It’s hard to find two words in the English language more satisfying when heard together than “grapple whore,” at least when they’re squeaked your way, via the magic of the Internet, from the lips of a pre-pubescent neighborhood champ quivering with the sort of rage that only comes from having one’s stranglehold on an open player match literally snatched away by a giant green puppet-monster.
Disdain for the manly art of grabbing one’s opponent is hardly restricted to the underage hubris-junkie crowd, however. Veterans of other fighters, and even people who have stuck with Calibur for as long as I have, sometimes fail to grasp the role throws play in high-level matches, so today we’ll be looking at what they are, what they are not, and how they function from a design perspective. In the end, we’ll hopefully rehabilitate throws’ image and maybe give you guys a few evil little ideas on how more effectively to incorporate them into your overall game.
Nota Bene: I’ll be using the terms “throw,” “grab,” and “grapple” interchangeably here because they’re all equally acceptable. Don’t get caught up in trying to parse differences which don’t functionally exist.
Grabbin’ Dudes: In the Beginning
So, what's your point?
Whether or not you specifically recall the first time you were thrown in a fighting game, the smart money says it went something like this*:
Your mom dropped you off at the arcade so she can spend some quality alone time with that guy she insists you refer to as “Uncle Ricky.” You like arcade games well enough, but you’d rather just be playing Pogs. You’re good at Pogs. Your surroundings being woefully Pogless, however, you gravitate toward the crowd surrounding whatever fighting game is popular. You’ve played it before and you know a few moves, so you figure you’ll give it a shot. Almost immediately, you find yourself faced with an opponent who’s clearly superior to you. You run away, toss out some moves, and pray, but his onslaught is relentless, and soon you’re reduced to blocking furiously. Sure, you can’t hit the guy while doing this, but it’s giving you a much-needed mental breather. Until, that is, he walks up and piledrives you.
Your immediate reaction is disbelief—how could he hit you while you were so clearly blocking?—but that quickly gives way to fear, since you’re no longer safe, and finally anger. By damaging you while you were blocking, this jackass has breached the unspoken social contract which states that blocking means you can’t be hit. Indeed, he violated the very rules of the game. Worse than that, he’s cheap! After a few more vicious beatings wherein you come to fear blocking almost as much as you feared reckless attacking, you give up and resolve to kill time until Mom comes back for you.
*For my younger readers, replace “arcade” with “friend’s house” and “Pogs” with “Yu-Gi-Oh.”
You kids totally missed out.
Many casual players never seem to get past this initial reaction to the “unfair” aspect of throwing. To them, throws represent a crutch without which you’d never overcome their defense and thus never beat them. We aren’t casual players here, though, or at least not the sort to overlook a significant part of the game that might significantly expand our options, so we know that throws aren’t to be shunned. Fair enough, but what’s the smart way to really get the most out of grabbing?
More Grabbin’ Dudes: A Functional Approach
Throwing is crucial in almost every major fighting game, though in different ways. Every game’s mechanics, both those specific to throwing and its more general rules, determine the most effective ways to make use of throws. By way of example, allow me to do a minor hatchet job on grab use in Street Fighter and Tekken, respectively:
Street Fighter: Standard throws have a universal input and escape, they affect standing and crouching opponents, and they generally lose to attacks. It’s prohibitively difficult, if not impossible, to escape throws on reaction, meaning in most cases an opponent must anticipate being grabbed in order to tech. The confluence of these factors means that throwing is a phenomenal way to punish turtling. Players can abbreviate block strings in order to damage a defender. Done frequently enough, this will encourage a defensive-minded player to open up in order to avoid being thrown to death.
Tekken: Throws come in three general flavors: 1 escapes, 2 escapes, and 1+2 escapes. They are quite damaging, especially in the case of command throws, but they’re relatively slow, they are high (and can thus be ducked), and they can be escaped on reaction by watching the hands of an opponent’s character. As such, throws have a function quite distinct from that found in our first example. In Tekken, they’re less a mixup tool or turtle-punishment option than they are an execution/reaction barrier which must be overcome. Still, this doesn’t render them useless. Even at high levels, no one is flawless when it comes to escaping throws. If anyone were, however, there would still be other factors to consider, namely that throw breaks can alter frame advantage, change character positions, and the like, and being forced to react to throws over and over does create a source of mental pressure.
