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.
- 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.
- 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.
- The Budokai and Tenkaichi Fighting Game series of Dragonball Z games have a lot of variations, more specificly 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. The former is for Calamity Trigger which has a penalty of taking 1.5x damage and disables Barrier Block for the rest of a round; while the latter is for Continuum Shift, which can only be performed twice in a single match, and it's second use can only become available if you lose a round.
- The Mortal Kombat games, starting from Mortal Kombat: Deception:
- 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 multihit attacks. However, not all attacks allow this and still expand your Mana and it doesn't strike the enemy back like most Combo Breakers. Also the game calls getting hit while charging MP a "Counter Attack."
- Skullgirls's Combo Breaker is tied in to it's unique "Infinite Prevention System." The only time you can break out of a combo is when the system detects that it's an infinite combo.
- 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.
- 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.