Shulk (シュルク, Shulk) is a playable character in Super Smash Bros. 4. Initially leaked alongside Bowser Jr. and Ganondorf via footage used by the ESRB, Shulk was officially confirmed on August 29th, 2014, the same day that Xenoblade Chronicles 3D was announced. Adam Howden and Shintarō Asanuma reprise their roles as Shulk's voice actors in the English and Japanese versions of SSB4, respectively.
Shulk is currently ranked 38th out of 58 on the SSB4 tier list, placing him in the D tier. Thanks to the Monado, Shulk possesses the longest overall disjointed range of any character in the entire series. As a result, he has one of the most effective movesets for spacing relative to the rest of the cast, which is most evident with his wide-ranged aerials, as well as long-ranged smash attacks that possess respectable overall damage outputs and KO potentials.
The Monado also grants Shulk wide versatility thanks to its Monado Arts, which allow him to adapt his attributes to fit the situation while opening up opportunities that he would not have without them. This includes outstanding recovery with Jump, one of the best approach speeds with Speed, very high survivability with Shield, a very high overall damage output with Buster, and very strong KO potential with Smash. In addition to their general benefits, Jump grants potent edgeguarding and aerial combo potentials, Speed and Buster grant grounded combo potential, and the mobility changes granted by different Monado Arts allow him to mess up enemy combos when activated correctly. Shulk also has one of the most effective counterattacks in Vision, which boasts high range and power along with one of the longest counterattack windows of its kind.
However, Shulk is hindered by very sluggish frame data: almost none of his attacks come out within 5 frames (barring his neutral attack), and while his aerial attacks can be interrupted during their ending frames, all of his aerial attacks have extremely high ending lag and cannot autocancel in any way. This makes him highly prone to punishment and out of shield retaliation, and when combined with his tall stature, makes it difficult for him to avoid juggling.
Shulk also has a very high learning curve due to his Arts giving him new weaknesses, such as different mobility speeds and/or different amounts of knockback to consider. Additionally, the Monado Arts are also involved with his most advanced techniques, such as Monado Art Landing Lag Canceling (MALLC), all which involve the precise activation and cancellation of his Monado Arts.
Due to his demanding techniques, along with his sluggish frame data and inability to autocancel causing him to rely heavily on spacing, Shulk is a rarity in tournaments, with low representation and below average results at high-level play. Despite this, Shulk's playerbase has gradually discovered set-ups and technical combos that are unique to him due to his Monado Arts. Thanks to his metagame expansion, Shulk has achieved more consistent placings at regional tournaments, and even several noteworthy results at national tournaments, such as Nicko and Kome both managing to place 17th at Frame Perfect Series 2 and 33th at 2GGC: Civil War.
Much like in his home game, Shulk is a character who revolves around adapting to different situations with his attribute-enhancing Monado Arts. In comparison to the extreme changes granted by his Arts, most of Shulk's characteristics are relatively balanced: his walking, falling speeds and gravity are all average, his dashing is slightly below average, his air speed is above average and his air acceleration is below average. Shulk is also a heavyweight, which by extension makes him the third heaviest sword-wielder in the game behind Ike and Link. Thanks to these attributes, Shulk has relatively good mobility for a character of his weight class, especially in the air, although they do not grant him too many obvious advantages or disadvantages.
Shulk's greatest strength is his disjointed range. The Monado's range grants him the single longest disjointed melee attacks in the series, even surpassing Ike and Cloud's, with most of his normal attacks having overall long ranges. Shulk's excellent range allows him to punish careless moves by retaliating at a distance, or create space by challenging his opponent with his disjointed attacks. His most useful grounded moves are his neutral attack, up tilt and smash attacks, each of which possess distinct perks. His neutral attack is the most damaging non-infinite neutral attack in the game, even without Buster. His up tilt boasts outstanding vertical range and can cover multiple get-up options from the edge. Lastly, his smash attacks boast high power and long ranges; his forward smash is particularly notable due to being the third longest ranged forward smash in the game, being surpassed only by Corrin and Mii Gunner's.
His range also applies to his aerial moves, and collectively grant him a powerful air game. Both his neutral and forward aerials possess wide-arced ranges with low landing lag, making them Shulk's best approach options. The former is useful for anything from starting combos to covering landing options due to its long-lasting hitbox and low landing lag, while the latter lasts shorter and has slightly more landing lag, but ends faster making it a very good edgeguarding and spacing option. His back aerial is a capable KOing option thanks to its great range and being his most powerful aerial. Lastly, his up and down aerials are, like his back aerial, thrusts rather than slashes. As such, they have minimal horizontal ranges, but can KO surprisingly early should they hit, with the former being potent near the upper blast line and the latter being capable of meteor smashing.
