In action games, some moves have altered effectiveness based on timing. With indiscriminate timing, the move will have average, but still usable properties. However, if the player times the move with a high level of precision, then it will take on extra effects that make it more useful.
And by "a high level of precision" we mean "eight-to-twelve of the sixty frames per second that the game is running at," which is why it's called a "Just Frame" Bonus.
These bonuses will diversify the base move's effectiveness instead of replacing it with a different tool entirely; this makes incorrect timing less of a punishment, since the move can still serve its initial purpose either way. Commonly, defend bonuses will remove block damage, add a counterattack, give the opponent recoil damage or lag, or restore the player's health bar or super meter. Meanwhile, attacks will receive bonuses that suit their purpose: approaching tools become faster or gain armor, pressure tools become better at breaking a guard, projectiles become harder to avoid, and heavy attacks will use any and all of those tools to make their high-powered damage harder to avoid. Platform fighters have additional variables in knockback growth and angles, so a just frame bonus may launch the opponent farther or at a more efficient kill angle.
Since landing the bonus is desirable, these moves will clearly indicate correct timing to the player. Special graphics, new character animations, and different sound effects can accomplish this on any bonus. However, in most cases, the combat-relevant effects that a bonus grants are already enough of a contrast to the base move. If the bonus only strengthens the original properties, it can still count if the power difference is drastic enough. Since many of these bonuses are never advertised to the player, they're often discovered by accident once the player's used them enough. Defend and dodge bonuses are very easy to implement for this reason; they're vital enough to combat and easy enough to use that they can be discovered on any character.
The phrase "Just Frame" comes from the fighting game communities and denotes "doing something just in time." Move timelines are measured in frames, not seconds, so this implies that the player has the best timing the game can recognize. Fan names for these moves tend to have "Just" somewhere in there. If a fighting game wants a tournament scene, it's mandatory for it to run at sixty frames per second, which should illustrate just how strict this timing is.note
Keep in mind that this isn't when moves get a little better at what they already do. Any fighting game has melee hits and projectiles that will grow or decay in power with timing or distance. While these moves encourage specificity, they have the same general effect throughout and they never gain distinct effects at any point. This also isn't when a horrible move becomes passable; since hitting the "horrible" timing lets the opponent punish, movesets made of it are the mark of a Joke Character. However, if this character can eat the roster for breakfast when their moves are timed consistently, then you have a Lethal Joke Character who exaggerates this trope.
The Stylish Action and Fighting Game genres use them to encourage skill. Due to their metagames' competitive nature, higher difficulties and tournament play will swiftly eject challengers who don't or can't learn the timing. Slower-paced and turn-based action tends to have the Elite Tweak instead, thanks to their high-level play revolving around equipment and skill strategy. Since fighting games tend to forego customization altogether (and since stylish action's equipment varies more in play style than power), games that use Elite Tweak or just frame bonuses tend not to have both. However, they are not mutually exclusive.
Rhythm Games are an entire genre built around this. Inputs must stay on the song's beat to be accepted, and higher difficulties will present more notes and feed them faster, thus narrowing the player's timing window.
- In the BlazBlue series, blocking at just the right frame is an "instant block" which causes your character's sprite to flash and generates extra Heat.
- In Dead or Alive, counter holds deal more damage with hi-counter hold and the downplayed example the counter hold.
- Certain characters also have this as a part of their moveset like Eliot's stronger megaton punch, Phase-4 Lag Canceling into teleports. Akira's exaggerated Teishi-tsu Dantai (it involves h+k but only hold the h button for one frame).
- Guilty Gear Xrd ~SIGN~ introduces Ramlethal Valentine, who has this gimmick with her Shoryuken move Dauro. Much like the Mishima family's Electric Wind God Fist, hitting the ↘ in the Shoryuken motion →↓↘ and the Punch button within three frames of each other nets the player a better version of Dauro that's indicated by Ramlethal flashing green and the move launching the opponent higher and doing more damage.
