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SF Charge Conventions

By Maj

Since the early days of Street Fighter II, several Japanese combo specialists have exhibited a nuanced understanding of Capcom charge fundamentals far beyond their international peers. Perhaps proximity to Capcom's main headquarters provided direct access to game engine data, furnished by the original designers and programmers themselves. After all, video game strategy guides published in Japan had to earn their long-standing reputation of quality and comprehensiveness. Meanwhile on the other side of the Pacific Ocean, the lack of precise official information led to countless misconceptions regarding elemental charge behavior. It's past time someone set the record straight.

Basic Properties

Charge commands commence by requiring a certain joystick direction to be held for approximately one second. More specifically, each individual special move has its own designated waiting period, measured by T.Akiba and translated by NKI. With that requirement fulfilled, the remainder of the command can be completed to produce the intended attack or maneuver.

Different charge categories are tracked independently, including back charge, down charge, and super move charge. When charge position is relinquished, remaining inputs must be entered within the limited window allotted. Otherwise charge simply dissipates. Once a special move is successfully performed, its charge type is considered spent and can not be reapplied towards specials until fully recovered.


For over a decade, conventional wisdom has endorsed an erroneous procedure called pre-charging, an old school technique intended to minimize special move intervals. Unfortunately, it doesn't really work because it's based upon a flawed assumption.

The idea was to perform a special move command motion, then momentarily return the joystick to charging position prior to pressing the button. Supposedly this simple trick would enable charge to begin re-accumulating even before triggering the special move. The problem is that whenever a special move command is completed, it resets any built-up charge along that direction.

Accordingly, incorporating a five-frame pre-charge window between two charge specials effectively delays the minimum charge time of the second move by those five frames. As it turns out, the optimal method is to finish the first command, then immediately return the joystick to a charging position. Luckily, the powerful concept behind pre-charging can be salvaged by adapting it into ...

Charge Buffering

All connected attacks freeze both characters for a fixed duration while collision sparks animate. Throughout the classic SF2 series, this pause normally spans fourteen frames regardless of attack strength. A few rare exceptions aside, hit impact freeze can not be shortened or avoided. Thus it's actually possible to connect with a fierce punch, complete a special move command, and begin recharging for nearly thirteen frames before the first frame of the special move materializes.

Basically, charge buffering grants players greater control over charge expenditure. Yet the restrictions against charge overlap remain intact. Performing two consecutive specials still demands the whole sum of their charge times, because their commands don't get any closer. The difference is in the option to delay the emergence of the first special, thereby reducing the observed gap before the second special.

Command Protraction

Charge supers typically entail one held direction followed by three directional changes and a button press. Conservatively estimating command lenience to allow seven frames between relevant inputs, the super move execution interval can be extended to thirty-one frames - plenty of time to incorporate a couple of seemingly incredible standing jabs into the motion. The trick is to execute the command as slowly as permissible, spacing out individual inputs along the way.

By exploiting the quickness of his various Dash Punches, ST N.Balrog and CvS EX-Balrog can even integrate special moves into super command motions. Likewise, when a nearby opposing corner halts ST N.Blanka's Rolling Attack, he can transition directly to his super move. In fact if Blanka is close enough to the corner, he can perform a Rolling Attack followed immediately by his Vertical Rolling special at the cost of a single down/back charge. Since horizontal charge is consumed by the Rolling Attack, it can not be reused to pay for Blanka's Backstep Rolling special.

Slowdown Conditions

Contrary to popular belief, game speed reductions caused by projectile impact do not enable any additional charge accrual. As with turbo speeds and skipped frames, video output isn't necessarily a straightforward indicator of what's going on inside the machine. When the entire program runs slower, so does its internal charge timer. The only benefit gained from slowdown is some extra leeway for performing complex motions, but this too is overshadowed by a severely disruptive side effect: all controller inputs are outright ignored on every surplus frame.

Superfreeze is another state which alters match flow, and once again charge management is adjusted accordingly. Most Capcom games generally disregard both players' actions during superfreeze. As long as the same joystick directions are held going into and coming out of superfreeze, charge levels stay unchanged. Within that moment, the joystick can be moved around freely without losing charge.

Neutral Bypass

Capcom fighting games run at approximately sixty frames per second. This refers to their display rate as well as the controller sampling frequency. If the joystick is rushed from one end to the other in less than 1/60th of a second, there's a good chance the midway neutral position will escape detection.

Keeping this in mind, the elaborate swirling motions commonly associated with super moves can be condensed considerably. Truth be told, the ability to omit nonessential filler movements is one of the main reasons for adopting tool-assistance in combo video production. When a sequence of tight links hinges on achieving multiple minimal charge times, the number of excess execution frames may as well be added to the charge requirement.

Moreover, seamless direction changes make it possible to preserve horizontal charge through many kinds of crossup situations. Of course, it takes some measure of luck to flawlessly swap directions on the exact frame that the characters formally switch sides.

Parry and Just Defend

Parrying was introduced by Capcom as the signature feature of the SF3 series, while Just Defending first appeared in SNK's Garou: MOTW. Both subsystems are represented in CvS2, acting similarly in the sense that both temporarily suspend charge expiration. Furthermore, both must be initiated from neutral joystick position, so neither may be attempted without first relinquishing charge reserves. In actuality, Parry and Just Defend postpone the closure of all command execution windows, so none of these phenomena are unique to charge specials.

In some instances, charge availability lingers beyond six or seven successive Parries. The determining factor is the amount of idle time lapsing between Parries, which often becomes problematic because Parry itself stalls multi-hit attacks. In comparison, Just Defense barely affects incoming attack pace. Given a steady stream of rapid strikes, Just Defending can offset command dissipation indefinitely.

Progressive Rule Revisions

Over the years and across the countless fighting games inspired by Street Fighter II, the standards of Capcom's charge systems have gradually evolved to accommodate new characters and new features. Apart from a handful of arbitrary modifications such as the introduction of charge partitioning in SF3, the vast majority of changes have come in the form of intuitive regulations designed to limit abuse. Generally speaking, Capcom tends to err on the side of caution.

For example, several charge characters are capable of storing motions in ST. Despite its popularity and usefulness, this peculiar gimmick was notably absent from SFA. The Extra character versions in CvS brought about a brief resurgence, but the concept remains largely abandoned.

Although charge buffering is applicable in every major Street Fighter title, decreases in impact freeze duration have slightly diminished its functionality. In both the SFA series and the CvS series, collision periods span roughly nine frames for most light attacks, eleven frames for most medium attacks, and thirteen frames for most heavy attacks. That five-frame drop for jabs and shorts is quite substantial.

Finally, the CvS series contains perhaps the most critical charge behavior alteration of all. Existing charge is automatically reset upon performing any special move or super move, including non-charge specials such as Chun Li's Lightning Kick. The only known exceptions are Blanka's Surprise Forward and Surprise Back and Vega's Back Slash and Short Back Slash, none of which can inflict damage. Sadly, this solitary rule eradicates Balrog's entire arsenal of traditional charge tricks.