Please feel free to make edits, but include edit summaries and sources where applicable.
Underneath the life bar is a gauge consisting of 7 stars. Being hit with certain moves will deplete stars - once a character's star gauge reaches 0, a distinctive animation will play, and a shining 'death star' will appear below the normal star gauge. Players with zero stars become vulnerable to "Fatal KO's," which are Hokuto no Ken's version of instant kills. Unlike some other games such as Guilty Gear, it is possible to combo into a Fatal KO, which makes them a very central part of the game.
Once a player connects with a Fatal KO they win the round, and the other player gains all of their stars back(assuming it wasn't the match point, in which case the match is over). If a player executes a Fatal KO but it misses, they lose all of their Aura and Boost, and the other player gains back one star. Also, after every round both players recover one star.
The most stars that can be taken off in a single combo is 3, although there are some exceptions to this rule, and 4 and even 5 star Fatal KO combos exist for some characters. For more information regarding this see the Advanced Game Mechanics section.
The Aura Gauge is the bottom-most bar on the the screen and is essentially a Super Bar, functioning almost identically to the Tension Gauge in the Guilty Gear series. Up to 2 bars of Aura can be stored, which can be used on Supers, Guard Cancels, Aura Guard, and Stun Cancel. The first bar is blue, and the second gold, overlapping the first once it is full.
Aura Guard can be performed by holding the boost button while guarding. The mechanics are exactly the same as Faultless Defence in Guilty Gear - it causes more push-back when guarding, protects you from chip damage, and allows you to guard anti-air moves while airborne. The negative effects of Aura Guard are that it causes longer block stun and uses up your Aura at a steady rate.
A Guard Cancel is done by pressing forward and CD while guarding. Executing a Guard Cancel will use up 1 bar of Aura and perform an invincible attack that will knock your opponent down if it connects. Guard Cancels in Hokuto no Ken are very strong and will generally never lose outright or 'trade' with other moves. However, they can be beaten by moves with long start-up invulnerability or guard points like Raoh's Chop and Rei's Koharyu, or simply guarded if the opponent is able to recover before the Guard Cancel connects. Being able to predict and deal with Guard Cancels when applying pressure and choose safe spots to use them when defending are both necessary skills in intermediate level play. For more detailed information on Guard Cancels see the Strategy section.
A Stun Cancel is used to cancel the 'stun' state caused by certain moves such as Heavy Strikes and Kenshiro's Seieikou. Pressing any button while stunned will use up half a bar of aura and allow you to act again. If you have the available gauge to use a Stun Cancel you generally should always do so.
Whereas the Aura Gauge can be easily related to similar systems in other games, the Boost Gauge and its uses are rather unique. Two uses for boost exist - the first, which we will call 'Movement Boost,' costs 20% of a bar per use, and causes the character to rush forward at an extreme speed. The second type is 'Cancel Boost,' which can be used to cancel the recovery of normal or special moves, and costs 50% of a bar to use. Boost can be performed by pressing the E button at nearly any time, provided the lever is not in a backwards position - this lever requirement applies not only to the basic Boost function, but also to all Boost-related techniques, such as Hitstop Cancel and Banishing Cancel
Boost is gained in many ways, both when attacking and defending, and each player can store up to 3 bars of Boost. It is possible to use Boost when you have a minimum of one bar, and once used the remaining Boost will begin to drain slowly to the end of the bar. For example, if you have 2.0 Boost and use 20% for a Movement Boost, the bar will continue to deplete until you have 1.0 Boost left. If you have 1.25 Boost and use 50% in a Cancel Boost, the remaining .75 Boost will drain and you will be left with 0 Boost. Once Boost has been used by either character, neither player will be able to gain Boost for roughly 8 seconds - Boosting before comboing a dizzied opponent or in the middle of a long combo can be used to limit your opponent's Boost gain. For these reasons, Boost management plays a critical role in Hokuto no Ken.
It should also be noted that when you connect with a Banishing Strike either in a ground combo or as the first hit versus an airborne opponent, you are able to use a special follow-up Cancel Boost that grants you one free bar of Boost that begins draining when executed. This is provided that you had less than 1 full bar of Boost prior to the start of the combo - if for example you had 3 full bars, 1 of them will drain as normal upon using the follow-up Boost. A technique called "Banishing Cancel" can be used to gain this free bar of boost but cancel the follow-up dash and thus subsequent use of the Boost also exists, and is covered in detail in the Advanced Game Mechanics section.
