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Iroha is a mixup monster with unprecedented aerial options, yet she faces some very unique shortcomings for Samurai Shodown — EventHubs impressions

As you may expect of a bird-turned-maid, she truly has no equal once she's airborne

Posted by Nicholas 'MajinTenshinhan' Taylor • May 21, 2020 at 7:30 p.m. PDT • Comments: 35

Last week, we finally got one of the most requested characters for Samurai Shodown released, namely the crane maid Iroha who originally debuted in Samurai Shodown 6 back in 2005 after which she emerged as one of the absolute most beloved characters in the entire franchise, and has been featured in countless SNK crossovers and promotional materials ever since. Given Samurai Shodown's long hiatus after the ill-fated Samurai Shodown Sen in 2008, though, she's been absent from her home series since... well, her home series hasn't been around.

Thankfully, the grand revival last year of the Samurai Shodown franchise has done great for SNK and they continue to release characters in 2020, with Mina and Iroha being the first and second placers in their official DLC request poll and have now both joined the roster to much fanfare. I've put some time into trying Iroha out, as I usually do when new characters emerge for my main games, so I was thinking we'd take a look at how Iroha has been handled in the latest Samurai Shodown and what you can expect from her gameplay if you're interested in trying her out.

I spent some time both in the Nintendo Switch version (since she came out early on it here in the Europe region) and later with her PlayStation 4 release playing the character, mostly in mirror matches, with my good friend and Samurai Shodown training partner TDB|Fang and while our first impressions were that the character was absolutely crazy and had some of the most hellish mixups in the game (including a lot of safe options), we soon found some absolutely glaring weaknesses to the character as well.

It's hard to weigh her strengths against her weaknesses since each of them are in areas where previous characters haven't really been that powerful or that weak, making it a very difficult judgment call to make. What's for certain, though, is that she's most definitely a character who really excels in her strong areas but also falters heavily in the weak ones.

Her air game is absolutely unparalleled

It might not come as much of a surprise to hear that a character whose origins are centered around her actually being a bird (a crane, to be specific) having an absolutely fantastic aerial game and Iroha certainly does not disappoint in this regard in Samurai Shodown.

First of all, each special she has except one can be performed in the air meaning that she has a lot of nasty things she can do to change her trajectory. Couple this with a double jump (yes, not a wall jump) and no matter where she is on the screen, she can mix you up twofold while in the air.

Her projectile move, Wind Slash, has her firing a feather at her opponent and can be done at different angles, which is also true in the airborne version. She can fire it downwards at a 45-degree angle to surprise opponents who are trying to anti-air her, but she can also fire it straight forward as a air-to-air tool.

She also has access to both her reversal move Dew Drizzle (though it does not appear to have invulnerability in the airborne version) and her spinning Pinwheel attack which can both change her airborne trajectory quite a bit. Drew Drizzle now goes at different angles than on the ground, including one heading diagonally downwards, which makes it function like something of a divekick while her Pinwheel gives her nasty crossup setups.

Of course, as we've already seen with characters like Ukyo and Basara, these moves can also be performed from her backdash since it is airborne, which means she can catch pursuing enemies or even foes on wakeup quite off guard with instant versions of these attacks.

Another interesting part about her is that she has several normals that can be utilized this way as well. Her jumping kick is actually a cancellable airborne normal, meaning she can go for a kick in the air and then either cross you up once she lands it on you with her Pinwheel or even whiffcancel it before it hits, leading to some very sticky situations.

She also has a forward kick while grounded which is a 2-hit overhead. This move is also considered airborne, and she can cancel it into an air move before it hits. To put it simply, any time Iroha rises into the air even slightly (except for during her forward dash) you'd better get your guard up.

In short, an airborne Iroha is a fearsome foe indeed and she'll constantly keep you guessing as to what's coming next.

She can deal out insane damage from the right hits

There are some characters in Samurai Shodown who don't really get to connect several hits and have to make due with doing "just okay" damage for the most part. Iroha is not one of them.

Her jumping heavy is an exceptionally strong jumping attack which can also cross up and from it she can get some serious damage, due in no small part to her crouching heavy being cancellable — something that's quite rare, though not entire unheard of, in Samurai Shodown. It leads freely into any of her specials or her Weapon Flip so this gives a gigantic return if she lands it.

Even without jumps, though, she can dole out some serious hurt if the right opportunity presents itself. Beyond her crouching heavy, she has faster options in her close medium which is a two-hit move from which either hit can be cancelled into her specials, so you have a huge cancel window before the second hit to confirm your hit and can then go to a heavy Pinwheel or even a heavy Dew Drizzle (enhanced in damage even further in Rage) if you're close enough.

It's worth noting though that for the most part her far normals won't do you much good as far as doling out big damage goes. Once your opponents gets to that far distance, it will do you better to focus on zoning or going for ambiguous jumpins (and they become quite ambiguous indeed given her multitude of air options).

The damage she can deliver is quite large, but it's not something you get from any situation so make sure to look for the right opportunities and you'll be able to shave off half of your opponent's life bar in one go.

