Foreword in Spoiler, feel free to skip:
[details=Spoiler]Well, I have pretty much dropped Sakura, because I think she is a boring character both to play and in design (the latter being my reason for dropping her). Although I moved on to Vega, so I’m not exactly expecting to win any tournaments anytime soon.
Anyhow, I thought I would share some of the things I had learned along the way. Bear in mind that many of my thoughts on Sakura are actually quite different from what Sabre thinks, and he has placed better in tournaments than I ever had with the character. I haven’t exactly been a slouch, I spent alot of time playing some of the better players on the EC, and have put countless hours against Arturo, so I am pretty solid on the seth/sim matches.
This guide is not intended to be comprehensive, if you guys would like that, I could try to fill that in although it would take a while. I think most people have a general idea on how to play sakura, I am going to try to fill in some obvious holes that I see in every sakura with explanation, although this guide became much more basic than I had intended as I wrote it, my apologies.[/details]
Advanced Combos ect. you should be doing but are probably not
**1) The biggest trick here that I haven’t seen anyone else use is dp FADC’s into stand HP -> B&B. The B&B I am referring to is
hp, lk tatsu, cr.hp, ex tatsu, jump RH. This B&B works on everyone, and should be your B&B, especially for punishes.**
The general idea was taken from post about using lp shouken in combos, which does less damage and doesn’t give you all the great links. Technically MP is the strongest of the bunch, but HP shouken gives you more time and range at the cost of like 10 health, definitely recommended. This pretty much obsolete’s Fireball FADC combos.
There is the obvious use in combos to increase strength (say, jump HP, Hp, EX shouken, FADC, Hp, lk tastu, crouch hp, ex tastu, ultra/ other finish for around 600). Much important than this is turning any random crouch mk -> dp into 440 damage with reset! This completely changes how scary Sakura’s poke game is. Any move that can buffer into dp safely on whiff becomes a possible match ender. This means stand lk, crouch lk, crouch mp, and crouch mk. I will explain later how to buffer dp’s into those moves easier.
This also comes up in punishes, some moves only being punishable by dp’s or crouch mk -> DP become half life killers. If you block a blanka upball, you can now lay down the hurt. Additionally, you can take your ex shouken on hit (with hit detect) and turn it into huge damage as well. I don’t have my game on me but I would wager around 480 with reset. This is a huge damage difference.
One of the big problems that people don’t realize when they say Sakura has a decent ultra is that unlike ryu and sagat, who get their ultra in a situation where they would get no other damage, Sakura gets her ultra after most of the damage has been done, in already big damage combos. In the end, she may add 60 or so damage to a combo that does 400, while Ryu and Sagat get to add 300 to 400 damage to a move that would otherwise do about 150. But, with this combo, you get to add around 250 damage, and get a superior mixup, to a combo that would otherwise only do around 200. The comparative damage difference is so big that in many ways it changes the flow of your matches. This is not to say that sakura’s ultra doesn’t have its place, especially on lucky ex shouken fishing combos, but the comparison between her’s and ryu/sagats is pretty weak.
If the opponent blocks your dp, I say FADC forwards. You come out at likely +0, but the fact that you will have the frame timing down and your opponent won’t is a big advantage in your favor. Condition them with scary stand HP -> lk tastu. Stand HP is 3f, unless they dp it will beat out or trade with anything they are trying, likely in your favor. And it will probably beat it out. If you mess up the HP timing, often the lk tatsu will actually crossup! This is a neat trick, doesn’t work on all characters though. Once they start blocking after the fadc, do things like fadc forwards dash throw, or FADC forwards dash lk tastu, FADC forwards dash stand lp -> pressure. Whatever, you get to be creative.
2) Stop ending your combos in otoshi, and mixup finishers
There is very little reason to end your combo in otoshi. First off, it does 160, your jump RH does 100, with probably 240ish stun to RH’s 200. Personally, even with the 60 damage difference and stun increase, I would still go with jump RH or HP, because its post hit options are just that much better. But it gets worse for that shitty move. Otoshi counts as 3 hits for damage scaling purposes. This is why it only does 160 instead of 168, the last hit is smacked down to 80%, while 2 are kept in the 100%. But this double 100% modifier for the beginning of combos is misleading, lets say you do ex hurricane into RH or otoshi. Then you get whatever ex hurricane. The RH damage will be 100 at 100%. The otoshi will be 60(100%), 60(80%), 48(70%), which comes out to about 142. So now you are sitting on a 42 point difference with little post okizeme if used at the beginning of the combo.
