If you’ve followed me on Twitter, you know that I’ve been posting long reads on Tuesdays about fighting games. They’ve ranged from how-to guides to strategy and philosophy. This column is a continuation of that.
I want to share my experiences with both new and intermediate players who might be stuck. If you read one of these and think, “Well, that was obvious,” then good! If you take something away from these articles, then that’s good too.
For those of you who have been following these, I’ve added a section called action items at the end of the article. These are a bit like homework – it’s something you can try immediately. Let me know what you think in the comments!
Underneath the flashy special effects of a fighting game are the nuts and bolts known as frame data. There’s always been a stereotype amongst fighting game players about the “nerd” who knows frame data intricately.
Frankly, frame data is important, but it’s easy to get lost in it. I approach frame data on a very need-to-know basis. To be frank, I find it quite impractical to memorize all the frame data, but often each character has some things that you absolutely need to know. If the frame data is complete, it will also give you information on invincibility and other special properties.
Most modern fighting games run at 60 frames-per-second, so it’s safe to say when people are discussing frames, they have this in mind. The things you absolutely need to know:
- Startup: How long it takes for an attack to come out. “Fast” in fighting games is relative – in Blazblue, seven frames is very fast, but Xrd has normals that start up in three frames.
- Active frames: How long a move can hit something. A move that’s only active for one frame is extremely short, but a move that’s active for ten frames stays out for a long time.
- Recovery: How long it takes your character to return to a neutral state. This is important to know to optimize your punishes – a move with fifteen frames of recovery might give you a punish that you might not normally have access to.
- Frame advantage: The amount of time (in frames) that you recover in relation to your opponent. If the data lists a move as +1, that means you recover one frame before your opponent. -1 means you recover one frame after your opponent. It’s important to note that, often, this number assumes that you hit with the first active frame of the move. As in, if you use attacks that have a high amount of active frames, and hit towards the end of the move, the frame advantage will be different.
So, as a beginner, the above information might be relatively straightforward, but if you look at any character’s moveset, they might have 50+ moves full of these same details. Ideally, a few good points of data to be familiar with would be:
- The speed/properties of your fastest move – This should be straightforward. If you have an especially fast move, you can use it to get out of your opponent’s pressure – as in, they likely have to do something special to deal with that attack. On the other hand, if your character’s fastest move is slower than average, then you can’t really rely on mashing to escape your opponent’s offense.
- The speed/properties of your reversal – You want to know this since it can affect what setups you could possibly escape. For example, in Persona 4 Arena, I had to know what characters possessed reversals with six frames of startup, as it would hit me out of my setup.
- How fast your jump is (especially if you play an anime game) – This one kind of depends on the game that you’re playing, but if it has varied jump startups, that one frame could be the difference between you slipping out of your opponent’s offense. One of the many reasons Litchi was so good in BlazBlue: Continuum Shift was because her jump was three frames, while the average jump speed was four frames. That one frame let her jump out of offense easier than other characters.
- The speed/properties of your backdash – In most games, characters tend to have similar backdashes, so here I would check whether or not your character falls into that group or not. Strong backdashes usually travel a long distance or have short recovery. If your character does have something unique, that’s another defensive tool you can add to your toolbox.
- The speed/properties of your guard cancel – Like backdashes, these tend to be the same. I tend to make sure that my character’s guard cancel can’t be baited easily. The two easy things to check are whether or not it’s easy to low profile the guard cancel, and how easy is it to bait the guard cancel with jabs/moves with fast recovery. Occasionally, you run into characters with crazy guard cancels (I’m looking at you, CS1 Tao).
- What attacks you have that are safe on block – Keep in mind that “safe” means different things in different games. For example, throws have one frame of startup in Guilty Gear, so if you’re too close to your opponent and you do something that’s -2, you can definitely get thrown. On the other hand, in a game that has slower attacks, a move that is -4 or -5 could be considered “safe.” Also, note that I described moves that have negative frame advantage. Just because a move is disadvantageous on paper doesn’t mean that the move is unsafe.
- Any moves with special properties – You want to have a clear understanding on any unique moves your character might have. This includes things like guard points, command movement (think rolls, command dashes, etc.), anti-airs, and so on.
The above are just examples, but even understanding these things just for your character will put you a step ahead of most players.
Use the above checklist to get your basic frame data essentials together. Again, not all of the items I listed apply to every game.
(Featured image courtesy of FGC: Rise of the Fighting Game Community)