Trainer’s School: Darkrai Character Guide

The Pitch-Black Pokémon leaves opponents stranded in the void

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This is part of a series of written guides on Pokkén Tournament Deluxe for Nintendo Switch. I’ve always loved this game and I’ve wanted to give back to the community and generate more interest in it. I’ll be creating more guides like this in the future and I hope this gets new players invested in the fighting game that taught me about fighting games. These character guides are meant as surface-level breakdowns of each of the playable Pokémon in the cast. If you would like to try out Pokkén Tournament Deluxe, and learn more information about the game, be sure to check out the community Discord! Access to the character-specific Discords will help you find any information that isn’t listed in this guide, and you can also ask the players there for specific advice.

The nineteenth character guide in the Trainer’s School series is the first guide to cover a Technical-type character. The final character type, Technical-types are, as the name implies, characters with highly specialized toolkits that are not often suited for beginners. The first of these characters to be covered in this series is Darkrai, the Pitch-Black Pokémon. Introduced in the generation four RPGs, the mythos around the Legendary Dark-type Pokémon is often at odds with itself- is it a loner who cannot control its power to induce nightmares, and the citizens of Canalave City are being terrorized unintentionally? Or is it a malicious villain who thrives off its victims’ restless sleep? Regardless, the Darkrai in Pokkén Tournament is an aloof but vicious opponent who uses his ranged attacks and unique install modes to pressure opponents at any part of the screen.

Darkrai: Overview

Playstyle: Darkrai is a traps character with only one goal- to transition into his highly versatile Duel Phase-exclusive Bad Dreams Rising install mode. To do this, he will make use of powerful zoning and setplay options, as well as whiff punishes into stuns in order to confirm Dark Void.

Values: 540 Hit Points, 600 Shield Health, 200cc Synergy Gauge

Poké Moves: Dark Pulse and Dark Pulse: Charge (Duel 5A/5[A], Field n.A/n.[A],) Dark Void (Duel 6A/6[A], Field f.A/f.[A],) Nasty Plot (Duel 4A, Field b.A,) Shadow Claw, Shadow Claw: Kick and Shadow Claw: Slice (j.A/j.AA/j.AY). In Bad Dreams Rising, Darkrai gains access to two new special moves: Dream Eater (2A) and Nightmare (8A.)

High Stance: Charges Synergy Gauge.

Low Stance: Invincible against high-hitting moves. In both High and Low Stance, Darkrai can move a little bit left or right with diagonal inputs.

Unique Features: Darkrai can shift his aerial movement either by holding the reverse direction of his jump or continuing to hold the same direction he is jumping in. Darkrai has a Teleport with j.R and any cardinal direction. 4YY:Y has a just frame: get the timing correct with a button press right after the 4YY. 6:Y has a just frame similar to Pikachu’s Electric Wind God Fist: press 6 and Y on the same frame.

Pause! Orbs and Bad Dreams Rising

It is almost impossible to talk about Darkrai and his gameplay without addressing his three main mechanics- his traps, his orbs, and Bad Dreams Rising. (Some elephants in the room, as far as nomenclature is concerned. Often, all of Darkrai’s traps will be referred to as Phantoms, even though only one of them is explicitly a phantom. Also, Bad Dreams Rising is sometimes referred to as Nightmare Mode, and combo notation will often use the abbreviation NM to refer to a Bad Dreams Rising combo or move, despite the official name being Bad Dreams Rising and a move explicitly being called Nightmare. For the sake of consistency, I will refer to all traps placed on the stage by Darkrai merely as traps, the phantom-like trap specifically as phantoms and Bad Dreams Rising will henceforth always be abbreviated as BDR.)

Darkrai has a variety of moves that can set traps. Some of these moves, on execution, will grants Darkrai an orb, appearing as an orange dot that will float around the middle of Darkrai’s body. Darkrai can have up to four orbs, and can spend them to enhance certain other moves.

The following moves grant orbs:

  • In Field: s.Y, f.Y, b.Y, j.Y, b.[X]
  • In Duel: 2YX, 2X, 4X, 5X, 6X, 8X/8[X], j.X
  • In both Phases: ]Y[

Orbs are spent either on ]X[, commonly referred to as Bow, or 5[A] Dark Pulse: Charge. Depending on how many orbs Darkrai has stacked, the properties of each move will change.

