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Ken Masters is Ryu's eternal best friend and sparring rival. He trains constantly in order to keep up with Ryu, focusing on his signature move, the Shoryuken. He also has a family life, with his wife Eliza and his son Mel. Ken was born and raised in Japan by a Japanese father and Japanese/American mother. Early on in his life, his mother and father would argue and fight, and were on the verge of divorce. This caused Ken to rebel, and dye his hair blonde. Ken's rebellious nature made his parents rethink their relationship and come back together, but he keeps his hair blonde as a reminder. Ken was sent to train under his fathers old friend, Gouken, at the age of 12. There he met Ryu, who would become his closest friend. Both swore to become the best fighters they could, and once they left the dojo, Ryu went to Thailand to take on Sagat and Ken went to the US to compete in tournaments there. He met Eliza while competing, and has since then been deciding whether or not to settle down with her or fight forever like Ryu.
In CvS2 Ken is a strong shoto-style character. While he has a weaker fireball, and no red fireball, his dragon punch specials are higher damage, stronger, and overall much better. As a shoto, Ken is adaptable and can be played in a variety of ways, from slow neutral to aggressive rushdown. He isn't as extreme in the mixup department as Akuma/Gouki, but he has plenty of ways to stay in and some good tools to open opponents up. Overhead followups to his safe specials, plenty of plus frames, and good confirm combos make him very scary.
In neutral, Ken can adapt to the opponents gameplan very well. Moves like 2MK, 5HP, 2MP, and his powerful Shoryuken allow him to control from a range. However, among the shotos, his fireball is the weakest. This hurts his zoning and general fullscreen presence badly, and while fireballs in CvS2 are generally weak, this is still a major weakness. Ken has to commit a lot more to approach against good zoning characters, as his fireball recovers too slow to effectively approach behind in the way Guile or Ryu can. Another issue is that Ken has to risk more to open an opponent up. While he can generate plus frames easily, his overheads leave huge reactable gaps, and he only has normal throws.
If you want a good all rounder that generally plays aggressive, works well in any groove, and has some damaging up close combos, Ken is for you.
Best - A/C: As a shoto with a varied toolset, Ken works very well in any groove, but is usually seen in A-Groove and C-Groove. A-Ken is likely the most powerful, thanks in no small part to A-Grooves powerful Custom Combos. Ken has a very easy to perform CC, and the utility of activation makes him a lot scarier. A-Groove gives him rolls as well, which are very useful for him as he has many useful roll cancels. C-Ken has a bit more in the way of defensive options, like air block and Alpha Counters, alongside a powerful level 2 combo. In trade, he loses access to Custom Combos, and has to be closer or get a good hit to utilize his meter and make it scary.
Useful - N/K: N-Groove is a bit behind but still very powerful. N-Ken is more geared to rushdown, with run and hop to aid his mixup and approach. Ken can more easily pressure after blocked LK Geri, and run pressure can be scary. N-Ken doesn't spend meter well in general however, as without having Max Mode spent the best you get is a confirm into level 1 Shoryureppa. K-Groove is similar. Rage makes his damage even better, and JD is very strong. Losing rolls is a big hurt however, as Ken can no longer RC Geri kicks.
Worst - S/P: S-Ken and P-Ken are very weak in comparison to his other grooves. His level 1 supers aren't powerful enough to make having infinite ones very worthwhile, he doesn't get much from dodge, and having to charge safely to gain meter harms Ken as a character who wants to approach. P-Ken loses access to a lot of what makes him strong, like his supers and rolls, and while hop still helps him here it just is too much to give up. Parry is inconsistent for Ken as well, as Kens punishes are strong up close but from farther distances aren't as solid.
Ken is a powerful all-rounder who leans toward aggressive rushdown with his close range pokes and Geri Kicks. Ken is best played in A-Groove or C-Groove.
Far Standing Normals
Close Standing Normals
Ken is a shoto-style character, which means he focuses in on versatility and adaptability. Utilizing his pokes and effective pressure tools, Ken can walk opponents down very easily with great, safe offense. He has the same shoto base normals, equipped with at least one tool for every situation. His 2MK is a great poke and cancel tool, 2LK is a great low starter and combos into most of his specials and his main super, Shoryureppa, and his 2HP is a good anti-air with good speed and active frames. What really makes Ken work though is his specials. His 623P specials, Shoryuken, are a set of very good uppercut specials. The light punch version is mainly what you want to use, as it's the fastest overall while still being a true reversal. It's a powerful anti-air, anti-poke, and even just a hard callout tool when used correctly.
Use 2MK () to poke around in neutral and to catch people after a blockstring. At max range you cannot combo this into much of anything, but cancelling into heavy fireball () allows you to safely put out a fireball and make the opponent block it.
