Trainer’s School Lesson Seven: The Flow of Battle

Bringing it all together

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This is part seven 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. 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!

This lesson will be the culmination of all the ground we’ve covered so far in the first six lessons, so some of this might seem repetitive. However, there will also be some new information covered here, info which I’ve deferred to this article because it’s all piecemeal and didn’t really fit in the other lessons. I’m going to take you through the ins and outs of a single game of Pokkén DX in order to break down general interactions and the importance of winning certain situations.

Planning your strategy for the match begins at the character select screen. Remember that regardless of who you main, the roster is generally well balanced; however, there are certain characters that have unambiguous advantages in some situations. For example, although Blaziken could still win this scenario, he loses Field Phase to Darkrai on paper. Ideally, this is where you pick your preferred Support Set- or a matchup-specific one- that will offset your disadvantages or provide you with some assistance. For instance, in this situation Blaziken may either take a basic go-to Support like Cresselia in order to heal himself, or he might want Emolga in order to use an instant full-screen projectile that will debuff Darkrai and allow for an approach. Finally, you’ve got to select your Cheer Skill, which is again going to be based either on an established personal preference or something you think you may need for the matchup. In general, Blaziken has no problem at all building Synergy, so he’ll probably prefer the Support Cheer.

(Also, unless you’re playing against an opponent via local play on a single Switch, all of these picks are going to be double-blind; your opponent can’t see your picks and you can’t see theirs. Tournament play is supported via LAN setups. These ‘counterpick’ hypotheticals are just things you’ll do assuming you’re already familiar with your opponent or you’re playing a long set. Don’t worry too much.)

This clip is pure, undiluted neutral. I spend my time weaving around Darkrai’s projectiles and looking for an opening. Eventually, I do enough damage to Darkrai’s block that I win the Phase.

The game begins, and you’ll select your Support after the character intros. You and your opponent will start throwing down in Field Phase. This is where we play neutral. While our moveset in Field isn’t oriented around pokes and light attacks, it still involves playing footsies with your opponent and looking for a confirm into knockdown, which, in this case, is also a transition into Duel Phase. Your movement here is in 3D and the projectiles have a lot of recovery frames. This means your strategy involves sidestepping each other’s projectiles with dashes, Homing Attacks, and CADCs, and then looking for an opportunity to punish. Remember which hits trigger Phase Shifts in Field: Grabs, Counter Attacks, Homing Attacks, Guard Breaks (like in the clip above) and hitting a Phase Shift Points counter of 12. In Field, your emphasis isn’t going to be on combos, and any potential combos you can score are going to be very short.

After winning Field Phase, you’ll transition into Duel. Remember that the winner of a Phase Shift earns the following: Synergy meter, positional advantage, and a hard knockdown on their opponent. They also earn back any ‘dark green’ health- whenever you take damage (or when you block, or when a character like Blaziken or Shadow Mewtwo spends health on an EX move) a portion of that health remains on your HP bar as a dark green shade. You recover a portion of that dark green health when you win a Phase Shift, activate Burst, or use a healing move like Shadow Mewtwo’s Recovery or a healing Support.

In Duel, you begin setting up your okizeme- your wakeup game- and your setplay. The player who won the Phase Shift has to limit the options of their knocked-down opponent. While the player who’s still standing has access to all of the options in the game, the player on the ground only has a few safe ones. There’s no truly invincible reversals in this game besides Burst, and the block button protects you from both highs and lows. Blocking and counter attack armor both begin on frame one. This means that your three universal safe options on wakeup are: Burst, blocking, and a CA. In theory, you would think that the standing player should just grab the player on the ground as soon as they get up, but of course the reality is that the knocked-down player can mash a normal on wakeup to beat the grab if they predict it, and if you recall correctly, some characters even have access to red-armored moves. This ‘guessing game’ is how setplay works in all fighting games- think about tech chases in Smash or Milia’s high-low disc mixups in Guilty Gear. What this essentially boils down to is that the standing player has to account for all of the knocked-down player’s options, and thus pick the best move that can limit those choices to an optimal outcome. For Scizor, this is his charged 4X String Shot (in numpad notation, simply 4[X].) 4[X] can pierce counter armor and red armor and is safe on block. It can even be dash cancelled, meaning that you can dash-up grab opponents who have been conditioned to either block 4[X] or continue to try wakeup CA. While it’s not dash-cancellable, Blaziken’s EX Heat Wave [simply 2[A]) is another example of a move that can force the knocked-down opponent to limit their options on wakeup. The key here is to time the move you’re using on okizeme properly so that it will hit no matter what. If you use the move too early, the attack will simply whiff; if you use it too late, you’ll get punished on the recovery frames.

It can be blink-and-you’ll-miss-it here, but both of us make use of the 4[X] dash cancel here as part of our Duel Phase okizeme. The threat of being hit forces the opponent to block on wakeup, which means the opponent can be opened up with a grab.

