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SF Combo Construction Essentials

By Maj

As with any other creative endeavor, it's impossible to craft an interesting combo without some degree of independent originality. That part is beyond the scope of this discussion. However, many of the guidelines for refining and optimizing combos are surprisingly systematic.

Every new combo starts with an innovative idea - something nobody else has thought of trying before. Without this creative spark, nothing sets the combo apart from the countless forum discussions and combo videos already established. Sometimes all it takes is the alertness to notice something out of the ordinary during a match or the boredom to logically deduce the properties of an attack while stuck in rush hour traffic. Other times, it may require hours upon hours of exploration and experimentation in Training Mode to overcome the limitations of an existing concept.

When one such promising combo seed emerges, it must be fleshed out quite a bit to become fit for inclusion in a video. Upon conception, most core insights lack the ideal starter and/or ender to make the combo complete. Any combo so bare that it can be easily extended will be rightfully criticized by the viewing audience. Ultimately, the object of an exhibition combo is to convey something genuinely original, uncommonly stylish, notably difficult, and sufficiently finalized.

Starters and Setups

Most combos start from the middle and expand outward in both directions. More often than not, the opening arrangement is the last addition; very few combo ideas start with the setup. Setups can be as intricate as desired or as minimal as required. Everyone tends to cultivate their own repertoire of staple setups to use whenever a ground-based combo ender needs a beginning. They range from plain crossup or meaty attacks all the way to projectile chasing, multi-layered interrupts, and prepared glitch states. In fact, all of these options branch off into numerous subcategories of their own.

In practice, advanced combo concepts usually demand unusual conditions. Right away, most of the familiar possibilities are taken off the table, leaving behind relatively few legitimate contenders. When it comes to quirky, offbeat, or highly specialized novelties, getting stuck with a single viable setup is not at all rare. Improving old setups can be harder than inventing new combos. It never hurts to try but sometimes it can't be done.

Now assuming the idea in question is a fairly portable ground sequence of some sort, it's going to need an appropriate non-trivial lead-in. Finding the best suited option is as much an issue of personal preference as technical superiority. In some cases, the theme of the initial combo unit dictates its own setup choice. For example, a combo consisting entirely of kicks lends itself to a setup limited to the same category so as to achieve a certain stylistic symmetry. If a combo is one special move short of utilizing a character's entire arsenal, it might be cool to incorporate that missing piece into the front.


In order for a combo to come across as exhaustively developed, it must maintain high intensity from beginning to end. A weak, lazy finisher can leave the viewer feeling unsatisfied whereas a strong, decisive one amplifies the excitement and transfers it over to the next clip in the video. Enders should be definitive insofar as the combo cannot be continued any further. Every game has customized restrictions designed to prevent infinite combos. Whatever these elements may be, it's important to at least reach the established boundary before wrapping up the combo.

When choosing combo finishers, there are a number of tradeoffs to consider. How many instances of new content should each combo contain? One is certainly enough to validate its circulation, but finding a way to fit two or three in there makes it that much more revolutionary and memorable. If the core seems incompatible with every promising ender imaginable, then it becomes a simple matter of identifying a standard closer which best compliments the existing framework.

Ending a combo without depleting the entire super meter should generally be avoided, unless it stems from a deliberate stylistic or technical choice. However, this criterion points to a fine line because defaulting to overused conventions can also be considered poor form. Nobody wants to see the same routine over and over again, not even if it's believed to be the finest combo in the game. If the video contains multiple combos per character, it's preferable to vary finishers by planning ahead. From time to time, this can mean shortening combos and leaving available super meter unused.


Perfecting combos always comes down to making sure they equal or exceed everything that's already out there. Thus, optimization entails a great deal of research into previously released videos - hunting for improved setups, glitches, tricks, and techniques. While it's impossible to race against the future, every published video should aspire to raise the bar set by the past.

Unnecessary crutches should be removed whenever possible. For example, corners must be reserved for sequences which capitalize on their main advantages: nullification of projectile pushback and prevention of juggle knockback. However, regular pushback caused by physical attacks is reflected upon the attacker, often yielding no benefit from backing the opponent into a corner. Considering how seldom opportunities arise to showcase midscreen combos, it's simply a shame to pass one up.

Depending on the game, link combos can be remarkably versatile tools for extending middle segments toward maximum style and difficulty. Ordinarily each character has an array of links which can be used interchangeably. Substituting in a tighter link is an excellent method of boosting the challenge level on any given combo. Keep in mind that links are not only the connectors holding the combo pieces together, but also some of the most telling signs of player skill. Of course, certain combos are too restrictive by nature, requiring a specific setup with no room for middle expansion.

At the end of the day, there is no truer gauge of success than honest personal satisfaction. In fact, it's quite difficult to elicit authoritative external approval because of how unlikely it is to encounter peers at such elevated, specialized, and obscure levels of knowledge as needed to make an amazing combo video. Over 99% of fighting game players aren't even qualified to judge decade-old TZW tapes.

If a combo takes twenty minutes to design and execute, you probably won't be happy with it. Keep working on it until there are no easy answers left for anyone who'd seek to make it obsolete.