Shulk's defining abilities are his Monado Arts. Each Art tweaks his attributes considerably for 16 seconds and can be manually canceled at any time, even during hitstun. With this freedom, Shulk can activate an Art to open up options for virtually any situation while still being able to switch or cancel them if he is in a bad position. Jump grants him significant aerial mobility by making his jumps the highest in the game while improving both his air speed and Air Slash's height. This allows him to recover from almost anywhere off-stage, edgeguard more aggressively and even perform several KO combos, such as a wall of pain leading to a sacrificial Air Slash at moderate percentages. Speed amplifies his usually average ground speed while reducing his jump height, making his short hopped aerials more efficient for combos and spacing, while allowing him to approach and retreat noncommittally. It also lowers traction, making Shulk's pivot grab the third longest in the game (tied with Meta Knight) for its duration. These two Arts grant him outstanding mobility for a heavyweight, and when combined with the large hitboxes of his attacks, Shulk can effectively space opponents out of a specific side of the stage with either Jump or Speed, making him very difficult to approach on stages with platforms.
Shield bolsters Shulk's defensive game by reducing both damage and knockback taken, which allows him to survive for a much longer period of time and resist getting trapped in combos. His shield also becomes much more durable, making it harder to break with shield-breaking attacks such as Bowser Bomb. Buster reduces his overall knockback, but increases his overall damage output, allowing him to rack up damage extremely quickly. Buster also makes up and down throws into effective and damaging combo starters at 0%, while the increased damage and shieldstun make Shulk's moves both safer on shield and capable of pressuring shields. Lastly, Smash boosts his entire moveset's knockback, making almost all of Shulk's attacks KOing options (especially with rage), and his down throw becomes the strongest in the game while it is active. With access to these attribute-changing abilities, Shulk is highly adaptive, and usually has an easier time mixing up his playstyle compared to other characters so long as his Arts are used effectively and in tandem with his powerful air game. Such an example would be constantly switching from Jump and Shield to stall a losing match, or activating different arts while being juggled to affect Shulk's falling speed, and hence mess up an opponent's combo.
Due to the technical aspects of activating Monado Arts, Shulk also has access to multiple unique advanced techniques, the most notable of which is known as Monado Art Landing Lag Canceling. By jumping and timing the activation of an Art just before landing, Shulk can reduce the landing lag of his aerials to 5 frames while gaining intangibility for 14 frames (1 frame less than the length granted by his sidestep). While difficult to perform, it allows Shulk to avoid a punish before immediately responding with a punish of his own, or start shield break combos, such as an Art canceled back aerial to forward smash. It can even let him retreat by pivoting in midair, or extend the invincibility of air dodging via an aerial Art activation. This technique is the only viable way to make some of Shulk's moves (such as back aerial) safe on shield against faster characters. Several other techniques include the Monado Purge, a 50-50 KO combo consisting of a buffer canceled up throw to up aerial at high percentages, and Monado Art Ledge Snapping, which bypasses ledge getup animations while protecting the user with brief intangibility. If mastered, Shulk's Monado Art techniques can be very effective and unpredictable mix-up options inaccessible to any other character in the game.
Excluding his Arts, Shulk's special moveset shares his overall high range, and all have their own forms of utility. Back Slash is very powerful when striking the opponent's back and has long range regardless, making it a great surprise attack as well as a decent spacing tool. Air Slash grants a good amount of vertical distance, comes out quickly, and has strong knockback growth, making it a good recovery move and an even better out of shield option. The distance and knockback of Air Slash can additionally be affected by the Jump and Smash Arts respectively, allowing the move to gain even more vertical distance, or be used as a combo finisher in the air or a KO option out-of-shield. Lastly, Vision is tied with Double Team for having the longest lasting counterattack window in the game when fresh while also having the longest range, both of which give Shulk one of the most effective counters of any character. Its alternate counterattack, which is performed when Shulk inputs the direction from which the triggered attack came from, also rivals Corrin's Counter Surge as the strongest counterattack in the game.
