When you sit down to play, you are putting yourself in a situation where you must make decisions. These decisions determine your success or failure, and only the correct ones will lead to victory. What exactly those decisions are- no one knows. But for every one that is made there is a price to pay. Behind every move is a question- will you stay the course, or will you gamble with fate? Your life is a heavy bet to place- but the power that is promised surpasses all that you know.
Every single move you make- this includes not making any moves at all- comes with risk. If you choose to BB, there is a risk of the opponent stepping. If you choose to throw, there is a risk of the opponent breaking it or ducking. If you choose to guard, there is a risk of the opponent using the time to apply pressure to you.
Anything and everything carries risk. It is in every battle, every round, every game. Nothing comes for free- someone has to lose somewhere.
Risks can be big, and they can be small- but they are always in play. Sooner or later, you will have to deal with the consequences of your actions.
Generally, there are a few principles regarding risk that when followed put you above your peers.
The first principle is to minimize your own risk while maximizing the opponent’s. This means- limiting your own actions, so that there is not much on the table to lose- and putting your opponent in situations where they can lose everything in an instant.
Limiting your own actions means not playing however you’d like- it means restricting yourself to low-risk maneuvers. If you’ve heard of the term “safe”, this is what it means: when a “safe” move is blocked, there is not a large risk of taking damage. Using safe moves only is a low-risk way to deal damage while reducing the opportunities given to the opponent.
Likewise, an “unsafe” move, when blocked, carries with it a large risk of taking damage. Using unsafe moves is very risky, and should generally be avoided, lest your opponent take the opportunities given to him and come out on top.
Punishment is a “no-risk” maneuver in particular. When blocking unsafe moves, if you can pull off a successful punish, you hit them at no risk to you- they cannot counter in any way, shape, or form once their move is blocked. As the principle goes- minimize your risk, maximize your opponent’s- and as punishment carries little to no risk, mastering punishment is key.
Spacing also comes into play with risk management- at different ranges, characters will have more or less options. When you can manipulate the space between you and your opponent, keeping yourself out of their optimal range while keeping them inside of yours, you decrease your risk of being hit while increasing theirs. Because their risk is so high and yours is so low, it is likely that they will end up taking damage while you take none.
Ring positioning is a major example of risk management; a ringout equals a blow that does 240 damage. It ends the round instantly, no matter the circumstance. A wall offers extended combo opportunities, and large amounts of guaranteed damage. An opponent that is pushed to the edge with no way to switch position is in an extremely high-risk situation, while you are in a relatively low-risk situation. On the other hand, if you have your back to the edge, but you have a move that can throw your opponent behind you, your risk is still high, but your opponent has more to worry about.
It is all about what you have to lose. If there is a possibility of losing lots of health, or even the round, the risk is high. If the worst that can happen is a chip hit for 5 damage, the risk is low. Keep your opponent in risky situations, and keep yourself out of them- nature will run its course, he will lose and you will win.
Ends and Means
Playing “conservatively” this way, you should begin to notice your win percentage steadily rising in the long run. If you don’t take risk, you essentially let your opponent undo themselves.
You may notice, however, that some players seem to get away with murder and win. They don’t seem to follow the conservative principle, and go all out and enforce their will on their opponent. Why does this work?
Well, first, this game in particular, Soul Calibur V, has a bias towards high-risk maneuvers. Generally high damage across the board points to this- combine this with the two-rounds-down meter gain, and the “guts” system that discourages low-risk maneuvers to end a round- and you have an underlying statement: Risk everything for the comeback.
But- the second reason why this seems to work- is a very simple one. It turns out some of these players are playing very conservatively, just as the principle goes- except for one small detail.
Risk is justified if the payoff is large.
Let’s say I am playing Patroklos. I have my opponent’s back to the ring edge. I am going to use 236B- i15, -20 on block.
