I’m going to share a personal story with you to fully explain this section.  A friend of mine once played as Sagat.  Remember, Sagat is a premier zoning character!  Instead, my buddy spent the entire first round getting close to his opponent, throwing him across the screen, then taunting immediately after.  He literally only used throws!  Nobody would expect behavior like that from Sagat, so even though he was playing against type, it worked!  Then, since he added a taunt after each throw, his victim got angry, and played worse and worse throughout the match.  My pal literally scored a perfect (or maybe it was a ragequit, I can’t remember)!  Now do you realize the power of taunts?

This is just a taste of archetypes you can expect to see.  Some characters can blend multiple styles together effectively.  Akuma is viable in any of the above roles, for example.  Another fun way to mess with your opponent is to play against type, just be warned that not all characters can do this and you’ll often be using a character in a suboptimal way.  Chun-Li is a great rushdown character who makes a respectable zoning character as well, but using her as a zoning character will be a bit less effective, given her toolkit of attacks.  Still, many players expect to see certain types of offense from Chun-Li, so going against the grain like that can throw people off their games.

I know you can’t tell from this screenshot, but this is holding forward and pressing MP with Ryu.

A 2 hit link combo of Athena's standing LP into standing MP.

My favorite way to throw people off their games is to taunt them.  In game, I mean.  C’mon.  Don’t be an asshole.  All characters can taunt (sometimes called a personal action), which is exactly what it sounds like.  Taunting an opponent leaves you completely open and even fills up your opponent’s finisher gauge a bit.  So why in the world would you ever do it?  The aforementioned assholes will do it just to be jerks, but there is actually some strategy behind taunting.  Pride and bravado are some words inextricably linked to fighting games.  And when you insult somebody in game, even with no actual meaning behind it in real life, you piss them off.  And when they’re pissed, they make mistakes.  Not everyone falls for this, but you’d be surprised how many people you can goad into making incredibly cavalier decisions because a digital sprite on the screen called them names.  Occasionally, merely the act of choosing Dan (especially as a solo ratio 4) as your character can get an opponent to drop his guard.

Even the inclusion of a timer (and how long it lasts per round) is an important design choice.  Many players dislike matches that end via time ups, but they fail to account for (or they simply disagree with)the strategy behind it.  The timer is there as another means of pressuring your opponent.  If time expires, the fighter with the most remaining health (by percentage) wins the round.  Use this knowledge to your advantage.  If you have a decent lead over your opponent, it is incumbent upon him to weaken you, not on you to finish him.  You can play keep away games to try to win by a time up or to coax your opponent into making a mistake.  This is a highly underrated aspect of the genre!  It lends itself better to some playstyles than others, but ignoring this weapon in your arsenal is equivalent to choosing to gimp yourself in battle.

At the most basic level, fighting games seem pretty simple.  Deplete your opponent’s life before he depletes yours.  That’s pretty much it.  Ok…  That’s not false, but it’s greatly oversimplifying what’s really going on in the game.

Notice the myriad and specialized abilities that each of these grooves offers players.  Now realize that this is a 3-on-3 team based fighting game.  You must commit to a single groove for your team.  With a roster of 48 characters (remember all those moves for each character!), you want to find an ideal combination.  Do you want to be fully invested in a certain type of character?  Let’s say you like the classic Shotokan characters.  You could opt for Ryu, Ken, and Sagat for your team (or Dan, if you’re awesome!).  Or maybe you want a balance of a few different playstyles.  Most characters perform better in specific grooves, so since you’re limited to only one per team, you also have to consider that when selecting your combat cohort.

