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 playstyle 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Street Fighter V: Karin Kanzuki has her Orochi dash attack. The Just Frame version moves faster, deals more damage, and juggles an opponent.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Mega Man Battle Network: 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 purple during their attacks' startup frames, allowing you to perform Counter again easier to prolong the Full Synchro state. Harder mooks/bosses will usually have shorter startup frames in their attacks, making Counters harder to perform.
- 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.
- 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.