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!
Fundamentally, offense is pretty easy to understand. As a quick review, you can break down a match up to essentially four phases:
- Neutral: When you and your opponent aren’t directly attacking each other. It’s essentially the battle for space control and to gain advantage.
- Offense: When you are directly attacking the other player, forcing them to block.
- Defense: When the other player is attacking you directly, forcing you to block.
- Knockdown: When one player gets to set up offense on a downed opponent.
These definitions are very broad. While neutral is a huge topic due to how open the interactions between two players can be, offense, defense and knockdown are a little more narrow. Offense and knockdown, especially, can be practiced alone.
The main idea you want to consider when thinking about offense are intent and your character’s goals. At the most basic level, what’s the point of offense? You want to:
- Discourage the opponent from taking certain actions (which vary by character)
- Open up their defense with your characters tools (whether it’s command grabs, high/lows, etc)
- Some combination of the two
I previously covered the different types of goals characters have in neutral. In that case, almost all the time, none of those goals are mutually exclusive. But it can be different with offense, and this varies depending on the character and the game.
Let’s start by looking at a character that is 100% reliant on discouraging the opponent from taking certain actions. How would you go about structuring your offense?
The goal would be to condition the opponent to feel like there is no safe way to escape your offense. Because you have to set up your offense based on your opponent’s defensive options, you need to make sure you understand them, and how they vary by character. Essentially, you’re looking at:
- Reversals (supers, DPs, etc.)
- Guard Cancels
- Game-specific mechanics (Pushblocking, etc.)
The options your opponent will select will tend to vary by game and character, but you can count on having to at least look at mashing and reversals.
Where you’ll want to start is establish what’s safe. Either you’ll have a move that’s safe on block, something that you can delay cancel late (generally in anime games), or something that puts you in an advantageous position. Take Mitsuru in Persona 4 Arena – a lot of her attacks and strings, on paper, aren’t safe. However, she can always keep herself in an advantageous position by pushing herself out. Since she has so much range, you could easily punish mashing and rolls, and react to jumps.
If your opponent doesn’t respect the offense you’ve established, then great! You just got yourself a free win. But for this type of character, if you only do “safe” (as in, the established safe offense that we discussed above), then you won’t get too far against stronger players. If your opponent understands your character’s offense, from there you can begin to build interactions set up by you to try to get some damage. Doing this can vary greatly by game and character, but keep in mind that the next step would be to create a situation in which they could go for one of those defensive options listed above, but doing something else.
The second type of character can establish themselves in a different way. When a character has a specific mixup tool, like a fast overhead or command grab, you can set up your offense based off that. At a basic level, consider the following:
- Type of mixup
These pretty much only fall into a couple of categories – high/low, left/right, poke/throw. The unique aspect is how the character implements whatever they do.
- How fast is the mixup tool
Can the opponent see any part of the sequence and act accordingly? As a frame of reference, 18 frames tends to be the agreed line between “reactable” and “unreactable.”
- Is the mixup “real”
As in, is the mixup a true 50/50 guess, or can the opponent use some sort of defensive technique to mitigate the severity of the mixup. Examples of defensive techniques would be things like fuzzy block, option select blocking, etc.
- How safe is the mixup tool
As in, how safely can you apply the mixup. Can you set it up safely, or do you have to establish respect from your opponet first? A high/low that’s unseeable and is air tight is very safe, but command grabs tend to require the opponent to be scared of something else you have first.
I like to use Valkenhayn in ver.1.0 of BlazBlue: Chronophantasma as an example. I switched to him because not only is his high/low mixup impossible to react to, but it can be implemented in a very safe fashion. On the other hand, most characters in the game have a ground overhead that is possible to react to (between 21-25 frame startup). In addition, while there are answers to specific parts of his offense and defensive techniques the opponent can use to mitigate his offense, there are things that they outright cannot react to. On top of all of those things, because the opponent has to respect his offense, you can take advantage of his command grab.
Identify the type of offense your character has. If your character is the first type, try to figure out options against the defensive options of the character you play against the most. If they’re the second type, try to find ways to implement your offense safely against the character that gives you most difficulty.
(Featured image courtesy of FGC: Rise of the Fighting Game Community)