As you can see, mechanics dictate function, so let’s examine SCV’s throw mechanics in more detail:
Taken together, the above indicates that throwing is a risky but rewarding proposition. They’re on the slow side, so it’s not exactly pertinent to lean on them when at disadvantage, but they’re incredibly well suited to breaking down turtles and encouraging your opponent to open himself up. Specifically, grappling is an excellent way to force opponents into crouching because ducking is the only way to entirely escape a throw’s damage. This is further reinforced by the fact that tracking throws deeply limit movement options, allowing savvy players to keep their opponents locked on one axis. Finally, throws can be a risk-mitigation strategy. When a player drops below 10% health or so, every attack doing less than 20 damage that hits them inflicts half of its base damage value. Bearing that in mind, the chip damage from breaking a grab is comparable, if not favorable, in relation to a minor poke. Near the end of a match, throws can stand in for riskier low pokes when it’s time to get that last sliver of damage.
- Standard throws are high, i17 attacks with 13 frame escape windows (generally 9 for command throws).
- There are only two escapes, A and B, but throws cannot be broken on reaction, and therefore a thrown opponent must guess.
- Throw damage usually ranges from 45-65, give or take, and all throws produce different wakeup scenarios of varying advantage.
- Some throws will wallsplat an opponent, some will toss an opponent out of the ring.
- All characters have different grab ranges; some are better, some are worse.
- Most throws are difficult to step. In some cases, stepping a throw is almost impossible.
- Escaping a throw, particularly doing so late, results in disadvantage for the escaping party.
- Escaping a throw causes the escaping party to take minor damage.
Besides, who could keep their hands off of this?Still Grabbin’ Dudes: A Summation
Throwing is a critical part of high-level SCV play, so disabuse yourself of any ridiculous notions about it being unfair. Being grabbed in SCV means one thing: you just got called out for being a turtle. Considering their semi-poor speed and high hit-level, having a 50/50 shot to escape most of their damage is a gift. Indeed, grabs’ chip damage is an important part of SCV’s overall ethos. The game rewards proactive approaches and risk-taking. Throwing an opponent is inherently risky; you’re essentially betting that the other guy is going to sit in one spot and do nothing. The fact that there’s no way to escape 100% of a throw’s damage just makes throws that much more effective as counters to passivity. Moreover, throwing offers us a band-aid solution to issues like G8 fuzzy guarding until such time as they are patched. Opponents who consistently employ fuzzy guard to defeat mid/low mixups are, by definition, stuck in an extremely passive state. While fuzzy guarding, they’re not stepping, ducking, or attacking. A free throw attempt, then, means guaranteed damage and frame advantage to continue pushing mixups. Done frequently enough, many opponents will go back to taking a mid/low mixup out of sheer frustration at being chipped down.
SOULCALIBUR V, at its best, is a fast-paced game of making intelligent predictions about one’s opponent’s behavior both offensively and defensively. We see this in the way smart players often “take turns” during combat. I gain an advantage and press it, then my opponent, realizing the situation, knows he must make a defensive commitment. If that commitment pays off, he either punishes or presses his own advantage. If he guesses incorrectly, he likely ends up punished. Players who grow timid about making these active defensive choices are ripe for the snatching. Grabs apply direct pressure, allow for continued mixups if they connect, and at a minimum deal minor damage and confer advantage, thereby causing a great deal of annoyance. We must always be mindful of our opponents and look to apply throws at every opportunity we’re given. Done properly, you’ll make people stay active and risky on defense, them up, and that’s not unfair—it’s just smart.
Think about how and when you go for grabs. Is it on wakeup? When you’re at advantage? Or is it just haphazard? Spend a few games ignoring the damage throws do and simply function on their utility as tools for unsettling a too-passive foe. Make a connection in your mind between choosing to throw and deciding that your opponent needs to be called out for just sitting there.
Also, I’m aware of the QS4G stuff getting out right now, and I’ll be hitting that in detail next week. In very brief: It’s hard-ish to do, but so what? That’s a minor, temporary barrier. It also undermines the way the game’s balanced in many ways. We don’t need to whine, cry, and panic, but we do need to make some noise about this. I’d recommend blowing up Daishi’s twitter.