Mr. Heart has no Boost Gauge.
AKA Agility Guard. Agility Defense is a guarding technique identical to Instant Blocking in the Guilty Gear series. Agility Defense is done by inputting the guard command directly before being hit with an attack. When performed successfully, the character will flash white and a unique sound will play. The benefits of Agility Defense are a decrease in block stun, less knock-back, and an increase in Boost and Aura. Agility Defense is also the only way of guarding a max charged Banishing Strike, so it is an important skill to master.
Pressing C and D together will execute a Banishing Strike, which is a special attack that takes one star and causes the victim to fly towards the corner and enter into a 'wallbounce' state when it connects successfully. As explained in the Boost Gauge section, any ground hit or the first hit on an airborne opponent will result in a successful hit - used in a combo versus an airborne opponent it will simply take one star and cause a knockdown. Upon a successful hit, a special Movement Boost can be used by pressing forward, and will cause you to chase after the opponent. This boost uses 20% as normal for a Movement, but is unique in that if you have less than one bar Boost, you will gain a free one which will begin to drain as normal. Other than this special automatic movement boost, any manual Boost performed off a Banishing Strike, including when guarded, will also cost only 20%.
While comboing an opponent after connecting with a Banishing Strike, they will bounce off the wall after every strike, which allows for long and powerful combos. However, as the combo grows in length, the pushback of each hit also increases, becoming larger and larger. Eventually the pushback will become too great, and it becomes necessary to end the combo before being pushed out of range. However, this pushback can be reset by taking the victim out of the wallbounce state, which can be achieved by using another Banishing Strike. This Banishing Strike is treated as an air combo hit and thus will not result in a 'successful' hit, and requires a boost followup to continue the combo. Raoh is also capable of doing this with his 'Sai' move, and this forms the basis of his 100% combos. Also, although as a rule Boost cannot be gained for 8 seconds after being used, a bug exists where you are able to gain 20% boost when using a Banishing Strike while doing a Banishing Strike wallbounce combo(you gain the boost while it is draining, essentially allowing you to use 120% in a single bar).
Also noteworthy is that the amount of Boost gained from hitting or making your opponent block a Banishing Strike is very high - 50% when guarded and 20% when it connects, specifically. Ending a string with a Banishing Strike, and then either using the gained boost to continue the pressure or stopping and re-evaluating the situation is a common attack pattern.
Grave Shoots are a special type of move used to perform aerial combos. Done by pressing A and C, a grave shoot launches the victim into the air and can be followed up by a jump only when it connects, and any special move used in the aerial will take off a star regardless of whether it is a star removing move or not. However the maximum number of stars that can be taken off is just one, and there is no added bonus for using a move that would normally take off a star. This one star limit can be circumvented by using a technique called Grave Install. Grave Shoots are generally only used in combos, although some characters, such as Raoh and Rei, can use theirs as an anti-air move in certain cases.
Mr. Heart has no Grave Shoot. Also, Jagi's Grave Shoot is an overhead, and Rei's can reflect projectiles.
A Heavy Strike is an unblockable attack that can be performed by pressing A and B together. Once executed, the player does a short charge up, then springs forward and attacks. If the Heavy Strike connects on a grounded opponent, they will lose one star and enter into a stunned state. When a Heavy Strike hits an airborne opponent it is still unblockable and takes off a star, but simply causes knockdown. While it is possible to continue into a combo without using gauge, the victim will usually be able to recover with Stun Cancel or lever/button mashing before you are able recover yourself and begin attacking. For this reason Heavy Strikes should always be used in conjunction with Boost, as the attack itself does little damage - the main advantage is the ability to follow up with a big combo. The exception to this is Mamiya, whose Heavy Strike has both very fast start up and recovery and thus does not require the use of Boost to follow up.
Normal throws can be executed by pressing either 4(to throw backwards) or 6(for a forward throw) and C when near the opponent. It is very important to note that throws in Hokuto no Ken have a slower start-up than in most games and thus are not suited for reversals.
