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!
Once you identify a character’s goals and approach to neutral, you can start breaking down their moveset and how you’ll interact with the opponent. This might seem overwhelming, but this can be greatly simplified based on understanding the space available on the field. Also, the level of importance in each section varies by matchup and game, and while this break down might seem simple, breaking down how you interact in each of these areas with the opponent can give you great leverage and add structure to your decision making – both of which can be a major advantage if your opponent has not done the same.
This tends to vary by game. In some games (think Guilty Gear Xrd -SIGN-, Ultra Street Fighter IV), you’re at a set distance from each other at the start of the round, while other games (Under Night In-Birth, Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3) allow you to move around before the start of the round.
A round’s opening moments are extremely important, especially if you can’t move around beforehand. In my opinion, having absolute free movement before the start of the round is a blessing. When the two characters are static at the start of a round, you instantly have to interact with the opponent – and depending on the game, that initial round start decision determines the pace.
Ideally, if you can find something that beats the majority of an opponent’s options at the start of a round, that’s great. Most of the time, however, you can either choose to go passive or go through some sort of rock-paper-scissors scenario with whatever three or four effective tools you both have against your respective characters.
Ground vs. Ground
This basically boils down to your ground tools against the opponent’s. The importance of the ground game varies between games, but a good general mark of a player’s skill is their proficiency in the ground game. As far as developing a ground vs. ground strategy, there are three general things I tend to look at:
If your character can place moves (i.e. just hit the button) and can beat the majority of your opponent’s options, then great! That means that you can apply your character’s general strategy – as in, the opponent would have to come up with answers to your character’s ground game. On the other hand, if your moves generally lose to the opponent’s, you’ll have to come up with specific answers depending on spacing. For the most part, you’ll usually have to come up with countermeasures for a couple of moves – it’s rarely all one or all the other.
This concept is a bit more advanced. The idea is to punish a whiffed ground normal with a normal of your own. In games where a lot of the action takes place in the air, this is pretty much a non-factor, but in most games you’ll need to be at least somewhat competent at whiff punishing.
If you read the frame data discussion I had a couple of weeks ago, you can use that to figure out what ground normals could be punishable. Easy targets are any moves with a significant amount of recovery frames, as you could easily punish the whiff on reaction.
Projectiles are interesting thanks to the variety of usage depending on the character. In a game where the ground game is more prevalent, it’s pretty crucial to understand the amount of space a projectile controls, its recovery, and how projectiles interact in the game.
Air vs. Air
This portion of the neutral game can vary more than ground vs. ground. Air options fluctuate wildly between games, from being nothing more than a jump to all characters having all their air options at all times.
With this in mind, the amount of planning you would have to do for this will vary depending on the amount of air options available. Here are a couple of points that I’ve noticed:
If an aerial attack seems “too good” (as in, if the hitbox seems too big, it’s active for too long, etc.), see if it has fixed landing recovery. If it does, you can test whether or not you should punish it on block, or if it’s better to space yourself so that the attack whiffs and you punish the landing recovery.
Check to see if the air attack lets the opponent keep their air options. As in, see if they can backdash, double jump, or airdash after whiffing or connecting with the attack. If so, you’ll have to gauge how to position yourself after said attack.
This point is universal in fighting games and, in my opinion, is another mark of a truly skilled player. Anti-airing varies depending on the game, but overall it’s a central part of playing a fighting game. Despite it being such a big part of gameplay, I feel like it’s simple (at least on paper) to plan for.
Ideally, you would want your anti-air to cleanly beat your opponent’s jump-in. If you can’t get that, then you should aim for a favorable trade. If you can’t do either, then it might be better to consider repositioning yourself, or trying to see if you can win air vs. air situation. A couple of points to consider when you are planning anti-airs:
Aim for landing/anti-jumps
Consider that if you have tried everything and nothing is working, aim for the point that the opponent lands. If the opponent whiffs and you’re nearby, you should be able to punish whatever attack they may attempt on the ground. On top of that, if they try to jump again, then you can catch them in jump startup.
This is a somewhat advanced technique, and it varies depending on your character. Usually, this is possible with fast characters with low to the ground dashes, but it’s not limited to them.
The idea is that, generally, a grounded character has more control of their movement than a character that’s airborne. With that in mind, if there is an air attack that’s especially difficult to deal with, you can try to dash under the opponent and hit their hurtbox from behind.
Test Your Entire Tool Set
The final point I want to hit is that you shouldn’t limit yourself to your general anti-airs. If you find that none of your standard anti-air tools is working against a certain character, try other moves and see how that works. Occasionally, moves interact in strange ways – I’ve used sweeps as anti-airs before. Experiment and see what you find!
(Featured image courtesy of FGC: Rise of the Fighting Game Community)