One of the biggest difficulties I’m seeing newcomers to KOF struggle with is how to actually mount an offense other than landing an odd special move or threatening with unsafe frame traps or EX gimmicks. The largest hurdle is that many players know how to manoeuvre in KOF, but they don’t understand how to use this movement to create pressure.
My good pal Laban just finished his video that covers the basic flow of KOF’s inside game, and it’s much easier to see why certain tactics are strong rather than just reading about them. His tutorial covers a more holistic view of offensive options and their counters than this article, so please give it a watch since I’m primarily going to focus on incorporating and making good use of KOF’s special movement options.
Before going any further, have a refresher over the basic Rock-Paper-Scissors of the three main types of attacks. As in Street Fighter mid attacks are naturally countered by low attacks, low attacks can be avoided and sometimes punished by hopping attacks, and hops are susceptible to being anti-aired by mid attacks and especially so at close range: There are of course more to offense than 1-in-3 guessing and of course exceptions to these RPS rules (such as in the above video where EX Kyo is able to whiff cancel his sweep into his Aragami (qcf+A) which can beat lows and anti-air hops), but we’ll ignore these until they become relevant. Dandy J’s tutorial covers this flow at a basic level, but piecing how this all comes together on offense isn’t quite as well explained.
The backbone of a quick offense is attacking with light and jumping attacks, both of which can easily be comboed from and so the opponent will definitely not want to be hit by even a stray cr.B by characters that can cancel into safe specials, such as K’s Ein Trigger (qcf+P).
In KOF XIII, every character can chain together light attacks and hit confirm from one of these attack strings. Unlike in Street Fighter, these chain-able lights are cancellable on their own so there’s no need for links in most basic combos. Each character’s ideal chain varies, but the main tool of choice is a cr.B since it hits low, reaches far, and just about every character can either cancel their cr.B or chain into a cr.A or other cancellable light attack. This much is common knowledge.
What I’ve seen players not know is that even if a certain cr.B is technically neutral/slightly negative on block, the attacking player still has the initiative to act next, be it hopping or running/walking forward, waiting to anti-air or throw a roll, or use a ranged blockstring ender like a sweep. (Although most cr.A attacks aren’t as necessary in combos in XIII as they were in older games, it’s important to know that crouching and standing A attacks are more advantageous on block than a cr.B. These low jabs are still useful for creating even tighter blockstrings, just like how in Street Fighter a blocked low jab nets a bigger frame advantage than the low-hitting crouching short. Most st.B attacks are pretty good pokes that can be chained into, but they’re even stiffer than a cr.B on block so it’s harder to do as much after one gets blocked, so it’s worth considering to end parts of blockstrings with a cr.A to set up more advantage time for your next course of action. However, stick with using cr.B when learning how to create your offense since the difference between cr.A and cr.B is subtle and characters like K’ and Kula get by without ever needing to use anything but cr.Bs). KOF follows a general rule of 2 or 3 when it comes to chaining together light attacks. For example, Ash Crimson can combo three cr.B light kicks, or chain two cr.Bs into b+B (his backward sobat command normal) so either way he gets three grounded hits as part of his main hit confirm series. However, command normals are generally negative or certainly more neutral on block than a cr.B, and they push the player back more on block so it’s important to be able to pressure with light attacks to stay on top of the opponent with enough of an advantage or passive threat to continue assaulting the opponent.
Two monumentally important factors to consider when using a jumping attack are selecting which attack to use, and also timing when to use the attack. Most close-range offense revolves primarily around using vertical jumping attacks that hit down deep, which also lets you use them earlier in a hop arc. Vertical-horizontal attacks like Clark’s j.CD and Ash’s j.D are also amazing tools for close and mid-ranged pressure, though these attacks are sometimes more susceptible to being anti-aired by sweep attacks. Their main strength lies in their extra horizontal range which makes them better for approaching the opponent or tipping the opponent, an action that is difficult to anti-air with most standard normals. Once in close to the opponent, vertical jumping attacks are usually the most optimised choice.
