In Fighting Games, combos are technically defined as any combination of attacks where if the first hit lands, the opponent will be unable to dodge or block the hits that soon follow — indeed, the character will be unable to do anything since they are being struck too quickly to even recover from hitstun.
The ability to string together very long and damaging Combos is a mark of skill among the elite gamers, but if a player can make their fighter string together a nearly infinite sequence of hits, with the opponent unable to escape the inevitable Death Of A Thousand Punches, how does a game developer keep Combos from becoming a Game-Breaker?
Enter the Combo Breaker: A game mechanic that allows a player to escape from the middle of a combo attack so they can retaliate while the opponent is open, rather than stand there helplessly, as their Hit Points are battered away. Depending on the game, this may involve a separate button combination rather than the usual defensive command, or it may incur some kind of cost to discourage players from overusing it, such as relying on a power gauge, or being Cast from Hit Points.
Thus, a truly skilled fighter must not only master the ability to string hits together to make combos, but also master the ability to escape from them as well. Should two players who have mastered the Combo Breaker technique fight head-to-head, the ensuing battle will involve a lot of tactical improvisation as the two fighters continuously break out from underneath their opponent's attacks.
Since it usually just requires precise timing and\or quick reactions, it's all too tempting to make AI very good at this to compensate for its shortcomings elsewhere. See Computers Are Fast.
Compare Recovery Attack, another ability to break being hit repeatedly.
- Killer Instinct is the T-T-T-T-TROPE NAMER!!! Combos have various 'stages' to them, some of which are immune to being broken, some of which are not.note In the first game and the 2013 game, the breaker must be done based on the strength of the attack used in the attacker's combo. In Killer Instinct 2, the breaker must be done with Punch if the attacker is using Kick, and vice-versa. Unique to the 2013 game, the breaker itself can be broken, which allows the combo to continue and temporarily disables combo breakers.
- In the Arcana Heart games, going into the once-per-round Arcana Force mode will automatically free a player from a normal combo. Super attacks cannot be escaped.
- Final Fantasy:
- In the original Dissidia: Final Fantasy, activating one's EX Mode, commonly called an "EX Defense" or "EX Counter", among other things, would allow the activator to break free of almost any attack, simultaneously gaining the benefits of the Super Mode and leaving the original attacker reeling and wide open for an attack. Of course, since some attacks were still very hard if not impossible to avoid in this manner and it required the EX gauge being full and the prospective counter-er not already in EX Mode, it wasn't a fool-proof solution.
- The prequel to Dissidia, Duodecim or 012, changes this. Attempting an EX Defense will no longer trigger the EX Mode—but if a character has a full EX Gauge, they can initiate something called "EX Revenge", which breaks the character free of the combo and staggers the original attacker, as well as slowing down time for them so that the revenge-taker can deal some choice damage, at the cost of depleting the entire EX gauge. Also, a character caught in a combo can, provided their Assist gauge is charged enough, call on the Assist Character to bail them out. However, in Duodecim if an Assist is hit by the opponent's attacks, it locks the caller's Assist gauge for some time—and calling on the Assist when stuck in a combo guarantees the Assist will be hit and thus locked for a period of time. So essentially, while one can (and should) Combo Break in Duodecim, it's not without costs.
- A rare non-Fighting Game example, in Kingdom Hearts, starting from Kingdom Hearts II onwards, some bosses have a "revenge value," which causes them to instantly retaliate in a specific way if you hit them too many times in succession. Sephiroth, for instance, will teleport out of Sora's combo and attack from a safe distance. The Payback moves in Birth By Sleep allow the player to do this, to some extent, by retaliating immediately after being knocked back by an enemy.
- The Dragon Ball Z: Budokai and Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi series have a lot of variations, more specifically the Tenkaichi series, but uses up Ki and the opponent can counter your counter attack, to having a Beehive Barrier sort of shield appear with a secondary Mana Meter that's not the Ki Gauge, but the delay is longer than the opponents recovery time, so you can't start a combo with it, and an easily executable knockback wave Cast from Hit Points that gives you a fair chance to counter attack and start a combo.
- Fate/unlimited codes has the magic burst, which frees a character from a normal combo (blasting the other person away for no damage) and costs 200% magic circuit (two bars), but is rather vital in a game based so strongly in Combo gameplay. Lancer's burst ability, "Battle Continuation", lowers the requirement to one bar.
- The Guilty Gear series has the Psyche Burst from XX onward, a move any character can use while he is being hit or from blocking, which turns him invincible for a second while delivering a no-damage hit in an area around the user. Each use costs him a full Burst bar, but he can get some of it back if it hits an opponent. Perform it when not being comboed and it'll be gold and will fill up your Tension bar if it connects.