However, Shulk has some glaringly exploitable weaknesses. Despite his outstanding range, his moveset is infamously sluggish to compensate, being among the slowest in the game along with King Dedede and Ganondorf's movesets. Barring his neutral attack, standing grab and Vision, none of his attacks come out before frame 9, while only his down tilt has less than 25 frames of ending lag. Like the aforementioned heavyweights, this means he has to rely on careful reads to land a hit, as a missed attack can easily be capitalized upon . This is made worse by the low shieldstun of his attacks (unless Buster is active), making his attacks inherently unsafe up close and on shield, while still unsafe if spaced against faster characters prevalent in the metagame. Additionally, most of Shulk's moves deal more damage with the Monado's blade rather than its beam blade, while several of his strongest combos (such as a landing neutral aerial to a grab or a forward aerial wall of pain) rely on him being extremely close to his opponent to be inescapable. As a result, Shulk is somewhat reliant on being at a punishable distance to start dealing any significant damage.
His sluggish frame data also extends to his aerials. While he is uniquely the only character who can interrupt the ending lag of his aerials with a jump, air dodge or another air attack, all of Shulk's aerials have disproportionately high ending lag, with neutral aerial in particular having 40 frames of ending lag. In addition, Shulk is the only character who cannot autocancel any of his aerials, forcing him to endure landing lag every time he starts an aerial attack, even from a double jump (with the exception of forward aerial). While Monado Art Landing Lag Canceling can negate this, it is considerably more complicated to perform compared to autocanceling, making it very difficult and unwieldy to perform consistently. Essentially, this makes every attack very committal, and makes it important for Shulk to space his attacks carefully as he can easily be punished for missing. Additionally, moves such as back aerial or up aerial are unsafe to use upon landing, unlike many other characters' aerials.
Due to his weight and stature, Shulk is an easy target for combos and juggles, as his tall frame, slow air acceleration, and lack of quick combo breakers (with his fastest aerial, neutral aerial, coming out on frame 13 and beginning behind himself) makes it difficult to break out of combos. His lack of a projectile and anti-projectile options also makes it difficult to pressure his opponent from a distance, while making it hard for him to approach against projectile users as well. Even pressure on the ground can be hard to escape from, as Shulk has the fifth lowest traction in the game. This gives him a poor out of shield game without Air Slash, which is punishable when missed. Shulk's special attacks are also flawed in some ways. Back Slash's knockback is exceptionally weak if hitting the opponent's front, has considerable ending lag, and is notorious for its inability to edge sweetspot. Air Slash provides very little horizontal momentum and does not sweetspot edges immediately if the second slash is used, thus making his recovery predictable, even with Jump. Lastly, Vision's counter window decays upon consecutive use, which discourages frequent usage.
The Monado Arts also have debuffs to compensate for their buffs: if an Art is active, it causes some of his other attributes to drop, weakening some of his abilities. A careful opponent can potentially take advantage of them to gain the upper hand, making his Arts a double-edged sword due to his reliance on them to approach and/or perform combos. Jump makes him very vulnerable to damage, and when combined with his slow moveset, makes it even riskier to whiff a move. Speed lowers his damage output, requiring him to deal more hits for the same amount of damage and reduces his jump force to the point of hindering his vertical mobility. Shield drastically reduces his mobility and damage output to the point of making his recovery and offensive potential among the worst in the game, respectively. Shield's increased knockback defense also leaves Shulk heavily susceptible to combos and juggling that can be difficult to escape from due to his decreased mobility. Buster increases his vulnerability to damage (although not to the same extent as Jump) and the lower knockback makes it nearly impossible to KO opponents without smash attacks, and then even they only do so well past 150%. Finally, Smash severely reduces his survivability, hinders his combo game, and make his attacks the least damaging in the game.
Even having no Arts active is disadvantageous, as his balanced attributes do not allow him to easily approach or catch up with opponents. Having no Arts active also hinders Shulk offensively: very few of his moves possess combo potential past low percentages, and all his smash attacks have high ending lag, making them very punishable. This forces Shulk to be reliant on edgeguarding and spacing while waiting for an Art to refresh, and requires him to capitalize on the duration of a needed Art to the fullest in order to perform certain techniques (such as combo strings or approaching), compared to other characters who may have the ability to do so at any time.
Shulk's custom moves grant him various options. Decisive Monado Arts last longer and have amplified effects, but cannot be changed. This makes them great for regaining neutral or claiming stage control, but at the cost of their dynamic flexibility in the middle of the match. Hyper Monado Arts last much shorter and with even harsher debuffs, but their buffs are even more powerful, which allows him to briefly boost a needed stat to the extreme and capitalize upon its benefits in a much shorter time. Back Slash Leap offers quicker start-up and more vertical range, at the cost of some horizontal range and more ending lag. Advancing Air Slash gives more horizontal distance and the second hit is stronger, but it gives less vertical distance. Mighty Air Slash is more powerful, but has only half the range, making it difficult to connect the second hit. Dash Vision is weaker than normal, but it has much more range, is much faster upon activation, and gives Shulk both his only anti-projectile option and another recovery option. Lastly, Power Vision has much more start-up upon counterattacking and a much stricter counter window if used repeatedly, but the counterattack itself is immensely powerful and capable of generating one-hit KOs, especially with Smash.
