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LONG BLOG

How to get better at Street Fighter Part 1: The (Very) Basics

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As a guy who does pretty well competitively against some really good players in the fighting game community, I often come across other not-so-talented people looking to improve who ask me 'how can I get better at Street Fighter?' The question itself seems simple enough, and most people will point you in the direction of SRK's forums, YouTube tutorials, or tell you things like 'stop mashing and block more' that seem simple enough, but often lead to more questions than answers. SRK can be imposing for someone who's just starting out and doesn't know where to look/what questions to ask.

It's for that purpose that I finally, after much talk and little action, put into words just how to go about improving in Street Fighter. A lot of what I'll cover can be applied to other fighters as well, but for the sake of continuity and understanding I'll be covering Street Fighter. In these 'guides' I'll try to be as thorough as possible and explain things to the best of my ability, so the pacing will be slow as to drive home the points I'm trying to make.

The first thing we'll have to cover are the very basics of any Street Fighter game. These things apply to all Street Fighters and translate from game to game regardless of which version of Street Fighter you're playing. Keep in mind I'm talking 2, 3, Alpha series, and 4 exclusively. If you know how the mechanics of each game work, skip ahead to the introduction to save yourself the time.

(Edit 2/18/2014: Now that I have the other parts of the series up, I'm going to revise my earlier posts with links to the later stuff and some fix some stuff that needed correcting and editing. Part 2 which deals with footsies and identifying skill is here, Part 3 which deals with how to use the training room to improve is here, and Part 4 which deals with mind games, reading your opponent, and training your opponent is here.)


-Mechanics-


Street Fighter is a 6-button fighting game that features some pretty complex, yet easy enough to learn mechanics that give the game an easy accessibility, while also providing for depth the more you learn about the game. Every game has the following;

Normals:

LP - Light Punch, or jab.
MP - Medium Punch, or strong.
HP - Heavy Punch, or fierce.
LK - Light Kick, or short.
MK - Medium Kick, or forward. 
HK - Heavy Kick, or roundhouse.
PPP/Px3 - Triple Punch, or all 3 punch buttons pressed simultaneously.
KKK/Kx3 - Triple Kick, or all 3 kick buttons pressed simultaneously.



These buttons are referred to as your character's normals. You have standing, crouching, air and sometimes command normals (meaning, a direction held and a normal at the same time, like Ryu's forward+MP 2-hit overhead). Some characters will have multi-hitting normals (Ibuki's standing HK when close) while others may have target combos, which are a sequence of normals hit in specific order (Ken's standing MP into HP when close in 3 and 4, or Dudley's chain combos). Not everyone will have these, so it's important to know what your character can and can't do. Some people will tell you that not all normals are essential. This is a lie. Every normal is essential and has its uses. It's up to you to figure out how and when each normal is applicable. You won't always use every normal, but by having every tool available to you, you will fare much better than the people who only use lights and heavies.

Throwing:

In SF3 and SF4, one can throw an opponent by pressing LK and LP at the same time. When close, you can choose how and where to throw an opponent depending on if you threw them while holding back, forward, or remained neutral on the joystick (no direction held). You can break a throw by 'teching' it by also pressing LK and LP at the same time.

In SSF2:Turbo, proximity of your opponent determines if they can be thrown or not. While close to an opponent you can press HP, HK, MP, or MK to activate a throw while holding back or towards on the joystick. If you're close enough you will throw your opponent. If not, you will perform the corresponding normal. You can tech throws in Super Turbo by teching in the same manner as performing a throw (HP, HK, MP, or MK), though you will still take half the damage. Not all characters have throws with the 4 aforementioned buttons too, as characters like Chun-Li can't throw with MK or HK, but can tech with those buttons. Keep in mind also that while the Super Turbo (or New/N.) characters can tech throws, Super (or Old/O.) characters can't tech throws at all.

In the Alpha series, throwing is done similarly to 2, only instead of just pressing HP or HK when close you press 2 punch buttons or 2 kick buttons at the same time. Teching applies similarly to SF3 and 4, where you will break a throw by pressing 2 kick or punch buttons at the same time your opponent goes for a throw.


Blocking:

In the Street Fighter series there exists 3 methods of blocking. Holding back will trigger high blocking. Holding down and back will trigger low blocking. Holding forward when your opponents jump over you will trigger cross up blocking. High blocking will block attacks that hit high, like standing normals or specials, overheads, or jump in attacks. Crouch blocking will block attacks that hit low, like crouching normals or specials. There are certain attacks that bypass these two methods of blocking by hitting you from behind. These attacks are called cross ups. For example, if Chun-Li holds down and forward while pressing HK when next to her opponent she will jump over you and kick your character in the back of the head.

