What it refers to in Fighting Games is essentially the act of predicting (reading) the opponent based on educated guesses and weighted values. In some Fighting situations, there are some things that are simply too fast to react to, and in those cases you must use anticipation in order to take advantage of a situation. So, we must make assumptions about what will happen, done in advance. The difference between a reaction and an anticipation is simple; a reaction is done after you've already seen what is happening and "know", while an anticipation is done before you know what is going to happen and "assume" (or guess). Reactions can only fail if your execution fails or your reaction is slow, while anticipation can fail if you guess wrong.
There are different facets to Yomi which is referred to as Yomi layers, and there's three of these layers (or "levels"). If we label these layers as Layer-A, Layer-B, and Layer-C, then we can say that A < B < C < A (like math, A is less than B, and so on). While two layers of equal value nullify or cancel each other out, so A versus A = neutral.
In a way, it's a lot like the classic game of Rock, Paper, Scissors (shortened to "RPS"), since R < P < S < R, just like above. But with Fighting Yomi there's some weighted values behind each one which makes it more complicated than a simple random guessing game, because some correct guesses are more rewarding than others, or some incorrect guesses are more damaging than others. To explain how this works in Fighters, and why it's lopsided in Fighters, I'll refer to my previous example of Alice 66B against Suika and what happens after it's blocked. Now, in this situation there's a bunch of different things each player can do, and each of them is categorized as a Yomi layer. These are the things that can occur for each player after Suika blocks an Alice 66B:
- Suika layer C is to do the least risky thing, to guard by blocking standing/croching.
- Suika layer B is to perform a risky defensive action, to jump back and airguard.
- Suika layer A is to do something completely random, like 6B or 66b.
- Alice layer C is to take the correct action, which is back off and do 2A.
- Alice layer B is to perform a risky reset, which would be to do 6B or 66B again.
- Alice layer A is to perform something totally random, like an instant air j.C or sword-doll special move.
Again, neither player can react to what the other will do after blocking Alice 66B, since the following actions will be too fast to react to, the players must assume what will come next and perform their action on anticipation. And we know the formula is A > B > C > A. Indeed, the formula holds true in this situation as well.
If both players are on Layer-A, then random garbage tends to happen such as both players CH'ing each other or whiffing each other, and other such nonsense. The only reason this wouldn't result in "neutrality" is the difference between characters.
If the Alice player moves on to Layer-B, expecting the Suika to remain on Layer-A, then Suika outright loses for mashing buttons and gets an Alice Boot to the face as seen above. On the flipside, if Suika moves on to Layer-B while Alice remains at Layer-A, then Suika will be rewarded with a successful firepunch/bomb or even a jumping kick.
If both players are on Layer-B then the situation results in a neutralization, since Suika avoids Alice's follow up attacks, but doesn't really gain much in the process either.
If the Alice player moves on to Layer-C, expecting Suika to be on Layer-B, then Alice will be rewarded with the 2A countering Suika's backwards jump by either hitting it or chipping away at Suika's spirit bar for a guard crush, as seen above. On the flipside again, if Suika moves to Layer-C expecting Alice to be on Layer-B then Suika is rewarded with a correct block, which is in Suika's favor since Alice loses control over the situation and gains nothing.
But, here's the kicker. What happens when Layer-A and Layer-C collide? Well, that's what I like to call Negative Yomi (totally arbitrary name). As in the formula before, Layer-A wins. Even though Layer-C should have been the best choice for both players, it still loses outright to the random "stupidity" on Layer-A. These are the exchanges where good players on Layer-C are often left baffled and question "Why would you do that, don't you know what could happen?" to their opponent.
To break it down, if Alice moves up to Layer-C, expecting Suika to be either on Layer-B or Layer-C, Alice will get hit by the random nonsense spewed out by Suika Layer-A like Suika 6B or 66B, since her 2A loses to Suika 6B and 66B as seen above. And on the flipside, if Suika is on Layer-C and blocks, then Alice is rewarded with a bullet lockdown into guard crush. Technically, neither player should still be on Layer-A since it's the least rewarding, and most risky, of the three layers. But alas, because it technically works, it can't be counted out entirely. It can be used to force the opponent to recalculate and readjust to the different Layers.
When you use all three options equally then you would in theory become unpredictable, and therefor unreadable. However, that also means that you're taking rather large risks that gain low rewards in the process, while the other player is not. And you would be doing this all just for the sake of throwing your opponent's game off. This is why you most often see Layer-C being the most used in tournament play, since it's the least risky and allows you to evaluate what Layer level your opponent is on.
With the above scenario, if the Alice player is on Layer-C all the time, they they are rewarded quite a bit for successful counters to Layer-B and are not harmed when the opponent chooses Layer-C as well. Now, the Alice does indeed get hit with random crap from Suika's Layer-A, but the payoff isn't nearly as good for Suika Layer-A>Layer-C as it is for Alice Layer-C>Layer-B. So even if you go through the trouble of using all three Layers, at the end of the day the payoff for Layer-C, when used consistently, ends up being better and stronger than the payoff of Layer-A. This is why many good players get frustrated when they bump into novice players relying on things somewhere between Layer-A and Layer-B. It forces them to "level down" their game to Layer-B and/or play even more aggressively than they'd like to.
Finally, you can't really classify all this as a Mixup, since a Mixup is defined by one player having absolute initiative and the other player being forced to defend against it. This also isn't a Mind-Game since again you don't have full initiative, and you're not technically forcing the opponent to do anything. This may be labeled as a Metagame since it relates to tactics and strategy, and is certainly preemptive. But for the most part, the Fighting Game community just labels it as "Yomi". And refers to bad Yomi as either "RPS" or "Mashing" because RPS is commonly seen as just random guessing.
In closing, I would like to say "anything truly predictable can be countered". However, reaction and execution time can get in the way of this. It's both the game's rules and the player abilities that determine what is and what's not rewarding/reliable per scenario.
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