Tormentum: Dark Sorrow – Review

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Eldritch Excellence

Well, it’s safe to say that Polish developers OhNoo Studio certainly know how to subtitle their games. When I first laid eyes upon Tormentum: Dark Sorrow, it was pretty clear that the game was going to be dark and disturbing, but quite frankly, I wasn’t at all prepared for the range of emotions it would make me feel. Revulsion, disgust and grotesquery of the highest order yes, but sadness? Regret? Despair? Surely not.

Thankfully though, OhNoo Studio completely blindsided me with their melancholic masterpiece. Upon reaching the end credits, I felt depressed, drained, but also deeply moved in ways I just completely wasn’t expecting. Tormentum is easily one of the finest point ‘n’ click adventure games that I’ve played, and one that I just can’t stop thinking about long after the credits rolled. Though it’s a fairly traditional take on the genre, the game is nonetheless a wonderfully crafted sombre and poignant gothic tale, woven together with incredible care and attention to detail throughout. Its puzzles won’t perplex you for long and the majority of its morality mechanics are predictable and formulaic, but Tormentum delivers with such confidence, style and finesse that it manages to feel both surprisingly refreshing and hauntingly original.

Zeppelin

Take a look at that picture and tell me that’s not a fantastic opening scene. Bravo OhNoo!

Starting with quite possibly one of the most instantly intriguing main menu screens I’ve ever seen, Tormentum immediately beckons you into its strange and twisted world by enveloping you in the tattered, musty robes of its mysterious hooded protagonist. Awakening from an amnestic dream, you find yourself suspended in a cage from the skeletal underbelly of a rather disturbing flesh-covered zeppelin alongside a fellow prisoner (a rather peculiar rat/weasel hybrid fellow to be precise), with no memories whatsoever of your past, or how quite how exactly you managed to end up in this rather worrying scenario. Yes, that tired old storytelling chestnut I hear you sigh, but trust me and stick with it, as from this well-worn opening cliché, Tormentum crafts a gloomy and intriguing story.

Knight

The friendly knight is only too happy to help you settle in.

Initially imprisoned, our cloaked character feels compelled to escape the gloomy castle he finds himself trapped in after receiving threats of torture-induced penitence, (completely understandable under the circumstances) and embark upon a perilous pilgrimage to a mysterious stone statue out in the wastes. However, nothing is ever quite as it seems in this strange and perilous land…

Tormentum is a concise nightmarish journey through a dark and distorted landscape, but not one without depth and heart. For a start, the game’s art direction is absolutely stunning. Heavily inspired by the works of H.R. Geiger and Zdzisław Beksiński, the game has a beautiful yet horrific painterly style, incorporating all sorts of hideous body horror elements, hellish landscapes and cruel creatures into its palette.

Desert Statues

From start to finish you’re surrounded by suffering; torture, misery, death and pain permeate each and every screen, and the effect is like journeying through a gruesome gauntlet of Bosch paintings, each one more disturbing and demented than the last. Sepulchral towers of flesh and bone wrench their gnarled towers and screaming buttresses toward the dark stormy skies as if writhing in eternal agony. Grotesque beasts and withered beings cloister in dark recesses, some acting as direct demonic deterrents, others as ominous omniscient observers. Hell, even the relatively humanoid characters you encounter aren’t reassuring in the slightest; often hissing, snarling and sneering at you, or just coldly indifferent to your presence.

Everything feels hostile, desolate and utterly alien, and there’s that familiar sickly combination of loneliness and fevered paranoia in the air that you get when playing games like Dark Souls or Silent Hill 2. At times it can feel like you’re playing an interactive Bergman film; your hooded character roams through dark catacombs, barren wastelands and decrepit mausoleums on an existential Kantian quest for answers in a hopeless, rotting world. In other words, it’s not exactly a laugh-a-minute comedy.

Wall Demon

Strangely though, despite the game’s oppressive atmosphere and visuals, Tormentum surprisingly never slips over into gratuitousness or farce. I found that the heavy mood actually instilled in me a mood of quietly morbid fascination rather than shocked disgust or unpalatable revulsion. The game’s world feels vast, oppressive and completely devoid of warmth, yet somehow it remains fascinating and dangerously exciting to explore. In fact, the closest parallel I can draw to Tormentum in terms of mood and atmosphere is possibly something like the excellent Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem; not in terms of outright horror or psychological frights per se, but that it evoked a similar cocktail of deeply uncomfortable foreboding, tinged with the morbid thrill of discovery.

Mirror Angel

Speaking of morbidity, like a lot of the best horror experiences, Tormentum has that exhilaratingly tense juxtaposition of temerity and trepidation clashing together at all times to drive you deeper into its mysterious world. Interestingly, I found that a lot of this tension came not just from the creepy art direction, but also directly from the puzzles themselves. In particular, the game does a fantastic job of forcing you into making some absolutely gut-wrenching moral choices with the various characters you encounter on your journey. Although a great deal of these choices are largely the sort of typical well-telegraphed binary good/bad nature you find in countless games (i.e. do you kill a certain character or decide to spare their life), their presentation in the context of the game’s heavy atmosphere makes them feel gripping and compelling rather than hackneyed. As the whole world is twisted and strange, it’s never quite clear whether what you’re doing is right or wrong, good or evil, caring or cruel.