- GG's Spiritual Successor, BlazBlue, has a similar property called Barrier/Break Burst. Barrier Burst is used in Calamity Trigger; its use has the penalty of the user temporarily taking 1.5x damage and being unable to use Barrier Block for the rest of a round. Break Burst is used in Continuum Shift, which can only be performed twice in a single match, and its second use can only become available if you lose a round (which can be lost if an Astral Heat is attempted). Also, unlike Guilty Gear, gold Bursts act as a makeshift Launcher Move instead of filling the user's meter. BlazBlue: Chrono Phantasma replaces the gold Burst with a character-specific Super Mode known as Overdrive.
- The Mortal Kombat games, starting from Mortal Kombat: Deception:
- MKD and Mortal Kombat: Armageddon have a limit of three uses per match.
- Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe requires half of the Rage bar to enable its use.
- Mortal Kombat 9 instead requires two thirds of the super meter to be used, and the same is true of Mortal Kombat X (X also adds a stamina stipulation to breaking in addition to the meter requirement).
- Mortal Kombat 11 introduces the breakaway which only breaks combos during a launcher and now requires both sections of a dedicated defensive meter.
- Tatsunoko vs. Capcom has the Megacrash, which costs two super meters and a percentage of health.
- Grand Chase lets you expand your Mana Meter to escape multi-hit attacks. However, not all attacks allow this and still expand your Mana. It also doesn't strike the enemy back like most Combo Breakers. The game itself calls this a "Counter Attack."
- Skullgirls's Infinity Breaker is tied in to its unique "Infinite Prevention System." The only time you can break out of a combo is when the game detects that an infinite combo (i.e. a combo that has started to repeat itself) is being used. A later patch added a second method to enable a burst, which revolves around filling the Drama bar through getting hit by non-Blockbuster attacks during a combo. The latter itself is based on a system in Marvel vs. Capcom 2: New Age of Heroes where characters would eventually "dizzy" out of a combo after receiving one too many hits. Lab Zero simply changed it so that instead of automatically falling out, players could now choose to break out of the combo as they felt that this led to more deeper, more involved game.
- The Naruto Storm series has Substitution, which can be done while the opponent is attacking and teleports the player somewhere else, though the new location isn't necessarily safe. Players can also summon an Assist Character while they're being attacked, forcing the attacking player to immediately turn attention to the assist.
- Some bosses in the Tales Series are able to spontaneously escape from combos by starting an unstoppable attack while being struck. The effectiveness of this varies, as in some cases, the attack can simply be avoided and the combo continued afterward, while others will simply never attempt to do this if struck with certain attacks. More recent titles are nice enough to warn you when this about to happen so you can react in advance.
- In Tales of Vesperia, both player and bosses alike can activate Overlimit mode to stagger or knock back nearby foes, allowing them to turn the tables.
- Tales Of Hearts R lets enemies break out of combos at random times, though not on long combos. However these breakers are clearly choreographed, press block just as it lands and you'll interrupt your own combo to break their breaker, and get to start the combo anew.
- Play Station All Stars Battle Royale, in an attempt to prevent infinite combos, gives invincibility -including from Supers- to any player character hit with a lengthy combo, but only past a certain point of gained AP. Characters that hit harder will naturally have the shortest combos in exchange for their high AP gain.
- Endless Frontier has an enemy variation of this called Forced Evasion that makes you unable to continue attacking them, causes them to block the rest of your current attack for 0 damage and can also allow them to counterattack afterwards: while it's not a true Combo Breaker in sense that the enemy can only use it if you screw up your combo timing and cause them to fall to the ground, it's extremely easy to do by accident because of the strict timing on when to use each move, the varying weight of different types of enemies and because breaking enemy shields most of them get later in the game throws them high into the air and almost invariably screws up the natural flow of your current attack: they can also trigger Forced Evasion off a wallbounce that hits them when they're too low to the ground, which is next to impossible to anticipate.
- The sequel thankfully fixes this mechanic in several ways: the enemies now have a shared gauge that fills up when you kick their ass, and they can only use Forced Evasion when it's full and the chance for each individual enemy to use it if they fall out of your combo is shown next to the gauge, which also empties out if it's triggered. Enemies that have shields also have a visible gauge to show how close you are to breaking it to prepare for it, and some characters have attacks that instantly break the enemy's shield if they connect, which makes them meaningless if you set it as their first attack in their combo. There's also several ways to reduce the gauge, and PCs can also use Forced Evasion against enemy attacks, although it costs half of your Limit Break bar to use and doesn't work on enemy Limit Breaks, which bosses often like to spam at you.
