I want to come back to this later to add animated gifs or webms that show different moves, with overlays displaying the framedata
Many beginners to fighting games, including myself, get intimidated by frame data. They look at it like this huge spreadsheet of numbers that they think they have to memorize. I originally didn’t get framedata, but wanted to understand how combos were built, how people discovered them, and thought, “will I just have to memorize all this framedata to get it?” It took me a while for it to click. In reality, yeah people pick up a lot of framedata incidentally, but almost no one seriously memorizes all the framedata. People really only look for a few things, which moves are unsafe, which moves set up combos, which can follow up combos, and whether each move is plus or minus on block.
To explain the basics of Frame Data, I’m going to use Cammy in SFV, since she’s a character with extremely simple combos, and I main her.
Next to each attack are 3 columns, startup, active, and recovery. These list the number of frames before an attack becomes active, the number of frames it is active (meaning a hitbox is out on the screen), and the number of frames of recovery (the number of frames after the active frames before the character returns to a neutral standing state).
When you hit an enemy, it causes them to enter a new animation where they are incapable of acting, called hitstun. The length of this animation is different for every attack, and it is also different depending on whether the enemy was hit by or blocked the attack. Unfortunately, this framedata chart does not list how long hitstun (and blockstun) is for every attack, rather it lists the frame advantage on hit and block.
Basically, when you hit them, putting them into hitstun, your attack animation still needs to end. You still need to go through the recovery animation. So both you, and the opponent are temporarily in a state where you cannot act. If you come out of this state faster than your opponent, you are said to be at frame advantage, or “plus.” If you come out of this state slower, then you are at frame disadvantage or “minus”. The amount that you are plus or minus can be indicated by a number, like +3 or -5. Since the amount of hitstun or blockstun is different for every move, every move will be a different amount plus or minus depending on whether you hit or block. In general, the amount that you are plus on hit will always be greater than the amount you are plus on block. So you get more advantage if you hit than if you are blocked.
The important thing is, if you recover faster, if you are at frame advantage on block or hit, then you can act first while your opponent is still stunned. If you are minus, if you recover slower, if you are at frame disadvantage, then your opponent can act first while you are still recovering. Every move can be divided into two categories, plus or minus. Advantage or disadvantage. Worth noting is that it’s extremely rare for a move to be minus on hit. It’s generally considered bad design to do this, especially if it’s more than -3 or -4. If you look at Cammy’s framedata chart, you’ll notice that none of her moves are minus on hit (though some are 0, which means both players act at the same time, serving a similar role to being minus).
So lets pay attention to the ones that are plus or minus on block. So all of her plus on block moves are: s.LP, s.MP, s.LK, c.LP, c.MP and all of her minus on block moves are: s.HP, s.MK, s.HK, c.HP, c.LK, c.MK, c.HK. So what does this mean? It means that if she hits you with any of the plus moves, she will recover first and be able to attack first, and if she hits you with any of the minus moves, you will recover first and be able to attack first. This means that after a move that is plus, it is her turn, and after a move that is minus it is your turn.
So what can Cammy do on her turn? She can hit you again, this is called a frametrap or blockstring. The idea is, if you press a button, because she is plus on block, it will come out slower than her button, and you will get hit before the attack comes out. One example of this is c.MP, c.MP. Crouching Medium Punch is plus and comes out relatively quickly, so it makes a good frametrap. However, she cannot do this forever, because when you are hit by c.MP, you are pushed back a little. c.MP can only hit twice. But, after the second one, Cammy is still plus on block, it is still her turn. What can she do? She can c.MK, because that move has enough range to reach the opponent even after they are pushed back by the c.MPs. However notice that c.MK is minus on block, so at the point it hits, Cammy is surrendering her turn to the opponent.
Look at the lists of moves that are plus and minus on block. Notice that the ones that are plus are all shorter range moves, and the ones that are minus are all longer range. If you look at other characters, you’ll notice this trend is mostly constant. Moves that are plus on block are closer range, and ones that are minus are further ranged. You’ll also notice that moves that are closer range have shorter startup. So to make blockstrings, you’re basically pushing the opponent out from the range where your moves are plus to the range where moves are minus. At this range, if you hit them with your move that is minus, then, because they have the same restrictions you do, they cannot really pressure you, because all of their fast and plus on block moves are short ranged and cannot reach you.