Tree

As Tormentum progresses however, there’s a handful of more nuanced interactions which aren’t so transparently labelled as a clear-cut right or wrong, good or evil choices, but rather lie in much more juicy and ethically ambiguous territory – several of which left me extensively agonising over which was the right decision to make for quite some time, let me tell you. It’s here where the game excels, requiring you to make decisions that, at times, felt comparable to Telltale Games’ usual modus operandi. What’s important though is the fact that regardless of how you decide to act in the strange world of Tormentum, the fact that you can sympathise with each and every one of these wretched creatures and sorry souls you encounter, no matter how repugnantly vile, is testament to the game’s minimal yet powerful narrative.

The minimalist ambient soundtrack is also a key part of the experience, subtly contributing a great deal to the game’s atmosphere and mood. Eerie drones, dissonant horns, ominous synths and booming timpani swirl around with rustic guitars, weeping theremins, ghostly vocals and sombre strings to create a warped yet delicately melodic score. It interweaves incredibly well with the visuals, and it’s also cleverly used as a sneaky red herring in a couple of scenarios to completely deceive the player. I won’t spoil how exactly, but the audio design demonstrates an astute and admirably devious intelligence lurking below the soft harmonic surface.

Skeletons Embracing

Tormentum’s rich visual tapestries subtly use clever and deep symbolism throughout. Clever and creepy.

Whilst the game may look like a Dante-esque nightmare you can’t escape, it actually plays more like a lovely dream you enjoy spending time in. At first, on my first playthrough of the game, I often never knew whether I was safe like in prototypical point ‘n’ clicks, or one wrong click away from a grisly death at any time. Luckily for me then, OhNoo Studio wisely focussed on immersive storytelling over implementing punishing trial and error mechanics and the result is a game that relishes and rewards both your company and your curiosity. You’re never punished for exploring; rather, Tormentum encourages the player’s interest, and rewards those who take the time to really poke around in the gorgeously disturbing environments. The level of detail in each disturbingly picturesque scene is incredible, and more often than not you’ll be startled by some small thing you might have missed on your initial observations, or find a helpful detail which might shed some much needed light on your current predicament.

Cube

ITV’s gothic reboot of The Cube certainly had Phillip Schofield a little anxious.

The game’s puzzles aren’t particularly taxing, but neither are they insufficiently challenging, striking a nice equilibrium between intrigue and potential frustration. With the exception of a rather devious musical notation conundrum towards the end, you’ll rarely be held up for long, and you can comfortably complete the game in one sitting. While I can appreciate that this might well be a negative for players who really like to wrestle with a challenging set of fiendish puzzles, I personally I think that OhNoo have managed to get a nice middle ground here that makes sense for the type of game they wanted to make. The emphasis is clearly first and foremost on immersing the player in this strange world and the mysterious characters that inhabit it. Obviously, puzzle difficulty and player immersion aren’t mutually exclusive, but as the game world itself already feels hostile and uninviting, I could see that including some seriously hardcore riddles could easily put players off the game for good. Either that, or I’m probably just an idiot.

If you do happen to get stuck on a troublesome puzzle however, the game does a great job of helping you out without crossing the line into patronising hand-holding. An often overlooked part of any game is the user interface – fortunately, Tormentum has a brilliant one; it’s simple, clear and most importantly, a joy to use – the best part of which is the protagonist’s notebook. Upon discovering any important puzzle clues, your character will jot down the relevant information in its yellowed pages, which can then be later referred to at any time during puzzles etc. This saves you having to tediously traipse back and forth between a puzzle and it’s corresponding solution whilst trying to desperately remember absolutely minute visual detail, or having to write down notes yourself. While I do love that old school DIY aspect of having to keep a pen and paper handy (or perhaps ink, quill and suspiciously-fleshy parchment if you feel inclined to roleplay) when playing a good adventure game, it’s undeniably helpful to have the game provide you with persistent digital equivalents.

Cave Painting

Unfortunately, Tormentum does suffer some pacing issues in the third act, and ultimately the conclusion felt a bit heavy-handed in contrast to the wonderfully ambiguous nature of the rest of the experience. Compared to the nebulous opening, the ending feels more like a contrived deus ex machina; admittedly, although this does sit well with some crucial themes of the game, personally it just felt really at odds with the delightfully indefinite nature of the majority of the experience.

Regardless, it’s the journey not the destination that matters, and upon completing your pilgrimage across the wastes, you’ll have experienced quite the (disturbing) adventure you won’t be forgetting anytime soon. This a big month in the gaming calendar for Poland and the Polish dev scene – thanks to a little game called Witcher III: Wild Hunt – but if you’re more of a point ‘n’ clicker than a hack ‘n’ slasher, then I highly recommend Tormentum. Just remember, as Tolkien wrote:

“All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost.”

Statue

Killer Instinct Season 2: Hisako Beginner’s Guide

Hisako Stare
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Ghost In The (Ultratech) Machine

Something strange in your neighbourhood? No? Well, there certainly is in your online fighting game neighbourhood that’s for sure. Meet Hisako, March’s addition to the Killer Instinct roster; she’s another brand new character to the series (courtesy of the talented ladies and gents over at Iron Galaxy) who since her release has quickly become a fan favourite amongst the community due to her unsettling appearance, her big pointy spear and her penchant for frightening fisticuffs.

