A Combo Discussion

Are fighting games too reliant on multi-hit combo systems? Before we go on, a little history is in order.

The idea of combos began as a bug in Street Fighter 2 (like many of it’s common systems, actually). Essentially, the recovery of an attack is shorter than a target’s hitstun, giving you a series of uninterrupted attacks. Along with an early form of buffering, combos became examples of top level play in the early fighter communities. Capcom allowed these bugs and embraced them in later versions of Street Fighter 2 (including the first Combo Counter appearing in Super 2). Combos were welcomed into fighting game development, and expanded to include juggles and dial-a-combo structures. Killer Instinct’s entire engine focused on combos of (then) crazy length. Even 3D fighters came out embracing combos, with Virtua Fighter introducing preset strings of attacks that defined 3D fighters indefinitely.

So where did combos in fighters take us? Well it revealed that certain bastards aren’t above discovering, and exploiting, infinites. It also separated the regulars from the timing experts of the fighting community. Just about every fighting game worth it’s salt has a Combo Counter to let you know how many hits you landed after mashi- formulating your last attack package. It’s just a normal facet of fighting games.

But is it required? And is it even an indicator of skill anymore?

I remember me and my buds getting better at Tekken 3 and Soul Calibur in the late 90s. We got good at our chosen characters and developed a kind of play that varied from what the general fighting community adopted. We had a tit-for-tat ‘where will I attack’ format where we took the Namco fighter’s style of high/mid/low hit areas and made it a guessing game. We’d try to trick out each other with various stances and patterns of the characters. For all we knew that’s how Namco intended.

Then we finally met up with other gamers outside of our own living rooms, some great players, and… exchanged philosophies. We learned that the Namco fighting game landscape was rife with combo strings and technical traps in both Tekken and Soul Calibur series. For a time we thought we were playing it wrong the whole time! Then we noticed that these players were not used to blocking low. A small detail that evened up the landscape just a bit. We were mystified at how clueless they were regarding rather simplistic attack patterns that weren’t dependent on long juggles and tech traps. Still, their style was superior and we needed to play to win. We adopted this style of into our own and became better for it. We never really did abandon our philosophy, however.

I bring this up because I’ve noticed Soul Calibur and Tekken crept slowly toward being combo-centric games. For me this was an acceptable yet annoying change of climate. I looked at Tekken videos showcasing ridiculous strings of juggles that just didn’t speak to me a fight - but a game of launchers to get your opponent on some inescapable intake of damage. I imagine Tekken 6 will still allow our kind of gameplay, but new videos confirm even more reliance on juggles. Soul Calibur 4 features a Combo Counter, a first for the series. Street Fighter 4 features a rather open combo system, with Sakura loving every moment of it.

You know what I see when I watch these so-called ‘tournament videos’? Endless strings of combos and jockeying for opportunities for more combos. I mean this is great for something like 3rd Strike, where big combos are limited to training mode set-ups and you need to think on your feet. Killer Instinct of course is a concept fighter for combos. But I’m not impressed with 10+ hit strings in Tekken and impossible juggles in Soul Calibur. To me that does not present a fight, but a contest of dialing in buttons without fear of reprisal. I had silent disagreements with this convention for years, keeping it in until now.

I think new fighting games should lessen the need for combos and increase other forms of offensive strategy.

Now this isn’t me whining about bringing fighting games to adjust to our methods, oh no, that’s not my intention. I like a good combo, I just don’t like a game being defined by it’s combos. Khuntry and some others can attest that I am an agent of gameplay balance and competitive structure. I personally believe both opponents of similar skill should have nothing but their own minds and characters in a fair engine that did not bow to a specific player’s style. In short, a character for a player’s style is fine, but not an entire gameplay engine. And most of these engines are combo-centric.