Of course, Duel Phase isn’t over once you’ve finished playing oki. Usually, the transition from Field to Duel doesn’t put you and your opponent in a completely neutral state- i.e. you will not be at a perfect distance from each other in the center of the field. Playing in Duel means that the winner of the Phase Shift must keep pressing their advantage while the loser must find an opening to turn the situation back into their favor. Remember that Duel Phase is a 2D combat segment where you get access to more traditional fighting game mechanics and movesets, notably longer combos. In general, the Duel Phase gameplan is to score a hit confirm into a long combo that will trigger a Phase Shift back into Field. As always, I have provided a link to the main Pokkén Discord at the top of this article, and from there you can access character-specific Discords and resources to learn optimal bread-and-butter combos. You and your opponent will once again use all of the tools at each other’s disposal in order to outplay the other- this is where matchup experience, good strategy, and even better reads will pay off the most.

At this point you will score another Phase Shift and return to Field. Once again, the winning player will be rewarded with more Synergy, a portion of their dark green health restored, and a positional advantage. If your Phase-winning attack ended in a hard knockdown, you may have time to set up more pressure and oki; if it instead ended with a wallsplat or wallbounce, you will have traded a better positioning for an additional 30HP of damage dealt at the end of your combo, but will still have enough breathing room to set up for yourself. Now, the cycle repeats itself. You will have an opportunity for at least one more Phase Shift before the round ends at this point. Depending on which character you’re playing, your Supports and Cheers, and other factors, you may even have a full Synergy Gauge. You can use Burst to potentially guarantee a round win, or save your meter and carry it on into the next round. Remember again that Burst mode provides you with light armor that allows you to shrug off the hitstun from all light/weak attacks, and that every Burst Attack ends in Field Phase regardless of which Phase you began in. However, also remember that Burst mode light armor can be countered with an Attack buff or another Burst mode.

I forced a time-out situation here. I healed myself and extended the timer with Burst, and then punished the enemy Scizor’s approaches. Since I was already a round up, and I had the health lead, I was fairly confident in my ability to take the round.

If you don’t deplete your opponent’s HP by the time the 80-second round timer is up, the game will end in a Time Up condition. Whoever has the most HP when the timer runs out is the winner of the round, but they will not earn their Cheer Skill benefits going into the next round- unless, of course, they got lucky with Whimsical. Usually, the amount of HP at the end of the round is determined by a percentage rather than the hard number, due to the fact that HP bars in this game are different sizes. This means that if a character with a 570 HP bar has 1 HP remaining, they will win the tie in a situation where their opponent has 1 HP left out of 600- 1/570 is roughly 0.0017, whereas 1/600 is roughly 0.0016. However, if both HP bars happen to be the same size, the round will indeed end in a tie, which will award the round to both players. While rare, a Double KO situation (where both players knock each other out at the exact same time) will play out the same way. If a tie-game situation happens in round three, the game will end in a complete draw; however, if it occurs while one player is already up a round, that player will win the game. If a draw game happens in a tournament setting, you will have to play out a tie-breaker game.

As discussed in the Cheers article, most Cheer Skills proc from the second round on and their benefits may change depending on whether you won or lost. You get about ten seconds of time between each round to think about your strategy going into the next round. What worked for you, and what didn’t? Do you want to change the Support you bring, or would you rather continue trying to make the original pick work? You can also think about the resources you brought from one round to the next- while you don’t have to use Burst right away, you shouldn’t sit on it and let it go to waste. Outside of the game, the ten seconds between rounds can even provide a sense of composure. If you’re getting frustrated because the game or the set isn’t going your way, take your time on the Support Select screen to get it together and slow the momentum. The cycle continues until the game is over, so go out there and give it your all!

I’ve been out of the game for a while, but I can still pull off clean gameplay like this!

Keep in mind also that while this article breaks down the combat loop of Pokkén, a lot of these principles also apply to other fighting games. The Phase Shift and Attack Triangle systems simply divide up the concepts of neutral, positional advantage, mixups, punishing, etcetera into gameplay that is more digestible for newbie fighting game players. Reading my guides and following my advice- as well as making good use of the resources I provide you- may help you, but it won’t guarantee a win. There will be other people who have made use of the same resources, who have been honing their skills to a fine point, who also want to win just as much as you. If you take a bunch of lumps, don’t get discouraged; losing is just as inevitable as winning. You will learn a lot through experience either way, and you will have to build that experience greatly over time. According to the ingame playtime between my Wii U and my Switch, I have several hundreds of hours poured into this game in order to get to the skill level I’m at now- if you factor in the amount of time spent playing in tournament, that count is probably closer to the thousands. I’ve definitely had just as many losses as I have wins. Never give up! Keep training, and you too can become known as a Ferrum League Champ.

That’s about it for this Trainer’s School lesson! I’ve more or less covered the basics of Pokkén completely at this point, but there is still at least one more topic I have to cover before I move on to meatier, more in-depth tutorials. The next Trainer’s School article will cover the Team Battle format and how it differs from the traditional Single Battle format!

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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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