to go out, I went from floor 7 to floor 8. I still weird about this. I feel like the game is lying to me about how good I am. Try as I might, I cannot convince myself I belong on floor 8. I mean, I’ll have to play some matches there and find out (sure a demotion is coming soon) but I’m there. I’m on the 8th floor. It’s pretty neat. Confusing, but neat.

The fight that sent me to floor 8.

One other thing. I reached 50 wins with Baiken (52 or 53 – can’t remember which). Wherever this journey ends up, I’ve already made it further than I though I would. I’m going to press on – see how far I can get. I’m having fun. Even with the ability doubting, I’m having fun.

Notes and Asides:

Going from floor 6 to floor 7 went far quicker than I expected. So, I let Baiken have a little rest and headed off to the Park. And for the first time in a while, I tried a new character – Testament. I’ve messed around with Testament a little in the arcade mode and always had fun with the character. That fun extended to PVP. I had two sets against high level Sol players – no wins but a lot of fun with zoning and throwing skulls around. That was followed by a 5 match set against a May player on my level – I got three wins out of it (I left because as good as rollback is – rolling back 7 frames or so has some stutter). When the connection was good though Testament once again proved to be a most fun character. I can see myself fighting more with them.

Talking about me not being brilliant at combos. What I think it is (might not be true) prior to Strive, a lot of my game time was spent on Soulsborne and Sekiro. Comboing and move cancelling are not a big part of those game. There are animation cancels but they are limited – extremely limited when compared to say the Devil May Cry series. The From game with the most combo potential was Bloodborne – because of the transforming weapons which brought transform attacks and the gun, plus the R1’s and the R2’s. These three combos – the first is a lot of R1’s with an R2 and gun shot thrown in and the second and third are transformation attacks.

Cool stuff, but none of them have directional inputs or cancels. Fighting games however, do. And I never quite know when to start another move – is it when one move still going? Is it right after the previous move has finished? It’s proving to be a tricky learning process.

The Fighting Game Diaries: 30 losses in a row are (not) off putting

I’ve been on the receiving end of a fair few ass kicking’s in video games. Handling defeat – I guess that’s one transferable skill between Soulsborne and fighting games.

I finally picked up Guilty Gear Strive. I’m having fun. A lot of fun.

There are two main ways of interacting with people in the game – fighting them in ranked mode and fighting them in unranked mode. Ranked Mode takes the form of a tower – as you win you climb the tower, and vice versa, fighting folks of equal skill levels. Unranked is in a park where anyone can fight anyone else, skill levels be damned. Ranked sets are limited to 3 matches, unranked has no limit as long as two participants want to keep at it.

In the Tower things have been going pretty well. Not EVO good, but I am capable of winning and fighting back from a deficit. That’s exciting for me. I can get inside my head fairly quickly and undermine myself. I had a set against a Bridget player where I dropped the first match but came back to take it 2 – 1. That felt pretty good. Getting past a bad habit (even once), that’s good. It shows I can do it, and therefore I could do that again. No need to be so defeatist. Another thing about the Tower – I got to floor 5. Now, in the grand scheme of things that isn’t much. It’s average. It’s competent. But, after playing the Cross Play Beta I said to myself once I got the game I wanted to reach floor 5. Because that would mean I was competent, and if I was competent I could not be the worst person to play the game. I would at least be capable of winning some fights. I’ve managed that. I’m a competent fighting game player and no one can take that away from me. That’s pretty cool. I can always strive to be better but there’s now a base line. A good one. I won’t be EVO good though, but I can be better than I am now. That’s worth something by itself.

In the Park it’s a bit of a different story. I have my moments in longer sets. Fleeting moments. One thing I have taken from this – aside from the fact I’m a slow learner – is that I’m not easily put off from playing fighting games. On some level, I want to get back in there. Because as much as I want to deny it, 30 losses in a row – with no rounds won even – is a shock to the system. I knew people were going to be better than me, and I would not be the best at the game – but still, 30 losses in a row will sting – a loss is a loss and losses don’t feel good. The number in the title isn’t arbitrary – I went 0 – 30 vs a Faust player. They had like a thousand wins, and I have like…well, not a thousand. Not even close. It showed throughout the set.

The final match of the 30 game set.

It’s not too difficult to fall into a hole from this. It’s 30 straight defeats after all. The clever way to approach this (or try to) is to look past the losses and see them as a learning opportunity. That other person is extremely good at this game, and I’m not. Why are they good? What are they doing that I’m not? What are they reading that I’m doing? When and how are they starting combos, applying pressure, bursting? Also, what aren’t they doing – what mistakes are they avoiding that I’m not? How are they blocking?

I’ve got to stop attacking on wake up, for example. Didn’t work the first time? Maybe the next ti…no. Maybe this ti…no. How about now…no. Just stop it. The good player isn’t doing this – I shouldn’t either.

It’s good to catch a glimpse at how good people (and by extension, me) can be at a fighting game. It is a level to aspirated to. It’ll take a lot to get to that level. A lot has been overcome. Makes me want to get back into the fray and try to be better next time. Even if it’s just a little better. Next time I’ll try to hit the anti-air. Next time I’ll try not to mash on wake-up

What is reassuring is that while I did lose 30 – 0, I’m not the only one who has done this. It turns out this has happened to a fair few fighting game players, from those of my level to people that are good at these games. It seems like it’s a rite of passage having a supremely good player showing you the ropes. I just have to keep fighting, keep trying and keep learning. And eventually the wins will come against good players. Even if it’s one win, it’s one more than I would have had before.

Back to it.

Notes and Asides

A little change from the Cross Play Beta – I’m now playing with Baiken, after using Ramlethal Valentine for the beta. It has been fun learning with a new character. I still have a soft spot for Ramlethal so I still mess around with her vs the AI and stuff.

I dig Baiken for a few reasons. She reminds me a lot of Sekiro, and I dig Sekiro. Her theme is pretty cool. Okay, it’s amazing. I’m not a Buddhist but I do dig Buddhist things – like the Buddhist chant in her theme. The whole theme is something else – 6 minutes featuring Buddhist chanting, heavy metal, Rick Wakeman keyboard solos, traditional Japanese music and a Queen section – it’s so good. On her special the clouds that gather remind me of Japanese artwork, and that’s cool. Her voice actor does an amazing job, and her attacks and animations her amazing (although that applies to every character in Strive). Baiken’s pretty damn cool.

One thing I want to mention is making mistakes while bursting. I’d watch people play, and they would burst in mid-air, missing everything and leaving themselves utterly helpless as they tumbled down to earth. I wondered how to you mistime the burst like that. I get it now. I get the panic and the slamming of the buttons just to realise “oh no, this is going to hurt”. The more I play the less I should make those mistakes, but they will happen. Just got to minimize them.