If 236B is blocked, the opponent has 20 frames to hit me. There are very powerful moves that are less than 20 frames- so I am looking at a punishment of at least 50-100 damage or more.
If 236B hits, I get a ring out. That is an instantaneous round win- 240 damage.
240 damage is more than the 50-100 damage I will take from the punishment. Hence, the risk is justified.
Let’s look at another example.
Nightmare scores a knockdown near the wall. The opponent could possibly sideroll to get away, so GS K will be used to stop it.
If GS K is blocked, the opponent is put at +18. The blockstun is fairly large and easy to react to, so it is more than likely that the opponent will respond with a launcher as punishment, which will result in 50-100+ damage.
If GS K hits, Nightmare scores 22 damage.
22 damage is a lot less than 50-100 damage. The risk is not justified. It is too risky to do this considering that the payoff is low.
Let’s throw a wrench in this, however, and say that GS K BE is used instead.
If GS K BE is ducked, the opponent must whiff punish from crouch, barring special circumstances. This could be another 50-100 damage, or it could be less, depending on the character.
If GS K BE hits, however, the opponent will hit the wall. The wall combo that results will lead to at least 100-150 damage.
100-150 damage is a little more than 50-100 damage. The risk could be justified depending on your own personal philosophy.
Always consult the numbers when weighing risk, but always attempt to avoid needlessly risky behavior. Remember that numbers do not always mean raw damage, but advantage, pressure, and other factors. Look at how much you have to gain for how much you are risking to lose, and make the call if it is right for you to take that risk.
Schools of Thought
Moral vs. Abare, Conservative vs. Reckless, Turtle vs. Rushdown- all of these terms regard how you as a player manage risk. The choice is a personal one that no one can make for you- but surprisingly, it is not an “exclusive” one. They are opposing, yet two sides of the same coin. Most strong players will be able to make use of both.
The “Turtle style” is that of low risk. The rewards may not be very big, but the assumption is that the turtle will outlast the opponent in a battle of attrition. “Who has the most patience?”
Rushdown, “aggro”, “pitbulling”- is a high-risk style. Attacking wildly makes you unpredictable, and can lead to big rewards. However, if you are doing anything except guarding, you are vulnerable- and that includes attacking. These structural weaknesses can be exploited and punished severely. The assumption is that the aggression will either end the match quickly or cause the opponent to panic and weaken his integrity. “Who wants it more? Who is willing to die?”
Classically, “turtle style” has been favored for its consistency. “Defense wins championships”, as the adage goes. “Low-risk investments” show returns over the long run.
However- this is Soul Calibur V.
Guarding cannot be done forever- guard too much and your guard will break, leaving you open for a combo with counter-hit properties.
Defensive movement is unsafe and risky. Backstep and sidestep grant counter-hit status when interrupted with an attack, the only “safe” form of movement being moving forward, which in itself puts you at disadvantage.
Guard Impact, while a powerful tool, requires meter, a finite resource. It also guarantees nothing when successful- only a mindgame, a test to see if both players are lucid and knowledgeable.
Just Guard, the sole defensive technique that has no weakness, lies behind an execution barrier. Fail to cross and you are repaid with a sharp blade.
This is not to say that turtling is irrelevant in Soul Calibur V- it means it is not as dominant. It means that turtles have to work harder to achieve the same results, while the other side is left with the same high-risk lifestyle as they are accustomed to.
Focus too much on defense and minimizing your risk, and you can possibly be outpaced. But as always- focus too much on offense and large payoffs, and you can be methodically picked apart.
In this game, both require commitment and both carry risk. Specializing in one no longer guarantees anything- so you may choose to use both, as the situation pertains. Ride the moderate line, and turn to extremes when your opponent requires it of you.
Risk governs all. To play without paying heed to it is suicide- pure and simple. Reduce your risk and play “cleanly”, or chase the “big time” and die with a purpose- but don’t leave your fate up to chance.
Understand the risks, and then decide for yourself.