Samurai Shodown: How to improve your game and embrace death

Last Updated July 12th, 2019

Samurai Shodown is a very unforgiving game. Single strikes can melt half of your life bar if you aren’t careful. If you head into combat mashing buttons, you are sure to die. If you always find yourself at the pointy end of your opponent’s sword, then check out this guide. All you might need is a change in the way you approach the game.

Play lame

If you are coming into SamSho from other fighting games, you are going to want to run in and start hitting buttons. This is exactly what you don’t want to do. Samurai Shodown is all about slow, purposeful gameplay. You are going to want to play as lame as possible regardless of what character you are controlling. If you have the life lead, feel free to sit back on block all day. Let your opponent make mistakes and punish them for it. That’s the core SamSho game.

Always play with the timer in mind

Speaking of playing lame, many SamSho matches will run to time-out. The game is designed that way, so much so that many moves are made with time-outs in mind. For example, Yoshitora’s morning glory attack does about the same amount of damage no matter what strength you use, however the heavy version will drain a few seconds off the timer and will help to secure your life-lead. Always play with the timer in mind. You don’t have to kill your opponent to win a match.

Use the spot dodge and universal overhead

Every character has the ability to spot dodge by pressing L+M at the same time and universal overhead by pressing M+H. If you aren’t using these attacks, you are using only a portion of your move-list. The spot dodge allows you to punish moves with heavier moves than you normally would be able to. The universal overhead allows you to open up crouch blocking opponents with comparatively little risk compared to a throw. These should be looked at as part of your character’s normal repertoire, and should be used fairly often.

There is no throw teching in this game

If you find that you can’t seem to escape an opponent’s throw by hitting the throw command at the right time, that’s because there is no throw teching in this game. You have to either A) be attacking B) spot dodge it C) back step or D) be in the air to avoid throws. So there are many ways to avoid them, just don’t think you can do it on reaction. Like most things in this game, you will have to predict and punish your opponent’s throws.

Forward and back throw have different functionality

Neither forward or back throw do any damage, however they put you at advantage which usually allows you to follow-up with a normal. However, these throws are not equal. Forward throw pushes the opponent far away from you, in an attempt to create space. It usually only allows you to follow up with a move of medium speed or lower. Back throws change places with your opponent, but keep them close and let you recover slightly faster. You can sometimes follow-up back throws with heavier moves, in exchange for the loss of positioning.

Many characters have command throws that deal damage

Normal throws don’t do any damage, but command throws do. This makes them very powerful, though their damage dealing potential is usually lower than that of normal strikes. Command throws are also much safer on cooldown and much quicker on start-up than normal throws. You don’t always want to use a command throw, but if you have one, it will be your basic go-to Guard Break as opposed to a normal throw.

Remember, running normals are different from standing normals

Every character has a running L, M, H, and K and they are all different from their standing versions. Some running normals are lows and overheads and can make for very good mix-up approaches if you are confident your opponent will remain on block. Other running moves don’t have the same recoil as standing moves making them safer than usual.

Nearly every move is unsafe and can be punished

Speaking of safety, there isn’t much. Nearly every single move including normals is unsafe on block. In general, blocked heavies can be punished by mediums, blocked mediums can be punished by lights, and some blocked lights can be punished by kicks. Special moves are also largely unsafe and can be punished by mediums and sometimes even heavies. However, there are some special moves that don’t utilize weapons that have little recoil when blocked, making them safe. The same holds true for kicks. In short, scour your move-list for save moves and remember them. You’ll want to use them in dicey neutral situations, and you’ll similarly want to be able to notice when you block an unsafe move in order to choose the appropriate punish.

Canceling normals does not guarantee a combo

You can cancel certain normal moves into special moves in SamSho but this doesn’t guarantee a combo like it does in most other fighting games. Many normals are slow and many specials have a slow start-up. Canceling is actually used for gimmicks and mix-ups more often than combos. If you do find a cancel that leads into a combo, remember it because it will be a welcome source of damage, even if scaling in this game is very high.

Most of your attacks have close and far variants, and these have different frame data

Almost every attack you have will have a close range variant and a far range variant. It’s tough to judge which one will execute, but in general you get the far version whenever your close version would whiff. These moves have largely different damage, frame data, and more and the difference between a close and far normal could be the difference between a match winning strike and a match losing punish. Study them thoroughly.

Close normals tend to be cancelable while far normals cannot

Unfortunately, there is no quick way to determine which moves are cancelable. You will just have to try them all for yourself. A good rule of thumb, though, is that close range normals tend to be cancelable while far range pokes are not. A few characters do have far range cancelable normals, however, and these tend to be at the core of their gameplay.

You can cancel normals into specials even on block

This is an interesting layer to the SamSho guessing game. As I said before, most normals are punishable. However, you can cancel your recoil on block into a special move to punish your opponent’s punish. Then again, the opponent can just wait and block your special move to once again punish you back. Of course, if they wait and block and you don’t cancel, they are giving up a punish for free.