Bow mainly provides buffs and dark green HP restoration:

  • Without any orbs, Bow will only heal 10HP.
  • With one orb, Bow will heal 30HP.
  • With two orbs, Bow heals 30HP alongside a 4sec Defense buff.
  • With three orbs, Bow heals 60HP alongside an 8sec Attack and Defense buff.
  • With four orbs, Bow heals 60HP, an 8sec Attack and Defense buff, and 30ccs of Synergy.

Dark Pulse: Charge gains additional damage and frame advantage depending on how many orbs you consume. By far the best version of Dark Pulse: Charge, which you will be using the most often, is its 4-orb cost variant, a counter-pierce which deals 120 damage, stuns on hit (leading into a Dark Void combo-ender) and is -4 on block. (Of course, I will list the other variants here.) All versions of Dark Pulse are i27 special mids that deal 3PSP.

  • Without any orbs: 40 damage, knockdown on hit, -20 on block
  • With one orb: 60 damage, +16 on hit, -16 on block
  • With two orbs: 80 damage, +16 on hit, -12 on block
  • With three orbs: 100 damage, +16 on hit, -8 on block
I put together a quick demonstration of each trap that Darkrai can spawn, as well as an example of an orb cash-in.

As explained previously, the moves that grant orbs also place traps. Darkrai has several different traps, and each of them have different activation flags and properties- they may be time delay, or they can be activated manually with Nasty Plot. Nasty Plot itself is an i21 move with counter armor from frames 5–28 that causes Darkrai to teleport backwards and leave behind an exploding phantom on successful counter. Up to two traps can be activated by Nasty Plot at once.

  • Phantoms, created by s.Y and ]Y[. Phantoms will fire a Dark Pulse fireball along with you when pressing 5A Dark Pulse, or you can detonate them with Nasty Plot. The explosion stuns.
  • Rifts, recognizable as the glass-like cracks in the air, created by b.Y, 2X, 4X, 5X, 6X, 8X, 8[X], j.X. The rift will activate on its own eventually in Field, but the vines can be manually activated with Nasty Plot. The Duel Phase vine rifts have their own individual properties depending on the move used to create the rift.
  • The mirror created by b.[X.] If an opponent’s projectile hits the mirror, it will transform into a set of bear-trap jaws that track the opponent. These jaws can be automatically activated with Nasty Plot.
  • The hand pillar created by f.Y. The initial hand pillar leaves behind a puddle that will stun the opponent on contact. The puddle can be activated with Nasty Plot for a more violent wave of hands that will chase the opponent- if the puddle is behind the opponent, it may even cross them up and drag them towards you. 8Y/8[Y] in Duel creates a similar hand pillar, but the charged variant is activated automatically and will always cross up.
  • Ceilings and wall nets, created by j.Y. These cannot be activated by Nasty Plot and will simply obstruct the opponent in the air. In Field, j.f.Y will create a ceiling, while j.Y in Duel will always create a ceiling and can never create a wall. The nets themselves stun and deal 0PSP, leading to combos.

Setting up traps is obviously one of the main cruxes of Darkrai’s gameplan. Traps keep the opponent out and force them to navigate the field in a very specific way, which Darkrai can then exploit with whiff-punishes into moves like f.Y, b.X, Homing Attack, or even another trap, as long as he can confirm into Dark Void. Traps that themselves have a variety of activation methods or properties are also highly valuable okizeme tools that can often stuff out any option your opponent tries on wakeup, or force them to continue blocking, letting you put the fear of a throw in their heart. Of course, a majority of traps also build your orb meter, which is highly valuable for using Bow (which you will often execute on knockdown or at a distance for buffs) or Dark Pulse: Charge (which you will use for okizeme, counter-pierce, and Dark Void confirms.)

Dark Void is an i39, -12 mid-hitting move. The charged version is an unblockable i59 low. Dark Void cannot normally KO despite it dealing damage. By earning a successful Phase Shift with Dark Void from Field to Duel, or by landing Dark Void in Duel, Darkrai enters an install mode known as Bad Dreams Rising. In general, Darkrai’s Duel Phase is very lackluster- a combination of poor frame data and bad mid-to-close-range options means that he is relegated to playing an average zoning game in Duel Phase outside of BDR. This means that Darkrai’s priority is to earn a Phase Shift into Duel with Dark Void; if he loses Field or Shifts without Dark Void, he must earn BDR as soon as possible. While there are a few elements of BDR that balance Darkrai’s capabilities, he is extraordinarily buffed while in BDR.

