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Tekken 8 Beginner Series: Understanding Frame Data

Patrick Bonifacio

Our Tekken 8 Beginner Series continues — this time with a discussion on the fundamental building block of any fighting game: frame data.

Tekken 8 Splash

via Bandai Namco

Frame data makes up the core properties of every single action in Tekken 8, whether this comes in the form of offense, defense, or simple movement. It measures each action in terms of how much time it takes for something to “come out” or “happen” onscreen, which in turn determines when something will hit or land on one character or another.

The term “frame data” tends to scare away new players — not just from Tekken 8 in particular, but from fighting games as a whole. Indeed, it’s true that frame data in Tekken 8 constitutes a massive spreadsheet, especially given the fact that each character can have over a hundred different moves in their move list.

But in reality, things quite a bit simpler than that. You don’t have to memorize every single value in the spreadsheet, nor do you even have to actively think about these values all that much in actual gameplay. Regardless of how complex it may seem on the surface, though, understanding frame data is vital to success in Tekken 8, and applying this awareness is one of the only surefire ways to rank up.

As always, that’s why we’re here: to turn what seems like arcane knowledge into something that everyone can grasp without difficulty. Welcome to our Tekken 8 frame data guide!

What is a Frame, Anyway?

If you’ve played video games in any capacity, it’s likely you know what a frame is in relation to video games in general. The word “frame” here refers to a single frame of animation, many of which are displayed onscreen over a single second to show movement. Most fighting games, including Tekken 8, run at 60 frames per second — no more, no less.

Thus, a single frame is 1/60th of a second in Tekken 8, or about 16 milliseconds. Such a small amount of time is definitely too fast for the human eye to perceive, especially in the heat of a real match.

So rather than using absolute time measurements like milliseconds to measure how “fast” or “slow” a move is, we express this measurement in frames instead. Faster moves will take fewer frames to happen, while slower moves will require more time in the form of frames to come out.

The Components of Frame Data

In a single given move, there are five major components in its frame data: the startup frames, the active frames, the on hit recovery frames, the on whiff recovery frames, and the on block recovery frames.

Startup Frames

When people talk about how “fast” a character’s moves are in the context of fighting games, they are actually referring mostly to the startup frames of their attacks. The startup of any given move refers to how many frames it takes for it to “wind up”, if you will, before it can actually hit the opponent and do any damage.

Let’s take Jin’s d/f+1 as a basic example. It starts up in 13 frames, which means Jin has to spend 21.6 milliseconds going through the starting animation of his d/f+1 before it hits the opponent. This is relatively fast in the world of Tekken 8, where most useful moves are in the realm of 10-25 startup frames.

It takes 13 frames for Jin’s d/f+1 to start up, during which he is completely vulnerable.

However, note that all characters in the game are completely vulnerable during the startup frames of any move. Going back to Jin’s d/f+1 as an example, if Jin’s opponent throws out a move with 12 or fewer startup frames at the exact same time as Jin does his d/f+1, the opponent’s move will hit Jin first and interrupt his attack. The act of hitting your opponent during their startup frames is called a counter hit.

Generally speaking, the fewer startup frames a move has, the better. Fewer frames in this regard means faster moves which leave you less vulnerable as you throw them out.

From here on, it’s important to note that when we refer to a move being an “X number of frames move”, we are specifically referring to the move’s startup. Devil Jin’s Hisou (u/f+3+4) for example starts up in 16 frames, making it a 16 frame move. His Samsara (u+4) meanwhile starts up in 20 frames, making it a 20 frame move.

Active Frames

Once a character is finished going through a move’s startup frames, the move then becomes “active” — which is to say it now has a hitbox out there on the playing field, which can then collide with the opponent. For example, if Kazuya’s Left Splits Kick (f,f+3) and its hitbox connects with the opponent during its active frames during a time where the opponent isn’t blocking, the opponent takes damage and gets launched.

In the above example, Kazuya winds up his Left Splits Kick for 20 frames. The very first frame after that, the move becomes active, and hits Jin.

Most moves tend to not have that many active frames. After all, a move with too many active frames will be difficult for opponents to play around, and may even hit someone running in long after the initial active frames have passed.

The act of hitting your opponent during their active frames is called a trade. This term comes from the fact that since both of you have active hitboxes onscreen at the same time, both your moves will basically hit each other simultaneously. Whether a trade in this manner is favorable to you depends on the rest of your move’s properties — as there are some situations where a trade can result in a full combo for one player.

On Hit Recovery Frames

Recovery frames in general are kind of like startup frames in that they leave you vulnerable throughout their duration — but instead of happening before the move becomes active, recovery frames happen afterwards.

When a move successfully lands and damages the opponent without trading, there are what we call the on hit recovery frames. Unlike startup and active frames, though, on hit recovery frames aren’t expressed as absolute numbers — but rather as a positive or negative value.

For example, Feng’s Piercing Arrow (d/b+3) is +4 on hit — which means that if you throw out another move immediately after landing Piercing Arrow, it will come out as if it had four fewer startup frames than usual. This is called having “frame advantage”.

Feng is at +4 after d/b+3, allowing him to safely continue his offense from there.

When you are at frame advantage, your moves will generally be able to hit your opponent before their move hits you, assuming they throw out an attack while you’re still in what we call “plus frames”. More on this and how to apply it in your matches later.

