More Fighting Game Terminology
Trevor | March 13, 2021
We’re back with more frame data, more hurt boxes, and more fighting game terminology. This time we're tackling throws, cancels, and the dreaded oki.
Greetings and welcome back, my fans of mix-ups and frame traps. My original article on fighting game terminology was such a hit, I thought it would be fun to revisit this fast and frantic world and cover a few terms and concepts I never got around to in the original list.
In part one, I tried to cover broad concepts applicable to a wide range of games. In part two, I’m instead going to focus on more specialized terms, explore how certain mechanics came into existence, and just share some fun ideas and concepts. Please note I’ll be using terms from part one in this article, so you may want to start there if you’re new to fighting games.
Let’s start with a famous one.
A tick throw is a two part technique — first, you get your opponent in blockstun, then get in close for a throw just as they’re coming out of it. Technically tick throws are still possible in modern fighters too, but they no longer have the same devastating power they once had. More on that soon.
In Street Fighter 2, tick throws were practically free damage for an attacker. And what’s worse, they could do it again the instant you got up, trapping you an endless series of blocks and throws with no way out. Your best bet was to spam your DP input to try and get it out before a throw, or just go for a throw yourself and hope you somehow got priority (which was tricky, because you had only a few frames to steal the toss). Whatever option you took, there was no reliable way to circumvent a tick throw, and odds of success heavily favored the attacker. But nowadays, we have...
Throw Tech or Throw Escape
Introduced in Street Fighter III, the “technical throw” was a way to escape any throw. By pressing throw inputs within an opponent’s grab window, you cancel it entirely. Both characters get pushed back, and the initiating thrower gets a slight advantage in escaping the subsequent inactive frames. Now if the aggressor went for a tick throw, you had a reliable way to escape.
Today, most games simply call this “throw escape,” or just "tech" for short, and it’s become a ubiquitous mechanic — and by necessity. Without it, offensive players had an incredibly dangerous edge once they got in close.
Today, throw escapes are in everything, and it successfully put an end to throw oppression.
For a fun diversion, we can also explore rare examples of...
Aside from wrestling games where you see this sort of mechanic often (and whether or not they count as fighting games is a topic for another article), it's rare to see a full on throw reversal in a 2D fighter. There’s two titles which come to mind immediately that explored the concept of “counter throws”.
The first example of a proper throw reversal I can think of, if you can believe it or not, is Street Fighter: The Movie: The Game.
If this is the first you’re hearing of this, I regret to inform you that yes, this exists. That movie with Van Damme and Raul Julia? It has it’s own game, creating a weird Ouroboros of Street Fighter media.
In Street Fighter: The Movie: The Game, you simply turned a throw into your own throw on a successful input. But guess what? Now you can counter this counter throw with a reversal throw. And it even goes a step further! About to get reversal thrown? If you’re fast enough you can execute a SLAMMASTER technique, the final escalation in the chain.
It’s already pretty rare to see Street Fighter: The Movie: The Game anywhere, so finding that plus two people who know all the inputs and timings to execute a full chain is a tall order these days.
For the ultimate insanity in throw reversals as a concept, look no further than Ehrgeiz: God Bless the Ring. Ehrgeiz is a 3D fighter from Square Enix and DreamFactory that attempted to reinvent the wheel Tekken had laid out for 3 dimensional fighters, to middling success. It’s telling that today Ehrgeiz is probably best known for its inclusion of half the Final Fantasy 7 cast and not for any mechanical or story reasons.
The Final Fantasy 7 characters don’t even have cutscenes in their arcade mode. They’re just kinda there.
In Ehrgeiz, tapping the block button just before a throw would initiate a throw reversal. Your opponent would then have an opportunity to do the same. There is no end to these opportunities — they simply keep occurring until someone fails. For a great demonstration in why this is a problem in high level play, here’s two hard Tifa AI battling it out.
Some say they are still battling to this day, mostly because this is a gif and thus will never end.
Okizeme, often shortened to "oki," is a broad term which often means different things depending on the game in question. The direct translation is a portmanteau of the japanese words "Okiru" and "Semeru," which when shoved together mean "wake up strike" or "wake up attack." Oki refers to the guessing game both players have to do on wakeup.
In Street Fighter V, some people use okizeme to also refer to landing next to your opponent after a combo, thus putting you in a good position to pressure their wake up. So, a combo with good okizeme looks like this...
...and one with bad okizeme looks like this.
The next two entries are all related to the oki game.
A “meaty” attack is any attack timed to hit an opponent on wakeup. These are grabs, overheads, or strong attacks used to apply pressure on the exact frame your opponent rises. When timed right, a meaty attack beats every option except moves invincible on startup (like DPs). Timing these right is tricky, but mastering meaties is key to high level play. Without some setups ready for an opponent's wake up options, it’s too easy for them to get back to neutral.
As the defender, your best way of avoiding meaties is to vary up your wake-up timings.