Read your move-list and study it extensively

A lot of modern day fighting games let you jump in without reading your move-list. Just quarter circle back and forward and you’ll eventually figure everything out. SamSho’s moves are more complicated than that. There are special moves that can only be used when disarmed, special moves that can only be used if you use other specials first, air only special moves, kick only special moves, fakes, EX moves that execute in rage mode, and much more. Although move-lists are relatively short, you should open them up and study them extensively before hopping into a single match.

Most uppercuts are invincible on start-up, but not completely, and certainly not after the move begins

Uppercuts or Dragon Punches as they might be known are anti-air moves with moments of invincibility on their startup. In many fighting games, invincible DPs are invincible close to frame one, making them good choices for wakeup attacks. In Samurai Shodown this period of invulnerability is smaller, making them easier to counter and punish. So don’t throw out uppercuts as if they are catch-all moves.

Many special moves can be used to vary your approach

In many other fighting games, using a special move in neutral is a good way to get punished and punished hard. While this is still the case in Samurai Shodown, many characters rely on special moves as approach tools. Some special moves have armor or guard points on their start-up, allowing them to be used as decent ways to get in when the opponent is pushing buttons. Other special moves have high/low or cross-up properties that can be used to get in by making the opponent guess, but if they guess correctly you can be punished.

Many moves can be delayed to screw with your opponent

Many normals and specials can be delayed after their execution in order to screw with your opponent’s punishes. Study these because they are a good way to catch an opponent, say, jumping too early to avoid a projectile or pressing a button too early to punish a close slash. Just delay the move for a fraction of a second and you’ll catch them on startup.

Understand your character’s gimmicks

Each character in Samurai Shodown has some sort of gimmick. Sure, there are some jack of all trades characters like Haomaru, but most of the time your character has a gameplay and your playstyle has to cleave to it. Yoshitora, for example, wants to hit with all of his special moves so that he can use his seventh final sword. Wu-Ruixang wants to zone the opponent and make them step into traps. Darli has unblockable charge moves and a punch that can insta kill if she is disarmed. Before you try any character ask yourself “what is this character trying to do?”

Every character has a different jump arc and some can double jump or wall jump

Every character has different methods of movement and the most important one to study is the jump. Some characters have very high and floaty jumps. Some, like Charlotte, have very low jumps that travel a good distance horizontally. In general, low jumps are good for being offensive while higher floaty jumps are good for being defensive. Also, some characters have double jumps, wall jumps, and even air-dashes.

Non weapon attacks cannot be parried

The parry technique (Quarter circle forward + LM) will force your opponent to stay open for a much longer time than a simple blocked move. It will also disarm them if you parry a weapon attack. Just note that you cannot parry any technique that doesn’t use the opponent’s weapon. This includes projectiles, kicks, any attack that uses a secondary weapon, and many other special moves that don’t use weapons.

Parrying is a good way to guarantee a super special hit

Parrying any move successfully almost always leaves your opponent open for a Super Special Move. This should be your first go-to response as it will usually win you the game.

Super special moves are NOT INVINCIBLE

The reason you should use a super special move after a parry is because they aren’t invincible and have slow startup. While they deal well over 75 percent of a health bar in damage, just throwing them out will get you nowhere. You need to wait for an opening so this means either a heavy punish or, as we said before, a parry.

Do not waste your rage explosion

Rage explosion seems fairly versatile, but you should almost NEVER use it in the first round. It costs you your entire Rage Gauge and by that I mean you can’t even build Rage for the rest of the match. The damage and EX moves that Rage opens up are very useful, so unless your rage explosion is going to win you a match, hold onto it.

Rage explosion is unblockable, invincible, and can be used as a burst

When using your rage explosion, remember these few things. 1) It can be used while you are getting hit. If your opponent has you in a multi-hit move, you can use it to get out. 2) The timer stops when it is used, so it prevents timer-scams. 3) It is invincible, allowing you to counter predicted moves with it. 4) It is unblockable so it will hit enemies that are turtling up and get past their defenses. This, together with the ultra-fast lightning strike, makes rage explosion the most deadly tool in your arsenal.

Use lightning strike to respond to literally anything

Lightning strike is invincible from frame one and is super-fast. If your opponent does anything, you can use this to counter them. Jump? Use lightning strike. Pressed a button? Use lightning strike. When you are in rage explosion, your opponent HAS to go on the defensive because lightning strike is a constant threat.

Lightning strike easily combos after anything

Note that lightning strike also combos from almost anything because of how quick it is. If you jump-in at your opponent and score a hit, you can lightning strike. If you tap them with a low, you can lightning strike. Remember lightning strike can take off huge chunks of your opponent’s life so don’t feel bad about using it early on in a rage explosion, especially if it wins you the game.

You can put down your weapon but there’s really no reason to

Finally, as a curiosity piece, you can disarm yourself by pressing down + MHK. There’s really no reason to. Being disarmed is always worse than being armed. But hey, it’s the closest thing you’ll get to a taunt.