- SoulCalibur has a number of these attacks, but in particular, the character Setsuka (replaced in SCV by "Alpha" Patrolkos) has a large portion of her movelist which only activates on a frame-perfect Just Frame, making her one of the most technical and execution-heavy characters in the series.
- Street Fighter V:
- Karin Kanzuki has her Orochi dash attack. The Just Frame version moves faster, deals more damage, and juggles an opponent.
- Cody's V-Trigger II "Dirty Coach" gives him a few moves that get stronger when done with good timing. Present Delivery has him throwing up a stone; you can then press the V-Trigger button to bat it towards the opponent. With good timing, the punted stone will become a strong projectile that flies forward; if the swing is too early/late, the projectile becomes weaker and goes on a different trajectory. Toss and Smash is a Grapple Move where he tosses his opponent up, then you press another button to bat the opponent away. If timed perfectly, it'll do more damage and bounce the opponent off the wall.
- Super Smash Bros. has the perfect shield or powershield, present in every game except the first. If a player raises their shield up to four frames before an attack hits them, then they will not take shield damage or shieldstun from the attack. In competitive play, this is important to master because it allows players to drop their shield instantly and punish opponents that are still suffering lag. In Melee, this technique could also reflect projectiles if used up to two frames before the hit, but Brawl and Smash 4 changed this to only redirect them. Ultimate tweaked the mechanic so that it only triggers when the shield is released with proper timing.
- In Melee, Fox and Falco's reflectors have a one-frame hitbox at their very beginning before they begin to bounce projectiles. Both launch opponents at useful angles and Fox's has fixed knockback, so even though these characters are fragile and extremely difficult to control, the reflectors' hitboxes have turned them into close-range combo tools in tournament play.
- Toon Link in Brawl and Young Link in Melee have a very brief, very small bonus hitbox at the start of their down-aerial. If the opponent is hit with the sword, it'll launch them upward pretty good, but if they're hit with the hilt, they'll instead get spiked and set on fire for good measure. Project M, being made by the competitive community, strengthened the spike and added a light effect to befit the Master Sword's divine nature.
- Bayonetta in Smash 4 has a straight example that isn't advertised and an interesting case that is. If her Witch Twist attack is used exactly one frame after her midair jump, she will be able to use her midair jump again; this has the potential to give her a total of three midair jumps and four uses of Witch Twist before landing, turning her good recovery outrageous. The second example concerns her Bat Within technique, which negates all knockback and half of the damage she would receive during her evasive maneuvers' startup time... but unless the player needs to break out of a tight combo, the full invincibility granted by the dodge is preferable.
- In Ultimate, Incineroar's side special move, Alolan Whip, has different properties depending on the timing of the follow-up attack. Press the button just as the victim makes contact with Incineroar, and Incineroar will send them flying backwards with a powerful clothesline hit. Pressing the button early will send the victim upwards instead. However, failing to press the button in time results in a fumble, causing both fighters to take minor damage with no knockback.
- Tekken: Most Just Frame moves are accompanied by blue sparks when their bonus activates.
- Lucky Chloe has various moves that require just frame input. This includes her Rage Art, she will say spell her name after every successful hit. She has three variations one is the standard after zero to three succesful inputs, the second after to four to five inputs which changes her pose and after hitting all six inputs she uppercuts her falling opponent in the back.
- One of the most famous examples is the Electric Wind God Fist, usable by most Mishima-related characters (Kazuya, Heihachi and Jin just to name a few). That move alone became unpunishable if blocked, did massive damage, and juggled an opponent for extra damage. There are other abilities which are also frame perfect throughout the series as well.
- As a derivative of the aforementioned Tekken franchise, Pokkén Tournament prominently features Just Frame inputs with comparable effects to their Tekken counterparts. Pikachu emulates the Electric Wind God Fist with similarly blue hit sparks, while most of the rest of the cast's attacks flash gold to indicate a Just Frame has occurred.