Bad Dreams Rising provides the following changes to Darkrai’s Duel Phase state:

  • Both players have their PSP reset.
  • All of Darkrai’s Poké Moves are enhanced, and he can now use Nightmare and Dream Eater.
  • Darkrai’s base walk speed is slightly increased.
  • Darkrai’s forward and back dash are now teleport dashes, also known as warp dashes or ghost dashes, with bonus invincibility frames that can pass through the opponent.
  • Some moves can cancel into Teleport at any time: 2Y, 5Y, j.Y, 5X, Dark Pulse, Shadow Claw, and Shadow Claw: Kick. Shadow Claw: Slice can also cancel into Teleport but not after a full j.Y into Shadow Claw: Slice string.
  • All light hits will now deal hitstun against light armor (remember, this is the armor type that all Pokémon gain while entering Burst Mode.)
  • Rifts will now activate automatically without Nasty Plot.
  • Nasty Plot now gains frame one counter armor, making it much better as a reversal.
  • Dark Pulse gains additional hits and frame advantage, and it also becomes a mid-low-hitting move instead of a special-mid.
  • Dark Void now becomes an actual attack that spawns a hand pillar that can deal damage and KO. The frame data is mostly identical except for the charged version, which is +8 on block.
  • In exchange for all of this, Darkrai can no longer cause guard breaks in BDR, and all rift vines except for those from j.X will no longer deal chip damage.

It cannot be overstated enough that landing Dark Void and entering BDR is the most important part of Darkrai’s gameplan (although I hope I have made that part very clear.) It’s thusly crucial that you learn how to set up situations where you can stun your opponent in Field and convert into Dark Void for the crucial Shift- I will even provide a rare Field Phase combo in the relevant section. The threat of constantly activating rifts and highly damaging, aggressive moves like Nightmare and Dream Eater allow Darkrai to play a more threatening mid-range game. The additional mobility and invulnerability with Teleport, ghost dashes, Nightmare, and Nasty Plot can also make Darkrai impossible to hit or catch out. Even the ability to compete with Burst Mode by invalidating light armor allows Darkrai to play offensively in scenarios that he would normally not have the upper hand in. Ultimately, BDR allows Darkrai to go from a mediocre Duel Phase state to a character who can absolutely nullify the gameplans of a vast majority of the cast. Darkrai’s combo game is also greatly enhanced with the use of what are often known as “nightmare loops,” which I will also further expound upon in the relevant section.

Remember as always to consult the frame data sheet for specific moves and their properties.

It’s been almost two thousand words! At this point, with any other character, I would be getting to the part where I describe their Synergy Gauge, but here we’re barely scraping the surface of basic Field and Duel gameplans! Can you believe I haven’t even gotten to the meat of the guide yet?! Still, even before I get into the proper explanations, these descriptions of Darkrai’s core mechanics should still give you a basic idea of how he functions in each Phase. The Pitch-Black Pokémon wants to command Field Phase by making the opponent play around traps that pollute the screen with projectiles and hazards. These same traps also provide crucial orb stacks which Darkrai can cash out as he pleases, although he will most likely use it to enhance Dark Pulse: Charge in order to score a Dark Void confirm. Outside of BDR, Darkrai’s Duel is fairly mediocre and he is relegated to playing a basic zoning game until he can reset with Dark Void. Inside of BDR, Darkrai is a genuine contender for one of the best characters of the game, able to play basically however he wants and move around the screen as he chooses. Darkrai is certainly one of the most technically demanding characters in the game, but he is likewise one of the most cerebrally satisfying.

Moving forward, I will attempt to not retread anything previously covered in the very long Pause! segment above.

Field Phase

Focus on outmaneuvering your opponent, harassing them with projectiles, and whiff-punishing them. Any stun should convert into BDR.

Obviously, you should be using your traps as often as possible. Not only will they hamper your opponent’s approach, they will often also clash with your opponent’s counter zoning. Beyond its use in activating your traps, Nasty Plot’s command counter armor will also aid in your approach by protecting you from rushdown or other projectiles. Get used to looking for some of the following key situations: On any launcher you earn, set up a j.f.Y ceiling vine to earn a stun. Whenever you land the first hit of Homing Attack, instead of mashing X, you should instead be Homing Cancelling into Dark Void. After a rift vine stuns your opponent, rush forward with b.X to continue the stun, or b.[X] for counter-pierce and additional pressure with the mirror. These are essentially all of the easy staple confirms into Dark Void that you should be fishing for. If you gain any hits that knock down, but you don’t want to approach or you can’t confirm Dark Void, you can cash out your orbs with ]X[ to heal up and gain some buffs in order to extend your Field Phase and make life more frustrating for your opponent.