Conversely, Feng’s San Lian Heng (2,4) is -1 on hit, meaning that any move that he does immediately after will come out one frame slower than normal. Most moves are positive on hit, allowing you to continue your pressure thereafter. It’s fairly rare to see a character’s key moves being negative on hit, so generally you’re free to act again after landing a move on your opponent.

On Whiff Recovery Frames

When a move doesn’t collide with the opponent, regardless if they were blocking at the time or not, we call that a “whiffed” move. Your character will have to sit through some recovery frames after whiffing a move, which leave them vulnerable just like any other.

Kazuya recklessly throws out his Demon Paw (f,f+2) without being in range of Jin, causing his move to miss entirely and for him to be stuck in the whiff recovery frames. Jin then hits him for free with his own Demon Paw.

Hitting the opponent during their on whiff recovery frames is what we call a “whiff punish”. Whiff punishment is especially strong in Tekken given the presence of launchers and juggle combos, but we’ll discuss these concepts in a future guide. But just as a rule of thumb, whiffing is one way to expose yourself to punishment, so you’ll want to avoid doing this without a purpose.

On Block Recovery Frames

And now we come to the most important bit of frame data there is: the on block recovery frames. Just like on hit recovery frames, on block recovery frames are expressed as positive or negative values. As an example, most generic 1 jabs in Tekken 8 are +8 on block, while most generic d/f+1 type attacks are -3 on block.

From here, you can kind of see that a move’s frame advantage or disadvantage on block varies quite a bit. Whether a move is plus or minus on block forms a large part of the “tug of war” in fighting games, with Tekken 8 being no exception.

Frame Advantage: Is It Your Turn?

Essentially, if you are at enough of a frame advantage after one of your moves is blocked, it’s still your “turn” to do something — whether that’s throwing out another move, sidestepping or backdashing, throwing your opponent, etc. Conversely, when you are at a big enough disadvantage, it’s your opponent’s turn to do something instead.

If you try to throw out a move when you’re at “minus frames”, chances are you’re going to get counter hit by your opponent — assuming they press a button when they have the advantage.

Example of a counter hit: Kazuya tries to throw a jab after his initial pair was blocked, which left him at -1. Jin beats the second pair of jabs with his 10 frame 2,4 string — which comes out one frame faster thanks to his +1 frame advantage.

Therefore, it’s probably best to just defend in such a scenario. On the other hand, you can press your advantage if you’re at plus frames, taking the chance to smother your opponent, sneak in a low poke, or call them out for pressing buttons out of turn with a big counter hit launcher.

There are exceptions to this rule, but the concept of “stealing” turns is quite a bit more advanced than what this guide is intended for.

Block Punishment

Some moves, however, are so negative on block that the player that threw them out will be stuck in recovery long enough that their opponent can hit them before they can even defend themselves.

Let’s take Paul’s Phoenix Smasher (qcf+2) as an example here. When blocked, Paul is left at -17 afterwards, which means that he cannot attack nor defend until 17 frames have passed since the last active frame of Phoenix Smasher.

Nope, not even blocking is an option for Paul here, as any move that is 17 frames or faster is guaranteed to hit him during his on block recovery — assuming the move in question has enough range to hit him after the pushback of Phoenix Smasher.

This is called a “block punish”, and is one of the most important concepts to learn in Tekken 8 and fighting games in general. Moves that would otherwise have no weaknesses versus the benefit they give to their characters are kept in check by having punishable recovery on block, allowing the defending player to collect free damage as a reward for blocking successfully.

When a move is -10 or worse on block, we call it “unsafe on block”, as most characters will have 10 frame attacks as their fastest available moves. Any move that is -9 or better on block is therefore “safe on block”, as it is almost impossible for your opponent to have a move fast enough that can block punish your -9 or better move.

It’s important to know which of your character’s key moves is punishable on block, as you will have to use them with more restraint than your otherwise safe on block moves. If your opponent knows what they’re doing, they can make you pay for being reckless.

Play by Feel, Not by Numbers

So you’re probably thinking now that this a lot to take in and that the existence of frame data is just too overwhelming for new players. After all, not only do you have to know which moves are positive or negative on block, but you also need to know by how much they’re positive or negative.

But in reality, it’s usually much easier to just memorize the animations of key moves and associating them with it being your turn or not, as well as which moves are punishable on block. You don’t have to read entire frame data sheets to get good at Tekken 8; that’s just a completely unnecessary exercise that won’t yield visible improvement.

Instead, we recommend that you go into practice mode and have the training dummy use a move that is giving you trouble in real matches against you. From there, you can check if the move is negative or even punishable on block — knowledge that you can then take into your next encounter with that character.

Eventually, your brain and the experience it holds will learn to recognize punishable moves without even stopping to think first. Rather than trying to unearth the exact frame data of a move during a match, your brain will simply tell you “that’s punishable” when you see the animation. Then your muscle memory takes over with the appropriate punisher.

And that’s it for frame data! It will definitely take a while to grasp the concept in its entirety, but to start with, you can just think of it as the thing that determines whose turn it is to take action. And of course, don’t mash into an opponent with frame advantage, and punish them accordingly for overextending in this regard.

We’ve got more Tekken guides in store for you, so stay tuned here at Hotspawn.

Patrick Bonifacio

Patrick Bonifacio

Patrick has been playing Dota since the dawn of time, having started with the original custom game for WarCraft III. He primarily plays safe lane and solo mid, preferring to leave the glorious task of playing support to others.

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