But it gets worse as the combos get larger. The problem with the move stems from 2 issues. 1, at the end of the combo, you are going to be down at the 40%'s, so that old 42 point difference will look more like 24. But another issue is that the effect of damage scaling becomes larger with each hit, and the 3 hit function of the otoshi plays poorly off this. The drop from 80% to 70% is a 12.5% drop in damage . The drop from 20% to 10% is 50% of the total damage. Scaling becomes more important with each hit, and if your otoshi is pulling the 40%, 30%, 20%, that is going to be around 10 points more damage, if you are lucky. Now you are giving up much better positioning and mixup for like 10 damage, congrats.
The followup with Jump RH is on characters who you can either immediate dash to crossup, or you can take a tiny step back then dash for non crossup. A third possibility is just walk forwards for the non crossup, but I prefer more ambiguous setups as they stand the test of time, rather than gimmicky setups that can be seen.
The followup for Jump HP is a crossup attempt with LK or HP, or a step back into a non crossup attempt with HP.
If you are planning on breaking the stun with the final moves for whatever reason, otoshi will make your post stun combo 3 hits deeper, which is a huge difference in scaling, versus the jump RH/HP’s 1 hit. Granted, the stun on the otoshi is a bit larger, and may get you that last hit needed for the stun where you would have missed it with the RH, but I think with messing around you will find most often the RH does the job, with better damage at that. So even for stun, I would use the RH.
Even if you don’t use the jump HP RH, I find jump LK is STILL better than otoshi. Jump LK leads to GREAT crossups that can often almost finish the round if they hit. I gladly sacrifice the 40 or so odd damage for this attempt.
Personally I don’t like dash LP dash crossup whatever. I think if I am going to sacrifice the damage of a power move at the end of the combo, I want the completely ambiguous power of jump LK for the more damage, rather than the weaker crossup with the dash, as dashes are possible to react to at 18 frames. If you have the spacing down for jump lk, that shit is impossible to see, they have to guess. Jump LK also lets you move back at the last second and backdash even sagats tiger uppercut. This move is troubling because it catches most backdashes, and with meter it becomes a pressure starter. Don’t let this happen to you! If they dp, you want it to be match, or your offence will be pathetic.
3) Do the correct combos. Stop being lazy
Without having the game for 2 months or so, I can still pick up the game and do Sakura’s links at 95% accuracy within an hour or two. There are just no excuses, these links are important. Some people say the damage difference isn’t big enough (it is, especially considering its free damage, the best type of damage), or that its too hard (it isn’t, learn Plinking). But beyond both of these, the stun difference is usually huge, stun can either turn into greater damage at the end, or end the match. I would love actual numbers as I don’t have the game, but I remember significant differences in stun, which is almost as good as damage with sakura.
Now to go on to the other complaints, the damage difference isn’t big enough. If you are in a situation where you are going to land a close HP, there is going to be a big damage difference if you go into the link instead just right to ex hk. Another advantage to doing longer link combos is it offsets the damage reduction of whatever post ex HK mixup you go for instead of otoshi. In a way, its important to take both steps 3 and 2 together, alone, they can seem weak. The extra damage from otoshi can seem more important than the jump RH if you have a small combo, and on the other side of the coin if you plan on ending with otoshi, the damage difference from a large combo is offset a bit. But when you put them together, you get all the damage and more than you would have from the small combo and otoshi, AND you get the good mixup options. All with more stun, more meter building, and pushing them into the corner. Not looking so trivial now is it?
Now, another possible argument is going for standing lk instead of crouching HP. Standing LK does 30 damage, versus the crouch hp’s 100, this is a 70 damage difference, that is probably more like 50 when you take into account damage scaling. But there is also a significant stun increase and gauge increase to take into account. The up side of the standing lk is that it is 3 frames, making it a 2 frame link, whereas crouch hp is a 1 frame link. But, stand lk cannot be plinked, because moving down the priority list to lp gives you throw, whereas crouch hp can be plinked, turning the 1 frame link into a 2 frame link, making them roughly the same difficulty. Plinking is great if you have played guilty gear, as its the same as the old option select throws, but assuming you haven’t, the best trick is to keep your fingers static, angle your hand, then move you whole hand down. This way, you have less muscles you have to control to maintain consistency. Go to training mode and make sure you see first the red hp, then yellow mp and red hp on the line above, even though you only hit the button once. For more on Plinking, go to the stickied thread.