Like Spinal, Hisako joins the Killer Instinct shenanigans after she has already met a painful and bloody end. The young daughter of a Samurai warrior, Hisako’s tragic tale begins when her rural Japanese village is attacked by a marauding group of soldiers. After her father is killed in the attack, Hisako becomes enraged, picking up her fallen father’s naginata spear and continuing the fight. Though she is ultimately cut down herself, Hisako’s brave retaliation against overwhelming odds inspires the remaining villagers to stand their ground, eventually overthrowing the attackers and reclaiming the village. Erecting a shrine in Hisako’s honour, the villagers mourn their fallen hero…however…

Hisako Low Shot

I think it’s fair to say that Hisako has a pretty big grudge against Ultratech…get it? Sorry, I really dragged that joke through the wringer huh? I’ll get my coat…

I think it’s fair to say that Hisako has a pretty big grudge against Ultratech…get it? Sorry, I really dragged that joke through the wringer huh? I’ll get my coat…

Jump forward five hundred years to the present day and a little company called Ultratech start poking about in a certain rural Japanese village, disturbing a certain grave in the process. Now, with naginata in hand once more, the vengeful spirit of Hisako rises (or wises) from her grave again, determined to devour all who have disturbed her village’s hallowed ground – yikes!

Village of Whispers

The Village of Whispers – nothing could possibly go wrong here…right? RIGHT?

Speaking of hallowed ground, the Village Of Whispers is Hisako’s stage, and it’s a suitably atmospheric stage for the ghostly warrior to haunt. Deep in a misty wooded forest, the ruined village features Hisako’s ominous candle-lit shrine at the centre. The stage’s weather feels suitably disturbed as well; it’s chucking it down, there’s flashes of lightning crackling down between the trees, and the charred structures of the fallen village occasionally pulse with an evanescent shimmer.

Spinal Stage Ultra

Spinal, getting a taste of his own grisly medicine.

The Stage Ultra for the Village of Whispers is actually one of Spinal’s finishers from the original Killer Instinct – after inputting the Ultra command in front of the shrine, the winner knocks their opponent into a clawing pit of ghostly hands which slowly drag their struggling victim underground to a rather unpleasant demise. Plus, for added eeriness, the spirits of the dead villagers slowly materialise out of the background when an Ultra is performed, as if watching the spectacle; creepy and cool in equal measure.

Before we get into spirit-stabbing people with spears however, it’s time for my usual disclaimer. While I like to think that I can just about hold my own at the dizzyingly high heights of the Killer Instinct silver league, my nascent skills are mere evanescence in the face of the real pro players of the game. I love Killer Instinct; I have a great passion for the game and I love writing about it, but I’m certainly no pro player. I can’t provide you with in-depth frame-by-frame analysis of moves, nor do I have an impressive win/loss ratio to boast about.

Hopefully though, with just over a month’s worth of slashing, wall jumping, floor crawling and possessing opponents under my belt, I can whisper a few ghostly whispers of advice into your virtual ears which might just give a new Hisako players the chance to give their opponents some really horrible nightmares.

Jump Scares

Floor Crawl

As well as performing hideous body contortion, Hisako’s other hobbies include reading, cross-stitching and playing the piano…nah, just kidding, she’s all about revenge these days.

A Japanese Onryō (‘avenging ghost’), Hisako is a jittering, shrieking ghost fighter, who offers some frighteningly new approaches to combat in Killer Instinct. Despite her small size and fast glitch-like animations, Hisako is actually the slowest moving character in the cast to date – she has a forward walking speed that’s even slower than the mighty Aganos’ – which is actually quite impressive really, but I digress. She’s no sprinter in other words.

Despite her slow movement speed however, Hisako does have some unique manoeuvrability options that allow her to get around in other crafty ways. For a start, her forward dash is extremely fast and long-ranged; a scuttling crawl along the floor which allows you to close in on your opponent at quite a speed and also dodge incoming projectiles if timed correctly. Her back dash isn’t amazing – Hisako hops backwards using the naginata as a support – it’s slow to start and not by any means speedy, but it’s still a faster option when compared to her standard backwards walking speed.

More interestingly though, Hisako can also Wall Jump off the stage boundaries (Diagonal Jump Left/Right off stage wall), which essentially gives her a double jump when fighting at the screen extremities. She also has a really freaky teleport move called Descent (Back + Heavy Kick), which works pretty much how you might expect – Hisako slithers backwards into the floor to re-emerge behind her opponent. It’s both freaky and functional, looking very much like something you’d see in The Ring. Despite the move’s inherent creepiness, it does have quite significant start-up and recovery animations, so just be aware that if you’re trying to descend into the floor all the time, your opponent may catch on and punish you upon your resurfacing.

Don’t Mean To Nag(inata)

Naginata Tip

Careful with that naginata Hisako! It’s all fun and games until somebody loses an eye…then it’s just fun and games you can’t see anymore.

As you might imagine with a character that has a big pointy spear for a weapon, the majority of Hisako’s attacks have incredibly good range to them. So whilst she isn’t the fastest character in the game, her crazy reach with the naginata means that she doesn’t really need to be as close up in a lot of scenarios; you can stab and poke at your opponent from afar before moving in for the kill. Looking at her basic normal attacks, Medium Punch, Heavy Punch and Heavy Kick are good poking tools with significant range and combo opener tools, as well as crouching Medium Kick (Down + Medium Kick).

While her normal attacks are really good, Hisako’s basic throws aren’t particularly noteworthy. They lack reach, and they also hardly buy you any significant room once you’ve pulled them off – you practically just swap sides with your opponent after delivering a couple of cheeky stabs. However, they do provide a nice way of starting a combo up close; once the throw has finished, you can quickly do a manual hit off the back and start your combo rolling. This can be a little tricky to pull off at first, but with a bit of practice, you can get used to the necessary timing easily enough. Hell, do what I used to do and just have a mash on the punch buttons if you’re struggling, you’ll soon get the hang of it.

