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…
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!
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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 (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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”