So how do you guys feel about combos and how fighting games use them? Do you think they should flourish or succumb to more open systems that celebrates a broader range of player’s styles?

people have been doing combos for so long to the point where it doesnt even matter anymore. i get your point. there was a time i was ignorant to some of the extensive combos of games, mainly in the vs series, waaaaay back in the day, and it was so much different playing the game at the level i was playing it. but all i can say now is that it was different, and i have just come to accept things for the way they are, because it will not change, at all. i think its reached its peak a while ago, and the only thing that most recently went over the top with combos was hnk.

i dont want a vs game with out crazy shit. its what i expect of a vs game. crazy combos, and stupid infinites and exploits. i mean come on, we accepted combos back in 93 with super turbo. in 94 our first vs game dropped with cota, followed by marvel superheroes, and x men vs streetfighter in 96. so point being, besides other not mentioned games also, we have just been in a combo frenzy forever. for over almost a decade for some games, and almost two decades for others.

Combos are not the problem, the problem are the set-ups. Learn the counters to the set-ups (work on your spacing skills, which in turn will prevent the other person from landing any combos) and then combos won’t be so much of a problem.

that doesnt even make any sense. no matter if you know the setups or not, your bound to eventually catch a combo. thats the stupidest thing i have ever read. you can have diesel ass spacing in tekken, and Know a lot of the tricks, gimmicks and frames, and still catch a launcher for 60 percent of your life or more. same goes for xvsf, hnk, tvc, etc… no matter how much you know, short of being psychic and predicting every move and countering it, your going to catch combos, period.

the problem lies in games where combos equal your death, and a small chance of recovery. hnk=combo death. xvsf and all vs games=combo death. tekken 4 and up=combo death. not combo death in the since of an actual death combo all the time, although that can be the case in a lot of games, but also in the sense that you have lost so much life, the likely hood of you coming back is silm to none, and rarely is that happening a lot. we have seen it before, yes, but we all know, for the most part, it is frustrating, and a hard uphill battle to come back from extreme losses of life in some games

Well- you see-

who exactly were you playing with during this time period?

Combos and tech traps are important, yes. But good players are still supposed to have a good grasp of the basics.

Coming from a Calibur standpoint-

When you block low, unless you’re blocking something on reaction, it’s risky. Mid combos generally do a lot more than low combos, so if you’re not blocking on reaction or pattern anticipation, you’re providing mixup opportunities that aren’t supposed to be there, and taking damage for it.

(funny thing- I know this because I was raised online, and online people have to block lows purely off of anticipation because of the lag… offline, if these people play the same way they usually get shredded because they crouch guard too much.)

Anyway, as for the topic, I don’t think a lot of fighting games are very combo-centric at all. Spacing, poking, mindgames are all a big part of everything… before you can juggle somebody you have to land the launcher first. It’s not an easy thing to do.

When you are using basics correctly and you do score a hit though, what’s wrong with instead of poking, maximizing the damage you get for the risk you took?

But I do believe Tekken could’ve gone in another direction, what with bound and extended lifebars just encouraging juggling…

At the end of the day though I’m still gonna sit down and play it, so take that as you will.

Indeed. And it sucks when one mistake can all but cost you the entire game.

I agree that people get combo-happy, but at the same time, they’re a good way to whittle off 40% of your opponent’s life bar in seconds, which is their appeal. Still, I get really annoyed played Tekken and having someone air-combo me twice and that be the end of the round. I think damage in a lot of games is a lot higher than it needs to be, especially combo-centric games like the latter Tekkens and MvC2.

That said, the first couple Samurai Shodown games are a good example of fighting games that didn’t really rely on combos much. It was a more slow paced, lie-in-wait type of thing and the way to win was to land big damage slashes and specials.

First, I wanna applaud that this is so far a good discussion. I’ve seen how threads like this are treated at SRK and I honestly posted half-thinking I would waste my time. Good show.

Now, under no circumstance would I approve of the Vs. series moving away from being combo centric. The fact that I have to say this bewilders me and I thought I covered the thought by saying Killer Instinct’s engine was okay (I guess not). Nor would I expect Capcom to come out after 20 years and finally ‘fix’ that attack recovery glitch that is the first combo system. These ideas are absurd and at best straw man arguments in the making. I’m really not trying to rock the boat that way.

But I *am *alluding to a boat needing to be rocked.