- The Bayonetta series has a lot of this.
- In both games, dodges provide invincibility frames, but grant Witch Time if used at the last second. The Bat Within technique grants a little more Witch Time and teleportation capabilities on top of that, but it also has an even tougher three-frame activation window that ends directly before the attack hits you. In a similar vein, the Moon of Mahaa-Kalaa accessory normally provides a defend command, but when used within a similar window to Bat Within, Bayonetta will counterattack, gain magic and health, and enter the longest Witch Time that the player can manually trigger.
- Bayonetta 2 adds a bonus to the Tetsuzanko attack on some weapons — if the attack animation involves Bayonetta jumping back before ramming into the enemy, then she is capable of getting Witch Time off of an enemy's attack in the first half-dozen frames.
- Devil May Cry: All of the games in the series have this to some extent.
- The most common example having the player delay one attack somewhere in the basic combo, which completely changes the rest of the combo. DmC: Devil May Cry helps players time the delay by having Dante's sword shine at the point the next attack should be.
- Some charged attacks have a small window in which letting go of the attack button right as the attack hits max charge results in either a more powerful or faster attack, such as Dante's Drive or Vergil's Judgement Cut.
- Nero's optimal playstyle revolves entirely around this. Normally, the Red Queen's Exceed attacks need to be revved up, which is a lengthy process, but if the player presses the rev button at specific points in any attack, the Red Queen instantly gets one Exceed charge. One upgrade allows players to get all three Exceed charges at once, but has an even tighter timing window than the normal version.
- Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance: the parry, which is referred to as the keystone of Raiden's defense, changes from a block to a counterattack if timed well. Higher difficulties reward this further by cranking up the damage the counterattack deals.
- Astral Chain has three:
- Perfect Dodge lets you enter Bullet Time and let loose with a counterattack either alone or with a Legion if it has Perfect Dodge + Sync equipped.
- Perfect Call lets your Legion knock an enemy back if you call it right as an enemy attack is about to connect. The Axe Legion does so in the form of a direct parry. You can also counterattack if a Legion has Perfect Call + Sync equipped.
- Parry lets a Legion equipped with it counterattack if you push the left stick in the direction of an enemy attack.
- In Dariusburst, if you fire your Burst right as you come in contact with an enemy Burst, you will fire a Counter Burst, which glows yellow instead of pink, renders you impervious to enemy Bursts and overrides them while it's firing, deals more damage, and gives you an even higher score multiplier than the regular Burst. Fail to time it properly, however, and you will eat enemy Burst as usual, costing you precious shields or an entire life.
- Mega Man Battle Network:
- In the third game, if you're using a Shield Style and you raise a shield at the right time, you not only block the attack but also get healed.
- In the third game, if you defeat a virus or boss when it's in the middle of an attack, a "counter hit" is registered, and you get additional Bug Frags with the battle's rewards. Virus battles yield 1-5 Frags depending on how many lethal counter hits you land during the fight, while finishing a boss fight this way yields 10.
- Starting from the fourth game, during battles against viruses (mooks) or Net Navis/other powerful net entities (bosses), if you manage to strike an enemy with a chip attack in their attack's startup frames (called a "Counter"), the enemy will get stunned and you'll enter the Full Synchro state, where your next chip attack's damage are doubled and the enemy will flash during their attacks' startup frames, allowing you to easily land another Counter Hit to prolong the Full Synchro state. Harder mooks/bosses will usually have shorter startup frames in their attacks, making Counters harder to perform.
- Monster Hunter Generations has Adept Style, in which evading a damage source at the last possible moment causes you to execute a special evade maneuver and, for a few seconds afterwards, gain access to special techniques specific to your weapon.
- Monster Hunter: World drops the Styles, but retains a similar last-second evade feature for the Long Sword.
