- Play a character that you like.
You will probably be told this more than anything. When it comes to character selection, the best route is just to pick someone that you like. Whether you like something functional, such as their special moves, combos, and normals, or whether you like something cosmetic, such as their character design, their fighting stance and animations, or even just the name of the character, try the character if you think you’ll like it. If you pick a character that you do not like (say for instance, you saw a tier list or someone told you this character is good/this character sucks), not only will you not have as much fun, but you’re bound to get your ass whooped. If you pick someone you enjoy playing, you’ll eventually overcome their weaknesses and wins will come.
- Learn how to block, tech throws, and escape situations.
The most common reason people who are new to fighting games lose is simply because they do not know how to defend themselves. There are several ways to block in SSF4, from blocking high (blocks high attacks, jump-in attacks, and overheads, but vulnerable to low-hitting attacks and sweeps), to blocking low (avoids many attacks that hit high, blocks low attacks, but susceptible to overheads and jump-ins), to blocking cross-ups, to focus-absorbing attacks. However, you should also be aware that the only way to prevent a throw attempt is to tech it or jump out of it; throws cannot be blocked in the way that normals and special moves can. Last but not least, every character has at least one unblockable move, meaning if the move hits your character, there is no way to block it (e.g. Akuma’s Raging Demons, Zangief’s SPDs/Atomic Busters, Level 3 focus attacks from any character). However, many of those can be escaped by jumping, proper reversals, etc. In short, learn to block attacks; if it’s a throw, learn to tech it; if it’s an unblockable move, learn to escape it.
- Learn your character’s move set.
SF4 and SSF4 have both done a decent job of teaching the players about the characters via challenge trials. These are great for learning how to do the normal and special moves of every character in the game. Since SSF4’s trials are limited to 24 per character, you’re not going to necessarily learn every single special move for everyone, but it’s still very helpful to learn what they teach you. Once you learn what moves your character can do, practice them until you can do them consistently. This way, you know what kind of tools you have available in a match.
- Learn combos, links, and their practical applications.
Although not every character in SSF4 is a “combo-oriented” character, all characters have at least a couple of them that are useful in matches. Combos are important because they involve stringing multiple attacks together in sequence for high damage, giving you an advantage in battle if you’re able to land them successfully. SSF4’s challenge trials have combos for all characters in them, though many of them are impractical/extremely difficult to set up. In that case, I would watch match or combo videos, or look on the SRK forums in the character threads for bread’n’butter combos, that is, the most basic and commonly used combos for the character in matches. Links are more difficult and will therefore require more practice, but if you pace yourself and avoid rushing into doing extremely difficult combos, you’ll be fine. Just learn the basic ones, and move up from there.
- Make sure you’re having fun.
This is something often overlooked by players looking to get better (including myself). Have a good time playing. Don’t let matches (win or lose) get to you; you’re going to win some, and you’re going to lose some. If you inevitably get angry whenever you lose, turn it into focus or motivation to win the next time, because if you just stay angry without any attempt to improve yourself, it’s just going to make you more upset when you lose again. If you find that playing is seriously affecting your mood (e.g. it ruins a dinner/movie night with your girlfriend and you end up not wanting to have sex with her because you lost to a Dan three times in a row), play another game or take a break, regain your composure, and then come back. Trust me, it’s better to stay away from something you like when you’re pissed off.