Naginata Slash

This village isn’t big enough for two undead spirits Spinal…get lost bony!

Moving onto a couple of her special attacks, let’s start with On Ryo Zan (Quarter-circle Forward + Punch). This is a forward slashing attack with the naginata with excellent range, which is both a fantastic combo opener and linker. On Ryo Zan can be extended to a maximum of three hits by immediately hitting any punch attack after the initial move input. The strength of the subsequently selected punches determines how the On Ryo Zan is extended; Anguish (Light Punch) hits low, Grief (Medium Punch) hits high and Sorrow (Heavy Punch) hits mid. The punches can be used in any order or repeated, allowing you to mix up your angle of attack as you slash away. Shadow On Ryo Zan has incredibly long range; it’s a five-hit slashing attack which is also projectile invulnerable, making it a great way of punishing a projectile spamming opponent or extending an ongoing combo. Additionally, On Ryo Zan can also be performed in the air to do an aerial downward slash attack (I’ll have some extra things to say on this aerial move shortly, bear with me) which acts as a hard knockdown. The Heavy Punch version of the move also functions as Hisako’s Wall Splat Ender when used mid-combo.

On Ryo Zan

These spear slashes would probably be excruciatingly painful if Spinal actually had nerve cells…luckily, he doesn’t have any, so they are probably just mildly irritating instead.

Whilst we’re talking about one of Hisako’s linkers, it’s worth going over Hisako’s combo trait – Wind-Up doubles. Hisako can delay the second hit of her Medium and Heavy Auto Doubles by holding down the attack button. The charged hit deals additional damage to the opponent and changes the timing of the opponent’s breaker window to a Manual. Plus, this is a great way of bluffing your opponent into an easy counter breaker – charge up the second hit of an auto double, then go for the counter when they try and break your delayed second hit.

Possession

Hisako always dreads her dentist appointments for some reason, I’ve no idea why.

Possession (Quarter-circle Back + Kick) is a really nasty move – Hisako essentially sucks her opponent into her horribly distended mouth (just like Kirby, if Kirby happened to star in a Japanese horror film), possessing their body and painfully twisting and snapping their limbs. Ouch! Shadow Possession has the strongest and fastest pull across the screen, and naturally deals the most damage. When used in very close proximity to your opponent, Possession functions as a command throw, and when used in a combo, Possession functions as Hisako’s Damage Ender.

Revengeance

Vengeance

Using Vengeance just before your opponent’s attack lands will bag you a tasty counter hit and combo opportunity. You just need to make sure you also correctly anticipate their attack angle i.e. high or low.

Okay, so far, we know Hiskao has some nifty jumps, dashes, a creepy teleport, various spear stabs, lunges and the terrifying Possession in her arsenal, but what is it exactly about her fighting style that makes her different and special? Well it turns out that a razor sharp naginata plus five hundred years of anger makes for one incredibly dangerous combination – who’d have thought?

Vengeance is possibly the most important of Hisako’s special moves, and it’s perhaps the most crucial to her playstyle. This is a special counter-hit move, which if timed correctly, allows Hisako to catch and counter an opponent’s attack and then extend it into a combo. In the right hands the move is absolutely lethal, essentially making Hisako one of the most frightening characters in the entire cast; do you attack her and risk getting countered, or not attack and risk Hisako coming in for a swing with the naginata? A good Hisako player will be able to use Vengeance to really scramble their opponent’s mind, leaving them completely flustered as to how to react in combat. Of course, that’s on top of all the usual combo/counter breaker mind games that one has to worry about while playing Killer Instinct; Like a real vengeful ghost (probably) Hisako is all about reducing her opponents to a nervous wreck.

The move comes in two varieties – High Vengeance (All Punches) and Low Vengeance (All Kicks), which respectively block overhead and mid attacks, or low and mid attacks. This means that Vengeance can’t just be spammed willy-nilly; Hisako players need to carefully read where their opponent’s attacks are going to hit and attempt to correctly anticipate the corresponding Vengeance move. However, when in her Instinct mode, Hisako becomes even scarier. After activating Tousoushin (which I believe roughly translates as ‘fighting spirit’ – very appropriate), Hiskao can perform any version of Vengeance while her Instinct meter is active, allowing Hisako to catch counter both low and high attacks with either move. It’s terrifying to go up against, and a perfect opportunity for a Hisako player to both apply pressure and really mess with her opponent’s head at the same time. Not only that, but Hisako’s Wrath meter also remains full for the duration of her Instinct. Hang on a second, what’s the Wrath meter I hear you say?

Anger Management…Literally

Counter Hit

As the saying goes, Hell hath no fury like a spear-wielding five hundred and nineteen year old dead Japanese woman whose grave has been defiled.

The Wrath meter is another equally important aspect to understanding how to most effectively use Hisako. Displayed onscreen as a green and appropriately naginata-shaped meter directly above her Shadow meter, the Wrath meter is her own unique resource which allows her to perform a variety of nifty tricks and gain special qualities to particular moves in her moveset.

In a nutshell, Wrath gives Hisako the ability to do three main things; she gets special counter hit properties added to her key attacks, the ability to cancel out of a move at anytime using a Wrath Cancel, and her hard knockdown attacks will instead function as openers. These all require different levels of Wrath to pull off and can sound kind of complicated at first, but don’t worry, they’re all pretty straightforward, and we’ll examine each usage below.

With a full Wrath meter, any On Ryo Zan move (both ground and aerial versions), Medium Punch/Kick or Heavy Punch/Kick acts a counter hit. This means that if you and your opponent’s attacks collide, yours will override theirs (providing that you’re not actually hit by their attack) and they’ll be left in hit stun, and ripe for a battering.