Now, the B&B that I listed at the top from FADC dp is fairly hard, it involves possibly 3 1f links unless there is a buffer I do not know about for dashes from focus cancels. But, plinking on the HP inputs, both standing and crouching change that to one 1f link and two 2f links, which is entirely doable. I had these combos down to over 95%, if i hit a crouch mk, you were going to take alot of damage. This one will be hard and require you to have the first combo down (the crouch hp link), but it is entirely doable and possibly necessary for higher level sakura in this iteration of 4.
Other combos of note are pretty basic, going from crouch lp to crouch mk instead of standing lk or whatever. There is no reason to do that cvs2 shit, this isn’t cvs2, the cr.mk link is easy, does more damage, hits farther, hits low, ect.
Now, I am not against the crouch lk, crouch lp, crouch hp ex tastu whatever combo. This combo has its place alongside the link combos, not as a replacement for them.
4) Buffer dp’s into more than just crouch mk!
You can actually buffer dps into your stand lk, crouch lk, and crouch mp when used for counter poking and whiff punishing. This, when combined with the combo listed in step one, means your whiff punish or counter poke turns into big damage!
The trick for this, beyond using the shortcut when it helps (df, db, df), is to hold the HP after you enter the dp. This is because the negative edge will preform the dp on these faster moves. You do not want this. By holding the button down, you basically reduce your window. Right now you may be content to poke with just cr.mk. This is fine for a while, but eventually you will want moves that are harder to whiff punish, have less recovery, or work better against certain types of moves. All of these moves can become big damage and are worth trying out.
5) Count your stun!
Sakura benefits second most in the game from counting stun, outside of fuerte. What you may not know, if that almost all situations when you land a combo (assuming you do the king shit combos I listed, none of that stand HP ex tastu), then a reset, set you up for a game victory against average stun characters. This is because you can do the final mixup with an instant high low. Your object is to get the character within 200 of their next stun, then mixup with instant jump RH, or a standard low string. By making your stun occur on the first hit instead of at the end of your combo, you allow yourself to get a full damage combo after the stun, instead of a pathetic 100 extra damage. To set up the instant jump RH, ex tastu into lp shouken, mp shouken (for extra meter, damage, positioning, and stun). After this you walk forwards, and if you place a jump back RH on the first frame of the opponents wakeup, they will have a standing hitbox. This allows for the mixup, because if they are blocking low, but with a high hitbox, it counts as an overhead for 200 points of stun, and 100 damage. Otherwise you go low. This is too fast to be seen, so as far as defense goes it is pure 50/50, plus it will probably work on almost everyone a number of times. Go high.
This is an even better setup though because at this point the opponent is sitting at 1 hit = death until you stop your offense. They know a backdash punished by standing RH is loss. A throw is loss. Random overhead is loss. It is a very powerful position for you to be in.
You can set up this stun situation with almost any combo into reset. The only combo that doesn’t work against normal stun characters is cr.lk, cr.lp, cr.hp, ex tatsu, jump lk reset with the same combo into 2 dps. Any more powerful variant will do the trick, say change the reset to the Stand hp B&B, or change the jump lk reset to jump HK, or start the combo off with a jumping (although if you start with a jumpin, you should always go to your stand hp B&B, which also solves the problem.) It is possible to go too far and stun early, in which case you can usually leave out one or two of the dragon punches. This occurs if you use two strong B&B link combos, with a jump HK to reset. If you land the first link HP B&B, you can then reset with lk and combo with cr.lk. The advantage to reseting with lk is you get a more ambiguous reset, the advantage to comboing with cr.lk cr.lp is if the opponent blocks, you still get your mixup with throws and other rushdown. Once you begin to play around with it, you will get a feel for where you opponent is stun wise. It is important not to take the bait and go for the stun at the end of your long link combo because the damage will be very low, starting at 30% and dropping. The third combo on the other hand could win the round. There are exceptions to this, but in general its great to go for that final reset.
Some problems that come up with the instant high low mixup part is quick rise. It can be hard to react to, and if you don’t react in time, you don’t get your mixup. Rather than try to see the person quickrising, which is very tough for some characters, look under their name on the hud for the words that appear (I think its technical). This is very black and white, easy to see, pops up immediately, and helps with your reaction time to the point where its a breeze.