Ken has a few specials that allow him to approach when used sparingly. His heavy flip kick () is a slow but far reaching overhead kick that knocks down on hit and leaves Ken safe on block (save for some supers and some matchup specific punishes). His air tatsu () lets him move safely in the air, allowing him good retreat and some hard to see crossups. You can even cancel it from some of his jump normals, like his j.MP (), which allows for safer jump ins and even some damaging combos.
Keep Ken's neutral simple, and leave his surprise tools for when your opponent won't see them coming. His dash speed is good, and his run is solid if you play him in a run groove. Walk and dash your opponents down, and use strong pokes and anti-airs to make them afraid to move. That's when you can get in and start pressuring.
Pressure and Mixup
Once you win neutral, Ken has some amazing pressure tools to keep himself in. Luckily Ken has amazing pressure tools, namely his light Geri kick () special. While it won't knock down, it does solid damage and has great range while being a whole +2 on block! It has strong reach, and can be cancelled from Ken's light strings like 2LK, 2LK (, ).
Ken has a few sneaky ways to mix between lows and overheads. His Inazuma kick (Hold after any Geri) can be used on opponents who expect you to reset pressure or return to neutral off of a light Geri kick. The medium Geri kick is especially useful for this mixup, as the first hit will usually whiff making it a bit harder to react to. His overhead flip kicks (/) can also be useful. The light version is the best as an overhead mix, but is unsafe. The medium kick version is very reactable but leaves you fairly safe and lets you reset pressure well. Don't overuse any of these, as you'll likely eat a hit for trying to against wary opponents.
Ken's defense is fairly strong, especially in grooves with rolls. He has solid jabs to mash out with, the obvious and powerful light Shoryuken () for a fast invincible reversal, and still has average health stats even if he does get hit. Play safe on defense, block it out and wait for an opportunity to escape with a well timed jab, roll, or uppercut, and don't get discouraged if you guess wrong! One good guess leads to a knockdown or a situation with Ken being plus, and those can spiral into a victory quickly.
One thing to remember while mashing out is that his 2LP () links into his 2HK (). This can be done at anytime, but on a counterhit it's much easier. It isn't very range dependent, and can be confirmed fairly easily since it's a link. This can make Ken mashing a bit scarier as he can reverse the situation into a knockdown quickly, even if it doesn't do much damage.
All damage values were recorded with a Ratio 2 C-Ken vs a Ratio 2 C-Ryu with full health. Damage values can change depending on Groove, character, ratio, and the amount of health left remaining.
All combos will be written using Numpad Notation. If you're having trouble reading numpad, refer to this visual aide.
|2LK > 2LK > 5LK > 41236LK||Anywhere||2415||23||Easy||If Ken has a bnb, this is it. Safe low confirm that leaves him +2 on block/hit. No knockdown but is very range forgiving. If you're spaced very far out 5LK might whiff.|
|cl.HK > 623HP||Anywhere (close)||3675||35||Very Easy||Ken's punishment combo. Requires you to hit cl.HK very close.|
|j.HK, cl.MK > 623HP||Anywhere||4515||43||Easy||Jump in combo. If you do cl.HK instead, you won't be in range for a 623H.|
|2LP, cl.HP > 41236LK||Anywhere||2550||25||Easy||Link off of jab. Requires close range but is a damaging jab combo.|
|j.MK, cl.HK > 623HP||Anywhere||4620||44||Easy||Crossup combo. j.MK crossup needs to hit pretty deep for this to hit.|
|j.MP > j.214HK, 2HK||Anywhere||2940||36||Hard||Jump in tatsu cancel. Safer on block than the other jump in combo.|
|2LP, 2HK||Anywhere||1575||15||Medium||Jab into sweep link. Can be done naturally but much easier on counterhit, and a consistent knockdown off of his jab. You can add a 2LK before the jab as well for a quick low confirm.|
|2LK, 2LK > 236236P||Anywhere||3360/4620/6510||6||Easy||A basic short short super confirm. You can buffer this by doing 2LK, 236, 2LK, 236P.|
|cl.HK > 623LP, 236236K||Corner||5565/6930/8610||30||Medium||Very high damage corner combo. Can be done off any cornered light 623LP, and is your max damage ender after C groove combos.|
|j.HK, cl.HK > 236236MP > 214LP, 623HP||Anywhere||7760||27||Medium||High damage 2 bar C groove combo. Easier in the corner, and not a bad way to spend 2 bars.|
|j.HK, cl.HK > 236236MP > 214LP, 236236LK||Anywhere||9135||27||Medium||Your 3 bar bnb. Very good damage almost anywhere on screen, makes Ken's confirms into Shoryureppa very scary.|
|j.HK, cl.HK > 236236MP > 214LP, 623LP, 236236LK||Corner||10374||44||Above Average||MASSIVE damage C groove corner combo. Not the combo you'll land every match, but is absolutely worth going for if you can. Especially good after stuns.|