Mamiya has no throw.
BD throws are a special alternate throw that can be performed by pressing B and D together. Unlike a normal throw, pressing BD will play a grabbing animation regardless of whether or not you are able to connect, as in Street Fighter 3 and Blazblue. They have faster start-up than normal throws, a larger range, and take off one star upon use(and, in fact, remove the 3 star limit from combos). On the negative side, BD throws only connect on standing opponents, making them not viable for use in a low/throw style mix-up.
Mamiya and Toki both have no BD throw. Also, Mr. Heart's BD throw can be used on both standing and crouching opponents.
Air Recovery, or Ukemi, allows you to recover after taking a hit in mid air and prevent being knocked down. Air Recovery can be performed by pressing any button, provided that you are not in a non-recoverable state - depending on the move you were hit with you may be unable to recover before hitting the ground.
Using Quick/Delayed Standing, it is possible to delay or extend the time you stay knocked down. These techniques can be useful for throwing off the timing of your opponents setups. Inputing an upward or downward direction when knocked down will perform Quick and Delayed Standing, respectively. For Delayed Standing it is possible to simply hold down as soon as you see you will be knocked down, but when using Quick Standing it is necessary to input the up direction during a specific window of time.
Guard Gauge and Weight System
Depending on the characters being played, a Guard Gauge sometimes appears. Similar to Street Fighter Alpha 3, constant blocking and defending decreases the meter. When it reaches zero, a "Guard Crush" occurs and the defending player becomes temporarily vulnerable to attacks. This gauge only appears when characters of the same weight class have a match, with the exception of middle-weights.
For instance, two heavyweights fighting each other will have a Guard gauge, as will two lightweight fighters. On the other hand, two middleweights will not. When there is a mismatch in terms of weight, only the lighter character is given a Guard Gauge. For example, in a match where Mr. Heart (a heavy-weight) is fighting Mamiya (a light-weight) only Mamiya has a Guard Gauge.
The game's weight classes are as follows:
Heavyweight: Shin, Mr. Heart
Middleweight: Kenshiro, Raoh, Toki, Rei, Yuda, Jagi
Lightweight: Thouther, Mamiya
Recovering Life Gauge
The orange colour on the life gauge indicates current life energy. The blue bar underneath the orange represents the amount that can be recovered. Recovery only occurs when a character is not being attacked or high-jumping.
Player 1/Player 2 Side Differences
In Hokuto no Ken, there are actually differences between the two sides in the game, which manifest in several ways. Firstly, there can be differences in the ease of doing certain combos depending on whether you pick the 'Player 1' or 'Player 2' side when first starting the game. Mr. Heart is the only character who is affected greatly by this, having a throw infinite that is much easier to perform when he is 'Player 2.' The second main difference in the sides is that the way characters bounce off the wall when being comboed is actually different on the left and right sides. This difference is independent of whether you are 'Player 1' or 'Player 2,' and you only need to take into account the side you are facing. This causes certain combos to only be possible or require modifications depending one which side of the stage you are in.
Round Start Advanced Input
It is possible to hold down any combination of buttons before the beginning of the round and they will be executed instantly the moment it starts. For example, if you are holding down C and D, you will perform a Banishing Strike as soon as you are able to act. This technique is especially useful when combined with Boost attacks like 2A+E or 2B+E, allowing you to go on the offensive the moment the round starts.
Exceeding the '3-Star Limit'
As stated in the Basic Mechanics section, the amount of stars you can take off in any given combo is capped at 3. However, there are some exceptions to this rule, the first and most common being combos from BD grabs. The BD grab itself takes off 1 star, but this is not included in the 3 star cap, which allows you to take up to 4 stars in a single combo. Another way to remove more than 3 stars is done by making your opponent guard a max-charged Banishing Strike. This causes them to wall-bounce and takes away a star that is similarly not included in the 3-star limit. Finally, if you end a combo on a dizzied opponent with a Banishing Strike, your follow up combo will be able to remove 4 stars. Thus, the most stars you can take off at once is 5, which is done by doing a BD grab combo on a dizzied opponent.
