Editor’s note: Make sure to also check my article about Zato’s system mechanics and how to approach them: https://drunkardshade.com/2015/07/10/xrd-notes-04-how-to-zato/
Author/Twitter handle: @prkista
Character Discord Server: https://discord.gg/0o3wPdUINR4kewtO
Day 1 Combo
Day 1 Blockstring
Zato’s main goal is to control the flow of the game utilizing his puppet named Eddie. This puppet is essentially another character – granting Zato an additional anti-air, more combo potential and even letting Zato perform strong mixups.
1. Neutral: Pokes, Space control, far range converting
Zato’s own neutral is so-so. He has just enough tools to get by in neutral, but he requires utilization of Eddie to be really scary. Common tools in neutral are:
- 2S – Very long poke with a relatively fast startup. Can be canceled into drill, which combos on counter hit and grants Zato a knockdown.
- 2P/2K – Shorter pokes, commonly used against fast characters. Many gatling options letting Zato have potential pressure.
- 2H – Zato performs a very large uppercut covering a lot of space. Usually OS’d with YRC for safety. Great reward on CH (knockdown or combo).
- j.D – Zato throws an axe out of his chest, covering a lot of space. Very strong air-to-air when done low to the ground.
- Invite hell (22S/H) – A ground drill with two different variations – close and far. Causes knockdown on the ground and is active for a very long time, controlling a big portion of the ground. Be aware that in Rev2 it’s no longer +frames on block.
Altogether, solo Zato’s main goal is to put pressure on his opponent using his far pokes and his drills – so that he either knocks his opponent down and safely summons Eddie or finds a spot in neutral to summon Eddie safely. Eddie then provides Zato with many new moves, all of them great in neutral.
- -P- – A fast jab with a great hitbox. Helps Zato’s ground game tremendously and also allows Zato to combo into a drill knockdown on normal hit (2S -P- 22H)
- -K- – A rotating buzzsaw moving forward. While mostly used during pressure, it is still a viable move due to the fact that Zato can throw it out and run behind it – essentially having armor (as Eddie can take hits)
- -S- – Eddie transforms into a shark covering a big portion of vertical space. Commonly used as an anti-air which allows a conversion on hit (depending on height and normal/counter hit, Zato can usually get at least a raw air combo)
An important aspect of having Eddie out is that Zato’s own pokes tend to have extended hurtboxes, meaning that while they have great range and great reward in certain situations, if the opponent gets a proper read, they are very easy to punish heavily. Eddie is however able to protect Zato thanks to the fact that he serves not only as armor but also because his own hitboxes are fantastic.
These are Zato’s common tools, however, it should be noted that some of his tools are also very strong but don’t fit the traditional scheme of being pokes – these are mostly related to his mobility and help him be very evasive in neutral. His main evasive tools are:
- Flight – Zato doesn’t have a double jump. Instead, he has an access to flight which allows him to stall time, bait anti-airs or move into better positions, especially in tandem with Eddie – which essentially forces the opponent to deal with moving enemies from both the ground and the air.
- Breaking the law (BTL) – Zato disappears into the ground while the player can still control his movement. However, the longer Zato is in BTL, the bigger recovery there is to the move. This can be mitigated by YRCing the recovery during an early part of BTL – but if the opponent expects it, they can still punish the move heavily.
Zato’s mobility is certainly one of his strongest tools and allows him to position himself pretty much anywhere on the screen while also letting him attack from various angles.
As a last note to Zato’s neutral, Eddie also has a move similar to BTL – -H-, which is a move where he dives into the ground, becomes invincible and travels a long distance forward. With this move, Eddie can be moved forward safely under various pokes. When used in tandem with Invite Hell and -P-, it can be very difficult for the opponent to deal with Zato’s ground game.
2. Offense: Pressure, close range converting, mixups and okizeme
Just like in neutral, Zato’s offensive potential heavily relies on whether he has access to Eddie or not. Without Eddie, most of Zato’s offense consists of doing a short gatling which pushes the opponent far away. However, even without Eddie, Zato has access to viable mixup between his excellent frame trap button 2K which is +3 on block and his command grab, Damned Fang. However, because Damned Fang is the rewarding option, the opponent is very likely going to be expecting it, making this option very risky.
Common gatlings consist mostly of:
- 2P 2K f.5S 2S
- (5P) 2P 2D
- 2S 5H
- f.5S 5H
- 2K f.5S(1) 5H
5H is a button which is hard to land in these gatlings as the opponent usually needs to be close and crouching, however, if it is possible to land 5H then the route should certainly be utilized, as the reward is incredible.
If possible, it’s ideal to combo either into a drill or into 2D so that Zato gets a knockdown – knockdowns are absolutely vital with Zato as they let him safely summon Eddie and perform his absolutely amazing pressure.
If Eddie can’t be summoned after a knockdown, it is usually prefered to perform a meaty drill, which provides Zato with massive frame advantage while maintaining a good distance. Afterwards, Zato can go for his own mixup with a command grab or his own gatling – the latter is usually prefered, just in order to stall for time and recover more Eddie gauge. Stalling time is something Zato does well as his gatlings take a long time and at some points he can even reset them (e.g. by doing 2K, 2K f.5S 2S 22H …).
