Universal Fighting Game Guide: The Problem With Only Mastering Combos

If you’ve ever had any sort of interest in fighting games, you’ve probably stumbled across a combo video or two. They’re very cool to watch, and you may have even taken it upon yourself to be as good as the person in the video by going to a guide and learning how to read an execute something like this from BlazBlue:

214D -> B (FC), 623D, dash, 3C xx 236236B, 214D -> C, 5C 2C 4D -> D, [j.C x n] [dj.C x n] xx j.214B – 50% Heat

While you may be tempted to learn the big fancy combos the moment you start playing a new fighting game, it’s not the best way to level yourself up. Mastering the physical execution of big combos is nice, but learning the big combos without knowing the context behind them first is like trying to run without learning how to walk.

The problem with only learning the execution of combos

If you’re the type of player that only practices your ability to execute a combo that you’ve seen in a video or read in a guide on a training dummy, then you’re only improving one aspect of your offensive capability. This is fine if you have your fundamentals down and all you’re looking for is to add to your arsenal of tactics. However, by only learning the game in this manner, you’re depriving yourself of fundamental knowledge that will make you better as a whole. Not only that, I strongly feel that there are other aspects of your game that deserve your attention, particularly when you start playing any sort of fighting game.

My specific problems with this method of learning at the start are three-fold:

Hitting a stationary training dummy only helps you get better at executing a combo against a stationary dummy. In an actual match, the circumstances are different. You’re facing off against a human opponent, who is either trying to stop you from hitting them, or is trying to hit you. Other factors that change the dynamic of the exchange of attacks include (but not limited to):

– Time on the clock
– Health of each player
– Amount of super meter each player has
– Your opponent’s understanding of your offensive capabilities
– Type of attack the offensive opponent hits with first
– State in which the defensive player is in when they get hit (ex. standing, crouching, jumping)
– Opponent’s ability to use a combo breaker (ex. Killer Instinct, new Mortal Kombat, Tatsunoko vs. Capcom)

When you’re fighting an active opponent, you need to measure out all of these factors before the execution of your combo even matters. Some of those points relate to higher-arching gameplay systems, but much of it still relates to the game’s combo systems. If you don’t know the context behind your exchange, you may come up just short on a combo that could have killed your opponent, wasted a super meter on an opponent who falls out your combo early because they’ve gone into a stunned state, or go for a combo in a critical moment that’s easily countered and costs you a match.

Creativity is a key element of your ability to perform on offense. Creativity is what a player needs in order to break through an opponent’s ever-changing defenses, to change their tactics based on the situation, and to improve your overall offensive output. Creativity is not your ability to copy a combo from a guide or a video.

Case in point, let’s talk about landing the first hit in your combo sequence. If I know that you have a big combo when you land a specific move on me, I’m going to be extra cautious about putting myself in a situation to get hit by that first move. If you can’t land that first move, and you don’t have the creativity to open me up different ways, then your combo is useless.

Having offensive creativity means you know how to use your character’s tool set and the games combo systems to make your own combos, start your own combos in different ways, or change your combo tactics depending on the context of the situation. The only way you, as an offensive player, can do those things, is by understanding the fundamentals of how your character can make the combo systems work. Once you know the components of what makes the systems work, only then can you truly explore and take advantage of the possibilities.

Other Aspects of Your Game
If you only concentrate on improving your combo execution, other aspects of your game will falter. There’s way more to a fighting game than hitting people with big combos, and your opponents will expose your weaknesses in due time. You may think that all of the losses in spite of your combo execution ability means your combos aren’t good enough, but odds are it’s something else that’s causing the issue.

I’m living proof of both sides of the fence. In games like Street Fighter IV and Marvel vs. Capcom 3, where I have a good understanding of how the combo systems work, I routinely beat players with much better combo execution than me, because I understand the context of my combos, have the creativity to mix up my tactics on the fly, and I have a solid understanding of the game as a whole. However, in games like BlazBlue or Tekken, I know a handful of combos that I can execute on command. Though I may have that portion down, my lack of context for those combos, my lack of creativity and my lack of fundamental game knowledge doom me for failure pretty much any time I try and play someone who has a better grasp of the basics.

In Summary

– When you first start learning a new fighting game, concentrate on mastering it’s core elements first before moving towards advanced combo tactics.

The next post in the Universal Fighting Game Guide will cover some of the basics that make up most combo systems. Be on the look out for the next installment!

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