Overall, Shulk functions much like in his home game, as his optimal playstyle consists of warding off pressure and having extensive knowledge of his opponent. While his weaknesses are exploitable if fighting head-on, his adaptability and array of wildcard-like tools allow him to excel if played patiently and while exploiting openings. However, due to his uncommonly sluggish attacks and very demanding techniques, he is arguably one of the hardest characters to master. While he has a notable playerbase that constantly discover and improve on the unique mechanics granted by his Monado Arts, his weaknesses have resulted in him garnering low representation and only some degree of competitive success despite his potential, with most of his representation coming from dedicated mains like Nicko and Darkwolf.
Shulk has been considerably buffed via game updates. Update 1.0.4 increased the damage outputs of almost every single one of his attacks, improved Speed and Buster by adjusting their damage output and input multipliers respectively, and noticeably improved his down tilt and forward smash by adjusting their hitboxes. The changes to shield mechanics brought about by updates 1.1.0 and 1.1.1 were indirect buffs for Shulk: they made his attacks harder to punish on shield and turned several of his attacks into surprisingly effective shield breakers, especially when used with Buster. Lastly, update 1.1.3 increased the damage outputs of his dash, tilt and aerial attacks, as well as decreasing the landing lag of his aerials. As a result of these buffs, Shulk is considered to be much more viable than how he was during the initial release of SSB4.
In competitive play
Tier placement and history
Opinions on Shulk's overall viability in the metagame have greatly fluctuated throughout SSB4's lifespan. During the game's initial release, Shulk was quickly discovered to be very flawed, due to his moveset being burdened with very sluggish frame data (with aerials incapable of autocanceling throughout their animations), a below average overall damage output, and the fact that some of his moves, such as forward smash, failed to work properly, among other issues. As a result, Shulk was quickly considered to be one of the worst characters in the game. However, update 1.0.4 significantly buffed Shulk, which mainly addressed many of his aforementioned issues. When these buffs were coupled with the discovery of Monado Art Landing Lag Canceling (MALLC), his own signature advanced technique, Shulk's position on the tier list became a hot topic of debate among players due to his perceived potential. Despite retaining his poor frame data, many considered him as a potential high-tier character on the grounds that, if someone could master him, he would be a serious competitive threat.
As time went on, however, players' opinions of Shulk drastically dropped. Despite the benefits of his Monado Arts, Shulk failed to achieve high placings at major tournaments. In addition to this, the metagame's development revealed that Shulk's weaknesses, mostly his poor frame data, were much more detrimental than originally thought. As a result, Shulk was perceived to be a low-tier character and was left with a small, albeit dedicated, playerbase. Despite receiving some buffs in future updates, most notably update 1.1.3, they did not address his poor frame data and failed to compensate for it. As such, Shulk was ranked 40th on the first tier list, placing him in the G tier and confirming his status as a low-tier character.
Shulk's representation and results had been largely stagnant for a time, largely due to his sluggish attacks being viewed as a significant issue and too inconsistent for high-level play. This resulted in Shulk being ranked 44th on the second tier list, which saw him remain in the G tier and was a slight drop from his previous ranking (though this may be attributable to the addition of Corrin and Bayonetta). However, despite his low-tier status, Shulk's playerbase has consistently discovered more Monado Art-based techniques that allow his moveset and options to flow better than before. This, in turn, has allowed him to garner better results in recent times, with dedicated mains achieving top 13 placing at a more consistent rate within their respective regions.
Additionally, M, Nicko and Darkwolf have achieved notable placings at the national level, such as 3rd at B.E.A.S.T 7, 17th at 2GGT: Mexico Saga and 13th at Get On My Level 2016, respectively. These improved results have been reflected in Shulk's placement on the third and current tier list, where he is now ranked 38th at the very end of the mid-tier. Despite his prominent weaknesses, some believe Shulk is still underrated in the current metagame, partly due to his obscurity and very steep learning curve; this belief is further supported by the performance of dedicated mains throughout early 2017, most notably with Nicko and Kome both placing 33rd at 2GGC: Civil War, which was one of the most challenging tournaments in SSB4's lifespan.
In Event Matches
With the exception of his first and last alternate costumes, all of Shulk's palette swaps correspond with one of his traveling companions in Xenoblade Chronicles.
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