When Zato forces the opponent to block with Eddie out, the common formula is:
- -K- j.K dj.SH …
- -K- j.K 2K …
- -K- j.K (-P-) Damned Fang …
Or other variations which let Zato alternate between low/high/throw mixups. On block, this can be done again. On hit, Zato can convert either into 2D and unsummon to quickly regain Eddie gauge or go for -S- and deal high damage. In the corner, Zato can even combo into side dust thanks to the insane amount of hitstun provided by -K- – the combo then letting Zato either unsummon and fully refill Eddie gauge or perform an unblockable dealing high damage.
Zato and Eddie together can perform other strong mixups, such as
- 2K -P- dash 2K -P- dash 2K -P- … Damned Fang
Which can be done both midscreen as well as in the corner. This mixup can be especially scary due to the fact that Damned Fang can lead into an unblockable – and if the opponent gets opened up by 2K -P- instead, Zato can combo into side dust (5D->6) in the corner and go either for an unsummon or for the unblockable again, making both options very rewarding.
Another possibility which Eddie can do is to move behind the opponent and attack them from behind – bouncing them straight back to Zato. Sandwiching the opponent like this can be very strong especially when utilizing the 2K -P-/Damned Fang mixups as Zato does not need to dash between the repetitions – Eddie bounces the opponent straight back to him.
Last thing to note is that due to Eddie acting as a sort of armor for Zato, it is possible to perform meaty pressure which is safe versus reversals. Doing this may depend on the specific reversal but the common way is to simply throw out a meaty -K- and then slightly delay a 6P while the opponent is rising. That way, the first hit of their reversal will hit Eddie and if they did a multi-hitting dragon punch, they will go through the upper body invincibility of Zato’s 6P, making it easy to punish them afterwards.
3. Defense: Anti-airs, fending off pressure, and reversals
Zato has access to great pokes for controlling the ground – however when it comes to controlling the air, all his moves are more specialized, often dealing with only certain angles/approaches.
- 6P is an anti-air with very long startup but retaining upper body invincibility for a long period of time, making it a solid anti-air against airdashes.
- 2H is a big uppercut covering more vertical approaches. However, it does have a weakness in the form of an extended hurtbox. On the other hand, the reward on counter hit is incredible – either granting Zato a corner carrying knockdown or a combo followup. (e.g. 2H CH 22H IAD jHD)
- j.K/j.D are viable air-to-airs, with j.D being a good button when done low to the ground and j.K being good when it comes to contesting other aerial moves in the air.
- -S- is the best move that Zato has access to for space control – not only does it cover an insane amount of space, it is also essentially risk-free as it is Eddie’s move.
While Zato is pretty strong in neutral and in his own offense, he is extremely limited once he’s knocked down. He has a 5-frame jab but it hits really high which is often a problem. His only reversal is a super which doesn’t hit straight in front of him and his dead angle is also very easy to low profile. With Zato, it is important to have good defense and learn the points in opponent’s pressure for contesting or jumping out. However, due to the sheer amount of tools Zato has for mobility, it should be difficult for the opponent to catch him.
4. Meter Usage Priorities
Fortunately, Zato has pretty good meter gain – especially once he knocks the opponent down. This fact lets Zato use his meter in a multitude of ways, as he sees fit. Common ways how meter is used:
- Faultless defense is strong for Zato as it provides him with more breathing room.
- 2S RRC is incredible, since Zato can either follow up with a drill or run-up 2D for a knockdown. Thanks to this, Zato can perform knockdowns off of random pokes – the combo damage might be low but the mixups afterwards are strong enough to justify the importance of a knockdown.
- Drill RRC (block) is also a very valid tool. Zato is great at stalling time and doing long blockstrings. When ending a blockstring with drill RRC, it is possible to follow up with a puddle summon -S- which leads to safe Eddie pressure. In case they stop blocking after the drill and get hit by it, Zato can also get a great conversion with runup > summon > -S- > air combo.
- Shadow Gallery RRC is utilized in the corner after unblockable for a wall splat. This combo route lets Zato get a knockdown after doing an unblockable – and not only that, it also fully refills Eddie gauge, letting Zato keep the opponent in the mixups.
- YRC OS is another tool which Zato uses absolutely wonderfully. Due to the fact that Zato’s own pokes have extended hurtboxes, a preemptive YRC can make him safe or make it possible to punish overextending players. This is commonly used with 2S and 2H.
- Zato’s Dead Angle is one of the worst but it has massive reward on CH – forcing a long knockdown. While easy to low profile, the opponent should always be forced to play around the threat.
Zato’s supers are both viable as combo tools but are nothing special – especially compared to the great reward which RCs provide him – both in combos as well as in blockstrings. However, Executor (air super) forces a corner carry knockdown. This can make it a strong tool if Eddie is summoned afterwards.