I just see no real effort at making a fighting game that doesn’t feature, as stated, ‘death combos’ that most player resort to for real competitive play. Fighters like Fighter’s Destiny and Bushido Blade are much too few and far between and I’m convinced developers aren’t too interested in expanding the genre the way other genres have expended in the last two generations. Just look at how some have reacted to the idea of combos being bumped down a few pegs for increased importance of other offensive styles, is this reaction not similar to the stale fan conformity that developers rested on for years? Wasn’t it this kind of conformity that almost sent fighting games the way of top-down vertical strolling shooting games? I think so.

Bushido Blade was an awesome game. We need more fighters like that. Honestly, that’s the reason I think that some people don’t like SF4. Combo’s tend to make a game interesting, but sometimes, it’s just like “why am I playing this game again if the actual match only lasts for 2 seconds just to see who can get the first hit.” I think they’re fun to watch, but sometimes, unless you’re winning, and even then, playing combo dependent games can take its toll on you. There’s 2 sides to the coin…they’re games where combo’s are good but not the entire game like GG and games like HnK and Arcana(sometimes) where you get hit, sigh, and take you’re hands off the controller while you’re waiting to die.

Yea There needs to be some semblance of balance. I’m all for combos but i don’t want it to ruin the entire game because i got caught once. What turns me off a lot of games nowadays.

I definitely think there’s a limit to how much focus a fighting game should have on combos, and beyond a certain point, combos are just hurting the strategy and depth of the game in favor of mere execution skills. The real skill of a fighter is knowing how to react to the opponent - which pokes will counter the opponent’s pokes, how to space and manuever, etc. The more emphasis you put on combos, the more you’re allowing a player to win the round off of a single successful poke (which happens to lead into a combo) rather than win via a series of accurately placed moves which the opponent could have countered one way or another, but failed.

Being able to accurately dial in a combo is not real fighting game skill, that’s just basic execution. Yes, some combos can take a lot of practice to pull off, but in the end, no matter how tough the combo, being able to pull it off in practice mode doesn’t really mean shit…the real skill is in reacting to your opponent, strategy, set ups, counters, mind games, etc.

Consequently, when it comes to 3D fighting games, IMO it’s better when there are strings which aren’t guaranteed combos after the first hit - they’re just to mix-up and pressure the opponent. It’s ok to have some guaranteed hit stings, but it needs to have a limit.

Currently, I think the worst use of combos is actually not in fighters, but in beat-em-ups and misnomered “adventure games” which have absolutely no depth to them beyond combos (i.e. God of War, Devil May Cry, etc). It’s not about strategy, set ups, or anything like that, it’s just endless dial-a-mashing. Mainstream developers really need to combos do not make a good combat system, depth does. Playing a game that’s entirely about just comboing legions of dumb enemies over and over, while occasionally pressing a dodge button to avoid the stray enemy attack here and there, is not challenging or engaging to anyone with real fight-gaming skills. That’s just street fighterer practice mode where the dummy occasionally hits back, where the dummy dies at the end of each health bar, and is replaced by a new one…while the scenery changes every once in a while and you have to remember go to a menu and select healing items every so often.


I have never been a big Tekken fan, but the combos are what draws me towards it every release.

Combos just make you *feel *good. And as many have said in this thread it is about balance. Combos can separate the men from the boys, as long as they can’t be exploited, which, unfortunately, seems to be the case in unbalanced fighters, suck as Tekken imo.

Would you say games oriented towards large combos tend to be more offense oriented? Maybe people like being rewarded for playing balls to the wall like that, and games started fitting themselves around that. Personally I’d be more concerned about a game making thoughtful pressure possible, but I don’t actually know how many games out there do that. gotta play more games

I had the impression that GG was one of the more combo-centric games out there. Gotta play that shun and figure it out, I guess

good post, would +rep if could

i think really what hurt standard 2d fighters of the street fighter like gameplay, was supers. being able to combo normals into specials, into supers, and with sf4, ultras, is what hurt it alot. supers are fun to see, but you can get rewarded a diesel damaging super, off of some easy normal links by just buffering it in and linking it. i couldnt see supers be useful in any other way then the way they are used now, so either the damage could be toned down, and i think the play would be more aggressive because people wouldnt be so scared of dying off a low poke to big super, or they could just take them out all together, and leave the game to normals and “cool specials”.

