Here is something different to change up the pace. The majority of my posts here have purely been about Guilty Gear, and only occasionally have I talked about other fighting games. So this is the first in maybe a series of posts about general fighting game stuff. Anyway, I was looking through my old bookmarks the other day and was really inspired after stumbling upon the Dustloop GGAC Tier List thread. Dustloop nowadays is godawful, but this series of posts was made in a time when people were a lot more concerned about getting out quality information.

No matter what fighting game you are talking about, tier lists and assessments of character strength are always a touchy subject. Too often do people see them as set in stone. Even worse, it’s common to see lists get posted/translated without any author or editor comments. The 2nd and 3rd post of that Dustloop thread contain translations that various members of the forums did on a series of posts on the Japanese GGXX BBS. These posts break down a character’s strengths and weaknesses in several areas, including general ones like offense and more specific ones like anti-ground and anti-air. In my opinion, this is the correct way to talk about character strength. Stating that a character is ___ tier doesn’t say much; it is a lot more informative to explain why that character is ___ tier by going over individual aspects of their gameplan.

I should mention that these posts were made in 2007, which was extremely early in Accent Core’s lifespan. So, some of the information is a bit outdated, since the AC metagame in 2007 was extremely different compared to its final year 2012. But I mainly wanted to point out how good that thread was and how much I wish people would continue making these types of posts.

Quite often, I hear a lot of people say that x character is overpowered because he does too much damage, or that y character sucks because he has no mixup. So if there is any takeaway message that I would like for people to get out of this, it is that a character’s strength is determined by many things. Damage and mixup don’t mean everything! The factors that I consider when determining character strength are pretty similar to those used in the thread, but there are some key differences.

This is an area that describes how strong a character’s normals are. There are actually a lot of things to consider just for this category alone.

First up is speed. How fast do your normals start up? Obviously, faster startup is better, and in a situation where both you and your opponent are up in each other’s faces, the character with the faster normals will be at an advantage.

Then there are hitboxes. How big are your normals? This includes range, since a character with bigger normals will have an easier time controlling space against a character with smaller ones, all other things being equal. But it also includes what angles your normals cover. In general, the main angles to consider are

  1. grounded
    1. low
    2. mid(directly in front of your character)
    3. 45 degree angle going upwards from your head
    4. directly above your head
  2. air
    1. downwards(for jumpins)
    2. directly in front of your character
    3. upwards(for air-to-air when your opponent is above you)

Most of the time, a character is only strong at covering certain angles, so it is important to learn them.  If you play that character, you should learn to avoid fighting in angles that your normals are bad at covering.  And if your opponent is playing that character, you should try to abuse those weak spots.  It is also worth noting that in non-airdasher fighting games, most characters will not have air normals that are good at hitting upwards.  Since mobility options are more limited in those games, it is not really that important for that angle to be covered, so you really just have to worry about having a good jumpin.

Finally, there is recovery.  How fast can you act again if you whiff a move?  Recovery speed is usually tied in with move startup speed, but not always.  Basically, this is all about risk and reward.  Fast recovery is always better, because it means that you can poke at your opponent with relatively little risk.  Characters who have more recovery on their moves have to commit harder and take bigger risks.

Damage output
Pretty straightforward, this is just the amount of damage that your character can dish out. It includes average damage, which is a character’s damage output from his/her best pokes and most common starters and situations. It also includes max damage, which is the damage you get when you score a free hit(like punishing a whiffed dp) and have all the resources available.

The other important part is relative damage output. How does a character’s damage output stack up with the rest of the cast? Being able to do 40% on average off of every hit sounds great at first, but it does not mean much if everyone else hits just as hard. For example, P4U Elizabeth was known to have very high damage output, but it wasn’t significantly higher than the rest of the cast. The takeaway message here is that raw damage doesn’t tell you the whole story: it’s more about how a character’s damage output compares to the rest of the cast.

Another straightforward element here, range is a general term that describes how much space on the screen that a character controls. Not only does it include normals, but also specials like projectiles and traps.

Hit conversion
This element is closely related to the previous three: pokes, damage, and range. In some FG communities, this term is called “abare”, but that has recently been shown to be a mistranslation of the Japanese word. Hit conversion is used to describe the ability of a character to convert stray hits into 1)damage or 2)knockdown. Sometimes, a character will be able to do both of these things off of his/her best pokes, but most of the time it is just one. And again, this doesn’t just include normals, but also specials like fireballs, familiars, and traps.

Another part of hit conversion is having useful counterhit properties, if the fighting game has a CH mechanic. Properties like groundbounces, wallbounces, staggers, or anything that gives ample time to react to the situation are much more helpful than just added stun.

Here are some examples to think about! To use a GG example: let’s look at Baiken 2s and Millia’s 5s(far). Both of these are great pokes, as they have nice hitboxes, fast startup and relatively quick recovery. However, they do not lead into damage and/or knockdown(most of the time). They also do not have good counterhit properties, so in the end their effectiveness is limited.