When describing attacks in fighting games, the unit of measurement is the frame.  Film buffs will feel right at home here, especially in the buff (I did say bare with me earlier, after all!  Yes, I stretched that wordplay over 4 paragraphs.  Deal with it).  One frame is one individual image displayed on the screen.  Most fighting games run at 60 frames, so 1 frame is 1/60 of a second.  Let’s take a look at some of Athena’s moves from this game to help flesh this out.  Let’s start with a really slow move, her ducking FK.  This move has an 8 frame warm-up, 4 active frames, then a whopping 34 frame cool-down.  This means you should almost never blindly throw this attack.  If you miss, your opponent has just over a half a second to beat you down.  Let’s say the opponent blocked the move instead.  Any time a player successfully blocks, he’ll be stuck in “blockstun” for a few frames.  This amount varies greatly from move to move.  In this move's case, the blockstun lasts 20 frames, which means your opponent still has 14 frames, nearly a quarter of a second, to punish your bad decision.  By the way, a quarter of a second is an absolute eternity in a fighting game.  Contrast that attack with her standing LP.  It has a 3 frame warm-up, 4 active frames, and a 5 frame cool-down.  On block, it causes 12 frames of blockstun, but Athena herself recovers in 5 frames.  

P Groove is the preferred choice of Street Fighter III fans.  It’s the stripped down, economy groove of the game.  You can still dash and you have a few other toys, such as the short hop, but the main asset of P Groove is the Parry.  Instead of holding back to block, if you PRESS (not hold) toward an incoming attack just before it hits you, you’ll parry it, taking no damage and generating some serious frame advantage.  Those students at the head of the class already know the importance of this, but for the rest of you, just stay with me.  That’ll make more sense a little later.  While this groove lacks air guard, you can parry in the air, so you can feel comfortable taking it to the skies.  If you’re good at them, parries are super-effective, but you have no safety net.  Since you’re already pressing forward, if you time it incorrectly, you’ll eat the move every time.  P Groove might make you think of parry, but it really means practice.  P Groove’s meter is very long and takes an eternity to fill.  When it’s full, you are allowed to use a single Level 3 SC.

C Groove is reminiscent of the Street Fighter Alpha games.  It's my favorite!  You have a fairly short, quick charging meter divided into 3 levels.  You can access level 1, 2, and 3 Super Combos, and even cancel a level 2 SC into a level 1 SC!  It’s fairly maneuverable with Dash and Roll abilities.  And the ability to block in the air lets you unleash some serious psychological warfare on your opponent with (fairly) safe empty jumps.  Oops.  I’ve said too much…

Just trust me.

The 7 frames she has to act before the opponent is known as “frame advantage.”  This attack is “safe on block,” since there’s no way for an opponent to retaliate against you once he’s committed to blocking.  If you whiff (miss) the move, the 12 total frames are less safe, but this still makes the move an effective “poke.”  Pokes are your safest moves used to open up your opponent for bigger attacks and/or condition him to behave in a certain, beneficial manner.  This same standing LP also has frame advantage on hit.  As with blockstun, when you land a hit on your opponent, he’ll be stuck in the animation of taking the hit for a predetermined number of frames.  If Athena lands her LP, her opponent will be at her mercy for 7 frames (12 “hitstun” frames, minus the 5 cool-down frames of her LP).  As long as she chooses another attack with a warm-up of less than 7 frames (such as her standing MP), it’s guaranteed to connect, since the opponent will still be in hitstun.  This is a link combo.

Players who actually want to get anywhere in this genre must become intimately familiar with all the characters’ moves, or, at the very least, the moveset of their chosen character.  Capcom vs. SNK 2 employs the classic 6-button Capcom layout.  This means that each character has 3 punches and 3 kicks, of varying strengths and speeds.  From weakest to strongest (and fastest to slowest), punches are Jab, Strong, and Fierce, while the kicks are Short, Forward, and Roundhouse.  For simplicity, throughout this article, I’ll be using Light, Medium, and Fierce for the strengths, and punch and kick for the attack type.  When I choreographed the fights for Online Fighting, I had the actors come up with their 6 standing attacks based on the Capcom controller.

The grandfather of the fighting genre?