There’s one important exception though. Look at Cammy’s c.HK. This move is -12 on block, way higher than any of the other moves. This means that if cammy’s c.HK is blocked, she will take SO LONG recovering that the opponent can usually hit her back with a move. c.HK has a startup time of 7 frames, which is similar to other characters. So if nothing else, if Cammy’s c.HK sweep is blocked, they can sweep her right back. For that purpose we call this move, unsafe on block. Meaning it has a recovery that is so long that the opponent can hit it right back. Because different moves are different amounts of minus on block, different moves will be more safe or less safe. Cammy is not a good example character for this, but other characters have moves that vary in how minus they are on block, like they might be -5, -8 or -12, such as many of Guile’s command normals. Since these vary in how minus they are, they can be punished more or less effectively by different moves. So with -12, you might be able to get a great punish off with a longer and more damaging setup, but with -4 or -5, you might have to settle for something less optimal. Normal moves tend to not be very minus, specials run the range depending on how they work, and sweeps are almost always extremely minus.
What else can a character do when it’s their turn? They can choose to wait until their advantage time is over and throw you. If they’re close, this can be dangerous. Or they can give up their turn to mix you up, such as hitting you with something that is plus, then immediately going for an overhead. Or jumping over you to cross up. Since you’re expecting them to continue the block string, you might not be expecting these mixup options, and get hit. They can also decide to back off, and not pursue the advantage they just got.
What can the defending character do against an opponent who is plus? Depending on how tight the frametrap is, they can try to press buttons to beat the next move in the blockstring. For example, c.MP on cammy is +1, and has a startup of 5, so that means there’s 4 frames that cammy can be hit by an attack in the middle of her blockstring. If you use a move with 4 frames of startup, you’ll beat the next c.MP. SFV limits this slightly with something called button priority however. Basically, if a medium and a light both hit on the same frame, then the medium connects and the light doesn’t. Most of the 4 frame or faster moves in the game are light attacks, so most will not be able to beat this frametrap. If the attacking character decides to move in for a throw, then pressing buttons will beat this. So one thing to check is for moves that are more than -2 on block, because they could potentially be punished.
A defending character’s next option is to reversal, use a move that is invincible or armored to beat the opponent’s blockstring. Some people call this interrupting the opponent’s turn. This is dangerous however, it’s high risk, low reward. In SFV especially, blocked dragon punches can be punished extremely hard due to the crush counter system.
Most of the time, a character that is defending a blockstring just wants to block the rest of it out, and react to whatever their opponent does to try to break it. It’s not always possible to react to tick throws however, so it pays to pay attention to the opponent’s tendencies and either try a throw break, pressing a button, or simply jumping when you expect a throw from them.
So now lets move onto framedata and combos. With combos, the important things to look at are advantage on hit, and the startup of each move. Whenever you pick up a new character, you want to look for any move that character has with +5 or more frames on hit. Cammy has s.MP, and c.MP. s.MP is +7. c.MP is +5. So what does this mean? It means s.MP can combo into any move that has 7 frames of startup or less, and it means c.MP can combo into any move with 5 frames of startup or less. You might notice that s.MP has 6 frames of startup. So does this mean it combos into itself? Unfortunately no, it does not, because it pushes opponents too far away. However it can combo into s.HP, c.MP, c.MK, c.HK. c.MP meanwhile has +5 frames of advantage, and 5 frames of startup, and it reaches far enough, so it can combo into itself, but nothing else. So whenever you pick up a character, look for the move that has the most frame advantage.
For reference, lets pick a character like Guile.
What has the most frame advantage? Standing HP is +6. Sonic Boom is +8. What moves have less than 6 or 8 frames of startup? Standing MP and crouching MP both have 5 and 6 frames of startup respectively. So we can tell that one of guile’s basic combos is s.HP into c.MP (s.MP doesn’t have enough range). However also notice that s.HP is -4 on block, meaning that if it hits a block, you can be hit back by a jab (if their jab has enough range) and your turn is over.