Then you have someone like Slayer, who in the XX series has great hitboxes on many of his moves, and has a ton of useful CH properties like the wallbounce on 6p, and the groundbounce on 2h and j.h.

Axl is a character who has a significant range advantage over most of the GG cast. However, that range advantage is balanced by his weak ability to convert: most of his farthest ranged normals do not go into big damage and/or knockdown. In the end, his long ranged pokes are more used to annoy his opponents and force them into unfavorable positions.

Then you have a character like Yuzuriha in UNIEL, who not only has amazing range, but is also able to convert all of her best ranged pokes into full damage and knockdown.

This is all about a character’s ability to move around the screen. One of the most important parts of this is speed, since faster characters can cover distance easier than slower characters. Faster movement speed also makes it more difficult for opponents to react and intercept your actions.

Then there are types of dashes. For mobility purposes, a running dash is the best. Step dashes(Johnny, Slayer) and hoverdashes(like Morrigan and I-No) tend to be prohibitive for movement. And of course, not having a dash at all is bad too.

Finally, it is important to consider the options that a character has outside of the universal system mechanics. Special moves like teleports and leaps with different followups(like Akuma’s demonflip) are great for mobility. In airdasher games, it is especially important to look at moves that grant extra air mobility or can delay/alter your air trajectory. These moves are great for denying antiairs and for approaching at different angles. Special moves like divekicks, fast falls, and air fireballs are all very good for this purpose.

Pressure is a somewhat broad topic, and in general it refers to how good a character is at staying in once he/she gets in on offense. You can also think of it as how good a character is at punishing opponents for trying to escape or break out of offense. In matches, characters with good pressure tend to be able to make their opponents block for a long time, since people will be scared of trying to jump out or fight back.

The ability to frametrap is definitely a big part of pressure. The idea behind frametrapping is to intentionally leave a small gap in your offense, and punish opponents who try to push buttons in that gap. The gap has to be big enough so that it can be confused for a throw attempt, but also small enough so that you are not too unsafe. A good deal of conditioning is required: most people tend to start by going for throws in the small gaps of offense. Then, once the opponent learns to expect the throw in that situation, that is when people start to frametrap.

For this purpose, it really helps to have normals that either 1)give frame advantage on block, 2)move you forward, or 3)both. Normals that are + on block create natural frametraps when you end strings with them. Forward moving normals help your character stay close to the opponent to keep them guessing.

This is also related to the hit conversion topic that was mentioned in this post, but having normals with decent range also helps for pressure since they could be big enough to tag opponents who try to jump/backdash away from offense. It also helps to have high damage output: people will tend to be more scared of breaking out of offense if they know that you are a heavy hitter. Finally, having good counterhit properties helps as well, since they make it easier to hitconfirm successful frametraps.

Mixup is a general term that is used to describe a character’s ability to open up the opponent. It is somewhat related to pressure, but is quite different. The idea is that good mixup consists of offensive options that must be guarded in different ways, like high/low or left/right. These options should also be difficult to block on reaction. You can almost think of it like punishing the opponent for blocking too much. While pressure was about punishing opponents for not blocking, mixup is about punishing opponents for being too defensive by forcing them to defend against something that is difficult to block.

In most 2d fighting games, overheads are slower than mids/lows, so the default way to defend against anything is to block low, and then 1)switch to stand block against overheads and jumpins or 2)escape/attack/break throw attempts. Thus, having a decently fast overhead is important for good mixup. Speed is not the only thing that matters though: the way the overhead is animated is also important. Overheads that have very distinct startup frames tend to be easier to block on reaction, and the opposite applies too. Let’s take Kliff’s 5d as an example. Despite being relatively slow, Kliff’s dust can be awkward to block on reaction because for many of the startup frames, it looks like Kliff is just crouching. An overhead is also stronger if it looks similar to a character’s other moves, especially if those other moves are lows. Let’s take Sol’s 5d as an example. Despite being fast, Sol’s dust in the earlier GG games is relatively easy to block on reaction because of its distinct animation: it does not look like any of his other moves. Next let’s consider Millia’s 214p(Iron Savior). This move is actually a low, and it is pretty slow, but Millia does a little hop in the startup frames so it can be confused for TK Badmoon(which is a high).

In airdasher fighting games, it is very common to see characters get special setups off knockdowns that allow them to safely attempt a mixup. The most common setup is after a knockdown, a character throws a slow-moving projectile that forces the opponent to block as he/she gets off the ground. Things like Ky’s CSE after a sweep, Sol FRCing Gunflame after a Volcanic Viper knockdown, Venom setting up a K Ball after sweep and then hitting it with j.k are all typical GG examples. Keep in mind that most of these setups aren’t 100% safe: a reversal dp from the opponent still beats the majority of them. But many of the opponent’s other options, like jumping/backdashing/hitting buttons are cut off so it allows you to attempt a mixup more safely compared to doing it during a blockstring. A lot of times, if the mixup is successful, it allows you to combo into a knockdown so that you can do the same setup again. This is called “setplay” by the Japanese fighting game community, and English speakers haven’t really adapted that term. Although some people call it vortex. In any case, having setplay is definitely a strong point for any character. Some characters are even built around this concept.