You also have a handful of other options besides your myriad of traps. Darkrai’s n.Y is a decent poking projectile that is special cancellable, but since Dark Void is so slow, you’ll probably only be going from n.Y into Dark Pulse or Nasty Plot instead. Your j.X divekick probably won’t see a lot of use, since it’s i39 and you want to Shift using Dark Void instead, but it’s only -8 so it could be difficult to punish, especially since the animation after Darkrai lands makes him teleport and fade away. When setting up traps, keep in mind that while placing s.Y phantoms is easier, ]Y[ phantoms are placed faster. The former is useful while sidestepping but you should be priming a ]Y[ charge whenever possible if you don’t already have phantoms on the stage. The Dark Pulse that your phantoms fire also track better than your own fireball, making them one of your more useful zoning tools. Your opponent also has to be wary of a phantom overlapping with where you’re standing, or else they can potentially eat a Nasty Plot explosion just for trying to approach you. These are just examples, but understanding the properties of your traps will allow you to use them more creatively, so try experimenting.

Duel Phase

Bad Dreams Rising is one of the best modes in the game.

If you lose Field, or are forced into earning a Shift without Dark Void, your main goal will be to earn that BDR. Unfortunately, you have very few opportunities to do so, since your main options that stun are your j.Y ceilings, exploding phantoms, and your four-orb Dark Pulse: Charge. This means, of course, that you will play your Duel Phase either fishing for these hits or zoning to build up your orbs (and then cashing them out by fishing for those hits.) Set up rifts with your heavy moves at a distance, since many of those moves are unsafe and slow up close. Placing ]Y[ Phantoms can also allow you to spam Dark Pulse fireballs to cover the rest of your setplay. Otherwise, your frame data is pretty lousy, so you will probably only be using 4Y… and 2Y/2YX in desperate close-range scrambles, since they are your only i15 moves. As always, clever use of rifts and phantoms will be key to succeeding here, especially if you’re not in BDR.

While you can’t get away with absolutely everything in BDR (a majority of your frame data remains the same, after all) your ability to warp around for free and automatically activate rift traps alone significantly increases your power. Poke from afar with 6X or at a midrange with 2X- the former is an absurdly safe poke with a huge hitbox and additional range due to the automatic vines, and the latter will lead into your bread-and-butter BDR combos. If you’re heavily plus on certain moves or you can keep them trapped in hitstop during counter armor, you can throw them with Dream Eater and enjoy your free 180 damage. 4X will often be your go-to anti-air more so than 8Y/8X due to the frame data and awkward animations on both (although 8X’s rift also makes it strong.) Nightmare being invincible from frame 5 and cancellable into aerials like Shadow Claw also makes it incredibly powerful and nearly safe if you want to get out of jail free or be mindless at midrange. Of course, remember that since a majority of your moves are teleport cancellable even on whiff, your opponent will have a hard time catching you out no matter what you do.

Synergy Burst

Darkrai’s Burst Mode lasts for 14 seconds and has a 200cc Synergy Gauge, which will likely fill very quickly in spite of its large size due to the amount of meter you can build off successful ]X[, counters, and Dream Eaters. While it only provides one major buff, that’s often all Darkrai really needs:

  • Any Phase Shifting move in Field (except for Guard Breaks and Celebi) immediately trigger BDR.
Infinite Eclipse is a powerful super, and any Shift into Duel will earn you BDR while in Burst.

Burst Mode Darkrai essentially gives you more control and aggression in Field Phase. Since you no longer need to fish for Dark Void, you can essentially do whatever you want in order to trigger a Shift instead. Otherwise, nothing else changes, so just use it as a way to earn BDR easier or to grant yourself Burst benefits whenever you may need them. (Keep in mind this rookie mistake: Burst Mode itself does not automatically activate BDR, so if you’re not in BDR and you Burst you’re still plain ol’ Darkrai with light armor and a super move.) Darkrai’s Burst Attack, Infinite Eclipse, has different properties depending on whether or not it’s used in BDR. The normal version is a i23 counter-piercing dome-shaped projectile that is invincible on frame 9, and -20 on block. In BDR, however, Infinite Eclipse is invincible on frame 1 and is only -12 on block. Furthermore, since the wide dome pushes opponents back so far, it’s functionally safe anyway despite being so minus. The threat of Infinite Eclipse alone makes it an insanely good pressure tool, especially when in BDR.