I’ll leave you with a little extra credit this week.  It’s simple, but far too many people forget to do this.  Don’t be an asshole.  When you play, play to win.  Anything less than that is tantamount to defeating yourself before the fight begins.  Don’t use cheats (I’m not generally a fan of exploits either, but that’s a bit of a gray area), but beyond that, perish the word “cheap” from your vocabulary.  A win is a win.  But don’t rub your victories in your opponents faces.  Similarly, don’t be a sore loser (a scrub).  Own your losses.  Ask yourself why you lost.  Ask YOUR OPPONENT why you lost.  Most of us in this community WANT better competition, since it spurs us to improve our own skills as well.  Don’t blame the controller for your errors.  They’re yours.  And, again, there’s no such thing as cheap.  An opponent winning via time up or by chip damage isn’t cheap.  He’s resourceful.  Your failure to adapt to a particular strategy doesn’t magically deem it cheap.

First, we have to define the word combo.  This word gets thrown around a lot, often incorrectly.  Simply put, a combo is a string of moves that can not be blocked once the first hit connects.  Notice how often I’ve said “Super Combo” (or SC) in this article.  That’s not incorrect.  Once a hit from these attacks connects, you’ll be eating the rest of them.  But most combos in this game aren’t SCs.

Got all that so far?  If so, “Congraturation This story is happy end.  Thank you.”  No, not really.  But you have graduated to the rank of Fighting Game Novice at this point!  “Being the wise and courageour knight that you are  you feel strongth welling.  In your body.  Return to starting point.  Challenge again!”  Wait.  What’s Arthur doing here?  I guess he saw Capcom vs. game and decided to show up.  Sorry, Art.  Either stick to GnG or wait until I cover MVC3 some day.

All attacks have 3 phases:  warm-up, active, and cool-down.  Again, some people use different terms for these phases.  Warm-up is the time from when the character starts animating the attack but can’t yet damage the opponent.  Think of this like chambering a punch.  You’re committed (aren’t we all?), but you’re not yet actually performing the attack.  The active phase is when the move can actually damage the opponent.  This would be the punch itself.  Finally, cool-down is when the attack is still animating but is no longer capable of dealing damage.  Every move has different properties as it relates to these three phases, but generally, lights have the least warm-up and cool-down, while fierces have the most.  This concept is going to be important (and explored in even more detail) for the duration of this article, so make sure you understand this before proceeding!

Now for some psychology!  Something like 652 paragraphs ago, I said you have to empty your opponent’s health bar before he does that to yours.  This is the key to making that happen.  Using the arsenals your chosen characters and groove provide, you now want to bait your opponent into making mistakes so you can punish him.  Of course, he’s doing the same to you…

Zoning is one type of playstyle.  Honestly, I prefer it in most fighting games.  Zoning players are the “blue” players in Magic:  The Gathering terms.  We like to lockdown and absolutely control the battle.  Zoning characters tend to be projectile heavy, preferably with multiple projectiles that behave in different ways.  Sagat is a perfect example of a zoning character.  Zoners, in particular, MUST know the exact angles and speeds of all their attacks.  When I play as Sagat, when an opponent jumps in on me, I must know exactly where his jump will be at any given moment so I know whether to use a standing FK, a LP Tiger Uppercut, or a LK Tiger Knee.  All three are excellent ways to keep an opponent away, but they hit different places and at different speeds.

Even greater than curling?

But I’m not joking (ok, maybe a little).  All that stuff so far sounds complicated because it is.  And it really is foundational knowledge all gamers who enjoy the fighting genre have to know in order to last even a single round.  Let’s move on to some intermediate stuff.  If that earlier mention of K Groove caught your attention, good!  It was meant to!  K Groove might sound like the name of a GTA radio station (and it actually is the name of a real life band), but it’s one of six different ways to access your Super Combo, and this choice is extremely important.  There are C, A, P, S, N, and K Grooves.  Would you look at that!  This game is CAPcom vs. SNK 2!  It’s almost like they named these grooves what they did on purpose!