This is a cross up attack and neither high nor crouch blocking can defend against it. In this instance only cross up blocking will work, which is performed by holding forward, or towards the direction your opponent advanced from. All 3 are necessary to play Street Fighter in order to protect yourself from being constantly hit. When used correctly, you will block all attacks that aren't throws or command grabs. Certain moves are unblockable (Ryu's Denjin Hadoken in 3, projectile set ups into Ultra in vanilla 4, or supers that create multi-hitting normals that can hit high and low when timed correctly like Yang's Seiei-Enbu or V-Isms in Alpha 2 and 3).



It's certainly true that you can't realistically block everything in a Street Fighter, as part of the strategy in Street Fighter is figuring out how to overcome your opponent's blocking by mixing up your attacks. However, by reacting appropriately and making the right reads you can block the majority of attacks and frustrate opponents or force them to try to throw you in order to open up their offensive game.


Specials:

These are pretty basic, but I'll go over them anyway as I'm sure some people reading this might not be aware of certain specifics. Specials are the moves which require a series of inputs to execute. Hadoken, tatsumaki, shoryuken, sonic boom, flash kick, spinning pile drivers, teleports, and other similar moves are called specials and can have up to 4 different versions (though some only have 1, like teleports, while others only have 3, like command grabs in 2 and 3). A LP hadoken might not do as much damage or travel as fast as others, but it usually has less start up and recovery, meaning it's easier to time in order to not get hit during or after it's animation. An EX shoryuken from Ken in the IV series has more invincibility frames than a LP shoryuken (8 frames more if timed correctly), but requires 1 block of meter and can be more easily punished on blocked than a LP shoryuken because it has more recovery. Risk/reward is large part of Street Fighter and picking and choosing when to risk big or when not to risk big is part of the mental game between two knowledgeable opponents.

Each variation has it's specific use and purpose. Using the fierce or EX versions (using Px3 or Kx3 with the required meter available) isn't always the best option, so learning when to use each version can mean the difference between staying safe or getting punished, or getting the max damage from a punish or extending the combo.

Command grabs are considered specials, and are important to note as almost all command grabs (none that come to mind which don't) beat all regular throws. Depending on start up, they'll also beat the start up of certain normals or punish the recovery of certain normals. In general, command grabs only work at close distances and have significantly faster start ups than most normals or specials. This means that using normals or certain specials at close range against characters that have command grabs is generally not a good idea and should instead be used at ranges to keep these characters out of their command grab range, collecting damage along the way towards initiating their offense or getting frustrated into making mistakes.



Supers:

Supers, or super moves, are often similar to the character's specials with some major differences. First, you'll notice the screen often denotes the execution of these moves with a momentary freeze of the screen and is followed by a scrolling background or changing the color of the background momentarily. These moves often do much more damage than specials and thus, require a full super meter to perform (or levels of meter depending on the game). You can combo into some similarly to how you would combo into specials (shinkuu hadoken, shoryu-reppa), or you can use certain ones by themselves (denjin hadoken, Necro's slam dance, T. Hawk's raging typhoon, Akuma's raging demon). Some supers even give your character's special properties (Makoto's Tanden Renki causes increased damage, Yun's Genei-Jin makes him broken by causing everything he does to become overwhelmingly amazing, Yang's Seiei-Enbu makes all specials and normals he does multi-hitting, V-Isms do the same throughout Alpha 2 and 3) while others don't really do much at all (Dan's super taunt, though they do have their uses).



Super command grabs are also very strong like their special counterparts and often do great damage while beating all other throws (Final Atomic Buster, Gigas Breaker) or can throw people out of the air like other command grabs (Megaton Press). A couple things to note about supers; some have invincibility on their start up while others don't, some are completely projectile invincible while others only have limited projectile invincibility, some have little to no start up while others have more start up than you would think, and some have overhead properties while others can be used as cross ups. It's very important to figure out the properties of your character's supers and how they can best be applied.

One final side note about Supers I have to mention is that the Alpha series, and 3 in particular, have a lot more varying Super options to choose from, making this section of that game I'll cover at a later point in time (if anyone is interested).