what hurt tekken a lot was walls, and then from there, they eased up the game a bit, and dialed in more combo possibilities, and there you go. i still love tekken, but just for the sake of argument, ill just point out certain things.

i like adventure games with combo systems, but yeah, the ai is so stupid most of the time, if not all the time, and doesnt add much to it after you get through the initial buzz of learning advanced combos, and beating its hardest modes

I think I know just the game for you guys

So, comboing supers off normals is bad now? Comboing normals into specials, wow!


it can be, when its devastating to your health. really, i dont care at all. a game is what it is for me, but if we’re gonna talk about it, then im going to point out the truth. besides the flash factor, and that it has become a staple for fighting games, there isnt a necessity for supers, especially with some supers leading to pretty hefty damage, or in the case of sf4, ultras also leading to pretty hefty damage.

no one can sit here and tell me that the gameplay would not be more aggressive and fun, if there werent for that fact that one mistake can lead to massive damage. you can still have a good game without supers. fucking slow. when you start playing games, yesterday.

you dont need supers in any of the street fighter games. period. theyre there now, and have been, so whatever, but im just saying. if a group of developers thinks they NEED supers to make a game, then they are misguided and have no imagination. the game would be more technical and fast paced, because there is not such a huge threat anymore. sf4 without supers would still be dope shit. create a few more specials for characters, there are tons of things they could do that dont involve very damaging supers or ultra supers. im not picking on sf4. its just the newest game out, and so im just using it, but i can apply that to other games. certain other games i like with supers, cool shit, and some could do without and still have good gameplay

fuck outta here

I actually think the game would become poke fighter IV. Ultras were dumb design, though, in my opinion.

I don’t see what people have against combos in this thread, though. They are like headshots for FPS games…takes more skill to do them instead of just spraying the body with bullets.

Combos are just a means to maximize damage. Knowing combos really won’t make you any better in any particular game. If that were true then combovideo makers would be dominate in said games, but they’re not. Anyone can learn combos, knowing when and where to do them is much more difficult. Especially against someone like myself who game relies on not being hit by combos. you can always tell a scrub who practices only combos and are frustrated when they can’t seem to pull them off in a match.

An incredibly good player knows the combo yet has good fundementals and mindgames. No one would ever say that ST is a combo based game, and this is a game where simply 4 hit combos do loads of damage and can leave you dizzy for another combo. But there are ways to avoid combos in this game, that if you do land one, it’s because you either set it up right and was rewarded.

Combos alone won’t make you good at any game, even games like Marvel and GG, that are clearly combo oriented. If combos are a big deal to you and you have a trouble dealing with them, then you should learn to not to put yourself in those situations.

Games like Guilty Gear are definitely about more than just dialing away some combos. As is Marvel. Street Fighter games are also less about combos than most modern games.

I would say that combos are like playing a piano. A person could definitely learn to play a complex piece, but does this mean they know how to play a piano, or simply know how to play that particular song? I could teach someone how to make a computer programmer, but this won’t make them a programmer. There is always more to most games than just combos. Generally if I know if my opponent is too combo happy, I generally stay out of range of his combos and he gets frustrated.

In high level matches for any given game, you may find LESS combos than what you would find for an intermediate match. Because at this point actually landing the combo is more inportant than doing the combo. The combo just serves as an option for damage. This may be accentuated more in some games and less in others.

with that said, my weakness is my lack of combos. I can put someone in a situations where I can combo them, but I may not actually use the combo at all. So combos are just the last aspect of a complete game. They aren’t the only aspect. Things like patience, defense, and spacing may be more important than just combos.

Sure is alot of whining in here.


i think there is a thin line between whining, and just keeping it real. most of us play the game regardless of its flaws anyways, but that doesnt mean there arent any flaws, or things to be talked about. look at this thread as more as a means to discuss about the combo systems of games, and how they can be better, or non existent while still maintaining a good game.