SF4 Series Focus Trade Setups
It’s no secret that i use a lot of Focus Attacks in my SF4 and SSF4 combo videos. I understand how they might look repetitive to someone who can’t tell the functional differences between them, but there’s a reason behind each and every setup. Hopefully the following examples will shed some light on what purposes they serve and why they’re necessary.
Let’s get one thing clear right away: Anytime i can add a Focus Attack to the beginning of a tool-assisted combo without cost, i consider it lazy not to do so. From my perspective, if a character has nothing better to do, i can’t justify discarding that extra hit. It’s the same principle that forces Guile jump-in combos to start with an LP Sonic Boom. If you don’t do it, people have a right to ask, “Why not?”
However, that preliminary Sonic Boom never determines whether or not the whole combo is good. In other words, my combos are never good or bad because of the Focus Attack at the beginning. That’s simply a formality. Tuning it out won’t impact the value of the combo.
This is an important point: Combos aren’t built front to back. I never start with a Focus trade and see where it leads, the same way i never throw a Sonic Boom and see where it goes. You’ve never seen me end up with lvl3 Focus Attack (trade), j.HP, s.HP xx Hadoken, right? That’s because i start with a core concept i want to showcase and i build outward in both directions.
Trading a lvl3 Focus Attack with an opponent’s light attack to set up a jump-in happens to be the most generic setup. This is probably the application that annoys people the most, but it’s only beneficial to a small subset of jump-in combos.
First off, it can’t require a crouching opponent because the Focus Attack will stand them up. Second, it can’t require a counterhit or any other opponent action. Third, the extra scaling tends to reduce the combo’s overall damage and dizzy potential. Therefore it’s only worthwhile if the main combo wasn’t going to dizzy the opponent or deal noteworthy damage anyway. Fourth, fireball characters are usually better off leading in with a projectile instead.
Following up after a Focus Attack isn’t always easy, either. Many characters have inconvenient optimal jump attacks – either because their most damaging one happens to be a vertical jumping attack or because it simply has an awkward hitbox. I’ve spent hours trying to connect certain jump attacks after a lvl3 Focus Attack trade but some of them simply will not work.
Another property of crumple stun is the special quasi-airborne state which takes effect once the character falls over. They technically aren’t considered in air reel during this period, which enables certain air throw setups and unique juggle opportunities. It even serves as a meaty setup for attacks which descend from above, without counting against single-use juggle limits.
Whenever an untraded lvl2 Focus Attack provides enough time to land the desired follow-up, how can i justify not putting a lvl3 Focus Attack in front of it? Obviously trades shouldn’t be used for characters who can make it happen without an interrupt, but there aren’t too many of those, are there?
For many characters, the universal free juggle state created by an anti-air lvl3 Focus Attack is their only meterless juggle setup. It also happens to be one of the most versatile due to its outrageous combination of impact freeze duration plus air time. Since Focus Attacks act as non-repeatable juggle setups, it can only be preceeded by crumple stun, which means – you guessed it – another Focus Attack trade setup.
The reality is Focus Attacks have so many different uses, that it’s impossible to escape their shadow if you’re truly attempting to optimize combos. Non-fireball characters in particular have trouble finding better openings. Even after so many paragraphs, this article barely scratches the surface of their advanced potential. (They can even be used to extend dizzy combos by permitting more hits before crossing that threshold!)