Does all that make sense so far?  Great!  You now have an intermediate(ish) knowledge of how fighting games work!  Granted, I had to oversimplify quite a few things, but you at least get the idea.  Now it’s time for some post graduate education on the genre:  combos.  Buckle up, because this can get pretty crazy.  And keep in mind that all of this is going through gamers’ minds as they play these games, self included.

N Groove is basically the Advanced Mode from later King of Fighters games.  With Run, Rolls and small hops at your disposal, N Groove has a lot of tricks to confuse your opponent!  At first, the ability to store 3 levels of gauge might seem similar to C Groove, but it isn’t.  Each of these stored finishers can be used to smite your opponent with a Level 1 SC, but each can instead be used for Power Activation, the unique aspect of N Groove.  When used, you gain a 20% damage boost for a limited amount of time and any SCs you use during this time are Level 3s instead of Level 1s.  In my experience, this is the most popular Groove I see people use, almost making it the “vanilla” groove.

Remember that chip damage I mentioned?  It’s yet another pressure tool at your disposal.  If you keep throwing moves that chip and your opponent blocks, eventually you’ll win.  As long as this status quo remains, you continue to benefit.  But your opponent knows this.  He’s likely either looking for an opening to punish you or he may even be conditioning you!  If he lulls you into a false sense of security such that you think he’ll continue blocking forever, you’re going to eat some big damage.  Of course, all players are different, and that, alone, keeps you on your toes (flowchart Kens not withstanding).

Finally, we come to K Groove.  K Groove is what happens when Samurai Showdown and Garou:  Mark of the Wolves have a drunken one night stand.  It borrows Just Defense from Garou.  This is somewhat similar to Parrying from P Groove, but safer.  If you wait to block until the last possible moment, you will execute a Just Defense.  When done properly, you’ll regain a sliver of life, take no damage, build some meter, and recover from blocking slightly quicker.  But here’s the cool part.  Let’s say your timing is a bit off.  Cool.  You’ll just block as normal, since the command is the same.  You’ll want to use this ability as often as possible, though, since most of your meter building comes from taking damage in this groove.  The meter itself behaves exactly like the rage meter from Samurai Showdown.  You’ll get a 35% damage boost and take 12.5% less, while gaining access to your Level 3 SC.  Keep in mind that Level 3 SCs are already highly damaging.  Combine that with the hefty rage bonus and your opponent will be calling you The Comeback Kid!

And this is Ryu's regular standing MP.

Many matchups have unique pre-match banter.


Finally, you must assign the ratio for your team.  You have 4 points to go around.  The more points you give a character, the stronger that character becomes.  I said this is a 3-on-3 team based fighting game, but really it maxes at 3 per team.  You’re allowed to pick only 1 or 2 characters if you prefer.  Ratio points are a means of balancing teams regardless of how many characters are on each.  Having said that, teams assigning ratios of 2, 1, and 1 (in any order) are universally regarded as strongest.

While not true of all characters or even all fighting games, often, characters will have a few unique attacks as well.  This is simply a way to denote that certain characters may change specific properties of some attacks by holding a certain direction while performing it.  If you’ve ever played Mortal Kombat, this is the difference between a low kick and a sweep, for example.  These attacks are often considered something between normals and specials.

All of this is by design.  It’s actually the reason why fighting games are so often played in a best 2 out of 3 rounds format.  A single round isn’t always enough to really get to know another player.  Some people even spend the entire first round ONLY feeling out the other player and see winning it as a bonus or even an afterthought.

When you encounter two players intensely locking horns in a fighting game, you almost certainly have one of three different responses.  If you’re not a gamer (in which case, thanks for clicking to read an article that’s obviously gaming related!), it’s easy to dismiss these games as “whoever pushes the buttons the fastest wins” type games.  Of course, nothing could be further from the truth.  Maybe you are a gamer, but fighters just aren’t your bag, baby.  Fair enough, but I don’t want you to prejudge them as lacking depth.  For those of us who do enjoy fighting games, we already know just how cerebral they are.  Believe it or not, they often require more strategy than RTS games, even if the speed at which they’re played often belies this fact.