Air On Ryo Zan

Death from above – or should that be ‘undeath’ from above? Hmm…

First up, let’s look at how Wrath works with aerial On Ryo Zan and her last special move, Influence. The change to Aerial On Ryo Zan is pretty straightforward – performing the move with a full Wrath meter now means that the attack will recapture your opponent and continue to combo them on the ground, as opposed to the usual single-hit knockdown.

Influence

Hisako’s idea of fun naginata-based pranks have yet to go down well with the rest of the Killer Instinct crew.

This is also the case for Influence. Influence (Quarter-circle Back + Punch) is another brutal special move in Hisako’s moveset which sees her grab her opponent, plant her naginata in the ground before shoving them on top of it. Yes, it’s every bit as horrible and gruesome as it sounds. Like Possession, Influence typically works as a command throw at very close range, but with full Wrath, the move also acts as an opener which you can then combo into. When used in mid-combo, the Light Punch and Medium Punch varieties act as combo linkers, while the Hard Punch version serves as Hisako’s Hard Knockdown Ender.

Influence Linker

Not content with just being a dab hand with a spear, Hisako is also an expert when it comes to semaphore spear signalling. Do her talents know no end?

The Shadow version of Influence always acts as a hard knockdown move, but one that has quite a considerable range to it. Used outside of a combo, Hisako will do another of those creepy crawls across the screen before initiating the grab, making it another option to get in close.

Finally, when you’ve got at least half of the Wrath meter filled, Hisako can perform a Wrath Cancel. This basically means that at any point during a normal or non-shadow special move, you can instantly switch to Vengeance. This is incredibly useful, as it means that if you completely miss an attack, you can instantly punish your opponent’s riposte by suddenly using Vengeance. A lot of Hisako’s moves are generally unsafe on block, which is why the ability to Wrath cancel into Vengeance is incredibly useful; If one of your attacks is blocked by your opponent, you can instantly protect yourself with Vengeance (providing you pick the right version if you’re not in Instinct of course) and you’ll get a counter when they try and hit you in what would have been your recovery frames.

The Wrath meter does deplete whenever Hisako performs special attacks, Medium Punch/Kick and Heavy Punch/Kick, but the good news is that Hisako will automatically regenerate Wrath as long as she isn’t currently dashing, attacking or being attacked herself. This means that you don’t have to worry about manually refilling the meter yourself; Hisako can jump, walk or just stand still and your Wrath will fill up again – it doesn’t take long to fill up either, but as Killer Instinct is such a lightning fast game, finding space to recover can sometimes be quite challenging.

Fright Trap

Scream

A picture’s worth a thousand words. Or, in this case, just one really, really long one: “ARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRGH!”

When learning Hisako, it’s best to think of her as a walking counter-breaker. A living (well, she’s technically undead I think) breathing (hmm, not too sure on that one either) combo trap who will constantly keep your opponent guessing. A good Hisako player wants to keep their opponent constantly on edge and totally scramble their tactics and mind games into a petrified mush. Just like in Dune, “Fear is the mind-killer” is also a very appropriate adage for Killer Instinct – once you’ve broken your opponent’s mind, it won’t be long before their body follows.

Playing as Hisako, you want your pugilist interlocutor to feel that it doesn’t matter whether they attack you or hang back, you’ll always be able to swiftly punish them regardless of their actions. You need to make your opponent flinch and hesitate at every possible opportunity, but also recognise moments where you can use their hesitancy to rush in and start slashing, stabbing and inhaling/bone breaking.

It’s easy to forget about Hisako’s Wall Jump in and amongst all tricks and extra mind games you have to mentally juggle whilst playing as Hisako, but it’s an incredibly useful tool to both close distances and make hasty retreats across the screen. I personally like to use it after knocking an opponent down in a corner; by the time they’ve usually recovered, you’re already about half a screen away, which gives you a brief moment to regain Wrath before scuttling back towards them again. The Wall Jumps are also great for mix-up attacks, allowing you to vault over your opponent and force them to guess which side you’re going to attack from.

With no projectiles of her own, Hisako can sometimes be at the mercy of long-distance projectile characters like Jago, Glacius and Kan-Ra. Her Crawl move will get her about the map, but with its long start-up and recovery animations it’s incredibly easy to anticipate and punish, and full-screen zoners will likely be expecting you to use Descent to get in behind them. Try alternating between the fast forward dash crawls, Descent and Shadow Influence as methods to keep your opponent guessing as to your way of approach. Just be aware that Vengeance won’t work on projectiles or throw attacks, so be aware when fighting both at range with projectile zoners or extremely close up with grapplers.

From my own experience, Hisako can really punish Aganos. Due to his slow, well-telegraphed moves, an observant Hisako player can quite easily counter his slow ponderous pummellings and chip away at his precious armour from afar using long-range swipes. Beware however; smart Aganos players are well aware of how slow his moves are, and may try to bluff you into a counter breaker of their own if you’re not careful. With some careful planning and observation though, Hisako can turn the tables on even the heaviest hitters in the game, and neatly counter his crushing blows with relative ease.

Anyway, that’s about the extent of my basic Hisako advice; again, I know it’s all just pretty basic stuff that I’ve covered in this guide, but hopefully it’s helped you get a little bit more familiar with Killer Instinct‘s ghostly grandmaster. The hot-headed Cinder is already out and burning up the competition online, so again expect another guide for him shortly. Until then, have fun spooking people with Hisako, and in the words of Crimewatch‘s Nick Ross, “Don’t have nightmares.”

