Whether you’re picking up your first fighting game or trying to learn a new one, here’s a guide with simple steps to get yourself started!
Fighting games can be a hard genre to get into. Each game has so much to learn, and you could spend hundreds of hours in one game before even reaching a point where you might consider yourself decent. On top of that each fighting game can be vastly different from the other, meaning even if you get good at one, you might still struggle in another. With that said, and considering DNF Duel is right around the corner and Street Fighter VI is confirmed for next year, now would be a good time to write up an article some advice I think can be handy to anyone just jumping into fighting games or is maybe going from one fighting game to another.
For context, I’m still relatively new to fighting games. I started playing back in late 2017 with Street Fighter V. Since then, I’ve spent a ton of time in Soul Calibur VI (SCVI) and a considerable amount of time jumping around between other fighting games. While I feel confident in SCVI, I still have a long way to go before I consider myself good at any fighting game. Considering that, you might be wondering about the value my advice could give, and that’s fair. However, the advice I’m giving in this is the same advice far more experienced and better players have given to me during my time in the FGC. If you still need more convincing, I’m also having my friend, who goes by Boom in the FGC, read over this to make sure the advice I’m giving isn’t garbage. Boom has over 10 years of experience in the FGC, has won a major for Under Night in-Birth (with just a few months of practice in the game), and just recently won Combo Breaker 2022 for Soul Calibur VI. So, if he approves of this advice, then it’s probably pretty solid.
Find the Community
For me, the process of learning a fighting game can start before you even buy it by finding other people that are into the game you want to check out. There are a number of ways you can find other players. Personally, I’m lucky to have a big local in my area that has players for nearly any modern fighting game I can turn to. If you don’t have a local, then the next best thing is finding a discord server for the game.
Nowadays, a quick google search of “(insert game title) discord” will get you a result or two. Once you’re there, start talking with the people in the server. You’re sure to meet experienced players that will be happy to teach you, and most likely you’ll also meet other new players around your skill level so that you can form friendly rivalries with and learn the game together. These connections will not only help you grow as a player but also deepen your enjoyment of whatever game you’re getting into.
There’s actually a lot more I wanted to add here, but the original version of this section went on for way too long for what’s supposed to be a quick-read guide. So instead, I trimmed this section down and will probably do another article in the future that expands on this topic.
Learn the Notations
As you’re digging into whatever new fighting game, and start looking into character guides you might hear or see mention of things like st.LK, df.3, 66B, or some other type of variations. These are notations used to represent the input for each move in a fighting game. These are used so it’s easier to tell someone how to do a certain move without having to worry about what control or button configuration they have set.
There can be a bit of crossover with notation between games, such as many anime fighters using Numpad notations motions, but in general, you’ll need to learn different sets for each game you pick up. Doing so will make things easier for you when you discuss the game with other players or when watching a guide. If you followed my first bit of advice, then you could just ask members of the community for notations, which they’ll probably have a handle google doc or pdf for.
Picking a Character
Since Street Fighter II, fighting games have always provided rosters of diverse characters with different looks, personalities, and playstyles. With so many options there’s bound to be a character for you in pretty much any fighting game, but it can also mean it’ll be hard to nail down one you want to main.
You may pick up a fighting game and instantly find that character that clicks with you. Or you may be in a similar situation I’m in with King of Fighters XV, where there are too many characters that I want to play that even with the 3-character team system I’m having trouble locking in the ones I want to settle on. Now if you’re sticking at the casual level and only planning on playing against other casual friends, then finding a main isn’t so important. But if you want to enter some tournaments, even at a local level, then it’ll be a good idea to pick a main and stick with them for a while. Here are some different tips that can help to figure it out if it’s a character you want:
- The best place to start is with arcade mode, set the difficulty to the easiest, and run through the tower several times with different characters. This can give a nice test run to see how a character feels without the stress of playing another person or the frustration of being demolished by some level 9 AI.
- Find some match footage of the characters you’re looking at from high-level players on YouTube or Twitch. This can help show ways the character can look when you get a lot of experience with them, and let you know if that’s the type of play you want to work towards.
- Alternatively, if it’s a newer fighting game and high-level gameplay is hard to find, then just set up an AI vs AI match in versus mode and put them both to the highest level. This won’t be a good indicator for a lot of games, but it can be something to work off of.
In the end, there’s no real right or wrong way to pick a main. Whether it’s just because of the appearance, the playstyle, or something else, just pick whichever character you enjoy the most.
Whether you’ve settled on a character or not yet, you can still start making up your game plan. In my opinion, the best thing to do when making that initial playstyle is to just start simple. When you first get into a game you might want to figure out your biggest damage combos or some crazy mix-ups you can put your opponent in, but that can all come with time. Instead, try to pick out a few moves that seem like good pokes usually fast or long-range moves that will be safe on block, an easy-to-perform anti-air if it’s a 2D game, and maybe a few small hit confirm combos.
From there just play a small, and patient neutral game where you attack after blocking something, seeing your opponent whiff a move, or when they jump. For example, in Soul Calibur characters will usually have 50+ moves, but for most (the exception being characters like Siegfried or Nightmare) you can get by with basic pokes like AA, BB, 2A, and 2K. Of course, there will be things like plus frames, whiff punishes baits, and other strategies to worry about when playing so basic but, again, don’t worry that for now, it will all come with time.
Play, Lab, Experiment
Now that you have your basic game plan, it’s time put it to the test and play against other people. Keep trying to apply the game plan, and as you do you’ll start to form ideas on how to add to your playstyle. This is where the real fun of fighting games began. You’ll start finding ways to implement the other tools your character has.
You’ll see your opponents do things in your matches that you’ll want to learn how to counter, or maybe you’ll want to replicate what they did and do it yourself. You’ll start to sit in training mode for hours, digging into frame data, trying to learn new setups or other types of tech. Keep experimenting, and trying new things. As you do you’re definitely going to take a lot of losses, most likely more than wins, but don’t let that discourage you. Your goal shouldn’t be specifically to win, it should be to learn, and grow as a player, and you’ll do so with every match, even when it doesn’t feel like it.
Enjoy the ride
There’s so much more to cover when it comes to learning fighting games, but it’s impossible to cover it all in one article. Maybe I’ll end up writing a few more articles with fighting game advice. Still, I hope these few bits of advice will at least help a few people dive into a new fighting game. Whether you listen to all the tips in this article or none, I hope you at least take away this: Fighting games are a journey, and just like Luke says in the latest Street Fighter 6 trailer, it’s a journey with no real ending, so just enjoy the ride.