How To Choose And Play A "Zoner" Fighter In Guilty Gear Strive

How To Choose And Play A "Zoner" Fighter In Guilty Gear Strive

Originally posted November 3, 2021

Zoners are fighters who excel in mid to long range combat. Their goal is to generally keep out their opponent and chip away at their opponent’s health from a safe distance. Just because they fight in neutral at a long distance does not mean they can not apply pressure from close up. Zoners just generally are stronger at a distance to frustrate opponents trying to approach.

Before I go into the characters, I will explain the notation I use for characters’ moves. I will use numpad notation in which each button's direction will correlate with the numbers on a number pad. I will also use the abbreviations P for Punch, K for Kick, f.S for Far Slash, c.S for Close Slash, D for Dust, and HS for Heavy Slash.

Fighting Game Notation using Numeric values

Axl Low

Axl Low from Guilty Gear Strive

Axl's normals cover a long distance and a variety of angles. 5.P is a quick midrange poke to stop opponents’ jumps and the start up of moves. 2.HS is Axl’s essential ground control move. It has a relatively quick start, has a long reach, and can cancel into specials. It does have a slower recovery so don't throw it out if the opponent loves to jump. 2.S, 6.K, and 6.P are Axl’s go-to anti airs. 2.S is great for covering right above and in front of Axl, it has great combo potential on counter hit and will push the opponent far on block.  6.P is great for up close anti airs. Axl also has great space control with his air buttons. J.S is his main space control option in the air. It has a really good hitbox that covers multiple approaches and is special cancellable. On counter hit, he gets an air dash forward into a conversion. Be careful as it will lose to opponents hitting 6.P. 

Axl’s variety of specials cover many different angles and scenarios that can either lead to knockdown for pressure or make the opponent run the gauntlet again. Sickle Flash is Axl's main special poke. It has many different follow ups to fake out the opponent. You can cancel Sickle Flash into Winter Cherry, an explosion to lock down the opponent fullscreen, or even clip them as they try to move forward. Another follow up is Soaring Chain Strike. This move will catch the opponent in the air and pull them towards Axl. Spinning Chain Strike will pull the opponent in a vacuum effect and clip the opponent running forward, be aware they can jump and punish Axl. Another great special that Axl has is a full screen command grab. It is a very poor close up but fantastic long range. Throw this out if you have meter to cancel it on whiff to remain at advantage. A really safe special on cancel is Rainwater. It launches Axl backward and will leave him at advantage on block. Continuous use will leave you in the corner so being aware of the screen is crucial. Mix these specials up to give your opponent a very bad time.

Axl’s defense is not very good to compensate for his great neutral. His 2.K is his go to defensive button. Somewhat slow it does however low profile certain buttons. He has no reversal other than Sickle Storm, the second hit is safe on block but there is a gap the opponent can jump between the first and second hit. Axl is also very frail, so any hit is deadly.

Ramlethal Valentine

Ramlethal from Guilty Gear Strive

Ram is a fantastic mid-range fighter with very strong buttons to frustrate the opponent. She can also throw swords for advantage or conversions for big damage in the corner. Be advised that when she throws the swords she has to either step over them to retrieve them or wait for her companion to give them back. While she excels in mid-range her corner pressure is probably the best for a mid/long range fighter.

Ram's main way to control space is with her fantastic Slash and Heavy Slash normals. F.S (when she has her sword) checks the opponent moving forward and can gatling into 5.HS to push the opponent out. 5.HS has more reach than f.S so it’s an excellent long range poke. You can cancel 5.HS into sword throw but it's really only advisable on hit when the opponent is near the corner. 2.S is a great defensive normal that can catch dashes and also catch the opponent not blocking low. 6.P can be used as a defensive or offensive tool with its upper body invulnerability. It can cancel into her rekka special move Dauro. Dauro has three follow ups. It's a quick, special move that is unsafe on block but if you have meter it is a great pressure tool. On hit, you can also cancel the follow ups into sword throw for great combo potential. Her sword throw, Bajoneto, is her main combo and pressure tool. Once thrown if the sword lands on the wall there will be a delayed explosion. You can use this for fantastic pressure or combo potential but only in the corner.

Ram generally has weak defense but her reversal super is quick and does great damage. She is very fragile and can not take many hits. One of her greatest weaknesses is her inability to convert to high damage mid screen. She requires the wall for her greatest pressure and damage. This is why chipping away and pushing the opponent back with her fantastic normals is a winning strategy.


Zato-1 and Eddie from Guilty Gear Strive

Zato is not a traditional zoner as he uses Eddie as a puppet to conduct the majority of his attacks. He is very reliant on Eddie to attack the opponent, and Eddie is reliant on a meter that must be recharged. Eddie can also be interacted with and hit which will cause Eddie's meter to fully deplete and Zato will need to wait and recharge. Zato can fight without Eddie with decent special moves, aerial movement, and pokes.

Without Eddie, Zato has a variety of strong pokes at his disposal. You do not deal massive damage unless you have Eddie available but these pokes will keep the opponent at bay until Eddie arrives. f.S and 5.HS are really good pokes but the go to poke will probably be 2.S. 2.S is fast, has decent recovery, and can be cancelled into special moves. 6.P can also be a good way to get the opponent away from Zato with the upper body invulnerability. Invite Hell is Zato's best special that does not rely on Eddie. It is a grounded projectile that has a massive hitbox that can cause much grief to opponents. Especially opponents that cannot traverse the air effectively. Another move not required with Eddie is Zato's command grab. It deals really good damage and has a long animation to help recover Eddie if needed.

When Eddie Zato becomes complete, you can summon and unsummon Eddie at will. Unsummoning Eddie will recharge his gauge much quicker so keep an eye on the meter. Pierce, is an Eddie move that can push the opponent away from Zato or Zato can travel behind Eddie and gain an advantage.  It is a great offensive or defensive tool however there is a gap between the two hits where Eddie is vulnerable. "That's A Lot" is a special that creates drills in front of Eddie. This is a fantastic zoning tool when used in neutral. It also works on your opponent’s wakeup for mix-up options. Leap turns Eddie into a giant frog that jumps in the air. This will cover a lot of vertical and horizontal space that makes approaching Zato very difficult. On a hit, you get massive damage from it. 

Zato's defense on wakeup is very poor and he is very frail. He has no wakeup invulnerability options even with meter. However, in neutral and during his pressure he has an extremely strong option with Oppose. Oppose will turn Eddie into a shield where Zato is free to move about. Use this to bait opponents into jumping or attacking and punish them accordingly. Drunkard Shade is also a strong defensive tool against projectiles since Eddie will knock back any projectile.

Zato's biggest weakness lies in his reliance on Eddie so you must be aware of how much meter each special move takes up. With Eddie equipped Zato is a perfect balance of control and pressure that can oppress the opponent anywhere on the screen.

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Written By

Mia 'Mira' Reshel

Journalist and competitive FGC player