So you want to be a contender?
Of all the genres in gaming, the one that stands out as the most involving and demanding would be fighting games. Due to the elaborate nature of these titles, there comes a plethora of common mistakes and misconceptions that may greatly affect a player’s general outlook on a title and even question their own personal capabilities. The following is not by any means a guide that will make you the greatest player in the world. But, if you wish to travel that road, or finally beat that one guy who dominates at house parties or at the arcade, then no matter what game you play, the following are essential points that will help you get started.
Know your arsenal
Most gamers, beginners and even those that proclaim themselves to be “experts,” don’t even take the time to sit down and explore a fighting game’s mechanics and physics. As a result, many gamers don’t even have at least 50% of an idea of what they’re actually playing. Examples include overlooking Rapid Cancelling in BlazBlue, and Snapbacks in MvC2.
Most unfortunate of all is that in the Street Fighter series, the most overlooked aspect is making full use of the six button layout. Many prefer to spam weak normals, fierce attacks, and special moves. If you fall under this category, you may have noticed that your performance is devoid of improvement and often times you just can’t seem to win. For example, Ryu in Street Fighter IV, one of his most useful normals is crouching medium kick. It comes out quick, has far reach, and the fact that it hits low makes it deceptive. Against aggressors closing in, this move can stop such players in their tracks and can save your life. Those who aren’t aware of this tool often attempt to spam Dragon Punches to “surprise” creeping opponents, which is the worst possible option of defense.
Know your character
Obviously, no two characters are exactly alike. In addition to acquainting yourself with a character’s moveset, you need to know all of his/her strengths and weaknesses. Get to know your character’s speed, reach, attack ranges & properties, size, and vitality.
Using Street Fighter IV again as an example, Ryu and Ken’s Hurricane Kicks have a tendency to go through fireballs, which is useful against those with itchy trigger fingers. However, Ryu’s hits once but it knocks down his opponent. Ken’s hits multiple times, but doesn’t knock down or even push back. Furthermore, it doesn’t cause stun and Ken will land right next to his opponent, leaving you open to a potential counter-attack.
There is no such thing as “cheap”
It doesn’t matter if you’re being force-fed a barrage of fireballs, it doesn’t matter if you’re getting thrown over and over, and it still doesn’t matter if you get caught in an infinite. No matter how overwhelming things can be: if there’s a will, there’s a way.
The subject of “cheap” is one that boils down to the simple fact that it’s where one’s weaknesses are being exploited repeatedly. This is a matter that is much akin to the timeless dictum of whether you’re seeing the glass half empty or half full. Are you going to take the beating and conclude that there’s no way to win? Or take the time to figure out why tragedy continues to befall you and learn from your mistakes? The thought of actually having to put in effort is another factor that comes into play. But it’s making that choice that can set you apart from the scrubs. So if you choose to settle with abandoning all hope and complain, then sorry, you deserve the suffering.
A classic example is the subject of throwing, an attack that is usually perceived as “free damage”. Grabs can be escaped and it’s a matter of timing one or two button presses, depending on the game. Or, especially against inescapable throws, common sense dictates to just not stand in grab range. Funny thing is, in every single manual for every single fighting game these instructions are noted and they barely take up an eighth of a page.
Combos are definitely as important as they are beautiful. However, their value greatly relies on two factors that are commonly misconstrued.
First off, it’s substantial to know how a combo is performed, and how it performs. Do the hits flow into one another smoothly or is there any strict timing involved? Is there any need to consider practicality vs. difficulty; cool points vs. damage potential? Knowing this is essential in developing your threat factor.
Second of all, and most importantly, know when you can perform them. Combos are meant for punishing mistakes, either in the form of your opponent missing an attack or forcing them to blunder; see ‘Mind Games’.
This is the term, used primarily in 2D fighters, for actively self-pacing while performing combos. Using Ryu in SFIV again as an example, a lot of players love performing jump-in heavy kick, crouching fierce punch, heavy Hurricane Kick. It’s easy to perform and the damage is rewarding, thus it’s immediately committed to muscle memory. However, the combo is short and happens very quickly. So quick, that in the heat of the moment our eyes and train of thought are unable to immediately identify if it’s been blocked or not… until we pay for our mistake.