Teeth

Killer Instinct Season 2: Aganos Beginner’s Guide

Aganos
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Can You Smell What The Rock Is Cooking?

You know what they say about a rolling stone gathering no moss. Well, the same can’t really be said for Aganos, Killer Instinct‘s sixth Season 2 character who released back in February of this year. But don’t worry, that’s definitely a good thing. The fabled ‘Broccoli Man’, as he was known prior to his official textual reveal on the Ultra Combo forums, Aganos is an absolutel monster of a character, and my personal favourite so far of the new cast designed by Iron Galaxy.

Aganos quite literally is a walking paradox – he’s a giant moss-covered rolling stone. A massive ancient war golem who’s been slowly eroding away over eons, Aganos’ form has assimilated various mosses, rocks leaves and tree roots which have integrated themselves as replacement parts of his original frame, giving him an interesting blend of organic and the arcane.

Aganos Vs. Kan-Ra

Get ready for the fight of the century…hmm, on second thought, better make that centuries.

Granted freedom and intelligence by his Babylonian King master – the very same one who banished Kan-Ra for his treachery – he is eventually tasked by the dying King to hunt down and kill Kan-Ra for good, after it transpires that the rotting sorcerer is still very much alive and kicking sand in people’s faces. How rude. Aganos has been relentlessly tracking his quarry for centuries across land and sea and will no doubt face off against everybody’s favourite neighbourhood mummy in the Season 2 Arcade mode, in what’s set to be an epic clash of giant boulder fists and mouldy bandages – place your bets now!

Forgotten Grotto

Forgotten Grotto is easily one of the most beautiful stages in the game. Great job Iron Galaxy’s art team!

Once again, Mick Gordon has written a fantastic chugging metal theme for Aganos’ stage, the Forgotten Grotto – a beautiful sunlit-dappled cave, surrounded by ancient Grecian ruins as well as Aganos’ extended golem family who slowly materialise out of the waves as the fight progresses. Speaking of which, the Forgotten Grotto also has a Stage Ultra – standing on the circular dais and performing your character’s specific input sees your opponent get shunted across the stage before being slowly turned to stone by one of said background golems and crumbling into dust on the wind. It’s awesome, cool and also one of the most elegant ways in the game to finish an intense fight.

So, how does one go about Hulk-smashing the competition as the mighty Aganos then? Well, I might just be able to help you out a bit with that question, but again, like I’ve mentioned in my previous Killer Instinct character guides, I’m no expert at the game. I love Killer Instinct and I have a great passion for it, but I’m certainly no pro player; I can’t provide you with in-depth frame-by-frame analysis of moves, nor do I have an impressive win/loss ratio to boast about.

Hopefully though, after spending a fair bit of time getting to grips with this golem, I can pass on a few hefty stone chunks of useful information and advice that I’ve picked up along the way which might just give a beginner Aganos player the edge required to lay the stone cold smackdown on their opponents. With that disclaimer out of the way, it’s time to pick up your controller and prepare to get your Aganos training wheels well and truly rocked off.

Get Your Rocks Off

Open Hand

Aganos, the gentle giant…actually no, he’s a rather violent chap when you get to know him.

Okay, let’s start with the obvious; Aganos is massive. Absolutely massive. Easily surpassing Glacius as the tallest member of the cast, the game’s camera actually has to zoom out in order to get Aganos’ full height displayed onscreen.

He has a very slow movement speed (not the slowest of the cast, but it’s close), and can’t exactly get around the screen at much of a pace. Placed amongst a cast containing a lightning-fast ninja, a scurrying werewolf, a teleporting terminator and other such speedy pugilists, surely a slow moving fighter would be a sitting (albeit large) duck; a sitting target reduced to rubble in no time at all right?

Wrong. What Aganos lacks in speed, he more than makes up for in raw bone-crushing power. With his immense size and stature, Aganos is an extremely hard-hitter; Most of his normal and special attacks are fairly slow, but they pack a serious punch when they land, not to mention a considerable range.

Slap

Don’t ever backchat a golem…ever! They have the upper hand (literally) when it comes to SMACK talk.

To pick out just a couple of my favourite Aganos normals, Medium Punch is probably his fastest and longest reaching normal attack, and a good combo opener/poking tool. Heavy Punch and Heavy Kick are also both great poking tools which are great for creating space between you and your opponent, but they aren’t going to be particularly useful as combo openers unless you’ve got your prey trapped in a corner. Flick, executed with Light Punch is an extremely useful normal to use up close, but it also functions as an incredible anti-air (Back + Light Punch), low hitting attack (Down + Light Punch) and it can even be used to destroy incoming projectiles – trust me, it both looks and feels incredibly satisfying. Finally, Forward + Heavy Kick is a useful command normal which makes Aganos perform a heavy forwards stomp; what’s nice though is that the move can be repeated continually as a combo to allow you to steadily trample across the level. It’s cool, but just try not to overuse it as it’s rather easy for your opponent to recognise and break.

He also comes with his own unique resource – Payload Chunks (AKA common or garden rocks). Aganos can manually add chunks to his central core using Fortify Chunk (Back + Heavy Punch); each chunk that’s picked up adds one slot to his four-slot chunk meter (located directly above his Shadow Meter), and also further reduces his movement speed with each successive chunk. Understanding how the chunk meter functions in relation to Aganos’ moveset is a fundamental part of mastering this mossy monolith.