Timing when to activate a jumping attack is also crucial. The biggest mistake players make is to use an aerial attack far too early which in poor instances causes the attack to completely whiff on the opponent, leaving the aerial player completely vulnerable in the air and on the ground when initially landing. Also note that some moves, namely horizontal and certain vertical-horizontal jumping attacks, can always whiff against crouching opponents regardless of the timing of the attack. Ash’s j.B can air-to-air exceptionally and it’ll even hit standing opponents, but it’s punishable if the opponent crouches. The same is true with Vice’s j.CD which is popular since if it hits it’s easy to confirm into her anywhere juggle, but it’s always punishable if crouched. The other aspect to timing jumping attacks is that if you time one early enough to tip the opponent really early such as when approaching with Iori’s j.D then you wont have enough time to combo after landing. Hitting early lets a player get in and start an offensive string, but not land a combo. In order to combo after a jumping attack, a player will have to time their jumping attack ‘late’ such as that they hit on the way down on their hop.
Now let’s create a scenario; assume you’re playing Ash: After chaining together three cr.Bs and confirming that the opponent blocked them all, what would be a good followup? This question can really trip up newer players (“uhh… maybe just sweep every time it’s blocked?”), but there’s a huge amount of answers and options available after having a (light) attack blocked but we’ll focus on two of the most basic options that are unique to KOF and foreign to newer players.
Hopping in after or rather during a blockstring comes with multiple advantages. Since the player quickly goes airborne, hopping attacks can be used to go over low attacks and against laggier sweeps and pokes this can result in a guaranteed jump-in combo, sort of like a more powerful and safer Universal Overhead from Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike. If the hopping attack is correctly blocked, the attacker will end up right in front of the defending player at a large frame advantage which easily allows for any followup blockstring of choice, so much like the other option of running back in discussed below, successfully forcing the opponent to block a hop means resetting into ideal blockstring/frametrap positioning. Rehopping during an offensive string is a legitimate tactic since the opponent may want to feel out an escape option or look for a pattern to punish, so being predictable by repeating a jump-in and auto-piloting into a hitconfirm allows the opponent to anti-air telegraphed hops with ease. It’s necessary to make the opponent respect your other options by peppering in more lows, mid-pokes, frametrapping specials and normals, varied blockstring lengths, neutral hops, and other footsie techniques like creating intentional gaps/breathing spaces or twitch baits (A KOF example would be to chain into or use a whiffed st.A and then hop on the opponent in an effort to bait a low counterpoke attempt, a natural instinct when viewing aseemingly poor-spaced attack). Another good offensive and defensive use of hops is to neutral hop and then use along-ranged vertical-horizontal attack like Ash’s j.D (or even j.B which will air-to-air better and still hit standing opponents, though as a horizontal jumping attack it whiffs crouchers and can be punished by lows). These longer-reaching attacks have good range so they’re better moves for approaching the opponent or spacing so that they tip the opponent, but generally the purely vertical attacks are better for ‘standard’ hop pressure when hopping on top of the opponent since the added downward hitbox length makes these attacks harder to anti-air.
A weaker way to use hops offensively is to go for empty hop mixups. This means hopping at the opponent without attacking and then going for a throw or low attack upon landing. Sounds good, but unless you have a good command grab then the defending player can hold back to block and then press C or D to do an Option Select that will tech normal throws and throw or interrupt empty hop > low attempts. Unless the opponent doesn’t know how to block well or rather they’re mentally drained from the strain of the fight then don’t rely heavily on empty hops unless your character has the threat of hopping into a fast command grab which will beat the Option Select defense.
Running lets you quickly get in on an opponent, certainly much faster than simply walking. What’s important to know is that runs can be canceled into attacks and specials, meaning it’s very quite possible to end a blockstring and then run back in with a light attack. This can be especially good for characters with command grabs since successive low light attacks discourage alternate guard attempts so grapplers can essentially go for ‘running tick throws’. After Ash chains his three light attacks (or perhaps he only does two cr.Bs before running, for the sake of keeping his blockstrings more inconsistent and unpredictable) he can run right back in into a cr.B to keep the opponent blocking low. Even without a command grab, this can force the opponent to stay crouching and buy time to sneak in a hop or toss out a nice and safe (but slower) special move.
