Since the dawn of the genre, fighting video games have been defined by more than just winners and losers. Fighting games are characterized by the pursuit of fantastic battles in which skilled players can show off their talent through specific moves, achieving the impossible by looking for the right situations in the game. Nothing encapsulates the drama of fighting games better than the “Daigo Parry.”
Also known as Evo Moment 37, the move known as the “Daigo Parry” surfaced at the Evolution Championship Series in 2004, a fighting game tournament that took place over 17 years ago at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. At this tournament, two players, Japanese champion Daigo Umehara and American prodigy Justin Wong, faced off, playing the game “Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike.”
Umehara’s namesake move, the “Daigo Parry” was an impressive stunt that ignited fighting game fans around the globe. Umehara did not win the tournament in the traditional sense of placing first; he won the tournament by showing off his skills in a dramatic comeback. Without these epic sequences, the fighting game genre is reduced to mere technical optimization. The beauty of the fighting game is found in moments like these: moments of dynamism between players. The “Daigo Parry” inspired a generation of players to chase the shock and awe that Umehara and Wong showed possible in fighting games, fundamentally altering the lens through which they are played.
“Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike” is a two-dimensional fighting game made in 1999. Two players each select a character from a unique roster and fight head to head. Each player has a set amount of vitality, or health, which they lose in portions each time they are hit. When a player’s vitality runs out, they lose the match. Players also slowly gain meter, which allows them to perform special, powerful moves in combat.
After trading blows in the first match, the players were tied 1-1 going into a third match. Umehara ended up on his avatar’s back foot, meaning that any hit, however small, would lose him the match. To make matters worse, Wong had saved up meter throughout the match, which would allow him to execute one of his avatar Chun-Li’s devastatingly powerful moves called the “Houyoku-Sen Super Art,” which instantly hits the opponent once and then unleashes several volleys of kicks for a total of 15 hits.
Rather than give up, Umehara recognized that in order to have any chance at victory, he would have to pull off something absurd. In “Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike,” the player can block attacks, reducing the damage they deal greatly. Unfortunately for Umehara, his single pixel of vitality would not sustain a single block, let alone the 15 blocks required to avoid the “Houyoku-Sen.”
However, Umehara had another very risky option. By moving toward his opponent, Umehara would be able to perform a parry that, if timed perfectly within one-tenth of a second, would allow him to nullify all damage taken by the hit. If Umehara did not initiate a parry within that window before Wong used the move, the attack would connect and Umehara would be out of the tournament. Umehara landed his parry at cinematic levels of fragility, correctly predicting Wong’s move. After parrying a long string of volleys from Wong, Umehara gained enough meter of his own to defeat his opponent.
In this moment, Umehara proved both his technical and intellectual superiority over his opponent by parrying 15 hits in a row and by predicting the “Super Art” before it was used. Had Umehara won the match without performing the parry, he would not have demonstrated such skill. More than anything, Umehara proved that he was willing to participate in a performance of fantastic proportions.
Had Umehara played the earlier parts of the match better, perhaps he would have been able to take the set over Wong without resorting to a nearly impossible feat. However, at the same time, had Umehara simply won the match, he would be remembered only as a good player, not a great player. To be good at a fighting game means winning matches against strong opponents. To be great at a fighting game is to turn every match into a performance of style, grace and skill that will inspire others.