Although the 3-star limit can be exceeded, the rule that each specific star-taking move can only take 1 star per combo stays intact, meaning it is necessary to use 4 or more distinct moves(or utilize Grave Install).
Grave Install is a technique done by performing the input for a special move plus an up direction and E during the hit stop of a Grave Shoot. Aside from allowing the use of ground moves after a Grave Shoot, with Grave Install moves that take off 1 star under normal circumstances will take off 2. Depending on whether it is used within a Banishing Strike wallbounce combo or not, Grave Install has one of two effects. When used within a Banishing Strike combo the move executes as normal and has the bonus star-taking effect. The second and more infamous effect, which happens when the Grave Install is done outside a Banishing Strike, causes the character to execute the ground move while rising slightly into the air. Besides looking fancy, this use spawned two of the most well known bugs in Hokuto no Ken: Shin's Muteking and Rei's Bug Shouryu.
Also, Thouther's close C has a special "Grave Strike" property, and can perform Grave Install without the use of boost.
Normally, once you press the Boost button your character shoots forward and will be unable to perform any action except an attack until the Boost comes to a stop. However, by first dashing and then pressing Boost, you are able to stop the Boost at any time and jump, guard, or throw. Generally this technique is not very useful, but does allow for some interesting gimmicks, such as doing a Boost throw at the start of the round.
The 'Chikuseki', or 'Accumulation' bug occurs after a long uninterrupted combo that results in a knockdown, and causes the subsequent wakeup attack to increase the rate of gain of all gauges exponentially based on attack time prior to the knockdown. This includes both the Aura and Boost of the attacker, as well as the Guard Crush and unseen Dizzy Meter of the victim.
Specifically, Chikuseki is reset once the victim takes a neutral state upon waking up - blocking an attack or doing a reversal(backstep/jump included) continues the Chikuseki state. If while in this state the player blocks or is hit while in a blocking pose(ie. being hit with a low while guarding high), all gauges will increase at an accelerated rate for the duration of the attack string. This can be especially disastrous for characters with a guard gauge, as even if they block the wakeup attack, not only will their opponent end up with max aura and boost, but they will be almost instantly guard crushed and then dizzied. For these characters the only escape is using a Guard Cancel, reversal, or in some cases a neutral wakeup(choosing not to guard and die, usually done at low health to prevent the opponent from starting the next round with max Aura and Boost).
It is also important to note that Juda is immune to Chikuseki for the most part - he is only affected by it when he uses a reversal(and is then hit before recovering).
First Round Boost Gain
Normally at the start of each round Boost cannot be gained for roughly 8 seconds - however there is one exception to this rule. In the first round before the match actually starts there is a short intro where each character says a few lines. This intro sequence can be skipped by either player by pressing any button, but if it is left to play out, both players will be able to gain Boost from the very start of the round.
More on 'Movement Boost'
As explained in the Boost section, a 'Movement Boost' uses only 20% Boost, as opposed to the 50% used by a 'Cancel Boost.' When Boost is used during the recovery frames of a move, you get a Cancel Boost, however it is also possible to Boost during the startup of a move. This results in a Movement Boost being applied to the move, making it advance forward while executing. This type of Movement Boost is very important as it costs less to use and often functions similarly to a Cancel Boost. The use of Movement Boost on normal moves like 2A and 2B especially is a critical skill to master as it is used extensively in combos and for hit confirms.
Hitstop Cancel, often abbreviated as HSC, is a technique that allows for super moves and some special moves to be canceled into during the hitstop of normal moves. This is done by pressing E at the same time as completing the moves input, and results in the move being executed faster than normally possible. While performing a Hitstop Cancel does not use any boost, it does require you to either have at least one bar stocked, or be using boost(have a bar in the process of draining, such as after a Banishing Strike) at the time of executing the HSC. Hitstop Cancel is made use of by many characters, Juda foremost among them.
Boost Bug is a very annoying bug that can occur in various situations, such as when canceling a normal move into a special with Boost or using Hitstop Cancel with a super move. When the Boost Bug occurs, the next time you use Boost 50% will be consumed even if it is a Movement Boost or special Banishing Strike follow-up Boost - this often causes combos to fail due to lack of Boost. The Boost Bug ends when you use Boost again or the round ends. For an extremely in-depth explanation of the bug, see here and here(explanation is in Japanese but you can still probably get the gist of things).
