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At the start of the round Zappa's main goal is to successfully use 236P to summon. There are three main ways to do this: you can either combo into it, use it as a counterpoke, or create a situation where you can summon it at neutral without being punished. With this in mind, at round start your goal should be to aim for one of these three things. Some good strategies are:
- Backdash: Zappa's amazing backdash is only 11 total frames, 10 of which are invincible. This is a great tool at round start to put some space between you and the opponent. If they also back up on round start or whiff something with significant recovery it may even buy you enough time to summon immediately afterwards. You can also follow up a roundstart backdash with any of the other options listed here.
- Backdash x2: If you are fighting an opponent with limited mobility backdashing twice or even three times may be enough to guarantee you a free summon at neutral. It also gives you some space to plan out how you want to attack, just be careful not to get yourself cornered.
- 236P: If you predict that the opponent will throw out a normal at round start an immediate 236P can be a good way to start the round off strongly with a summon and hard knockdown. Be very careful though as if you are too predictable you can be punished easily on block or whiff.
- Dash 236P: This is an even riskier start but will beat an opponent jumping forward immediately, backdashing (character dependent), or immediately throwing out a normal.
- 6P/5K/2S: These are some of your better normals to throw out immediately at round start but which one to use is very dependent on the matchup and your read on the opponent. 6P ducks under high hitboxes, 5K floats over low hitboxes, and 2S is good at stuffing opponents running forward or using moves such as Fuujin or Horizontal Dolphin. All three will allow you to follow up with 236P on counterhit.
- Airthrow: Although Zappa generally doesn't want to be in the air, oftentimes the opponent will jump forward to try to take advantage of his lack of anti-airs and punish summon attempts. This can be countered in turn by Zappa if he jumps at round start just after the opponent to attempt an airthrow, which if successful leads to a free summon.
Zappa has two ways of obtaining a ghost. One is the aforementioned 236P special, which gives you one of three summons starting slightly after the active frames end. Which summon Zappa produces is partially based on the second digit of the round timer, if the timer ends in the following digits you will get a particular summon:
- 0 - Sword
- 1 - Dog
- 2 - Triplets
If the second digit of the timer shows any other number the summon will be randomly chosen from the three. Additionally, if Zappa has 8 orbs he will always summon Raou regardless of what the timer shows.
The other way for Zappa to get a summon is to be put in hitstun due to an opponent's attack. Upon leaving hitstun Zappa has a 1/8 chance of getting each individual summon (not effected by the timer), meaning that there is overall a 3/8 chance for him to get one. This is true even when he already has a summon, and you can end up rerolling the same summon you already had sometimes. One quirk of this to keep in mind is that bursting and being stunned do not count as hitstun, and Zappa is able to get dog and protect himself from burst punishes and IK attempts if he gets lucky enough. Keep in mind that Raou is never summoned through being hit, you must use 236P with 8 orbs to summon him.
One consequence of these random summons is that you don't know what summon you will have upon waking up if you are knocked down. This means that using 236P on wakeup is a gamble as there is only a 5/8 chance of it coming out (and a 1/8 chance of getting P triplet toss which leaves you extremely vulnerable and in CH state). Due to this it is often a good idea to backdash or block initially when waking up and then react to whatever state you're in, but gambling with wakeup 236P can be useful at times to encourage the opponent to respect your wakeup.
Just like at round start should you ever find yourself summonless mid match your immediate goal will be to secure a safe summon. Once again your main choices are either to succeed at summoning in neutral or land a confirm/counterpoke into summon connecting. There are a few main strategies to accomplish these goals:
Strategies for summoning at neutral
- Wait for an opponent to whiff a move: The total duration of summon is only 33 frames, fast enough that you can often get away with it if the opponent is attempting to read you by throwing out pokes from a distance.
- Backdash: Once again backdash is a great option for creating space between yourself and the opponent which may buy you the time for a quick summon.
- Run Under: If the opponent tries to approach you in the air you can often run straight under them with your low profile dash, giving yourself enough time to summon.
- Force the opponent to hesitate: Be on guard for the opponent to slow down their aggression trying to avoid your pokes/counterpokes, if you see that they are hesitating you may get away with an otherwise risky 236P.
Strategies for landing a summon offensively
- Run forward 2P/2K: This is your standard way to start a string on the opponent. Since your dash low profiles many far range pokes it forces the opponent to take more risky countermeasures which opens them up for other approach options.
- Run forward 236P: Since summon has a quite large chunk of invincibility and retains some of your dash momentum it can be a great counterpoke to opponents trying to stuff you when you run at them.
- f.S: f.S is a great poke to throw out in neutral when there's some space between you and the opponent. Should the opponent get hit by the secondary hitbox (the puddle on the ground) they will be knocked down which allows you to OTG them with a dash 236P. Even should they block this secondary hitbox that may give you the space and frame advantage necessary to cancel it into a summon without being punished.