- Much like BlazBlue, Persona 4: Arena also has Bursts. In addition to the defensive burst that lets you break out from a combo and a neutral one that fills your SP bar if it connects, there's also an offensive burst (known in-game as the One More! Burst) that can be used while in the middle of a combo of your own. A successful One More! Burst knocks the opponent into the air and makes them unable to recover until they hit the ground, as well as dialing back damage scaling temporarily so that any followup moves do additional damage to the opponent. Unlike BlazBlue (and like Guilty Gear), Burst slowly recovers on its own after being used and has no permanent cost associated with it. In addition, hitting the enemy with your universal auto-combo refills the Burst Gauge by 1/8. The sequel, Persona 4 Arena Ultimax, introduces Shadow-type characters that lack a burst and other defensive options in exchange for more offensive abilities.
- Marvel vs. Capcom 3 has a combo breaker system that only works for air combos. Once you juggle your opponent into the air, you can switch out with the other characters in your team and continue the combo by either launching your opponent against the far side of the screen and back towards you, up into the air, or down into the ground to bounce back up. The only way to break free of one of these combos is to match the direction that the combo intends on going with next. If you intend on launching your opponent up into the air, your opponent has to match by pressing Up + Launch at the same time to break free. This system is actually the only way to keep most combos going anyways, since characters aren't designed to keep the enemy on the ground infinitely, or by themselves. Eventually they have to switch to another team member.
- Naruto: Clash of Ninja has Substitution, which teleports you behind the opponent for a free hit, but costs three-fourths of your chakra.
- Naruto Ultimate Ninja Storm Generations instead makes this part of the core gameplay tactics and adjusts its usage to compensate. Instead of taking chakra, characters have a separate bar for substitution, which they can only use three times before having to wait for the charges to cool down. Thus, players have to know when they have to take the hits or risk getting chained in by longer combos.
- The Bleach fighting games for Nintendo DS allow players to escape combos at the cost of a super bar.
- Dead or Alive has holds, which can be performed in most stuns from DOA2 onwards. Using the correct hold will usually reward you with damage and a knockdown, depending on the character, and timing the hold correctly will grant more damage. Cue lots of hold spamming during stun. Although, if the attacker thinks the opponent will hold, they can stop their combo and use a throw, which will do 150% damage to a holding opponent. Against some characters, that's over half your health gone.
- Injustice: Gods Among Us has the Clash, which is only available on your character's second health bar. However, in addition to breaking a combo, there's also a wagering portion where each player "bets" part of their super meter. If you bet more than your opponent, you recover health; otherwise, you take additional damage. This means that you have to take care when activating a Clash.
- While not a fighting game, the John Woo-influenced shooter Double Action: Boogaloo revolves around a slow-mo mechanic. Players can disrupt each other's use of slow-mo by using their own, "stealing" the benefits and halting possible rampages in their tracks.
- The Matrix: Path of Neo has throws, attacks and counter attacks that break the enemy's own combo. They act as a stun, so you can get your own in.
- In the Gundam Vs Series, a player can escape from a combo by activating their Awakening while being hit; however, this can only be done when the Awakening gauge is 100% full, and costs 20% of the meter right off the top (the defense-oriented Extend Burst from Maxi Boost lets you pull this off once you're at 50% or higher).
- Rising Thunder gives everyone a choice between a combo breaker (Kinetic Deflect) and a dash cancel (Kinetic Advance), which they can change before and between games. If Kinetic Deflect is activated while being comboed, it deploys a Beehive Barrier that knocks the enemy across the screen. Using it while not being comboed shows the barrier and wastes half the normal amount of energy.
- Pokkén Tournament has a few types of combo breakers:
- Pull off a Counter Attack during an enemy normal attack combo. Do note your counter attack can be interrupted (this can continue the enemy combo) or pierced (countered).
- Call in certain Support Pokémon. Combo breaking is Magikarp's specialty: It uses Bounce to interrupt an opponent's attack, ending any active enemy combos.
- Enter Burst Mode (requires a full Synergy Gauge). This transformation pushes back the enemy and cancels their attacks. If the enemy is attempting a Burst Attack (a series of powerful attacks) or calling in their support Pokémon, a well-timed trigger of Burst Mode will render you temporarily invincible to their attacks.
- Trigger your Burst Attack while in Burst Mode. Do note your Burst Attack can be interrupted by the enemy letting them continue their attack.
- The game will automatically trigger a Phase Shiftnote from Duel Phase to Field Phase when one player deals enough hits to another as a built-in breaker of especially lengthy combos; to the point where the game can and will end your Burst Attack before its cutscene animation (Where the majority of its damage comes from) plays out if its opening hits trigger the Phase Shift.