Cancels:

Cancels are simply canceling the animation or recovery of a normal or special into a special or super. Crouching MK into Hadoken (or cr.MKxxHadoken, where xx denotes a cancel) is a cancel, which can then be canceled into shinkuu hadoken during the hadoken cancel or you can bypass the hadoken cancel entirely and go straight into a shinkuu hadoken from a crouching MK cancel in 3rd Strike and SF4 (I believe cr.MK into Hadoken in ST is a link, correct me if I'm wrong though). You can also cancel certain normals into each other like crouching jabs or lights into each other, or by using chain combos like Guy's Bushin chain or Akuma's standing MPxxHP chain in 3rd Strike. Normals you can cancel into each other are chains, and some are cancelable (Ken's standing MPxxHP, Yun's 1-2-3 LPxxLKxxMP, Guy's LPxxMPxxHP) into supers or specials.

Links:

Basically combos that aren't cancels. In SF4 you can choose to cancel light attacks (LK or LP) or link them. One example would be Adon, who can't chain light attacks, but can link them. You're allowing the first attack to recover completely and timing the second attack to connect before your opponent recovers. Ryu's close standing MK links into a crouching jab depending on timing and distance in 3rd Strike. Makoto's standing MP links into itself in SF4. Characters like Rose and DeeJay often use links to hit confirm or combo into their specials or supers in SF4 as well, so links are very important.

Here's a video that goes a little more in depth if that all seems confusing to you:





Okay, that was easy enough, now the real introduction.

Got all that down? Seem like a lot? Pfft, we're just getting started. I could write Bibles of information about Street Fighter, there's so much to know and learn. But that isn't why you're here. Chances are you've played before and already know all that stuff. You're here because you know all that and still feel like you suck or need a lot of improvement. Chances are, you know basic strategies and what characters can do, but you just can't seem to win by fault of execution or not being able to figure things out. Or, let's say you can only play one character and can't seem to use anyone else in the cast.

The cool thing about Street Fighter is that, for as much stuff as there is to learn and play with, there are only 3 or 4 types of input-type motions that all of the cast relies on.


Motion input characters that use quarter circles and half circles, as well as shoryuken motions (like Ryu, Ken, Rose, Sagat, Fei-Long, etc.)


Charge characters that use back or down charge timings (Blanka, Bison, Balrog, Vega, Urien, Remy, etc.)



Grapplers that use half circles, 360, or 720 inputs for command grabs (Zangief, Hugo, Abel, Alex, Hakan, etc.)



And super jump-cancel characters (being able to cancel the recovery or animation of a normal/special by instantly super jumping, performed by pressing down and then up) that are beyond even most player's execution which require sacrificing your soul to some dark deity and the blood of some virgin creature (Ibuki, C. Viper, also see Gods of Execution Desk, Sakonoko, Latiff)

In general, Street Fighter characters often are a mix of most of these types of moves and learning each kind will open up the roster to you. An example of a character who uses a lot of different input motions is Alex in 3rd Strike, who uses quarter circles, charge moves, and half circles. Another example would be Ibuki who uses jump-cancels, quarter circles, and half circles. If you learn how to execute all the special moves in the game, you can start learning how to play different characters.

And that's where I'm starting. How to go about learning characters, what makes them easier to learn/better/stronger than other characters and how to identify which characters best suit your playing style.

Execution:

First things first, we have to know what type of execution you have. Not everybody can perform everything at will all the time, and without lots of practice you'll be eating a lot of punishes from skilled or experienced players. So if you're more comfortable performing charge moves, Guile or Honda might be a better fit for you than Ryu or Ken in the beginning. The importance here is to feel comfortable with being able to execute the basics with your character. If you know you can get Sonic Boom more often than you can get Hadoken, start from there. If you feel comfortable with the type of character he or she is, it will be easier to go about learning how to play them. If you're trying to play outside your comfort zone to expand your knowledge of the cast, even better, as you'll have to do this at some point to gain a complete knowledge of the game anyway.

So let's just assume you've never seen this character you're trying to learn before and aren't sure what he/she can do. Most fighters these days have move lists or command lists which have a set of varying specials, supers, and command normals/unique attacks that are specific to that character. A command list looks like the following:



While this move list doesn't show everything the character can do, it does give you their basic special and super/ultra commands. Ken can perform his Shoryuken by inputting down, moving the joystick to forward, and then moving it to down and forward while pressing any punch button. Chun-Li, however, has charge moves that aren't very well explained by this move list. Her Spinning Bird Kick is a charge move, though you'd have to infer that by the "HOLD" text between her inputs. To perform her SBK you'd hold down on the joystick for about 2 real life seconds and then press up and any kick button. Her Kikouken would be performed by holding back for 2 seconds and then pressing forward and any punch.