- For games with the Charge Blade, the sword-and-shield form has Guard Points during certain attack animations that have your character holding the shield in front of them. Any monster attacks that hit the shield during these frames will be blocked instead of smacking you out of your attack, and it's perfectly possible to stun a headbutting monster by letting it charge into your Guard Point if your weapon has Impact element and your Element Up shield charge is active. Put another way, it allows the user to maintain a level of defense while still putting up an offense, if the timing is right.
- The easiest Guard Point to utilize is the R + top button Morph Slash into axe form, as it's at the very start of the animation and can be used mid-combo. By contrast, the Roundhouse Slash's Guard Point is at the end of the attack, generally only used at the end of combo chains (or the evasive left stick + right face button input introduced in World) and thus trickier to time properly.
- In Starlink: Battle for Atlas, you can reflect an enemy attack back at whoever shot it by raising your shield right before the shot hits your ship.
- Tokyo Xanadu: Using the dodge action just before an attack hits the player character will result in the attack being negated while slightly refilling the EX and Drive gauges. Certain elements, the game's Socketed Equipment, can extend the invincibility period or increase the amount of gauge filled.
- Ys Seven: Flash Guarding just before an enemy attack hits the player character will negate the hit, remove the cooldown on Flash Guard, fill the SP and Extra gauges, and guarantee critical hits for a short time. If the player guards too early, the enemy's attack will deal critical damage instead.
- Ys: Memories of Celceta: Flash Guard returns from Ys Seven and no longer has a penalty for guarding too early. Instead, the player character simply takes reduced damage. This game also introduces the Flash Move mechanic, which requires the player to use the dodge action just before the attack lands, resulting in temporary invincibility and slow enemy movement.
- Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana: Flash Guard returns from Ys Seven and Ys: Memories of Celceta, with no penalty or reduced damage for guarding too early. Instead, a successful Flash Guard will result in a short period of invincibility. Flash Move, like in Celceta, grants temporary invincibility and slow enemy movement. Unlike previous games, the effects of both Flash maneuvers have their duration displayed.
- Modern Kirby allow you to negate all Scratch Damage when blocking attacks but guarding just as an attack would hit. This is signified by a special sound effect that's different from the normal blocking sound effect. Notably, this mechanic is often never mentioned with Team Kirby Clash Deluxe being the exception.
- While playing Critical Mode in Kingdom Hearts III you have the Critical Guard ability by default, which allows you to instantly block an attack by pressing guard just before an attack connects, and powers up your reprisals. this ability is unavailable on lower difficulties.
- Keeping true to the combat system's Fighting Game Roots, Tales Of The Rays has these. If you input the next Arte in your chain at the right moment, which is just as the previous arte ends, the game displays the word "Just!" at the bottom of the screen. If said Arte is an attack and it connects with an enemy cleanly (i.e. they do not block and their Iron Stance is broken) it will also show how much bonus meter you get, which lets you use your Mirrage Artes faster. The bonus given depends on how high your chain went, how many Just Inputs you got in a row, and how many enemies your attack hit. However, if you do not have enough Chain Capacity to cover the full cost of your next arte, you will not be able to get this bonus.
- Assassin's Creed: Odyssey lets you block and parry indefinitely to negate any melee damage that comes your way (unless it's an Unblockable Attack of course). However, performing a Perfect Dodge right before a blow lands activates a few seconds of Bullet Time during which you're free to move and attack without fear of retaliation. A handful of legendary items have unique perks that only trigger upon a Perfect Dodge, like the Pegasos Armor set tripling your follow-up strike's damage. Parrying incoming arrows hits something of a middle ground - it only works with the right timing, so holding down the parry button isn't an option, but there's no bonus to be gained with perfect timing.
- The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild has the aptly named Perfect Dodge and Perfect Guard. The Perfect Dodge lets Link enter Bullet Time if he dodges an enemy attack at just the right moment and let loose with a barrage of attacks, whereas the Perfect Guard lets him stun an enemy long enough for him to counter or stamp any Guardian blasts return-to-sender.