Even More Fighting Game Terminology
Trevor | March 14, 2021
Welcome to yet another entry on fighting games. This time we turn our attention to acronyms, character archetypes, and pay a visit to the Saikyo dojo.
This article is part three of a series. You can find part one here and part two here.
The air dash was first introduced in the Darkstalkers series. There, each character had a unique trajectory on their dash, giving them specialized options on how to get around projectiles or approach from above. This made aerial play much harder to predict, and really opened up the field.
Today, air dashes are the most defining line of demarcation between “anime fighters” and other games. In franchises like DBFZ, Guilty Gear, and Blazblue, air dashes are universal, terrifying, and essential to high level play. Meanwhile, games like Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat keep their fighters less mobile, opting to make any unusual air maneuvers or teleports specialized to character specific moves.
So, what’s the big difference here? Well, I think looking at overheads is the best demonstration of how deadly an air dash is. Here’s my two choices for an overhead in Street Fighter V.
I can either do this big jump, or a move with a lengthy startup time. In either case, my opponent has extra time to react.
Now look at this nonsense.
With a shallow jump followed by an air dash, I can land an overhead in half the time. This also means your opponent can't predict your jump arc, as you could potentially alter your approach at any moment. But that’s not the real bamboozle. The real bamboozle is you could also do this instead.
Spacing is crucial in fighters where air dashes are ubiquitous, because once your opponent gets a setup like this, it’s a dream 50/50. Are they going to overhead you? Go low? Overhead you and then go low? It all happens so fast, you barely have time to react. Your best hope in these situations is to read your opponent and learn their patterns, because responding on reaction is almost impossible at this speed. Speaking of which...
O.T.G. stands for “on the ground.” This acronym is used to describe any move capable of hitting a grounded foe.
In most 2D fighters, characters in hard knockdown gain invincibility until they get back up, hence why you can’t just run up and low kick after a throw for easy damage. O.T.G.s circumvent the usual rules, and as such, are typically unique to only a handful of characters in any given 2D fighter.
T.O.D. stands for "touch of death". A T.O.D. is any combo that eliminates 100% of a foe's life bar from a single hit. One hit, one kill. These are extremely rare and difficult to perform, but they exist. Today you'll most commonly see them in Dragonball Fighter Z, where careful management of assists and hitstun makes it achieveable by many characters.
Not all T.O.D.s are created equal, though. Some are a result of bad balance and programming exploits, which... aren't terribly fun to watch.
This is a glaring omission from part one, as it’s something you’ll hear often in commentary for any game.
If a commentator says “the download is complete,” it means whoever’s winning is reading their opponent like a favorite book. Stuffing attacks, not falling for any feints or cancels, landing big punish after big punish.
When someone is losing, commentators will muse on whether or not they’ve got a “download in progress,” which is shorthand for learning their opponent’s patterns. When the download is complete, you’ll see the tables turn entirely. This is a good segway into...
I didn’t include this in part one because I felt it was self-explanatory, but it’s worth explaining now in regards to The Download.
Conditioning is intentionally using the same options multiple times in a row when on the attack, specifically to set your opponent up for failure later. In the above example, Laura goes for a low kick on Karin several times, then switches to an overhead once she starts blocking. By conditioning her to block low, Laura opens her up to get tagged by the overhead later.
Back in part one, I omitted this concept because it’s something you really only need to be concerned with at the highest level of play... normally. With Street Fighter V's intense frame trap game, Now is as good a time as any to explore this.
A frame trap is any interaction that grants your opponent the appearance of being able to safely act, but in reality they are not. The goal is to land a counter hit on an exposed opponent. In the above example, Zangief blocks Ryu's light punch and attempts to counter, but Ryu's medium punch hits faster due to Zangief's blockstun. This is the most basic kind of frame trap — Zangief assumed he could punish the block, but the game was rigged from the start.
Another type of frame trap involves spacing. Take Cammy, for example.
Here Sagat's attempt to counter Cammy's medium kick whiffs, and Cammy uses spiral arrow to close in. This is a good example of a situation where the frame data doesn't tell the whole story. Up close Sagat's punch would land first, but the spacing keeps Cammy safe.
There's a type of move with inherent frame traps in many games, which goes by the moniker...
This term comes from Street Fighter 2: Championship Edition, where the Bruce Lee inspired Fei Long joined the Street Fighter cast.
Fei Long had a move called “Rekkaken,” a series of fist attacks which required multiple inputs. Since then, any attack of a similar nature is called a rekka. They’re a common tool in any rushdown character’s arsenal.
Rekkas are notable for a few reasons. First off, they have incredible inherent corner carry. Just look how far Fei Long punches Dhalsim in just three hits above. Second, they’re highly versatile. Some characters, like Android 17 below, have high/low mixups as part of their rekkas, depending on the inputs pressed.
And finally, the ability to delay the rekkas creates constant frame traps, as your opponent will have to guess if the chain of rekkas is stopping early, or if they should be prepared to block the next one.
Fighting game characters tend to break down into a few different styles of play. While the specific application may vary, their strengths and weaknesses tend to be consistent across all genres — even Smash, oddly enough, which is often the exception when it comes to fighting game lingo. We'll start with the one I’ve already mentioned...
A rushdown character is anyone best at getting in someone’s face and applying constant pressure. They’ll often have rekka techniques, fast movements, and huge combo potential. Best way to deal with a rushdown player is to keep them at a distance, and constantly punish their attempts to close in — unless, of course, you are also playing a rushdown character, in which case your best bet is to be the first one to close in.
These are arguably a sub-archetype of Rushdown characters, so I’ll discuss them here.
As the name suggests, grapplers are characters who are highly reliant on command grabs. They often have no ranged techniques and no specials to quickly close distance, precisely because once they do, they’ve practically won. Your best bet on defense is to never let them get close. Meanwhile, an the offensive side, grappler players need to be better at playing around projectiles than others.
These are the most standard characters in every fighting game. Ryu, Sub Zero, Vegeta, Goku, Mitsirugi. These characters will often have excellent tools to fight at multiple ranges, but won’t excel at any particular one either. You may mistakenly think this makes them unpopular in competitive play, but quite the contrary — they’re often chosen because they have no glaring exploits or weaknesses. No matter who your opponent chooses, you’ll have at least some kind of tool to combat them.
This is similar to the All Rounders but is mostly unique to Street Fighter, as it comes directly from Ryu and Ken’s style of martial arts, Shotokan karate. A Shoto is any character with a strong similarity to Ryu and Ken. A fireball, an uppercut, and maybe some sort of spinning kick that closes distance. While everyone above is clearly a shoto, even Katarina further up would still count. Note the fireball and shoryuken-style move.
The polar opposite of the rushdowners. They often excel at the neutral game, with many tools to hit at midscreen or further. They control the field, and punish any risky approaches. Their combo enders often push their opponent across the screen, setting up further harassment from a distance.
A popular style of play for zoners is the “turtler.” Perhaps the most famous example is Turtle Guile — by holding down and back, Guile charges both his special moves at once, all while naturally blocking. From here he could either throw a sonic boom forward, or do a sonic kick up. Since he charges both from the same position, it’s impossible to tell which will come out ahead of time. If Guile keeps reading you right, he’ll keep you away all day with just these two tools and win the match one hit at a time.
Nothing caused real fights in the arcades quite like Turtle Guile.
To close out the article, we’ll have some fun exploring this pointless-on-purpose archetype. These are characters designed to be... not great. Sometimes they’re just unconventional or silly, but other times, they’re intentionally useless.
Say hello to Dan Hibiki, the poster child of bad characters.
When SNK made Art of Fighting, they included two characters Capcom felt were rip offs of Ryu and Ken — Robert Garcia and Ryo Sakazaki.
Dan is designed to have a similar appearance to these two, which accounts for his face and black undershirt. And the pink gi? Well, the official lore explanation is it used to be white, but he accidentally turned it pink in a washing machine accident.
I call Dan the poster child for joke characters because when he made his debut in Street Fighter Alpha, he was designed from the ground up to be bad. He’s got shoto-style moves, but they’re all terrible. Everything is highly unsafe, his hadouken barely goes anywhere, and he stops to sign autographed pictures no one asked for.
He’s also one of the few characters who can burn super bar just to taunt.
The twist, however, is Dan appears to actually be good in his recent appearance in Street Fighter V. Not sure I can handle this brave new world where I get bodied by an army of Dans.
I could spend a lot of time talking about all the whacky joke characters out there. Take for example the Sega Saturn title Fighters Megamix, where you could play as the car from Daytona USA.
But, if I do that, we'll be here all day. A topic for another time. Instead, to close out I will simply direct you to Marvel. Vs. Capcom 3 where there were plenty of silly characters on display.
First off, I have to call attention to the use of Deadpool, who's level 3 super makes use of the UI to do damage.
But for my favorite, look no further than Phoenix Wright.
Wright attacks with speech bubbles, hand gestures, and dropped coffee cups. But for the real genius closer, his level 3 super puts the opponent on trial.
Landing this is no easy feat. Wright has to find three pieces of evidence during the match, then enter pursuit mode. Wright is not considered a good character, to be clear, but the pros still used him occasionally just for the clout.
This concludes our fighting game followup. I have no doubt that in two years, there will be a whole new set of original terms in need of an article, but for now, I’ve bought myself a reprieve.
Hopefully we get some more local tournament scenes going after this pandemic is over, or else this article is going to look real silly in 2022.