Before you attempt using your new character in a fight though, you'll need to be able to perform these supers and specials at a fairly consistent rate from BOTH sides of the opponent. I know a lot of players have told me "I can only do this certain thing from the right side." That happens to a lot of people when they're first starting out, myself included, but being handicapped to one side is a huge weakness any smart opponent will undoubtedly exploit. Learn how to execute on both sides and most importantly, know how each command should be inputted correctly to prevent a lot of execution errors resulting in a punish or missed damage opportunities. For input specifics, I'll cover some that in a later entries, as it has a whole bevy of intricacies that require their own section. For now, getting the basics of specials, supers, and command normals/unique attacks down and familiarizing yourself with them is the only goal here.

Once you feel like you know your character's specials and supers, learn their normals. I can't stress this part enough. Seriously, normals are just about 50% of Street Fighter and are ABSOLUTELY VITAL FOR COMPETENT PLAY. For example, a character like Honda doesn't have any normals remotely similar to a character like Dhalsim. Honda usually has some decent air normals like his neutral jumping HP (straight up and HP, which you can then move forward or back a little while airborne in 4) while Dhalsim's normals depend on if he's neutral or holding back on the joystick. Dhalsim's standing HP will go almost 3/4's of the screen to hit your opponent while his standing HP while holding back or blocking will cause him to attack with a headbutt that will only hit at very close range. The same goes for his jumping normals. A neutral jumping HP will hit as an overhead on crouching opponents from a good distance while a neutral jumping HP while holding back will cause the headbutt to come out and isn't very good at all in most instances.



Normals should be learned for the following purposes; canceling, hit confirming, anti-airing, knockdowns, resets, linking, frame trapping, zoning, pressuring, punishing, and tic throwing. Learn what normals hit only high, only low, as an overhead, as a cross up (MKs in most instances), which can be parried high, low, or both, etc. One of the first things I do when learning a character is learning what their anti-airs are. Some character's specials work as anti-airs, while others have to rely mostly on normals. Anti-airing doesn't always work the same way twice in certain games (3rd Strike more specifically) and thus you need to know how to anti-air people in a multitude of ways.

Makoto in 3rd Strike has more anti-air options than her Super 4 counterpart because of the differences in the system mechanics between the two games. However, just based on normals, she has limited anti-air options. Her standing MP or MK might result in a trade with jump in attacks where her crouching MK might outright beat jump in attacks or lower her hit box enough to make the jump in miss, or whiff. She has a great jumping MK and a pretty good jumping LP (as almost everyone in 3rd Strike does), so those options are available to her instead of just risking getting beat by an air parry or jump in attack. By jumping back and timing her MK in the air, she loses some ground, but prevents being pressured after the jump in attack and stays in a comfortable space where she can dash in to pressure her opponent after or continue to play footsies with her normals from a safe distance (similar to how she can jump up and immediately attack with her HP in 4). Her best anti-air, like many others in 3rd Strike, is to parry the jump in attack, as it sets her up for a quick karakusa (her command grab) or hit confirm into punish (standing HP cancel into HP hayate). Of particular note here is the system mechanics for 3S and 4, as parries and focus attacks can be used as anti-airs as well that lead to much better damage opportunities in most instances. The Alpha series after 1 has V-isms that work well as anti-airs too.



Another thing I like to check for, that I know a ton of people do as they love to exploit it to a fault, is to find the quickest normal I have in order to start pressure or use for tic throwing. One of the things I come across most is people who rely on their crouching LP or LK between block strings or attacks. This is a bad habit mostly brought on by SF4, as most hit confirms in that game start with a jab or short. It's good for hit confirms only really in that game, as elsewhere it's hard to get much out of jabs or shorts alone. The negative side to relying on these normals is they are very, very easily punishable. A quick reversal, well spaced normal, or parry leave you open for a lot of damage and experienced players will punish you heavily for relying on these normals.



(I have to admit, this is my favorite series on YouTube. I don't know who the guy is that uploads these, but he's got a fan in me.)