Strengths and Weaknesses

We’ve already sort of gone over these by nature of discussing how BDR changes Darkrai’s gameplan substantially. To recap: Darkrai is primarily a zoning/trap/setplay character who wants to earn his BDR install so he can continue that level of oppression with big hitboxes and wild movement. In BDR, Darkrai is probably one of the best characters in the game with the ability to lock opponents out from approaching while also pushing forward with invulnerable warps, big damage single hits, and long loops. However, if the Darkrai player is bad at earning BDR, or if his opponent manages to lock him out of earning BDR, then his Duel Phase basically consists of mediocre normals with bad frame data and terrible anti-air options, so he has to work very hard to get his setplay going in order to earn BDR in disadvantage. While fighting against opponents without BDR is still possible, it’s such a valuable install that getting caught out without it can make matchups extremely polarizing, especially against equally nimble characters with similar pressure like Scizor and Weavile.

Support and Cheer Pairings

Darkrai will get the most advantage out of Supports that can earn him BDR, making Emolga and Rotom very powerful picks due to their anti-air capability, big stun, and Speed debuffs. Magikarp, Umbreon and Fennekin are also strong choices since they can keep opponents away from you and inhibit their aggressive, close-ranged options. Ninetales and Mismagius are good Support traps that can supplement your own trap setup and hold down the mid-range for you. Even Farfetch’d is useful since you can let him pressure your opponent and get a Dark Void combo off the hits. Standard and Special Cheers will probably help you optimize your meter gains, since your meter is larger than average but having Supports ready will also be nice.

Target Combos

These are some easy combos that you can get started with right away- they are bread-and-butter combos, not necessarily the most difficult or the most optimal. If you want to learn more about what your character has to offer, I suggest exploring the longer combo guides found in the Pokkén character Discords, as they will often be the most up-to-date with the current version of the game. The sample combos in the tutorial mode are also very good at helping you figure out your character’s combo theory.

Here I will provide three basic bread-and-butters, one for each Phase, essentially: a Field Phase combo that will guarantee you Dark Void, a Duel Phase combo for when you don’t have BDR, and the traditional BDR loop.

Here is an example of a Field Phase combo, and the standard BDR 2X 4X loops.

(In Field Phase) f.Y (pool setup only) b.A j.f.Y b.X f.A

(Duel Phase, no BDR) 5X 4A 5X 6A

(Duel Phase, BDR) 2X 4X 2X 4X

That’s it. These combos will generally build you a lot of orbs while allowing you to earn BDR quickly. There are, of course, longer and more complicated combos where you can make use of things like Darkrai’s just frames or ending the combo with Dream Eater, but my concern right now is getting you out of the door knowing how to get into BDR, and then knowing how to get a little bit of free damage once you’re in there. Darkrai is incredibly complex, but is also very expressive, and his more complex combos can lead to big damage and flashy loops.

Conclusion

Darkrai is a powerful trap-setting character who gets even stronger once he accesses BDR. In Field, Darkrai relies heavily on strong projectiles that come out of his traps, which allow him to build up orbs that he can cash in either for offensive or defensive purposes. If Darkrai can’t guarantee BDR, his Duel Phase pressure consists of more of the same, setting up his rifts and phantoms in order to harass from afar before finally closing in with Dark Void. Once he’s in BDR, Darkrai is arguably one of the best characters in the game, with annoying pressure at every part of the screen, high mobility, and big damage. Burst Mode makes earning BDR easier and gives Darkrai access to one of the cheapest super moves in the game. Support Sets that give Darkrai air control, let him earn free stuns or Dark Voids, or keep his opponents away from him are all highly preferable.

We’re finally at the end of the Darkrai guide! There was a lot of ground to cover here, and the rest of the Technical-types are going to be very similarly demanding on newbie players. That being said, if there’s something you like about a particular character, don’t be discouraged and keep pushing onward! The next Trainer’s School character guide will be all about Gardevoir, the Embrace Pokémon!

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Nathan “Lite the Iron Man” Dhami can be found on Twitter (@LiteTheIronMan,) on Twitch (twitch.tv/litetheironman,) and at your local.

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