Armoured Core

Rock Smash

Now you see it – now that rock is hurtling towards your oh-so delicate face.

The Payload Chunks have three main uses in Aganos’ arsenal; they can be used as armour, projectiles or walls.

Let’s go over the chunks’ most basic function first. If you’re carrying Payload Chunks, then each one in the chunk meter will absorb one hit from your enemy’s attack. Remember earlier when I said Aganos’ attacks tend to have quite a slow start-up? Well, with armour, you can essentially keep punching through an enemy’s attack and you won’t take damage – pretty neat huh? Each hit absorbed will use up one chunk of your meter, so you can’t indefinitely absorb every attack hurled your way. Being aware of how many hits you can currently absorb before needing to drop and back bulk up again is very important.

Rock Lobster

Payload Assault

Chocks away! Or should that be rocks away? Either way, it’s definitely ouch!

Aside from providing Aganos with armour, Payload Chunks can also be used as rocky projectiles. Quarter-circle Forward + Punch performs Aganos’ Payload Assault special move, and the strength of the punch attack used determines the projectile’s properties; Light Punch throws a slow moving low rock, and Medium Punch sends a chunk flying through the air at a medium height and fast speed. The Heavy Punch variety is particularly nasty – Aganos flips a rock directly in front of him before shattering it with a punch; this launches the rock shards at your opponent in a close-range scattershot pattern. Depending on your opponent’s distance, it can hit roughly about twenty times and it really, REALLY hurts. Each use of Payload Assault uses up one chunk, so again you need to keep a close track on your limited ammo supply.

Speaking of chunks and ammo, when used at the end of a combo the Heavy Punch Payload Assault acts as Aganos’ Resource Ender; use this ender often as an invaluable way to restore the chunk meter and keep your armour levels stocked up in battle. Aganos gains one chunk per combo level, so the longer the combo, the more rocks you’ll earn when dishing out the ender.

That’s not all though – the Shadow Payload Assault is even cooler than the scattershot attack. Aganos Hulk-smashes his fists onto the ground, sending a cascade of rock shards up into the air, only to come hurtling back down again moments later. What’s great about this is that once those shards are in the air, they are coming back down with a vengeance; if you’re opponent doesn’t block, they’re going to be hit with the full force of the rocky downpour and trapped in the air – allowing you to swat them down and keep piling on the punishment.

Be warned however; Shadow Payload Assault has an incredibly long start-up time making it incredibly easy for your opponent to interrupt and cancel. Where possible, it’s best to perform Shadow Payload Assault when you’ve got a good bit of distance between yourself and your opponent to make sure that you’ve got a decent chance of completing the move.

To The Window…To The Wall!

Wall Kick

Kan-Ra, currently caught between a rock and a…well, another rock. Ouch again!

Perhaps most uniquely, Payload Chunks can be used to create walls – yes, walls – Cyclopean Walls to give them their proper name. Aganos can erect large stone walls both behind his opponent and himself in order to tightly hem them in. What’s more terrifying than fighting a giant rock monster? When the monster can block you into a tiny space with no way out, that’s what. These walls can’t be jumped over or teleported around by any character, and they actually have the effect of temporarily re-sizing the stage boundaries for as long as they remain standing. Each wall can take three wall splats before breaking, though they also disappear if Aganos gets knocked down three times.

You can technically have four walls up at once on a stage, though in practice you’ll tend to have just one or two. The main appeal of these walls aside from just controlling the stage boundaries is to set up some great situations in which you can quickly deal out absolutely massive amounts of damage. If you’ve raised a wall behind your opponent when you perform Aganos’ Ruin Ender (Quarter-circle Back + Kick), then they are sent crashing through the wall which adds a massive amount of extra damage (roughly 20% unbreakable damage per wall) on top of your combo. Put up several walls as they advance towards you, send them flying with Ruin, and the total damage can stack to ridiculously high levels.

Going Clubbing

Peacemaker

A combination of glowing red eyes and a giant stone bat means STAY AWAY!

Whilst we’re going over the Cyclopean Walls (well, figuratively at least), now’s a good time to bring up Aganos’ Instinct mode – Peacetime. Don’t be fooled by the name; Aganos is far from peaceful when his instinct is active, as it’s actually named after the giant stone club he wields whilst the mode is active. Channelling a familiar Eyedol vibe (popular fan theories prior to Aganos’ release assumed he was indeed an incarnation of the dreaded boss character due to the trademark club and dual heads, but hey, I digress), Aganos gains a few more important combat options with club in hand. The Peacemaker can be swung in a variety of separate patterns using the three punch attacks, or chained together in sequence for a tasty (and painful) Paralyze combo (Light Punch – Medium Punch – Heavy Punch).

Additionally, if more projectiles are what you need, then the Peacemaker also can be thrown at your enemies (Quarter-circle Forward + Punch). The Peacemaker club will continually regenerate whilst Instinct is active, so you can hurl them with reckless abandon for a temporary time if you so wish. Outside of Instinct, Aganos can uproot a wall behind him (Back + All Punches) to use it as a single-use Peacemaker – like the walls, each Peacemaker can deal out three separate hits before finally breaking.

The Peacemaker is most effective at long range, but if you do end up being close enough to grab your opponent with your trusty bat in hand, then you perform Domination (Light Punch + Light Kick with Peacemaker) – Aganos smacks your opponent with the Peacemaker like a baseball bat, sending them soaring across the screen as a wall crash move. Ouch, indeed.

Pulverise

Aganos can spin his arms around in a complete 360 with Pulverise. Just like an owl…sort of.