It isn’t very difficult to react and correctly block running pressure since the worst a character can do is use a low or maybe a throw, but it’s their fast nature that–combined with hop and other standard types of pressure–helps to open up the opponent into taking an action which will naturally carry some sort of risk. This leads in to a ponderous little key aspect of KOF’s offensive:
Barring times when a player gets into a bad situation and is on the receiving end of a cross up setup, ambiguous roll, or command grab mixup, most hits in KOF are landed by conditioning the opponent and countering their choice of action; NOT from doing fast high/low mixups. Indeed, the Low/Throw Tech Option Select allows a player to punish most empty hop mixup attempts with a simple press of a button all while blocking, so it’s never about being unable to react to a hop mixup in time. Even characters without command grabs like K’, Kula and Kyo have historically dominated the tier lists in KOF due to them being able to play so well on offense with their normals, not because their basic offense is hard to react to. Rather, their spacial control tools–their attacks’ speed, properties and hitboxes–and their frametraps and ways to land damage have proven to excel in KOF’s systems.
Continually blocking is easy, so easy that KOF always has a Guard Break system that inevitably encourages a defensive player to take a necessary risk to try to reverse the momentum of the match. This means trying to counterpoke the opponent when expecting further running pressure, or throwing out a jab or strong anti-air poke to stop a hop, or Guard Rolling a blockstring and punishing the recovery of a special move, or hopping over a frametrap into a character’s sweep. It’s these tense actions that will make or break either player. An attempt to sweep a running opponent could be hopped over by the other player, a quick jab anti-air check could be beaten with a frametrap or by a low attack, or something risker like a roll is reactable and easily punished with a throw. The goal on offense is to make the opponent to act (out of haste) and then capitalize on their (panic) response or in other words to force an error. What’s an error? Whatever you set it up to be, since everything can be countered. Mis-timing acr.C uppercut anti-air and getting counterhit is an error against a properly-spaced and timed jumping attack or against a tight frametrap. Hopping forward in anticipation of a low and smacking into a neutral/backwards hop air-to-air is a mistake. Using a cr.B when lacking frame advantage is a mistake if the offensive player does a grounded frametrap by delaying a blockstring, and if the offensive player hops the whiffed light attack the defending player will be able to block before being hit, though now the offensive player gains a bigger psychological leeway from stealing so much positional advantage from the tiny mistake and if the opponent’s startled then they might block incorrectly or fall victim to a normal throw during this miscalculated moment that only God knows.
Now let’s go back to what Ash could do after having his hitconfirm blocked. This is just a general example of some basic options that should become familiar with players after spending some time in the series and getting the feel for standard offense.
cr.B cr.B cr.B (run) cr.B (delay into) cr.B (hyper hop forward) j.A, cr.B, (walk forward) cl.C xx b+B.
This offensive string mixes together a lot of the techniques and ideas mentioned above and it’s a fairly standard offensive threat, with this blockstring in particular featuring a lot of intentional gaps which encourage a cautious player to try sticking out a counterpoke somewhere, while a more aggressive player would be more dealt with by using a tighter strings with more rigid hitconfirms at each point. Notice that at one point Ash walks forward to get into cl.C activation range, and since Close normals are so fast in KOF they’re wonderous in blockstrings. In fact Ash could hitconfirm into a HD combo from the final cl.C xx b+B should it hit the opponent.
My advice is to start out basic in training mode against a dummy set on random block to get the feel for really simple offensive strings. Try running back in into lows and try hitconfirming from that, or mix forward hops and go into your basic low series. This should be a practice session just like when learning how to hop, so keep at this until it becomes second nature. Once these are down pat, the importance of staggering, mystifying, and shaking up timings and blockstring types and approaches will naturally become a necessity when fighting live opponents that will react and punish predictable patterns. Worrying about tempering your offense comes second to getting a fundamental baseline for pestering with lows, hops, strong blockstring finishers (sweeps, safe specials, beefy heavy normals), and reversal/roll/jump baits.