Another common type of playstyle is the turtle.  Turtles are extremely defensive characters, so named because they advance very slowly (if at all), and are often in a defensive crouch position.  Players who turtle hold back (literally and metaphorically) until they spot an opening to exploit.  This, too, is that psychological warfare in action.  Turtles can be frustrating at times.  In fact, they’re counting on it.  They want to annoy you into making a mistake.  Don’t fall for it.  Guile is a perfect turtle.  His sonic boom charges up while he holds back and his Flash Kick charges when he holds down.  A defensive crouch, performed by holding down and back, allows him to defend and charge both moves at the same time.  Protip:  if you see an opponent choose Guile and a groove that lacks Roll, he’s almost certainly going to turtle.


But blocking doesn’t solve everything.  Many attacks still cause a small percentage of damage when blocked.  This is called chip damage, and it’s one of the many aspects of fighting games that contributes to the uniqueness of the genre.  

Now it gets a little hairy.  The timing for links in often incredibly short.  Look at the above numbers again.  Athena has 7 frames where the opponent is trapped in hitstun.  Let’s say she wants to follow up with an attack that has 6 frames of warm-up.  In order to link those moves, she has to time her button presses to literally 1/60 of a second.  It’s possible, but extremely difficult, especially in the heat of battle.  She should choose a move with a faster startup, such as her standing MP.  It has only 3 frames of warm-up.  I hesitate to say a 4 frame timing window is generous, but it’s much easier to land than only 1.  Some attacks can both chain and link with other attacks, with different effects for each, so this can also complicate your combo execution.

Let's get ready to...

Vice really lives up to her name!  I bet she drives around a large white van full of candy looking for lost puppies on the weekends, too...

I hope the next time you see some digital gladiators vying for pugilistic supremacy you’ll at least pause long enough to realize the depth and complexity of their struggle.  Fight game enthusiasts may be a subculture within a subculture (and you can often break it down further along series and/or company lines…), but there’s a lot more going on with them than what it looks like.  But if there’s anything I’ve learned from “Rowdy” Roddy Piper (RIP) and during my decades of playing fighting games, it’s that just when you think you have all the answers, some guy in a kilt comes by and changes the questions while wearing a pair of magic shades that let him see the world as it truly is…  Or something like that.  The best laid plans mean nothing when things don’t go as expected, so you need to be able to change at a moment’s notice.  Make that a frame’s notice…

Athena's standing MP.

Except that Chang's charge animation is hilarious!

I know this is a still image, but you’ll just have to trust me.  This is a Custom Combo.

Surprising practically nobody, CAP Grooves come from Capcom games.  Now we move on to those associated with SNK games, the aptly named SNK Grooves.  S Groove is the older King of Fighters type.  It was the only way to play KoF games through 1997 and was renamed Extra Mode in KoF 98.  You have some good movement options with Run, Dodge, and small hop.  Dodge is key here, as it’s unique to the S Groove.  Press both light buttons to Dodge, temporarily shifting your character away from the camera.  You have to time it right, but when you do, you’ll take no damage.  S Groove’s meter is interesting.  The main way you fill it up is by powering up Dragonball style.  Hold both fierce attack buttons to build your power and fill your meter.  When full, you get a damage boost and the ability to unleash a Level 1 SC, but you’ll have to do it quickly, as the meter starts draining the moment you fill it up.  S Groove has another powerful trait that allows you to pull off infinite Level 1 SCs.  When you’re down to 25% health or less, your life starts flashing red.  During this time, you have all the Level 1 SCs you want.  If you fill your meter AND are nearly dead, your Level 1 SC instead becomes a Level 3 SC.  For whatever reason, this Groove gets a bad rep, but I like it.

This joke will make sense in a sec when you read the paragraph.