Banishing Cancel is a technique that allows the Banishing Strike's follow-up Movement Boost's startup to be canceled, and the free boost bar stored for later use. Specifically, there is a 1 frame window at the beginning of the follow-up Movement Boost in which a Banishing Cancel can be performed by doing a special/super move or Fatal KO. Raoh only is able to extend this window of time to 2 frames, by doing the Banishing Cancel when the opponent is stuck to the ground by his 'Sai' move. If successfully executed, no boost will be consumed and the free bar of boost will remain unused. Because of his ability to double the input time, Banishing Cancel is generally considered a Raoh-specific technique, although any character(except Mr. Heart who has no Boost Gauge) can perform it.
A 'Dribble' combo can be performed after a roughly 31-hit air combo by repeatedly dashing and hitting and opponent just as they rebound off the floor, much like you would dribble a basketball. At the beginning the 'dribble' only causes the opponent to bounce a little and the timing can be very severe - however, as you keep following up with more hits, the victim starts to bounce higher and higher, eventually reaching the Basuke state. Dribbles can be performed with very little gauge and are often the most practical 100% combo starters, but they are usually harder to perform than Hyakuretsu combos. See here for an example of a Dribble combo.
'Hyakuretsu' combos involve hitting an opponent in the 'down' state over and over using Movement Boost, until eventually they enter into Basuke mode. Specifically, it is necessary to perform an air combo of roughly 25 hits or more, repeatedly follow up with 2B or B and a Movement Boost when about to be pushed out of range, and then shift to 2A after a certain amount of hits. Against Shin and Mr. Heart only it is possible to use 2A from the very start, which makes it possible to perform Hyakuretsu combos on them with less meter. As a great amount of Boost is required, Hyakuretsu combos can only used by certain characters in specific situations, but are generally easier to perform than Dribble combos. See here for an example of a Hyakuretsu combo.
'Traveling' is a technique done by ending a 55 or more hit air or ground only combo(if you switch from ground to air mid-combo the count resets) with a Banishing Strike, and then rapidly hitting the opponent while they are down. While this technique can be performed by several characters, for practical purposes only Raoh uses it. Traveling is extremely powerful in that it allows for great gauge recovery while at the same time giving the opponent almost none - the name, keeping in line with the basketball theme of Hokuto no Ken jargon, implies that the technique is breaking the rules of the game. See here for an example of Traveling in action.
In Hokuto no Ken, when a combo reaches a certain amount of hits, the victim of the combo will begin to rebound off the floor at extreme speeds. As the player on the receiving end comes to resemble a basketball being bounced off the floor, this has become known as the 'Basuke' phenomenon. Once the Basuke state has been reached it becomes extremely easy to continue the combo infinitely until the other player dies. The combo types explained above are all methods designed to achieve this state.
Ironically, the Basuke phenomenon is actually the side-effect of a system designed to prevent the creation of infinite combos.
For a game where every character has 100% combos, Hokuto no Ken has surprisingly few true infinites. Generally all infinites fall into one of the below categories. See the Characters section for specific recipes.
- Mr. Heart's infinites with BD and anti-air grabs(very important to Mr. Heart but can be difficult)
- VS Crouching Rei infinites(several characters have them, some are very practical)
- VS Midscreen Mr. Heart infinites(impractical, combo video material)
When a super move is executed in Hokuto no Ken, both players freeze and are unable to act, but everything else(projectiles, the time clock) continues to move as normal. Using this, it is possible to create an unblockable setup by performing a super move quickly after firing off a projectile. Technically speaking they are not truly unblockable as an opponent already guarding is able to block them - the super freeze simply makes it so trying to guard after the super flash will have no effect. For this reason there is little use in attempting this technique while already on the offensive, but it can still be a very powerful tool none the less. Juda especially can make deadly use of this and score a guaranteed combo against advancing opponents by combining a Dagar Rush with his dam super.
The super freeze time stop also has a few other uses such as in some showy combos, or slightly more practically, to kill time when the round is soon to end by time up.
