How to Pick Up a Fighting Game and Genuinely Enjoy It (Part 1)

Written by Allen

May 21, 2019

‘Fighting Games are great,’ I couldn’t agree more with Tokido’s one-line for his victory speech. Through the many battles my brother and I had, I found so much to learn and achieve in this beloved genre. While winning against random opponents is definitely feels good, that’s hardly what makes fighting games a great experience, at least in my opinion.

So how do you make the game fun without attaching enjoyment to your win rate? From here we’ll review my process of how to learn and enjoy a fighting game.


Picking a Character

When I come into a fighting game this is usually one of the more paralyzing choices I end up facing, how do I determine which character will give me a fun time playing as? Most games open up with at about 10 characters to pick from, longer running ones definitely have a much broader roster. Are you going to play the one the poster character and risk being thought of as plain? Or maybe that one that everyone complains on being ‘too strong’ or ‘cheap?’ How about that cute character that’ll make certain peers look at you funny? Actually, any of those are really bad factors to consider, but it wouldn’t be surprising if they crossed your mind.

In my opinion, the only rule of thumb to follow would be ‘pick the character that you like.’

Why? You’re going to be looking at that character a lot, you’ll be playing him/her a lot perhaps to the point that it’s an ‘extension of yourself’, and if you stick with that character people are going to identify you with it. You’ll want to like the character you decide to pick as your ‘main’ because you’ll ideally be spending most of the game with the one you picked.

So how do I know I liked this character? It could be a number of things.

It could be style of play they have. For example, shoto characters (a common term for the types that are like Ryu from Street Fighter), tend to be well-rounded in being able to fight in any situation. They’re usually noob-friendly for this reason. There are other types that have a heavier focus on long-ranged attacks, grapples, movement, and more.

You can also like a character because of certain aesthetics he or she carries. Maybe you like crazy personalities that shock people, like Voldo from Soul Calibur. Or you really like the halloween theme and Slayer from Guilty Gear fits the bill. Maybe there’s a voice actor you like in particular and is the voice behind one of them? Or do you just really like the story behind one of them, do you find it entertaining or does it reach out to you in some way?

Point is, whether practicing, winning, losing, or just having plain sets with a few friends. You’re going to want to pick a character you like, and how you like to pick should only matter to you. If you’re going to invest time and effort into playing a character, you’ll want to like where you’re putting it.


Learning the Tools

Once you’ve picked a character that you’d like to try out, you’ll generally need a to know what that character’s tools are. In general you’ll want to know how to get it to do three things:

-An upward attack meant to deal with jumping foes.

-A quick attack that you can use to quickly jab at your opponent.

-Then a move meant to punish bad moves from whoever you’re fighting.

Note that these are ‘general purpose’ ideas and characters can be setup in a way that they perform very differently. The general idea is that you are familiarizing yourself with the ‘tools’ that your pick has available to you. And this is the first step in learning how to use whoever you choose to play as properly. You won’t be able to neatly slice a cake with a butcher knife, or when you’re fixing something, it’s probably a bad idea to remove a screw using a hammer. It’s the same idea with normal or special attacks when it comes to fighters, think of each of them as a tool and how they’re meant to be used. Knowing what they are and in what situation they’re good for is important as the situation can change every few seconds.

When you’re able to use moves that generally match the descriptions I listed above, you’ll be able to focus more on fighting your opponent rather than struggling with the controls of your character at the same time. Clearly, that’s a genuine path to frustration that you’d rather avoid.

I’m going to sneak in a bit about blocking or guarding against your opponent. A lot of people seem to ignore this but I’m not sure how exactly to teach it. Blocking is your default tool for defending against almost any attack. For the most part, this is a better option than trying to counter every attack your opponent throws at you, at least until you figure out where their weaknesses are. So, if you’re not sure of what to do in a given situation, blocking is normally a good default option to take.

Now you’ve got a way of dealing with people that like to jump in, answering ones that whiff big moves, and a quick attack when you’re trying to poke at your opponent. Typically when making these quick swipes, you notice that it’s pretty easy to make a short combo off of it, so how do you maximize it? Well let’s cover that next.


Experimenting With Combos

You usually see combos being the big focus on YouTube videos and it’s no surprise why. It’s a lot like watching people do tricks on a skateboard, or a gymnast perform a perfect routine, it really is a spectacle. What those five minute clips don’t show is the amount of insane preparation one would go through to have a chance of pulling it off while recording. It’s a lot of work, but it can certainly be rewarding.

Before we go further, I’d like to note that newer games also have taken to automatically executing combos by repeatedly pressing one button, and if you’re satisfied with that then that’s fine. But if you’d like to mix it up a bit, we can go over how that’s done.

Fighters these days usually come packaged with a ‘challenge’ mode that’s aimed towards helping a player learn every character. Ones I’ve encountered usually courses through the full set of special moves, then proceeds to increasingly more difficult combos as you progress through them. If you master them enough it’s possible to use them in actual fights and maybe do a little flex when you finish that combo.

More experienced players may have a thing or two to say about these, normally ‘challenge combos’ aren’t optimised. Meaning you can get a better bang for your buck by choosing an alternative set of moves compared to what’s prescribed. It’s also prone to being unnecessarily difficult to execute so it can satisfy the challenge aspect of it’s name.

It’s probably best to think of it in an RPG sense, when you land an attack and your knowledge and skill are still at a novice level, the damage you deal is probably going to be smaller than those who have advanced further than you in learning the game. While the simple answer seems to be to ‘grind’ your ability to pull off better attacks there’s a huge chance you may end-up lopsided in being able to play. Much like some anime wizard who can dish out powerful spells but is ultimately useless for pretty much anything else, you’re pretty much a sitting duck if you realize that one big combo or setup you have in mind suddenly stopped working against whoever you’re fighting. Try to keep what you’re picking up balanced and not focus on pulling off this big touch of death combo. Because in the end, it’s only one aspect of the game. Over time I’ve found that it’s better to rely on short, effective combos when you still have a lot to learn, even if the bigger combos do pull off a lot of damage. It’s actually pretty easy for basic combos to catch up if done a few times. Those smaller differences do matter a lot more when you’re fighting on a higher level, but that’s not the point of what I’m trying to share here.

Personally, I pick up whatever I find either online or within the game’s tutorials, then go to the training mode and experiment with everything I’ve found out. It’s what more avid fighters would call ‘labbing up.’ I think that’s for people who are ready to take their game further than beginners though, so I won’t talk about it in too much detail. But generally it’s where you want to familiarize yourself with the finer points of how whoever your playing can act, so that you can reliably do what you have in mind at a moment’s notice.

Combos are pretty much your artillery, once you’ve found an opening against your opponent it’s time to bombard your them with the firepower you have available at that point. The next step would be making those openings available to you as often as possible.

That and more will be coming on part 2 of this guide. I wasn’t expecting to become this long, honestly. Hopefully what I’ve shared here is something you find useful, or if you’re an experienced fighter, hopefully you can share this with those who may have their interest in the genre piqued. I hope that through this and whatever I end up writing following this, have brought you interest into trying out fighting games. Because they’re just great, man.

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