Try this instead, after jumping in with a kick perform two crouching jabs, crouching fierce punch, heavy Hurricane Kick. By the time you perform the second crouching jab your eyes should be able to catch on if the opponent is blocking which should automatically prompt you to stop. This combo is a bit tricky due to the timing needed to link crouching heavy punch from crouching jab but it’s definitely worth it. Aside from saving yourself some grief, other benefits of practicing hit confirming includes improving your execution towards more damaging combos, and gaining access to playing mind games.
This is the most accessible of mind games you can play on your opponent. Basically what you are doing is forcing your opponent to block one or more of your quick, short-ranged, normal attacks and then, immediately or with some delay, bust out a throw. No matter if you’re playing a grappler type character or not, getting down this tactic is obligatory, especially for creating wake-up games (see below). Against those of little experience, this ploy alone can win you many matches. The trick, however, is that against more seasoned players, you might run the risk of being predictable. Therefore, it’s up to your creativity to make this work against high level practitioners.
Read your opponent
We’ve all heard this wax on, wax off fortune cookie saying, but actually doing it makes a world of difference. If you take a step forward, does your opponent take a step back? Does your opponent often perform Dragon Punches or roll away with a low left kick when getting up (Tekken)? How does your opponent act out in panic? Does a certain move make them jump up in reaction? Identifying these patterns can give you an idea of the type of player you’re facing and adapt accordingly. Mastering this mentality will also result in being able to remain calm during the most hectic of moments, especially if you’re low on health.
Just like fighting in real life, getting knocked into the ground can be the worst possible scenario for anyone. This holds true in fighting games. When you knock over your opponent, depending on distance and position, the match’s momentum could swing in your favor.
Downed opponents are forced into a massive guessing game where guessing wrong results in being locked into this devilish romp. This is also a great way for getting to know your opponents’ habits and state of mind. However, this is not a guaranteed winning scenario. If your adversary is able to predict your next move, the tables can turn. Nevertheless, it is imperative to identify all of your character’s capabilities to induce this dilemma, and the options that follow.
Once you get an idea of your opponent’s flaws, you want to create every possible sequence of events that will force them to slip up on command; become the puppetmaster. This very much involves putting together everything that has been mentioned. When they begin to adapt, you need to change up your game as well. Remember, no matter how much weight in expertise a player may have, no one can fully eliminate the chances of making mistakes. Attention can be divided, such as coercing one to unconsciously sacrifice their throw awareness while trying to anticipate low attacks. Fighting is like a game of chess and like in real combat, the first person to become mentally exhausted will lose.
Final Words, things to remember
A common misconception is that playing single player mode is a valid form of practice. Negative. While it’s nice to practice your combos and tricks on a moving target, this can only go so far. The flaw of every AI is that it is bound to the rules and criterions that define its programming. Therefore at some point, regardless of difficulty setting, you will be able to predict its every move.
Saying that you have experience in defeating the AI and your circle of friends every time does not qualify you as a high-level player. It takes going out of your way to play against more individuals, whether online or face to face. You will learn to adapt to a variety of playstyles, develop your mind game delivery, and better prepare yourself for tournaments. Other than that, training mode should be taken advantage of more often than single player for all your combo polishing and scenario emulation needs.
Every fighting game will have its characters ranked and listed amongst hardcore players in order of “best” to “worst”. These are determined by individual stats, the number of possible unfavorable matchups, the statistics of which characters are used the most in competitions and how often they can yield victories. It is important to understand that the knowledge of tiers should not be confused with something of biblical proportions. You should not play a character just because everyone considers one as the “best”. If you enjoy playing as a lower ranked character, which in turn helped you to better understand the game, you’re usually better off sticking with that fighter. Also to note, tier lists never remain the same, changes are made based on new game findings and lists tend to differ between nations.
So what’s next?
The rest is up to you. It is highly recommended that you visit forums to stay up to date with the ever-changing intel, learn frame and hitbox data or ask specific questions. Another good tool to use is YouTube, many instructional and match videos are available for research. Finally, due to the nonstop evolution of strategy and individual player skills, whether you’re the best player in the country or world, the process of bettering yourself never ends. Good luck.