One-button throws are a fighting game mechanic that dates back to the first fighting game anyone cares about: Street Fighter II. A one-button throw is an unblockable attack that requires you to be within a certain range of your opponent. When they work, they come out fast. In SF2 and GG, they come out in 0 frames. Usually a one-button throw is done by hitting a specific attack button and holding either backward or forward. This means that if you’re unable to throw and attempt one, you get whatever attack is usually bound to that button instead.
There’s another kind of throw called a command grab, which is similar in many ways. Like a one-button throw, a command grab is an unblockable attack. Unlike a one-button throw, a command grab has a startup animation and a whiff animation. If attempted, a command grab will always start up, and if it fails to connect with the opponent for any reason, the command grab’s whiff animation happens.
Notably, both of these mechanics have several limitations that prevent them from being too strong. Hitstun, blockstun, and jump startup animations are all invulnerable to throws. In most games, there’s even a window, usually between 4 and 7 frames, where this invulnerability persists after the opponent leaves blockstun, hitstun, or knockdown state. This has an important implication: If you're coming out of these states, and the opponent can throw you, you can always throw them (Assuming you've got the same throw range as them)
Many fighting games made recently have opted not to include one-button throws, most of them include a universal command grab instead as their throw mechanic, usually done by hitting two buttons. Notable examples include SFIII, SFIV, P4U, BlazBlue, Melty Blood, and UNIEL. Like a command grab, throws in these games have startup and a whiff animation, so they can happen whether they succeed in hitting the opponent or not.
A lot of people playing Guilty Gear for the first time are having trouble adjusting to a game with one-button throws. That’s understandable, it’s a whole new system mechanic to play with, and a game with one-button throws in it is a pretty different experience from a game without them. But if you’re going to be playing Guilty Gear, you’re going to have to learn it. There’s just no getting around it, because one-button throws are the core mechanic of Guilty Gear.
I’ll repeat that because it’s important.
One-button throws are the core mechanic of Guilty Gear.
In Guilty Gear, you throw by pressing forward or backward and the hard slash button (this command is commonly abbreviated 6H or 4H). You have a ground throw and an air-throw, which can only be used against grounded and aerial opponents respectively. The entire game is built around throws. Every single character’s throw either knocks down or leads into a combo, sometimes with the option to do either. Since it’s 0 frames, it constitutes a universal reversal option and a universal punish at -1 for the entire cast.
Every single strong Guilty Gear player has their throws on point. If you run into throw range on wake-up, you will be thrown. If your block-string gives them a frame to act and you’re on top of their face, you will be thrown. If you dance around in the air on their wakeup, you will be airthrown. If you’re in throw range and they’re neutral for even a single frame, you will be thrown. If they don’t throw you, it’s often because they have a better punish for what you’re doing.
The designers of Guilty Gear are thinking about throws first and foremost in nearly every decision they make. A ton of moves have throw-invulnerability and no strike-invulnerability compared to nearly every other fighting game. Don’t believe me? Let’s look at some other mechanics:
Gatling cancels: If your normal gets blocked, you can cancel it into another normal so you don’t get thrown for being at frame disadvantage. If you chain enough attacks together, you can even push yourself out of throw range.
Instant Block: Be holding a neutral direction within 7 frames of blocking an attack. Reduces blockstun, reduces pushback. This is a crucial tool that has a very important function - Getting a throw while you’re being pressured. Instant blocking can make a weak punish into a strong punish, but it can also get you a punish in what would normally be a blockstring, because all you need is one frame and to be in throw range.
Faultless Defense: Hold two buttons while blocking an attack. This increases both blockstun and pushback, as well as reducing chip damage and letting you block some attacks in the air. Not only can you sometimes push an opponent out of throw range when blocking their tick, but even when they won’t be pushed out enough, you’re still putting yourself in additional blockstun, messing up their timing for the throw.
Air Dashes and Double Jumps: Because of these air movement options, you can change the arc of your jump, making your position in space less predictable so you’re harder to throw.