Atomiswave Hardware Lag
Supposedly the result of the the Atomiswave's Netplay function using too much memory, there are several issues in the game caused by hardware lag. The first and most critical is that there is in fact a slight delay in switching guard from high to low or low to high. As a result of this, certain characters air dash overheads can be extremely hard to guard. This is even more so the case for the two 'tall' characters, Raoh and Mr. Heart - in some cases it can actually be impossible for them to guard a low air dash move on reaction, making it necessary to stand before the opponent starts to perform the overhead. Another issue is the stage lag that occurs while performing certain moves(Supers, Guard Cancels, anything involving Boost) on some stages, the most common being Shin's stage and the left side of Toki's stage. This lag can easily mess up the timing of your combo, so it is important to keep in mind when lag is likely to occur and prepare for it when playing on these stages.
Boost on the Attack
Aside from its use in combos, Boost is also a very potent tool on the attack, and allows for extremely fast and hard-to-see offensive maneuvers. Having a bar of boost stocked and ready gives you the ability to instantly close the distance between your opponent and punish their mistakes, even from long range. Apart from obvious spots like when your opponent misses with a move that has long recovery like most characters' far C/D or a Grave Shoot, Boost-attacking an opponent in Landing Recovery can also score you a guaranteed hit if timed correctly. Landing Recovery is the time where the opponent in unable to act after performing an air move and then landing, and most air moves have Landing Recovery, with a few notable exceptions like Raoh's air C and Toki's teleport.
Boosting an air dash along with an attack allows for a very fast and long ranged overhead that can be hard to predict, especially as opponents will often focus more on the danger of a Boost low attack when they see you have meter. It is even possible to do a cross-up from as far as half screen away against a crouching opponent - a useful way to accomplish this is by first performing a low attack like 2B at a distance, then instantly Boost air dashing.
Another very deadly use of Boost on the attack is Cancel Boosting an overhead normal(6A for most characters) into a low like 2B. The low attack comes out so fast that it can be hard to guard even if your opponent knows that you are going to do it - done in the middle of a mixup against an unsuspecting opponent, it can seem impossible to guard. The only downside to this maneuver is the large amount of Boost required, as most characters will want to have at least 1.5 Boost in order to follow up with a full combo. Facing this move, the best way to deal with it if you can see it coming is to jump and Aura Guard.
A slightly gimmicky but still very useful use of Boost is Boosting the startup of an air special move when very low to the ground, which causes the animation and sound to play, but you land and recover before it actually executes. This is used as a feint, and is usually followed by a throw - the first time you do this to an opponent it is pretty much safe to say they will never see it coming. It is important not to use this technique often however, as it can be very easy to deal with if your opponent knows you are going to do it. Two characters with very practical uses of this are Rei with his barrier and Kenshiro with his Shichishiki Heizan.
Boost on the Defense
Boost has a few defensive uses, the most common of such being Boosting a move you missed with to prevent being punished. This can be done as either a Movement Boost, as in the case of a missed reversal dragon punch, or a Cancel Boost, such as when your opponent Agility Defends your Banishing Strike. In the former case, it is often best to delay or even not Boost your uppercut, as most intermediate players will assume you are going to try to Movement Boost - sometimes you can even get lucky and avoid punishment by simply doing nothing if your opponent blindly tries to get into position to deal with your Movement Boost before you actually do it.
Another defensive use of Boost involves Kenshiro and Raoh's Musou Tensei move. It is actually possible to Movement Boost a successful Musou Tensei, which causes you to teleport a fairly large distance - when in the corner and under pressure this can allow you to distance yourself from your opponent. This is most useful when you Musou a move that you cant punish, like a 2A or 2B for example. Facing a Kenshiro or Raoh user, it is also possible for you to Boost yourself and escape after your opponent uses Musou on one of your moves.
As Boost plays such a critical role both offensively and defensively, learning when and when not to use it is very important. While it is often tempting to use your Boost as soon as you fill up a stock, in most cases it best to wait for a good spot - just having one or more stock of Boost to spare is a big advantage as your opponent is forced to play very cautiously. For many characters, 1.2 Boost is the 'magic number,' as it allows for a hit confirm Movement Boost while still leaving a full Boost stock to use in the follow-up combo. Boost management is doubly important for the weaker characters. For example, a Jagi user with 0.8 Boost may actually opt to not use the follow-up boost when connecting with a Banishing Strike, as a 50% Banishing combo is often not worth using his hard-earned Boost.