Speaking of, different players exhibit wildly different playstyles.  Honestly, there are too many to include here, but I’ll cover some of the basics.  Player behavior is directly tied to character selection as well.  Certain characters simply can’t perform certain types of roles no matter how bad you want them to.  Zangief will never be a zoning character, for example.

A chain is where certain attacks override, or cancel, the cool-down portion of the previous attack.  Not all attacks can be chained.  Attacks with abnormally long warm-ups, even if they can cancel the previous maneuver, won’t execute in time to chain.  For that matter, not all moves can cancel all other moves.  There is some trial and error to this.  Games like Killer Instinct and Darkstalkers set the general rule for chains, and even though it’s not a universal truth, more often than not, it’s a good place to start.  Commonly, you can chain lights to mediums and mediums to fierces.  Most SCs cancel most other moves as well.  In fact, you should usually avoid carelessly throwing your SCs.  They’re limited, so you want to maximize their use.  If you land a small (or a large) combo before going into one, you can cancel into it.  If you don’t immediately see the benefits of doing so, go back up a few paragraphs and review the definition of combo.

Terminology gets a little cloudy here, so please bare with me (I know what I said!)…  Everything related to combos we’ve covered so far has been in the realm of chains.  But some games use the word chain to denote some specific action, including some Capcom fighters.  Morrigan, for example, is the only character in CvS2 to use traditional chains from her own game, even though the concept of chaining is very much alive and well in this game.  Chains are also known as cancels, in fact, cancel is slowly becoming the preferred vernacular for this idea, likely to avoid the confusion detailed above.  So what the Hell is a chain?  We need to get down to the nitty gritty of how attacks work to understand these.

Cool-down on Athena's ducking FK.

The other type of combo is a link.  Links are a little (sometimes a lot) harder to do than chains.  Remember, chains cancel the cool-down portion of a move by starting up another (applicable) move.  Links do not.  A link allows a move to finish completely and starts the next move while the opponent is still reeling from the last one.  If you’ve read this far into this article, I think you’re finally ready for your fighting game doctorate degree.  Let’s dive into frame data…

There’s an easy counter to normals:  block.  While some games have a block button, I greatly prefer the ones where you block by holding back on the joystick.  Both Capcom and SNK have popularized this control scheme.  But just holding back isn’t enough.  Certain moves hit high and must be blocked while standing, and others hit low, so you must crouch and block to stop them.

Rushdown is probably the most exciting to watch.  These players apply constant pressure on their opponents, never letting up.  Rushdown players basically bully opponents constantly.  They favor mix-up tactics.  Ken is a great rushdown character.  Some of his normals use the same animation but behave slightly differently.  Even on visual confirmation, it can take a few extra fractions of a second for an opponent to realize whether you pressed light or medium, for example.  Similarly, he has 4 special kicks that all start with the same animation, but have to be blocked at different heights.  You have to have excellent reaction and hand-eye coordination to read the move and block it correctly.

Related to buffering is negative edge (get it?).  I should note that not all fighting games use either of these techniques (especially negative edge), but they’re pretty much standard in Capcom fighters.  Negative edge is simply acknowledging commands on the RELEASE of buttons, not only on the pressing of them.  Think of it like strumming up when playing guitar.  You could only use downstrokes, but employing both often makes your life easier.  Yes, I’m aware that downstrums and upstrums do actually sound different, but the simile is still apt.  Let’s revisit Ryu and that Hadoken from above.  By combining buffering and negative edge, with practice, you can get your coveted 2-in-1 with only a single press of the button!

Keep practicing, Akuma.  Some day, you’ll master the Otoko Michi.

Let’s start with one of the simplest ways to combo:  buffering.  I learned this as “2-in-1s” way back in the early 90s.  Let’s say you’re playing as Ryu and you want to do a Hadoken.  Roll from down to forward, then press a punch button.  Buffering is the game “remembering” what you’ve already input if you squeeze any extra commands in there.  For example, when you press down to start the Hadoken, what if you press LP?  You get a ducking light punch, right?  But you can still finish your Hadoken input and the game will accept it, even with the extraneous LP in there.  What’s more is that if the LP connected, so will the Hadoken.