Choosing a main

Choosing a main in a game like this can be difficult, since the mechanics are so different from modern day fighting game mechanics. You aren’t going to find “the combo character” or “the grappler.” So here is a quick rundown of the roster to help you make your decision.

  • Charlotte – Focuses on pokes and ground control. Likes to play footsies and use her projectiles to take up screen space. Very basic but that doesn’t mean she isn’t powerful.
  • Darli – Strong, mobile, aggressive, with fantastic ground and jumping normals. Plays aggressively but has special moves that operate somewhat strangely including a command grab and hit-grab. Has several one-hit kill setups with her hammer special and has a punch that takes off 75 percent of a health bar when disarmed. Certainly one of the weirder members of the cast but easy to learn.
  • Earthquake – Your standard big body. Huge hit-boxes and hurt boxes, command grabs, ways to get the opponent to stay on block and punish them for it. Does have teleports and wall-jumps though, so he’s far more mobile than normal big-bodies.
  • Galford – SamSho’s version of a puppet character. Can command his puppy named Poppy to attack independently of himself and use that to cover his approaches. Low range and damage on his normals. Needs to use his tricky toolset to gain the advantage.
  • Genjuro – A pressure and mix-up character that likes to stay aggressive. Has normals that are slightly safer than most. Has a rekka series with a built in left-right mix-up.  His fireball bounces off the opponent and falls down to hit-twice in order to keep them on block. He has a command grab, a number of high-lows, and a decent anti-air. If you like to keep your opponent guessing he is your man.
  • Hanzo – The stereotypical ninja character. You can expect: gimmicks, mixups, strange projectiles like ninja stars and smoke-bombs, teleports, and the iconic Izuna Drop. A tricky offensive character based on mobility.
  • Haomaru – The Ryu of the game. Does a little bit of everything but doesn’t stand out anywhere. Can reflect projectiles but otherwise is based on real solid fundamentals all around.
  • Jubei – Most of his specials and long range normals are used for harassment. His goal is to get the opponent to strike him sloppily and then use one of his counter specials that will take off a good portion of the opponent’s life.
  • Kyoshiro – A harassment zoner. Has good projectiles that harass you from full screen that try to make you jump and then he punishes you on your approach. Has a lot of good ranged normals and specials that cover his body in order to push back opponents that get too aggressive.
  • Nakoruru – Also a puppet character, but makes use of her bird, Mamahaha less than Galford uses Poppy. Is largely a “hit-and-run” style character. She pokes you, and then runs away to areas that are hard to approach either via her quick movement options or by grabbing onto her bird and taking to the air.
  • Shiki – Another weird character capable of teleports and strange methods of movement. She essentially has the “demon flip” that Akuma has from Street Fighter, along with rekkas and a few movement tools. She also has a full screen homing super special, making it one of the only super specials worth throwing out in neutral. She just feels like a strange grab bag of moves taken from other archetypes. Certainly worth it if you want to try something new.
  • Tam Tam – Another zoner but relies more heavily on his moves rather than his projectiles. Has ways to control both horizontal and vertical space. Can’t control the ground as well as Charlotte but has better air-control options. Feel’s kind of like the Dhalsim of this game, with his unpredictable ranged normals. Even has a traditional slide kick.
  • Ukyo – Another relatively standard character, focused more on rushdown that Haomaru. He has an aerial special move that he can tiger-knee to give him an instant overhead, making his high-low mix-up some of the best in the game. He can also mix-up with his flash step specials which can either fake the opponent out or go in for rapid attacks. Has good anti-air normals because he wants to keep the opponent on the ground, but has few options to deal with more gimmicky characters.
  • Wu-Ruixiang – A keep away/trap zoner. Has a variety of projectiles that can keep the opponent at full-screen distance and traps that trigger whenever the opponent steps on them. Has a counter to prevent people from approaching her and a projectile reflect to keep people from counter-zoning her. Has weak normals, so she likes taking it slow and controlling space. One of the few characters who can combo into her supers easily (when a trap triggers).
  • Yashamaru – An aerial dominance character. He can double jump, air-dash, and has far better attack options from the air than the ground. On the ground he has long range normals that keep the opponent at a far enough distance to make his aerial attacks worthwhile. In the air, he has dive-kicks, projectiles, cross-ups, and much more.
  • Yoshitora – Kind of a gimmick character. Generally somewhat aggressive with an option to outzone with a few notable normals. Has a lot of special moves and if you hit with all six, you unlock a final special move that takes off most of the opponent’s life. Largely uses his specials to confuse the opponent with his approach. Has a command grab, highs, lows, timer-scam moves, invincible approaches, and more, though his damage is a bit lower than the rest of the cast and most of these moves are not as good as moves other characters have. For example, his uppercut covers far less range than say, Haomaru’s.

That’s all the tips we have for you today. Got any tips you’d like to share? Let us know in the comments.