While these mechanics are obviously useful for a lot of other situations, throws are always there, lurking in the background, influencing every design decision made in this game. They’re the hidden force that holds the whole game together, and it makes it a fun, dirty game that feels different from any other fighting game out there, where every situation can turn around, and a subtle read can upend your entire game plan in an instant. Burst may have been Guilty Gear’s biggest innovation, and hard knockdown may be the most important design choice in Guilty Gear, but throws, more than any other factor, make Guilty Gear’s system mechanics what they are.
Which brings me to another important mechanic in Guilty Gear: Throw option selects. Arc put a lot of thought into throw option selects in this game, as evidenced by the ones they’ve prevented from existing: You can’t option select FD and throw, and you can’t airthrow after airdashing either. What you can do is choose what standing normal you get if a throw doesn’t come out.
To option select with another normal. press 6H+Any other button (Whichever you want to use) simultaneously. Note that because you can’t throw OS with FD, you can’t option select a backwards throw attempt at all. Most characters’ normals were designed with this in mind. This effectively means you have five throws, which are, for many characters, all different guesses about how your opponent will try to avoid your throw.
5H (When you can’t OS): 5H is a close-range move for every character. This is because it’s the only normal you can get if you attempt to backthrow. Backthrows are inherently more risky, because you only cover the options your normal hard slash covers if your throw is made to fai.
6H (When you don’t OS): Most 6Hes in the game were clearly designed to punish a backdash from throw range: They tend to reach pretty far, be either long hitboxes or have forward momentum, and have pretty bad startup for contesting other normals. Zato’s is weird because its hitbox is more about punishing jump back, but it’ll still tag some of the backdashes that don’t travel as far. If you call out that they’ll either get thrown or backdash, this is often your best option to tag them with (Although many characters can tag a backdash with their far slash, too)
6P: Every character has a 6P that’s upper-body invulnerable, though the startups, hitboxes, and properties of these moves vary a lot (But never as fast as a jab). For some characters it’s a good way to beat out pokes and for some characters it’s an extremely strong anti-air. It’s also important that it’s bound to P. A throw option-select with jab would probably be a little too strong.
Close slash/Far slash: This mechanic is obviously made to work with throw OSes. Most far slashes are your character’s quickest long-range poke, which covers the situation where you get FD’d out of throw range. A lot of close slashes are either a character’s best normal (In terms of startup versus blockstun) or a strong anti-air. Since jump and FD are two strong options against tick throws, this covers a lot of ground, but since it’s slash, it definitely won’t beat a jab.
6K: A lot of characters have a 6K so that they can’t OS with their 5K. 6Ks aren’t standardized and have a lot of disparate properties. Some are overheads, some are throw-invulnerable, some are just strange attacks. Characters without a 6K have an option select with their 5K, which is often a pretty strong option-select because 5Ks tend to be fast.
Another notable throw OS is Gold Burst. If you hit 4H+D or 6H+D and burst is available, you’ll get a throw if the opponent is throwable and a gold burst if the opponent isn’t. Since gold bursts are invincible and get you full meter for hitting with them, this can be a good callout for a lot of ways out of throws, though remember that bursts are throwable themselves.
The choice to use throw option-selects seems to have been made for a number of reasons. For one thing, it makes life easier for people who haven’t mastered their throw timing yet, either in general or in a particular matchup. Getting stuck in a huge move because you aren’t used to a 1F timing in an opponent’s string is a very punishing outcome for trying to use a mechanic the game designers expect you to use as your go-to fastest attack, and pressing two buttons isn’t very hard.
But even at the highest level, there are far too many options and far too many situations resulting from throw attempts to cover without an option select. Since this game has one-button throws instead of a command grab, throw option selects give you control over what attack constitutes the “whiff animation” for your throw, making a choice so you can guess what your opponent will attempt to do to get out of your throw.
I’m hoping that gives you a good idea of how throws work in Guilty Gear, and why they’re so important. Since so many of the game’s moves and system mechaniscs were designed around working with one-button throws, you can form a good fundamental basis for playing the game by thinking about when to throw, how to throw, when your opponent can throw, and how to avoid throws. All other aspects of neutral, offense, and defense tactics layer nicely on top of this basis. Thanks for reading, and praise be!
(Shoutouts to Mynus, Contra, and Amadeous for some helpful suggestions and editing)