Most character's quickest normals are their jabs and shorts, so knowing the max number of times you can connect these attacks in a combo or chain is important to your spacing and pressure game. While it may seem like you're safe to do these attacks, just like everything else in these games, there is recovery and you can be punished with well timed attacks. I use these normals mostly for block pressure, tic throws, and hit confirms, though they can also be used as baits (throw out a safe one on your opponent's wake up to bait out a reversal) or as misdirection (throw out one that whiffs if I know my opponent is likely to block or fish for a parry so that I can get a throw in or use another quick normal to hit confirm into something). They're also good for spacing, as a blocked chain of 3 crouching lights (LP or LK) usually put shotos in good range for crouching MK hit confirms. The spacing of push back on block or hit is something to consider and another reason why knowing the range and speed of your normals is important.

Another thing about normals is figuring out which normals are cancelable and which normals I can link to and from. I'm sure everyone's seen Ryu's crouching MK into fireball cancel at this point, but a good number of people probably haven't seen his far standing MP (MP when not in close range) cancel into shoryuken or tatsumaki in 4. In general, the crouching MK is of far better use than his far standing MP, as it has better range and is easier to hit confirm from, but knowing you can cancel from far standing MP can be useful too as it does 20 more damage and might catch your opponents off guard. In general though, you want to find those 1 or 2 normals that will become your 'go-to' normals for hit confirming and canceling into specials and/or supers. in 3rd Strike, Ryu has multiple cancelable normals, each depending on how close or far you are to your opponent. His close standing HP, which is very fast and does great damage and stun, is cancelable, while his far standing HP is only cancelable into his HK chain combo. His close standing MK is cancelable while his far standing MK is not. Learning which normals to use for cancels is the first step in learning how to hit confirm into specials and supers. Also important to note is which specials are cancelable into supers, like Ken's shoryuken into shoryureppa or Honda's hundred hand slap into his super in 4 (I forget the name, something like Killer Head Ram).

While canceling is a great and important utility of normals, linking is also very important, as it can extend combos, build more meter, increase damage potential, and lead to some devastating punishes or mix up opportunities. Link combos like Ryu's crouching MP into another crouching MP or standing LP into a crouching HK in 4 are integral to extending combos or scoring knock downs. They also can be used as frame traps or set ups for tic throws, to throw your opponent off or if you don't feel confident in your link timing. For example, if you land a crouching MP your opponent will probably expect another crouching attack before you cancel into a special or super, so you might be able to sneak a throw in (if your opponent isn't mashing inputs). The next time, your opponent might try to tech the throw so you can try for that link and have a greater chance of landing it if it doesn't link since it will hit your opponent trying to tech a throw. Certain specials and supers can also be linked in specific situations (Ken's shippu-jinrai from almost any normal is one example in 3rd Strike), though that's a bit advanced and mostly something you'll see from very skilled players, as there is a large risk factor involved in those links (whiffing supers is generally a really bad move as you lose meter and certain whffed supers set you up for big punishes).

Normals are the tools you need to start playing your character to their potential, and are the gateway to becoming a better player. Once again, you may not always use every normal, but having every normal available to you is much better than being limited to a few good ones. Some of the best players use seemingly every normal at their disposal (Smug with Dudley or Sabin with Dhalsim in 4 are prime examples) and it gives their opponents more to look out for, helping predictability become less likely and giving them a greater chance to win.



Practice these things in training mode and against players who are a little less skilled than you are in order to become familiar with them and get used to using them in matches more often and you'll find they become second nature after not too long. Train yourself to be diligent in timing and each input. Every input should serve a purpose outside of just getting random damage and training yourself to recognize when to press buttons will help your hit confirming, link timing. counter-hitting, and block stringing exponentially.


Next Blog Entry: How to identify an opponent's general skill level and use normals correctly is up here.
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About KD Alphaone of us since 7:17 PM on 11.21.2006

Been a member of Dtoid since June 2006, but I don't really like the front page since it's become a jumbled mess of overwhelming content I could care less about. I'm mostly active on the forums these days. I'm here for video games, not social commentary. If you really want to get to know me, head over to Super Street Fighter IV or Gears of War 3 threads.

Favorite games: FFVIII, Street Fighter Alpha 3, Super Street Fighter IV, Tetris Attack, Super Mario World, Chrono Trigger, Star Fox 64, Tekken 3, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Breath of Fire IV, Dragon Quest VIII, NBA 2K12, Gears of War 3, Geometry Wars 2, Vagrant Story, Lumines Live.

Fighters all day, errday.
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