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’ll occasionally add a section for 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!
Defense, like offense, is a pretty broad topic. And like the neutral game, the hardest part of defense is that it’s more of a two-player interaction (from your perspective).
If you look at offense, generally, while your opponent does have options available to deal with your tools, you’re essentially in a situation that is heavily advantageous to you. It varies by the game you’re playing, but you have a heavy degree of control over the opponent’s defensive options. So, the main problem many people have with defense is that they don’t have a good approach to it, because you can’t “enforce” defense – you “establish” it. In simpler terms, for the most part, you can’t force defensive options on the opponent – rather, you show your opponent that their offense is ineffective.
Before diving into it, it’s important to note that each game’s defense tends to focus on different skills, as offense varies per game. In my experience, there are two aspects of defense you would want to examine: the game and the character.
This is not only examining the game’s built-in defensive mechanics, but also how to defend against the game’s overall offense. For example, Street Fighter IV doesn’t have an equivalent to Guilty Gear’s Dead Angle Attack, and you can’t burst in Marvel.
On top of that, the way you would likely look at defense and weigh the seriousness and strength of an opponent’s offense is vastly different in a heavily footsie- or neutral-based game compared to a wilder, faster pace game.
Looking at defense from a character’s perspective would be looping back to the matchup strategy article I wrote earlier.
The combination of the above will help you understand your opponent’s offensive structure, and what you can do about specific sequences and tactics.
To be honest, I tend to start putting together a defensive plan by starting from the inside (i.e., the character) and looking out (the game). Usually, the first time I fight against a new character, I can get pretty overwhelmed. Consider what it takes to have a complete understanding of defending a character:
Understanding data and properties of important moves
This goes without saying. The amount and type of knowledge depends on the type of game. In an anime game, you need to be familiar with the opponent’s gatlings and potential problem moves. In a game that doesn’t have gatlings, it would be advantageous to be familiar with the most commonly used offensive tools your opponent has and their frame data.
Specifically talking about gatlings, it’s important to be familiar with these because you can get a very good idea of what can be coming next based on the move the opponent used. Some moves can’t be special-canceled, some moves can’t be jump-canceled, some may have a limited delay cancel window, etc.
Being familiar with the animations of the enemy character
The main reason this matters is because you can come into a match with knowledge on what moves are punishable, reacting to certain moves, and more, but if you haven’t had play time against the character, you won’t be able to make the connection between visually seeing a move and whatever response you may have in your head.
Understanding the throw game
This is critical. It’s safe to say that every modern fighting game has a different throw system. Even looking across the three main Arc System Works fighters, Guilty Gear has a one-button throw, BlazBlue lets you throw people in blockstun and hitstun, and Persona doesn’t have any sort of special guard, forcing you to commit to a throw whiff (on paper). While the interaction of an opponent’s offense and throws tend to be a more advanced topic, a good starting point is understanding the basics of the throw game and how your opponent’s character could set up situations to try to throw you.
Understanding the knockdown system
Like throws, how knockdowns work (and whether or not they are even important) can vary a lot by game. So again, it’s a good idea to get a baseline level of knowledge on knockdowns and look at setups your opponent may rely on a lot. Basically, being able to identify where you can get a guaranteed escape or where you may be able to take a gamble.
All these things set up a good base level defense against any specific character. Combining this with system information and advanced defensive techniques will help solidify your defense. Keep in mind that defense really goes hand in hand with matchup knowledge – it is extremely difficult to defend against an opponent if you don’t understand their character.
(Featured image c/o FGC: Rise of the Fighting Game Community)