So using this system, you can quickly find your character’s basic combos. Just look for the moves with the highest advantage, and look for the moves that have startups shorter than them. Then test it out in training to make sure it actually connects.
There’s also two other factors that can influence frame advantage. Meaty hits and counterhits.
Notice how attacks have multiple active frames? Like 2 or 3 active frames frequently? What do you think happens if you hit with the last of those frames rather than the first of them? The effect is, the opponent gets hit with the same amount of hitstun, but later into your animation. This offset means that when you recover from the attack, you have more frame advantage. This can allow combos that are normally not possible, or make moves safe that normally aren’t.
Counterhits are when you hit the opponent during their startup or active frames. When you hit an opponent on counterhit in SFV, it grants +2 extra frames of hitstun. With certain moves, it will crush counter, but that’s a different topic. So how is this helpful? Remember the example above of Cammy’s c.MP, c.MP, c.MK. This is a frametrap sequence, and as you know, c.MP will combo into itself on hit. So on hit, you get a combo, and on block, it sets up frame advantage for the next move in the block string. However you might also notice that c.MK has 7 frames of startup, and will not combo from c.MP. However What if that c.MP is a counterhit? Then c.MP has +7 frames of advantage, and c.MK will combo. This means that c.MP, c.MP can frametrap an opponent who tries to press buttons between those two, then combo into c.MK off the second c.MP. So you have a sequence of moves that can catch people and allow you to convert into a combo. Many characters have jabs that are +4, which isn’t enough to combo, such as Guile, but on counterhit they become +6, which for Guile allows him to link into c.MP from c.LP, which can then be canceled into a special. Cammy can do the same thing, c.LP, c.MP into special, if the c.LP is a counterhit. Characters like Bison and Necalli specialize in these frametrap blockstrings.
Last thing is jump-ins and cancels. Jump-ins inflict a certain amount of hitstun like anything else, but you cancel their animation by landing, so their recovery times don’t matter so much. The amount of frame advantage you get off jump-ins can vary, based on how long it takes between when you hit them, and when you land. So to maximize frame advantage from jump-ins, you want to perform them as late and low to the ground as possible. Unfortunately, because framedata charts don’t list raw hitstun, only frame advantage, you can’t tell how much advantage time a jump-in gives on the framedata chart for most games, you’ll just have to go by your gut and figure it out through trial and error whether moves will combo off jump-ins.
Cancels are a lot simpler. Basically, when you hit with a normal move, you can input a special motion to cancel into a special move. Not all normals cancel, you can check which from the framedata charts. By canceling the move in the middle, you’re effectively getting more frame advantage for the special move you’re canceling into. Ryu’s 14 frame startup fireball isn’t going to link from anything, but if you cancel then it’s easy to combo into it. You can figure out how many frames of advantage time there is from a cancel by adding together the active frames, recovery frames, and the advantage time.
I think Karin is a good example for this:
Check her standing MP and standing HP. Stand MP has 3 active frames, 12 frames of recovery, 4 frames of advantage, meaning it inflicts a hitstun of 3 + 12 + 4 = 19. Her Standing HP has a hitstun of 4 + 20 + 2 = 26. Check out the startup for her QCB + P. The LP version has 16 frames of startup, and the MP version has 21 frames of startup. This means that Karin’s MP can cancel into her QCB + LP, and her HP can cancel into her QCB + MP. Neither of these moves have much frame advantage, but when canceled, they suddenly have a lot of frame advantage, especially the s.HP. You can identify moves that get a lot of frame advantage when canceled by looking out for moves with long recovery times. Some moves like s.HP are practically designed for this function, having such long startup times that nothing can link into them. Cammy’s c.HP is similar, having 9 frames of startup, and 20 frames of recovery, making it good for poking an opponent and V-trigger canceling into a combo.
If you want more info on combos and how they work, check this amazing video: