When you aren’t doing any set thing in particular, you are still playing a game... duking it out, even. You’re fighting, but neither person is actively trying to beat the snot out of each other, just trying to get the opportunity to try.
But how to call this...? In Japanese, they have a clear-cut term for this vague period: ‘tachimawari’. It literally means ‘standing around’, but its meaning refers either to conducting oneself, or as a noun form more often implies, a fight (e.g. a staged fight scene in a play, complete with standoffs). So, in this stage you are staking out your space, being intimidating, acting tricky, and so forth, just trying to get an advantage.
In scientific terms, you could think of this as ‘equilibrium’ – competing influences that form an actively maintained balance. You aren’t just walking around, you aren’t just poking, you aren’t just attacking or defending all the time during this period. You’re doing all of these until you or your opponent manage to disturb the equilibrium.
So, a lot of terms in the preceding paragraphs can be used to describe this in English. I will avoid using any specific one, because I don’t think any translation I can think up here is accurate and/or widely-accepted (I don’t really condone adopting the Japanese term, either, but I don’t have much of a choice, having eliminated my other choices), but it is an important concept because no matter how much or how little of this time is typical in a game, it’s there in more or less every fighting game, and it often plays a big part in how well you do.
This is one of the joys of fighting games. This is where tactics come into play.
It matters that you take advantage of the one chance to practice a combo on someone else, but no matter how awesome a combo you can do, it is completely meaningless if you do not land a hit. Technique is essential along with combos. Though, in combo games, the combos are more emphasized, so which aspect has more weight to it can be said to depend on the game.
The following are essential techniques and general ideas concerning tachimawari.
It can change depending on the game system and character, but these descriptions apply for the most part:
Between different characters, speed, jump trajectory, moves, body size, offensive output, defensive ability, and so forth can all differ, so even tachimawari must be treated accordingly. By adding an arrangement of your own style to those characters’ appropriate ways of moving, you can have movements more difficult to predict.