Many moons ago, I wrote a post about how to read frame data. While this post is great on its own (and is one of the most popular on my site) I never got around to providing any practical applications of frame data. In this edition of the Universal Fighting Game Guide, I’ll provide an explanation for frame advantage and a practical use for it, which is crucial to grasp if you’re looking to elevate your game.
Before you read through this, I strongly recommend going back and reading my guide that explains how to read frame data. This particular edition of the guide won’t do you much good if you don’t understand the basics of frame data, so please check that out first. If you’ve already done that or already know the basics, then let’s move on with the show.
What is frame advantage?
When your attack connects with your opponent, it takes time for you to recover from your move, and time for your opponent to recover from hit stun or block stun before either of you return to a neutral position. The difference in the time it takes for you to recover from your attack and the time it takes for your opponent to recover from hit stun or block stun is called frame advantage.
Frame advantage can be represented as a positive or negative number to indicate who recovers first after the move is executed. If the number is positive, then the person who did the move has the frame advantage by that amount. If the number is negative, then the person who received the move has the frame advantage by that amount. There are also two different types of frame advantage for each move, as frame advantage is different for when a move hits and when a move is blocked. Let’s use Deathstroke’s Sword Flip to explain frame advantage in further detail. If you look it up in a frame data guide, it would look something like this:
What does this data mean? Let’s first interpret the frame advantage on hit column. This means that if Deathstroke hits his opponent with a Sword Flip, the frame advantage is 28. In this case, Deathstroke will recover 28 frames (or .46 seconds) faster than his opponent. Now let’s look at the frame advantage on block column. If Deathstroke’s opponent successfully blocks the move, then the frame advantage is -25. Here, Deathstroke’s opponent will recover 25 frames (or .42 seconds) faster than his opponent.
Half a second of difference sounds inconsequential, but it’s actually can have a huge impact on the outcome of a match when players understand what to do with that time. For the purposes of this discussion, we’ll focus on the concept of safe on block.
What is safe on block?
Safe on block is a phrase referring to a move that an opponent can’t punish if they block it. This can be primarily determined through frame data, though there are other factors that can affect whether a move is safe or not, such as hitbox data and push back. For the sake of simplicity, let’s isolate frame data as the only factor that dictates what’s safe.
How do I know what’s safe and what isn’t?
Frame data charts will not immediately tell you whether a move is safe on block or not. It’s up to you to determine that through the data. How? You must calculate the difference between a move’s frame advantage on block, versus the start-up frames of a counter move. When you go through this process, you’ll start to see that moves aren’t simply just safe or unsafe. There are actually varying degrees of safeness.
A) A move that’s completely safe on block
Ryu’s crouching light punch is completely safe on block. When you dig into the frame data, he’s +2, which means that when an opponent blocks it, he will recover two frames faster than them. In this scenario, his opponent literally can’t input a move that will start up before Ryu returns to a neutral state.
B) A move that’s almost completely safe on block
Killer Frost’s Black Ice move from Injustice: Gods Among Us is an example of a move that is almost completely safe on block. How do we know this? Well, when her opponent blocks the move, she’s at -4, which means it takes her 4 frames to recover. Though she’s technically at a disadvantage since she requires time to recover, the definition of safe isn’t necessarily dictated by the fact that the number is a negative. It’s determined by how fast the other moves can start up.
If you dig deep enough into the frame data, you’ll see that almost all of the fastest attacks in the game are light attacks, which peak at 6 frames to start up. Since Killer Frost’s slide recovers 2 frames faster than any other move in the game, her opponent can’t do anything to punish that move when they block it. However, Superman’s super move starts in 1 frame. As far as I know, this is the only move in the game that is faster than the slide’s recovery time, which mean’s he can punish it when he successfully blocks it. Technically, this means the move is unsafe, but because the number of scenarios where this move is unsafe are so few, this move is mostly safe.
In every fighting game, it’s important for you to have an idea of what moves are the fastest ones to start, as they’ll be a major benchmark to help you determine what’s safe and what isn’t. For instance, in Street Fighter IV, regular throws start in 2 frames, the fastest light attacks start in 3 frames, and certain supers (Akuma and Chun-Li) can start up in as fast as 1 frame.
C) A move that’s unsafe on block
Let’s go back to Deathstroke’s Sword Flip. People love using this move as a wake up attack because it has invincible start-up. However, its biggest downfall is the fact that its -25 on block. In particular, when Deathstorke pulls off this move when he’s really close to his opponent, he lands right beside them when the move is blocked, which leaves him wide open to all sorts of punishment. Superman’s super move will punish it clean. As will many normal moves. As a Batman player, I always punish the Sword Flip with a full combo that can do upwards of 40% in damage that simply starts with Batman’s back light attack.
A general rule of thumb for what’s safe and what isn’t
It’s crazy to expect anyone to memorize the frame data for every move in any given fighting game. Instead, I generally use a move’s strength as a barometer for safeness. The stronger the attack, the more unsafe it is. Case in point, Ryu’s crouching light punch does very little damage, but is safe. On the other end of the spectrum, Deathstroke’s Sword Flip does much more damage and has the added benefit of invincibility frames on start up. However, it’s also very unsafe when blocked.
The concept of safe on block and how it should impact your overall approach to fighting games
You should always be mindful of what’s safe on block and what isn’t. When you are making an initial offensive approach, it is generally best practice to lead with an attack that is safe on block, such as a light attack in most fighting games. When you do this, you’re still safe if the move is blocked. If you’re going to put yourself at risk by starting with a stronger attack with slower recovery, make you’re you make that decision based on a really good read of your opponent at that particular moment. Better yet, save your heavy attacks as part of a combo, when you’ve already opened your opponent up and they can’t stop it.
On the other hand, if your opponent initiates their offense with a move that is unsafe, such as Ken recklessly using his Shoryuken, punish the heck out of it when you block it. Regardless of which version of Street Fighter you’re playing, almost every version of that move puts Ken at a serious frame disadvantage.
By practically applying this concept to your approach, you can become an opponent that can be very hard to hit while hitting very hard whenever your opponent makes a mistake. This doesn’t mean you’ll fight like a turtle, either. With a strong understanding of the concepts outlined here, you can be a very aggressive player without putting yourself in much risk to get hit.Of all of the potential uses for frame data, I think this one is by far the most useful and beneficial to your growth.