Her punish game is extremely weak

After playing quite a few matches with Iroha, I started noticing a pattern I'd felt with one of my most played characters in the game, Charlotte, and decided we needed to venture to Training Mode to investigate. It turned out my hunch was quite correct in that Iroha actually has an exceptionally weak punish game.

There are a lot of moves in this game which can become tricky to punish at certain ranges or force you to use other options than might be optimal, but Iroha finds herself plain unable to punish some key things (although there may be options, we couldn't find any way to punish a well-spaced standing heavy from Haohmaru, for example) and having to resort to fairly low damage options for others.

It's hard to gauge just how big of a problem this will end up being for the character since she seems more keen to play keepaway anyway, but when you know that some very powerful moves just aren't readily punishable, said moves will also become much more exploitable against her.

We found situations where her standing heavy would become a close heavy if you pressed it within the punish time window and wouldn't reach, and if you waited long enough for the proximity to shift to far normals, her long-reaching far heavy would be too late and would end up being blocked instead.

The best punish options for Iroha seem to be her back kick, a move where she moves forward and slams her back into her opponents body (which is also cancellable) or simply going straight to a Pinwheel special. There are definitely a lot of situations where neither of these reach either, and as a long-time Charlotte player I definitely felt the pain of not having high-damage punishes and instead often having to resort for simply getting a quick poke as a punish.

Another thing that needs to be noted in this section is her absolute joke of a Super Special Move. It has a unique property from every other SSM in the game in that it's a command grab, so it can't be blocked. The issue with it is that it has very poor range, the same limited invulnerability and long startup as any other SSM does.

For Iroha, when an opponent guesses wrong on a wakeup reversal, it's not nearly as guaranteed of a SSM punish as it is for many other characters since she needs to time it much more specifically and above all, needs to be quite close. Using it as a hard read against a thrown out normal doesn't work either unless you're point blank because of the poor range.

Its virtues as a command grab are limited as well because of the slow startup which will let your opponent jump or hit you before it lands in almost any feasible scenario. Even on a deflect, it's unlikely you'll be in range to land it.

Finally, her last special move (the only one not possible to do in the air) is a clear defensive option. Her Rain Hollyhock functions as a parry, but since it requires an input before doing it it's exceptionally difficult to use it to parry multi-hit moves, of which this game has quite a few. It's also not advised to do this against big moves since it removes blockstun entirely, meaning that opponents will also not reel back since it doesn't register as blocked.

It's an extremely situational tool and I'm sure it has apt usage in some matchups in order to land strong punishes, but it's about as big of a read as a deflect and generally gives you less reward. Much like a deflect, it also does not work against low attacks.

This isn't something that will make her a bad character per se, but it's a big weakness in the character that can't be ignored. While time will surely give us more optimal punish routes for her, what we found initially was really not up to par with most of the other cast members in the roster.

She can't run

Perhaps the strangest and most difficult to gauge unique property to Iroha is the lack of a run mechanic. For those of you unaware, Samurai Shodown does not typically have dashes, but characters will instead run when double tapped forward and have attacks they can unleash from their run.

This becomes a big part of punishing moves and Iroha's lack of a run definitely plays in to the earlier section focusing on her bad punish game. Presumably having something to do with her crane heritage, Iroha seems fully intent on always standing on one leg. ... Are we sure she's not a flamingo?

Because of this, there's no run available to her and she will instead do a small hop forward as her dash move. Given that this makes her airborne, we instantly thought that this was yet another sharp tool in her offensive arsenal, but this turned out to be false. Her forward dash is the one airborne state Iroha has where she can't actually do any of her airborne specials.

This means that any time Iroha wants to move forward outside of walking or jumping, she's entirely vulnerable for the full period of her dash. This is of course normal in a lot of fighting games, but it most certainly is not in Samurai Shodown and puts her at a distinct disadvantage in the ground game.

Everyone else uses forward movement as yet another mixup in their offensive arsenal since a running attack can come out at any time, but Iroha not only lacks this element of surprise, but also finds herself being vulnerable when doing this to move forward.

As earlier stated, this is also a large part of what limits her punish game. In situations where other characters would be able to at least get out a perfectly timed run into a heavy or at least a medium, Iroha finds herself completely helpless.

How much this will affect her as a character in a competitive sense remains to be seen, but it's a huge drawback to be locked out from one of the core areas of the game in any scenario.

In the end, it's hard to really know how to pin Iroha as a character. She's a fighter with some sky-soaring highs but also with some absolutely buried-beneath-dirt lows, and knowing exactly where the balance shakes out between these two extremes is going to take a lot of time to figure out.

One thing is for sure, and it's that she has a lot of good to her which fans will undoubtedly be able to enjoy. Her playstyle is definitely peculiar, but her strong parts feel very rewarding and will no doubt give you a lot of success if you learn to manage them well. To me, Iroha feels like yet another instance of SNK absolutely knocking it out of the park with their post-launch content for Samurai Shodown.

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