Defensive options
This is a general term that describes the kind of options a character has to escape or break out of pressure. Common situations where they would be used include getting up from a knockdown, and during a gap in the opponent’s offense.

The most direct and obvious defensive option would be a dragon punch. If you are 100% sure that your opponent is going to attack you, then a DP is the correct answer, since it has invincibility in its startup frames. Of course, DPs are balanced by generally not being cancellable and being very unsafe if they do not connect. In most fighting games, DPs are tools that only certain characters have, so possessing a dragonpunch is definitely a strength, since it gives your opponent another thing to worry about. They can’t just go crazy on you if they score a knockdown since the threat of a DP breaking their offense is always there. They also have to make sure to mix up their offense, since any gap in pressure is a DP opportunity.

Not all dragonpunches are made equal though. Good qualities to look for in a DP type move include fast startup, lots of invincibility frames, a good horizontal hitbox, a good vertical hitbox, and damage. It’s pretty unusual to see a DP have all of these things at once, but it does happen occasionally. Of particular importance is the startup, as faster DPs are harder to bait and option select against. Robo Ky’s Level 3 DP is so fast that it is immune to safe jump setups, since its startup is faster than the landing recovery on a jumping attack.

Jumps and backdashes are system mechanics that every character (usually) has, but just like DPs, they are not created equal. In some fighting games, jump startup is the same for everybody, but not in Guilty Gear! It goes without saying that faster startup is more desirable, so May, Chipp, and Millia(who have the fastest jumps at 3f) have an advantage here. Jump velocity and height are also important things to consider. Jumps that have faster movement speed and/or higher maximum height are more difficult to intercept than usual. As an example, Millia and Chipp are really difficult to lock down in GG because of their amazing jumps. Not only are they the fastest, but their maximum height allows them to move around in an area that some characters cannot reach.

There are some factors to consider when looking at good backdashes as well, including lots of invincibility frames, fast velocity, short recovery, and total duration. These are all fairly self explanatory, but total duration can go both ways: in general, you want a backdash to be as quick as possible, but a long duration backdash is acceptable if it has the invincibility frames to back it up(like Potemkin’s).

Fast normals with good hitboxes are also useful for breaking out of pressure. The opponent is forced to tighten up the gaps in his/her offense since a bigger gap makes it easier for pressure to be interrupted. Usually it is the close range characters who have these type of normals and in GG, this is no different. Jam and Chipp fit this bill as they are better than most at interrupting pressure because of their quick normals.

Some characters have moves that make them assume a low profile, allowing them to beat many attacks by going under them. Sol and Venom can do this with their 2d sweeps. Sometimes, you will see characters who have numerous moves that shrink their hurtboxes, making a lot of standard pokes whiff. Faust and Zappa do this A LOT, and it almost seems like they were designed around this concept.

Finally, there are the unusual defensive mechanics that are character specific, of which there are way too many to list here. But in GG, it would things include free guard cancels(Baiken), being able to delay your wakeup(Bridget and Robo Ky), having a parry(Jam), giving invincibility frames to special moves by cancelling your backdash into them(Slayer), having moves with superarmor or autoguard(Anji and Potemkin), etc.

Life/defense mod
This is just the amount of life a character has or if the game makes every character have a different defense modifier. This is pretty self explanatory: higher life/defense mod is better since you have more room to make mistakes. In general, characters with high defense mods will either be grapplers or have slow movement speed. Since they have difficulty getting in, their large HP pool is designed to compensate for this, giving them more chances to make that one big play. Characters with low defense mods are generally pixies or are characters who have special mechanics. They are fast so they have a much easier time getting in compared to grapplers. You can almost think of it like having more options at the cost of your own life.

General vs relative strength
After you have considered all the previous factors, then you can start considering the general strength of a character. Think about how solid the character’s design is. Assuming the design team is competent, every character should have very well defined strengths and weaknesses. The weaknesses should not be too crippling; although, it is acceptable for there to be serious weaknesses if a character can make up for it with their strengths. You should also think about whether or not a character’s design meshes well with the theme of the game. For example, a character with weak offense but great defense probably wouldn’t be very good in a game that heavily favors rushdown. A real example would be White Len in Melty Blood Act Cadenza. While she had some great strengths, her slow movement combined with some of the worst air normals ever proved to be crippling in a game like MBAC where the majority of the game was fought in the air.

Then it’s time to consider relative strength, which is basically what every tier list tries to do. How does a character stack up compared to the rest? It’s entirely possible for a character who is weak by design to still be top tier(it just means that everyone else is even weaker). Similarly, it is also possible to see characters who have solid designs be relatively low on the tier list. This is the case for GGXX Accent Core and AC+R, where the bottom tier characters have good designs but are just slightly weaker than everyone else. And of course, you sometimes see characters with terrible designs who are bottom tier. This is the case for GGXX Slash Robo Ky and P4U Elizabeth.