The first question that most folks have when starting a fighting games is which character to main. Following EVO, I decided to pick up Guilty Gear Strive and found myself asking this very question. After getting a general feel for the strengths of each fighter and messing around with a handful of them I settled on the cute pirate girl May. Her defensive options are lacking, but she is capable of dealing obscene volumes of damage, has relatively simple combos, and is great at applying pressure. I feel no shame in playing low execution characters, so she seemed like a perfect fit.

However, while the general feel of May jived with my preferences there was one aspect of her that was completely foreign to me. You see, May is a charge character. For those unfamiliar with the term, charge characters describe when a character needs to hold down or back to use their special moves. In May’s case her signature move Mr. Dolphin requires player to charge before it can be used. Unfortunately, I’ve never played a charge character in a game that has motion inputs, so the idea of holding back while on offense runs contrary to how I think about applying pressure to my opponent. This has led to some unique challenges that I’ve been enjoying overcoming over the past several weeks.

First question: how long does it take to charge?

In a recent episode of Frosty Canucks, I erroneously stated that it felt like it took around two seconds to charge May. I have since learned that is hugely inaccurate. In actuality, May requires a charge of slightly less than thirty frames, around half a second, to fire off Mr. Dolphin. This means that I can realistically use Mr. Dolphin as an ender on just about every single one of May’s grounded combos and block strings. The trick comes from remembering to begin charging early enough so that I can unleash the dolphin when needed.

I also had to spend some time looking at frame data, which is something I usually only do very passively. I’m not going to provide a laborious explanation of frame data here, so the express version of why I did this was to determine if there were any moves that took about thirty frames to complete. I wanted to know if there was anything in May’s arsenal that would allow me to poke at my opponent and follow-up with a surprise dolphin to the face. As it would turn out there are a handful of moves where this is possible, so there are numerous opportunities throughout a fight where I can cash in my charge to apply some pressure.

While looking into this I also learned that in-game slowdown caused by scoring a counter-hit doesn’t affect charging time. This opens up additional opportunities for using Mr. Dolphin as players only need to hold their charge for the real-world time rather than the slowed down game time. Counter-hits don’t provide a window so large that I can start partway through the slowdown and still hit the moves, but if I’m late on starting the charge on my previous attack this slowdown effect can help to provide the necessary buffer required to ram into my opponent.

Next question: how do we work this into combos?

Unfortunately, there is no shortcut to learning a new mechanical skill in fighting games. Every time I boot up Strive I start by going into training mode and practicing a few basic drills that force me use May’s charge specials following her normal moves. I don’t have the patience to continually practice this kind of stuff on repeat for hours, so I usually time box myself to fifteen minutes before I quit out of training for the day. If I want some additional practice I’ll pop into arcade so I can try demonstrating what I’ve been practicing on an opponent who actually fights back.

In the beginning, going into arcade mode as additional practice proved just how uncomfortable I was with charge inputs. I don’t think I landed a single Mr. Dolphin as part of a combo, or a block string. Instead I would throw them out in neutral and catch the AI pressing the wrong button. In fairness, this worked in ranked fights at lower skill levels, but there was no way this shit would cut it against a player who actually knew what they were doing.

Rome wasn’t built in a day however, and my learning to charge consistently will also take time to develop. While applying pressure in other games I’ve grown used to holding forward or leaving my stick in neutral so I could get clean special inputs. This simply wouldn’t work for May’s charge attacks. I have to build muscle memory for holding back, down, or down-back instinctively while starting an attack string, or even while poking so I have a charge ready when I need it. The only way this is going to happen is through repetition and thus regular practice has become a staple of getting my hands used to charging.

So, where am I at now?

I’ve been running my training regiment for about two weeks now in the limited playtime I have available and have noticed some improvements, but I still have a ways to go. I am throwing Mr. Dolphin out as a combo and block string ender sometimes, which is a huge improvement over my previous failure to use the move outside of neutral. I still haven’t quite figured out the cadence for charging so I’m a little inconsistent when it comes to intentionally using the attack after May’s launcher, following 6H, or either of her great poking options. Failing to capitalize after May’s devastating 6H is especially painful as it’s one of her riskier options so it’d be nice to get an appropriately big reward for taking the larger risk instead of bungling the entire thing.

All said, I’m pretty pleased with my progress thus far and must continue to practice. I’ve already seen small improvements and I’m sure that with more time invested into May I’ll eventually see dividends on those launchers, 6Hs, and pokes such that I can effectively take advantage when I open up my opponent. If nothing else it’s been fun to learn a new style of character that I wasn’t overly familiar with. Though, I will admit I’m not entirely sure if wiring my brain for charge attacks will make playing other character architypes a huge pain in the butt. Only time will tell on that front. For now though I’ll continue charging backwards.