Rounding out the rest of Aganos’ special moves are Pulverize and Natural Disaster, which are very useful combo openers as well as his main combo linkers. Pulverise (Quarter-circle Back + Punch) is a spinning lariat move which operates as a great linker, while the Heavy Punch version works as Aganos’ Hard Knockdown Ender.

Natural Disaster

(To the tune of ‘Paint It Black’) “I see a mummy and I want it to be squashed flat…”

Natural Disaster (Quarter-circle Forward + Kick) makes Aganos curl into a ball and roll along the ground into his opponent, the Heavy Kick version of the move acting as the giant golem’s Exchange Ender in a combo. Pressing Up while Aganos is in mid-roll causes him to jump up off the ground in his ball form, causing the attack to hit as an overhead – this is a great way of keeping your opponent on edge and not knowing exactly where the move is going to hit. Just beware that the move is pretty unsafe if blocked, as it has a substantial recovery animation. The Shadow Natural Disaster can also be temporarily charged by holding down your kick button input, which can be a nice way of feinting the moment of impact and catching your opponent off guard.

Play That Chunky Music Stone Boy

Heavy Punch

Pinch, punch, first concussion of the month.

From my experience, the most crucial thing you have to keep your eye on when playing as Aganos is your armour level. Your success absolutely hinges on how you keep the chunk meter filled in between bouts of fighting. In some ways, you want to be playing Aganos in a similar fashion to the way Fulgore used to originally work in Season 1. What I mean by this is that just like how you’d previously need to pick moments in-between all the furious onscreen fisticuffs to manually charge Fulgore’s Reactor, you want to use any brief window you can to bulk up with rocks as you fight as Aganos, as well as frequently make use of the Resource Ender. Even though he’s a god-like goliath, you don’t want to rush in to battle without a plan as Aganos and hope to wreck shop. His beefy power comes at the cost of his slow movement speed and move telegraphs and lengthy start-up and recovery animations to some of his moves. Success with Aganos comes from knowing when to roll in and play aggressively and when to back off, zone with projectiles and create space.

Run out of rocks, and you’ll soon be struggling, as your zippier opponents will be able to quickly interrupt your attack animations and chisel away at your health. It can only take one little mistake, or one fluffed move to find yourself stripped of armour and taking a pounding. Once you’ve lost armour, you really need to try and get some space between you and your opponent and armour up again, perhaps most easily achieved by using Ruin to launch your attacker across the screen, or a combination of Heavy Punch and Heavy Kick.

Scattershot

In this version of David and Goliath, it’s actually Goliath that’s slinging stones through the air – looks like you’ll have to think of a new tactic mummy David.

A good Aganos player will be constantly looking for opportunities to trap their opponent. As speed isn’t his forte, you need to keep the pressure on as Aganos by getting walls up behind your attacker and not allowing them to retreat across the screen, particularly if they are a long-range zoner like Glacius or Kan-Ra. The walls are an essential part of Aganos’ arsenal, but bear in mind that if you place them unwisely, they can actually have the reverse effect of essentially trapping you instead. I’ve found that the fast rushdown characters like Riptor and Sabrewulf can be a real problem for Aganos up-close, so bear in mind that if you end up trapping a close range specialist opponent between your walls and you’re completely out of armour, you’re essentially making their job of racing in to maul you even easier.

Additionally, Hisako (long overdue guide for her coming up shortly) can also be a source of particularly painful nightmares for Aganos, as his slow move telegraphs are easy to counter by smart Hisako players, so try and mix in plenty of projectile attacks to force her to teleport, or keep her at bay with Ruin if she tries leaping in for a combo. Ideally you want to get Hisako players worked up and frustrated, in order that they stop countering you and go on the offensive – at which point you can just steamroller through them like a hot stone knife through evanescent butter.

Don’t feel that you’ve got to have everything in play at once as Aganos. Your projectiles, walls and armour all cost chunks to use, so make sure to pick the right tool for your current situation. Use projectiles when your opponent is retreating or attempting to zone you with their own ranged attacks, and go for walls when they’re closing in to make them anxiously aware that they might be sent crashing painfully back through them a few seconds later. Don’t forget to save a few chunks for armour though, otherwise you’re asking for a beating if you mess up.

Fly Swatting

Fly swatting, the Aganos way.

Like with other heavy hitting characters such as Thunder, Aganos only needs to get a couple of decent combos in each round to wipe the floor with your opponent. Yes, you still have to work to create opportunities in your match-ups and keep track of the crazy mind Killer Instinct mind games as per usual, but a couple of short but well-planned combos are all it usually takes to destroy your opponent as Aganos. So, just remember, if you’re out of rocks and taking a lot of punishment, don’t get too phased out; you only need to land a few brutal combos, or smash them through a few walls in order to turn the fight back around in your favour. Due to his large size, it can be hard to defend against sneaky aerial crossups (yes, I’m looking at you Sadira), so don’t forget to use Flick to swat down opponents trying to get up in your multiple stony faces.

Flower

Planting flowers on his enemies’ graves; a true gentle(rock)man.

Anyway, that’s pretty much all the amateur level tips I have on playing as Aganos. He’s an incredibly fun behemoth of a bruiser to get to grips with, and like I said before, easily my favourite character of the Season 2 cast. Keep up the great work Iron Galaxy! Hisako is up next, another awesome (albeit terrifying) brand new fighter to the series, who’s particularly good at giving her opponents a real nightmare of a time in battle. Until next time, keep those green fingers of yours locked on your controllers and fightsticks and don’t forget to rock the chunk out!