Another side of Boost management comes into play when deciding the best way to finish off your opponent during a Basuke combo. It is possible to drag the combo out and go for max Boost yourself, but this will often give your opponent a decent amount of meter as well. To avoid this, it may be best in some situations to strategically Boost at a certain point to prevent your opponent from gaining too much meter. There are also alternate methods of reducing your opponents Boost gain during a combo, such a through the use of a Grave Shoot, or special techniques like Traveling.
Imperfect Attack Strings
Many attack strings in Hokuto no Ken that connect normally in a combo are not in fact continuous strings when used against a blocking opponent. This occurs most commonly when switching from a light attack to a strong attack. It is very important to keep this in mind as it is possible for the blocking player to use Agility Defense or squeeze in an invulnerable move in these spots. Common examples of strings like this are Toki's 2A > 2D, Raoh's 2B > f.D, and Rei's 2B > 2D. When on the offensive you should always try to avoid repetitive use of the same attack patterns, as a thinking player will quickly catch on and exploit the holes in your attack string. Similarly, when defending you want to be able to recognize and take advantage of the weak points in your opponents offense.
A small amount of practice at this will likely show a great increase in your win rate, especially against weaker Toki and Rei users who are often prone to using the same strings over and over.
Dealing with Guard Cancels
Guard Cancels in Hokuto no Ken are very powerful in comparison to similar systems in other ARC games, such as DAA's in Guilty Gear. For this reason, it is important to learn how to deal with Guard Cancels, and in turn how to avoid having your own Guard Cancels punished. When a Guard Cancel is executed, the character performs an invulnerable version of their Banishing Strike which knocks down the attacking character upon successfully connecting - the Guard Cancel attack itself will generally never trade or outright lose to any move. However, Guard Cancels have a fairly large recovery(similar to the Banishing Strikes they are modeled after) during which the player is very vulnerable. Therefore, the general idea behind beating a Guard Cancel is to first avoid being hit by the attack itself, either by guarding or using a move with some form of invulnerability, and then attacking during its recovery.
There are quite a few methods to accomplish this, the simplest being just guarding the Guard Cancel, which can be done in several ways. After a 2A or 2B, most characters are able to recover in time to guard - for the most part it is necessary to Agility Defend the Guard Cancel to guarantee you can punish your opponent. However as this is so easy to do, most thinking players will not use a Guard Cancel against weak moves. Another method is Jump Canceling a normal move and then air Agility Defending the Guard Cancel. This is much more effective than ground guarding as it is possible to do this from strong moves as well, which players are much more prone to using Guard Cancels on. Finally, it is also possible to Cancel Boost a normal or special move and then Agility Defend the Guard Cancel, but this is very situation dependent - it is only possible to guard after you stop moving, which happens when your Boost reaches zero. For Kenshiro and Raoh users, Musou Tensei can be used instead in any situation where ground guarding would be possible.
Apart from simply guarding the Guard Cancel, it is also possible to avoid the attack using a move with startup invulnerability, either by chaining them from a normal move or Boost Canceling into them. A very good example of one such move is Raoh's normal chop, which has a delayed startup and can easily be followed up with a 100% combo. Other dragon punch moves like Shin's Gokutoken and Rei's air uppercut can also be used but the timing can be quite difficult. In a similar vein, Super Armor can also be very useful in dealing with Guard Cancels, although there are very few moves that possess it. Most notable is Kenshiro's 6B, which causes wall bounce on counter hit and is extremely easy to use, as you can simply hold forward and mash B upon seeing the Guard Cancel flash. While not at all practical, Raoh's Fatal KO also has Super Armor, and can be used as a very stylish and demoralizing way to finish an opponent.
Other ways of dealing with Guard Cancels include 'counter' moves like Toki's Haryusho and Kenshiro's Ryugekiko, and Juda's Dagar Cancel.
It is important to note that no commands are accepted during the small super pause that happens at the beginning of a Guard Cancel, and all inputs must be performed either before or after the 'flash.'