- 5K/6P counterpoking: similar to at round start these normals can be used to poke while avoiding the hitbox of the opponent's attack. Both moves result in a KD on ground counterhit allowing you to otg afterwards with dash 236P.
- 214D: This forcebreak is a great option should they block your initial 2P/2K, do it after gatling to c.S for a frame trap and surprise overhead that nets you 2 orbs and a followup otg 236P should it hit. It's even +3 on block so you can continue pressure or retreat in the event that they block it.
- Throw: Should you land a throw you can either summon immediately or dash to them and OTGThe act of hitting the opponent when they are knocked down. Short for "off the ground" or "on the ground." 236P depending on how close to you they land.
- Airthrow: Landing an airthrow usually guarantees you an OTG summon afterwards with the right timing.
Zappa's infamous sword gives you access to fully disjointed normals that can reach about 3/4ths screen and allows you to mix people up with unreactable high/low mixups. Your main goal with this summon is to lock the opponent down on the ground and try to get a knockdown, which gives you the opportunity to do a mixup as they wake up. Be careful when using the sword not to let them get past it however, as Zappa has limited options to retrieve the sword quickly and many sword normals have very long animations that are punishable on whiff. It might be tempting to always stay at 3/4 screen range with this summon but you actually get better mixups and pressure if you are closer due to Zappa's sword exclusive 6P 2K 6P gatling string (as well as strings such as 5P cS 6P) that allows you to chain multiple jump cancellable moves that lead into 50/50s in a row. Additionally, if you are too far away it becomes difficult to reset your pressure should the opponent block even by using an frc. Due to these factors be sure to balance the added reward of closing in on the opponent with the additional risk when deciding how to play.
One important thing to watch out for is the opponent's IADAn air dash performed from a standing position as quickly and as low to the ground as possible from a jump. Done by inputting 956 754, and depending on the game, using a dash macro right after a jump.. As previously mentioned, Sword's major weaknesses are big frame commitments on normals, as well as difficulty dealing with opponents inbetween Zappa and the sword. Because of this, and its ability to go over grounded sword normals, IAD is a tempting and rewarding option for an opponent locked down with the sword. However, Zappa has good options to deal with IAD against many characters due to his low profile forward dash and the strength of his air throw. For this reason, it is important to not always be attacking with sword, and to leave time to wait and react to your opponent's attempts to escape, especially when you're not at enough frame advantage to be able to catch your opponent's jump with f.S or 2S. This is often combined with forward movement, allowing you to both take space on the screen, and let you react to IAD or other attempts to get away from the sword.
Below is a flowchart that can show you most of the general options you have during sword strings. As mentioned before you can see that most of your mixup opportunities open up only at close range. Keep in mind that the chart does not take into account every single possible gatling.
Dog turns Zappa into a puppet character with insanely strong defense due to its ability to attack while Zappa is blocking. It also allows you to perform nearly limitless blockstrings, actually limitless infinite combos (until the opponent bursts), and has the highest damage potential of the three standard summons. The tradeoff is that moving the dog around the screen is somewhat difficult sometimes as it crosses the screen relatively slowly and dies in one hit. Additionally Zappa loses his ability to finish combos in a knockdown without it nearby. Using dog is generally quite different based on whether you get it off 236P (and can immediately start oki) or in neutral.
If you get the dog after hitting with 236P you generally want to immediately either cross over the opponent as Zappa or have the dog 6D over them in order to start sandwich pressure when they wake up. The strings in sandwich pressure are quite varied but generally you want to do a gatling (such as 2P 2K cS fS) into Dog 5D or 6D then dash forward and do another gatling. 6D is nice as it pushes the dog backwards, allowing you to continue the blockstring for longer, while 5D allows you to chain the next gatling into 2D which gives you an orb, has good GB+, and puts the enemy in a lot of blockstun. You can also throw in 4DD instead of 6D at times in order to try to open the opponent up. Other ways to mixup include 5H (generally after a cS, you can use 5D to cover the gap before the move starts up and then confirm/make it safe with a second 5D/6D as the move is ending), 6H, and 214D. 214D is especially effective if you end up with the opponent in a blockstring and the dog is not nearby as it is your quickest overhead and lets you resummon and get a knockdown should it land.
If you get the dog in neutral or after a whiffed 236P you often want to play defensively if you have the life lead and try to let the opponent come to you. Should they approach recklessly the dog can hit them out of their pressure and you can also use the dog to soak up a jump-in and counterhit with Zappa's powerful 2H (which may lead into an instant kill if you're lucky). Smart opponents will often avoid approaching until you do some sort of dog move (as it falls asleep if you do nothing with it for too long), but you can try to do zappa normals to cover the dog as it recovers from its move in case they choose that opportunity to run in. A truly patient player with a life lead or a character with zoning tools may just sit back and wait for you, in which case a good way to approach is to 6D with the dog as you run forward. The dog will soak up whatever attack the opponent does (unless it multihits) and allow you to counterpoke with a zappa normal or with 236P. You can also have the dog do 4D then 6D if you want to get it behind the opponent and set up a sandwich.