Right off the bat, this means you have 6 basic attacks at your disposal, but even that doesn’t tell the whole story.  You can duck and press any button for another unique attack.  Similarly, you can jump and press each button for 6 more unique moves.  These 18 attacks are known as your character’s “normals.”

It can be annoying when an opponent just hangs back and blocks all day, so there’s a specific counter to that as well.  Enter the throw.  Capcom and SNK have different mindsets regarding execution of throws, but they have the same function:  to damage block-happy opponents.  In Capcom games, such as this one, simply get really close to your opponent and hold forward or backward and press Fierce Punch (FP) or Fierce Kick (FK).  Punches and kicks produce different throws.  Usually punch throws are self explanatory, while kick throws are more often holds where you can mash buttons to rack up a few hits before tossing your opponent aside.

There's no reason I chose these pictures...

Finally, we have finishers.  These often go by names related to individual games.  In Capcom vs. SNK 2, for example, they’re called Super Combos.  That sounds like a delicious pizza pretzel snack!  These are quite conditional, so you won’t usually have access to these moves, but they’re absolutely devastating.  A well timed Super Combo can easily turn the tide of a battle that’s not going your way (especially in K Groove).  You don’t want to rely on them, but you certainly don’t want to ignore them!

Warm-up on Athena's ducking FK.

Two of the most prominent developers on Fighting Street (you see what I did there?), especially in regards to 2D games, are Capcom and SNK.  These companies have been rivals for decades now, resulting in, among other things, the legendary Saikyo-ryu warrior, Dan.  But for today, these two gaming giants are teaming up to see who has the stronger fighters in Capcom vs. SNK 2:  Mark of the Millennium 2001.  Xakor, one of the most veracious Patrons of The Culture Cache, wants to see this game.  I take that as proof enough that he’s no scrub, so, iku zo!

I see what you did there, Ryu!

A Groove is somewhat like Street Fighter Alpha 3’s V-ism.  Like C Groove, you can Dash and Roll, but you give up the ability to block in the air.  Your meter is longer and only divided into 2 parts.  You can only use Level 1 SCs, each of which consumes half of your meter, but you can do something pretty unique if you fill up the whole thing:  a Custom Combo.  When activated, you gain the ability to cancel nearly any move with just about any other move, allowing you to string together otherwise impossible combos.  I can see the appeal, but I can’t quite maximize it myself.

I'm offended by Joe's bare butt!  Somebody call an SJW, quick!  Let's see if we can get every copy of this game rounded up and burned so I never have to be exposed to things I don't like!  #safespace #triggered

This is where you’ll want to use all the tools at your disposal.  You’ll want to use operant conditioning to control your opponent.  That right!  I’m bringing B. F. Skinner up in an article about fighting games!  And I’m not even the least bit off base doing it!  Let’s say you do a jumping MP three times in a row.  Your opponent may begin to expect another MP the next time you jump.  That’s when you throw him a curve ball and empty jump (no attack), while air guarding (C Groove only).  If he attempts a counter to the move he expected you to do, he’ll be overextended and you can land a much bigger attack on him now!

Specials really set characters apart.  They require specific commands.  Some of these are so iconic now that the name of the move associated with the motion is all you need to tell someone how to do a move.  “Do a fireball motion,” means roll from down to forward, then press punch.  This has been the case since the first Street Fighter and is still true (in some cases, for the same characters!) in Capcom vs. SNK 2.  Not all fighting games use the same inputs, though, so these moves can take some getting used to.  And even characters who have the same inputs don’t always do the same action.  The earlier mentioned motion generates a Hadoken fireball (the motion’s de facto namesake) when playing as Ryu, but if you’re Eagle, you’ll get a counter attack type move instead.  This is where you really start to differentiate the characters.

Come on, Sakura.  Don't be a Paul.