6) Stop punishing things with throw
I know throw is an attractive option, it is 3 frames, your fingers are always ready to hit it, it sets up your scary mixup you worked so hard on. But it only does 120 damage. You have standing HP, which is also 3 frames, but sets up big damage, and most likely with a small amount of meter an even better mixup. People need to get it into their head to punish everything possible with standing HP, because it is pretty much your biggest damage doer, AND your fastest move. I play vega now, and I have to choose between throw, or a 9 or 8 frame move for more damage. That is something you actually have to consider, with sak, it is a no brainer.
The most common example is punishing a jump miss with throw. If you manage to say walk under a move, make them whiff their crossup in some form, punish that shit with standing fierce punch. It is the same window as throw. When a person lands from an attack, they have 2 frames where they cannot block or throw break. If you are hitting with throw, it means you are hitting in these two frames, since everyone breaks throw there anyhow. Instead of this, hit them that standing HP! The difference this makes in the Rufus matchup is HUGE. No longer can he jump around like an idiot throwing out a million jump RH, if he misses just one, you make him pay with a big combo and mixup.
If someone misses something that is punishable with throw, it is punishable with stand HP, so DO IT!
7) Option Select into a combo
When you are doing throw option select on the ground, push lp quickly afterwards as well. This lets you hit confirm into your basic damage, and now in addition to throwing out the possible throw break, if for some reason a move comes out and you hit, you get a combo into dragon punch, or if they are close enough, crouch HP tatsu -> mixup -> win. If you are against rufus, option select that throw break crouch hp into lk tatsu as well.
8) Don?t lv3 focus after stun
Her focus counts as 2 moves, but only does 130 damage. You can start your post stun combo off with jump HP for 100 damage and only 1 move. The extra 30 damage will EASILY be made up for with the damage scaling increase you get. Set up this jump HP back backdashing after you get the stun.
Destin?s personal little tricks
This stuff isn?t especially great, but it adds flair and I generally enjoy putting my own little mark on things. Don?t get the idea that this stuff is bad though, just perhaps not worth putting in without a disclaimer. I don?t mind if you guys use this stuff as I quit Sakura anyhow.
-When you are doing a frontside crossup, kara HK->EX hurricane kick to flip sides very quickly into cr.lp, cr.lk, cr.mk shouken. In the corner you get cr.lp, cr.lk. cr.hp ex tatsu. There are a few tricky things with this. One is that the ex tatsu moves you down faster than your jump so you land early and get to go low at the same time that a jump attack would be hitting. Another is that it recovers so quickly you can land to throw, or the low attack will not likely be beaten. Finally, if you do the ex tatsu a split second later, it will do an air hit on the front side, in the corner this combos to mp shouken. If you do the ex tatsu a split second later than that, it looks like it will hit high but doesn?t, then you get cr.lk -> combo or throw. And of course, the final option is to just not do the ex tatsu. So fun.
-When in the corner after ex tatsu, do high jump RH, land and walk in the corner, at the last second do stand lp, stand hp -> combo. The stand lp pushes you out very quickly, and might even push you past your opponent beyond the normal time you can walk under him. Beyond this is looks very cool and is nearly impossible to react to.
-Crouch mk, fadc forwards, throw. This is old school team serious tech called the magic cancel in guilty gear. We would roman cancel moves that had no need to be roman canceled, then throw. For some reason this worked against everyone, even the top players, even daigo. It works pretty well in SF4 as well, although the dash kinda slows down the whole thing. Still, no one has broken the throw with sakura, not even wong.
-Crossup attempt with jump mk. Except this move doesn?t crossup, it looks a lot like jump lk, so the opponent expects the block freeze (where the both characters stop moving for a few frames when a move hits or is blocked), and then you land and throw, messing up their throw break timing. It works especially well on A3 and CvS2 players who had bad memories of sakuras jump mk (sadly I never played those games).
-After back throw, instead of building meter, I do ex otoshi. This move if timed frame perfect is +4 on block, which most people don?t know. Now you get to start your offense up again instead of giving up full screen positioning for just 25%
I will write more tricks as I remember them.
There are no videos out there of me beyond something in the like the first two weeks of the game, sorry guys =(.