[Author's note : I originally posted this on my local Facebook group for some of our scene's newer players, but I figured I haven't seen any instructional articles on the front page of DL lately, so I decided to share it.]
A major problem I see with most tutorials for fighting games is that they're TOO beginner focused. "This is the button layout!" or "Here's how to use such-and-such system mechanic!" seem commonplace. Where are the tutorials for players in between novice and pro? Personally, I believe it's an issue that should be addressed, and hopefully something we'll see more of. With that said, I'm going to offer my technique for combo selection for intermediate players. The specifics of this guide apply to Guilty Gear, but its principles can apply to virtually any fighting game.
In a combo heavy game like GG, combo selection is extremely important. Ideally, you want to do the optimal combo for the situation, but with GG being such a complex game, there are often many, many options available. Which is best? To determine this, you should look at every positive a combo can have, then try to pick ones that cover the broadest range of them. For Guilty Gear, I break it down into the following criteria:
- Total damage
- Total meter spent (or meter gained)
- Favorable positioning/oki setup afterwards
- Corner/midscreen combos
- Reliability (general ease of combo, practicality)
- Combos with CH starter
- Flashing guard gauge combos
- Weight class/character specificity (generally light, medium, and heavy; for more info visit Dustloop's wiki here. You may also need to learn some combo variants for your character to compensate for some characters having funky hitboxes)
- Other character specific factors (A.B.A.: can I end this with double keygrab? Zappa: how many Orbs will this net me? Johnny: how many coins does this cost and what level of Mist Finer is required? Etc.)
- "Does the opponent have burst? And if so, do I have a burst safe option in this situation?" (Forgot to list this one, thanks Nehle!)
The first thing you should look at when deciding combos is your character's primary starters. You'll want to substitute your character's for this guide obviously, but I'll use my character, A.B.A. for demonstrative purposes. In her main fighting mode, Moroha, this would be f.S, 5H, 2H, 2K, Throw, Kashitsu (backflip kick), fuzzy guard j.S, anti-air 5P/6P, CH 2S, CH j.H, Dust, and Danzai/FB Danzai. The idea is that if you can learn combos for your character's common starters, you'll not only be able to increase your ability to convert those hits into damage, but off similar moves as well. For example, if I start with a c.S, I can follow up with f.s and continue into a 2H combo, or if I started a combo with 2P, I could do the 2K combo with the 2P substituting the 2K.
A friend of mine asked me how I personally determine my selections. First, I visited Dustloop's A.B.A. forum and browsed through her combo and tutorial threads to hunt for some combos that looked appealing. Keeping the above criteria in mind, I noted how well a given combo fared in each, estimating when something wasn't explicitly listed. I also paid attention to tough spots in the combos posters had trouble with (e.g., "Hey, I'm having trouble doing ______ part!" "Oh, just delay the timing on the ______" etc).
Any time I see a combo I want to try, I copy+paste it into a text file and print it (I usually double-space the combos for readability). After skimming through the forums for a bit, it's easy to have a huge list of potential combos, but don't worry--you're going to trim it down. The best way to do this is simply experimentation. Here's what I do:
1. Go into training mode
2. Pick a "medium" weight opponent
3. Set training options as required by the combo
4. Practice, practice, practice. Repeat the combo over and over, paying attention to the criteria above and how it works under different variables. Does the starter landing as a CH mess up the combo? Will it only work if the move connects a certain way, like from different distances/angles/trajectories? Is it better to normal jump, dash jump, IAD, or super jump? Be sure to test the combos on some "light" and "heavy" characters as well.
5. After several repetitions of the combo, consider the criteria mentioned and decide if it's a keeper. Note that there is no "attempt" in combo selection--keep trying until you get it at least a few times. There are some combos that can feel like, "Man, this combo isn't practical at all, it always drops when I ______!" However, the truth is usually common sense: it's an execution error on your part (excluding combos forum posters outright mention as intentionally flashy/impractical/just for fun, but you shouldn't have put combos like that on your list to begin with). Some anecdotal evidence: When I first picked up A.B.A., I couldn't do proper Orb Loops to save my life, not even once. At first I was salty, thinking that the combo just wasn't worth it, until a few minutes later I re-checked DL and it turns out you typically have to do the j.H > Orbs as low to the ground as possible. If you don't, the combo doesn't drop right then, but you won't be able to land the combo ender (double keygrab). I went back to training mode and successfully completed it on my third or fourth attempt.
6. For combos I want to incorporate into my game, I'll take a pen or Sharpie and put a dot next to it. If it's one I'm unsure about, I'll put a question mark and research/test it more later. Often I'll even jot down notes about each combo (which characters it works on, noting which type of jumps to use at specific parts, etc.).
7. Each time you go into training mode from now on, practice the combos with a dot. Start by trying to do each one three times in a row on the 1P side--if you mess up, start that combo over at 0/3 reps completed. When you get it 3/3, be sure to do the same on the 2P side, then move on to the next one. When you start getting them down better, bump it up to five reps or ten reps or however many to want to ensure your execution will be top notch--that you won't drop that combo in a clutch tourney moment. I've heard rumors say top players (JWong, etc) practice their combos at ONE HUNDRED reps, starting over if they mess up once. Are you a bad enough dude to train like Justin Wong? Me neither, but I figured I'd mention it, lol.
In conclusion: don't skimp on your combos. Combos are extremely important in Guilty Gear and every other fighting game, and choosing combos that are optimal is just as important as being able to hit them when you need to. Pick the best ones, get them down, and convert off every hit. Next time you're at a tournament, instead of giving an opponent the win by dropping a key combo, your execution and conversion will make it clear that you're giving him nothing; that the only way he's getting that W is by taking it, prying it from your hands, and before he can do that, there's a pretty tough roadblock he has to get through first: you.
Edit: Fixed a few typos, added stuff on Burst safeness and practicing the combo on both sides, and revised a few things.