Ukemi means "passive landing." It's a term martial artists are often familiar with, as it denotes techniques used to prevent damage when falling. In fighting games, this term applies to all the different methods a player has to get up from knockdown. The above example cycles through a normal rise, a back roll, and a quick rise. Forcing the opponent to continuously guess is the only way to stay safe from instant pressure.
This one feels self-explanatory but for the sake of covering everything, here's a short description.
Corner carry is how quickly you can push your opponent into the corner. Base Vegeta above is notorious for the distance he can take you in a single combo.
A “cancel” is any technique which eliminates the remaining frames of an action. This term gets used in countless applications, so I’ll do my best to explain some common cancel-heavy situations.
This is when dashing forward or back eliminates the remaining frames of a recovery animation, or ends the action entirely. In the above example from Street Fighter X Tekken, Juri dashes out of her charged attack instead of executing it.
Special and Super Cancels
In the majority of fighting games, you can cancel animations into other attacks. Extremely basic combo construction in 2D fighters goes normal attacks > special attack > super.
In the below image, note how C. Viper's low kick has a few recovery frames where the leg retracts.
By inputting the command for thunder knuckle mid-kick, C. Viper goes right into her next attack instead.
And finally, she can finish this off with a super combo.
This is a very general formula, of course. Some normals and specials won't cancel, and some supers require specific setups to confirm. There's also situations like Dragonball Fighter Z where combo construction looks like, uh... well, keep an eye out for the TOD entry in the next article for a good example of how wild it gets over there.
For a place where canceling gets real whacky take a look at Fighting EX Layer, where you can cancel a super into another super.
It’s not a very efficient use of meter, but it’s fun.
While the game is somewhat dated now, it only feels appropriate when discussing canceling to tackle an acronym unique to Street Fighter IV.
You can't watch a single Street Fighter IV tournament without hearing this term. FADC stands for "Focus Attack Dash Cancel". We have to cover some serious ground to explain all this. Some are universal concepts, others are unique to only Street Fighter IV. We'll take it in parts, starting with...
An attack with “armor” is any attack which will still execute if the player is hit during start-up animations. They still take some form of damage from the hit, but the move powers on anyway.
This mechanic is common in many games today, especially among slower grappling characters.
With that out of the way, we can move on to...
The Focus Attack
Street Fighter IV introduced a universal mechanic called the Focus Attack. Once activated, the character began an attack which had armor for one hit. This could be charged to multiple levels, and if powered all the way up, became unblockable. This technique revolutionized Street Fighter, as it introduced a high risk, high reward way to turn the tide of a battle.
But it changed things in another, crazier way with the inclusion of...
In the interest of expanding player options, Capcom also introduced the ability to dash cancel out of a focus attack. At the cost of some super bar you could dash out of a focus attack, which had a number of uses in repositioning.
Now, if we put it all together, we get:
Back to FADC (Focus Attack Dash Cancel)
Phew. We got there.
Now, I must confess, I buried the lede a little. Where FADC really got wild in Street Fighter IV had less to do with trickery and more to do with combo construction. By canceling out of focus attacks mid-combo, players discovered they could land deadly ultra combos and get side switches. Take for example, the following Ryu combo.
Normally after landing a Shoryuken, Ryu would be trapped in lengthy recovery frames, still on his way back down to the ground. Thus, his Shinku Hadoken sails harmlessly overhead.
By quickly activating a focus attack and dash canceling, Ryu is able to follow up the Shoryuken and erase half a life bar.
While FADC fundamentally changed the way Street Fighter was played, the mechanic did not carry over to Street Fighter V... sort of. Some characters have unique spiritual successors, but it is no longer universal and can’t be cancelled.
There's another type of canceling you may have heard of from a different franchise...
Here’s one you can't avoid in the Smash Brothers scene. By air dodging diagonally into the ground at a short distance, Melee players found a way to cancel out of the landing animation. Not only that, but the character model even slides along the ground, all while still able to act.
If you’ve ever wondered why Melee continues to thrive almost 20 years later, wavedashing is a big reason. It completely changes the nature of the game, allowing players to quickly traverse the field, connect moves together you normally wouldn’t be able to, and even perform smash attacks while in motion. This technique was entirely removed from later Smash games, as Sakurai felt it created an undesirable skill ceiling (that and it was the result of a programming exploit, not an intended mechanic).
While wavedashing has finally made a return in Smash Ultimate on Switch, it’s but a shell of its former self. While it does still cancel the landing animation, the player slides a marginal distance, and the effect is lessened upon multiple uses in quick succession.
So long as wavedashing remains inherent to Melee, I don’t think we’ll see its popularity wane anytime soon. As for if Nintendo should simply embrace wavedashing or continue to resist the demand for it... that’s an argument I leave to the Smash community.
Now, if you are't feeling overloaded with concepts yet, a part three awaits where I'll see what I can do about that. That's right, another article. We are deep in the rabbit hole now.