A New Challenger: Ken Masters

by Mr. Saint

Ken has always been one of my favorite fighting game characters.  Going all the way back to Super Street Fighter II Turbo, where his character design broke with the traditional shoto fireball style in favor of a rushdown style that relied on knee bash loops, a superior jab dragon punch,  and crazy combos.  What better way to start our new Exceed Fighting System focused blog series, “A New Challenger”, than with this archetypal paragon of fighting games.

True to his video game roots, Ken, as portrayed in Exceed, is a character defined by relentless aggression.  Take his unique character ability (UA), which allows him to Close 1 and draw a card.  As long as what you want to be doing is moving towards your opponent, Ken’s UA gives you a very economical way to do that.  In a similar vein,  attacks like Shoryuken and Knee Bash reward you for being the one to initiate a Strike (+2 speed for Shoryuken and +0-1 Range for Knee Bash).  So you should always be pressing to move into and continually strike at Range 1 then, right?  What I’m about to say is the secret to unlocking Ken’s true power: Ken is at his best at Range 2.  

To drive this point home, let’s look at what may be Ken’s best special attack: Axe Kick.  Thanks to its “Ignore Armor” clause, seasoned players will know that it is dangerous to play Block against Ken at close range while Axe Kick is live.  Further, if you can afford to critical Axe Kick by paying one gauge, it becomes an on curve attack at Range 2, beating Cross if you were the one to initiate the Strike (Critical is the Season 3 mechanic, whereby Street Fighter characters can spend one gauge when setting their attack to gain access to that attack’s critical text).  If you were at Range 1, you would have to worry about Grasp, but because of Axe Kick’s “step-in” (Before: Close 1) you can safely blank Grasp by using Axe Kick at Range 2.  Notably, Axe Kick still loses to both Sweep and Focus, trading marginally on damage and putting the Ken player down significantly on resources (especially if the Axe Kick was critical).  

So the answer is obvious then.  If Ken initiates a critical strike at Range 2, players should respond with Sweep or Focus, right?  Another one of Ken’s specials, Tatsumaki Senpukyaku (Tatsu for short) beats both Sweep and Focus cleanly at Range 2.  The combination of Axe Kick and Tatsu (or Spike) at Range 2 force the opponent into a high risk/high reward guessing game, with an incorrect answer resulting in a sizable chunk of damage and a refund on Ken’s gauge investment.  Ken can even throw some critical Shoryukens into this mixup in order to beat Range 2, Speed 7 attacks such as EX Cross or Akuma’s Goshoryuken (though not without risk, as Shoryuken loses just as badly as Axe Kick to Sweep and Focus).

Just saying, there might be a reason that Ken is the character featured on the art for Season 3’s Spike.

Because Ken already hits reasonably hard, his kit synergizes particularly well with Power boosts.  Fierce (Grasp’s boost) removes the ambiguity from the Range 2 mixup we detailed above.  With +2 Power, Axe Kick will beat Cross, Block, Sweep, and Focus.  The boost on Ken’s Hadoken, Overpower, is also useful for this, providing +1 Power and the opportunity to strike immediately.  This blanks Focus and denies the opponent the opportunity to reposition or tech your boost on their turn.  True Master (the boost on Guren Senpukyaku) all but guarantees a win for the next strike, and is a card I actively look to mulligan into if it is not present in my starting hand.

Ken is at his best against characters that want to continually position out of close range to be most effective, such as Eugenia, Syrus, or Sagat.  Against these types of characters, Ken can control the pace of a match, gaining resources with his UA while he moves into his preferred ranges.  Once there, opponents may find it difficult to escape, especially if Ken is in Exceed mode, where his UA gives him a steady stream of resources while allowing him to continue to strike every turn and maintain the initiative.  Conversely, Ken can have trouble against characters who greatly benefit from sticking to Range 1.  Specifically, Zangief’s powerful options and dangerous UA at Range 1 make him a tough opponent for Ken.  

Mistakes were made this game.

As another weakness, Ken is fundamentally playing a fair game of Exceed.  I spent paragraphs praising the dynamic gameplay around Axe Kick, an attack that requires gauge to be on curve at its preferred range.  Characters that get to break the normal rules of Exceed can also give Ken trouble.  Remiliss is a nightmare, with her ability to create and empower EX attacks whenever Ken starts to gain momentum.  The Radiation Transformation  (on Toxic Tendrils) is particularly difficult to deal with, as it makes EX Grasp effective at Range 2, opening up Remiliss’s options in Ken’s best range.  While an Exceeded Zsolt is scary for just about anyone, Ken suffers more than most from chained together attacks with advantage, as this denies Ken his stat boosts for being the one to initiate a strike.

Range 1-2, Speed 8 EX Grasp on demand. Good luck!

Ken is relatively simple to pick up and play, appropriate for his status as one of the demo deck characters (along with Ryu).  His game plan of sticking close to the opponent and maintaining momentum via initiating strikes is easy to grasp, which allows Ken players to focus on the fundamentals of Exceed.  He also has some powerful options, making him a reasonably competitive choice.  This makes Ken a great character to grow with, as he will reward increasing understanding of the game as one’s mastery of Exceed’s systems mature.

So that’s a wrap on our first post in what we hope will be a long running blog series. I’m an Exceed enthusiast, not an Exceed expert, so I welcome discussion and constructive criticism on this post. Let me know if you enjoyed it, or if there is something specific you would like to see covered in a future post!

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9 thoughts on “A New Challenger: Ken Masters

  1. You nailed it! Ken, like Sagat, is a character who rewards effort and mastery due to the deceptively intricate interactions between his effects and attacks. When he identifies a weakness, he can Boost either Overpower or Quick Attack to hit the breakpoint he needs to win the game. If the opponent has options they think are safe, he can use Tatsumaki Senpukyaku, Spike, and even Cross to trick them into playing answers at the wrong time!

    New Ken players tend to take their character action on the first turn and Boost with Axe Kick, but experienced Ken players seldom do either of those things. He’s a great example of “easy to play, difficult to master.” Or should I say, to True Master? =P

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I just got into exceed and coming from a tcg background these are the types of strategy write ups I love to read. Keep it up and hope to see more, especially of the street fighter variety 😉


  2. Great article! Ken, along with Sagat are some of my favorite characters in Exceed: SF so it was fun reading someone else describe what makes Ken so cool. One of my favorite aspects of Ken compared to a lot of Exceed characters is the room for creativity in offense with him, and the necessity to use all those crazy plays to catch the opponent out and bait their answers. For example, R2 Crit Knee Bash would normally be kind of meh, though it does cover Cross and EX Cross if you’re expecting that, but against Remiliss it could be the exact thing you need to beat out her Speed 8 1~2 Grasp.

    Ken’s resource generation is also so high that you can commit big on bluffs to cover expected answers to your standard plays which, when it works, is super fun. He also has a ton of room to use cards in different ways to handle different matchup needs as they arise; almost none of the cards you draw feel dead with him.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the comment! Crit Knee Bash at R2 certainly is a bold play. Smart point about covering Cross and EX Cross though. I honestly didn’t think of it as an answer to EX Range 2 Grasp, as I always viewed Knee Bash more as a gap closer/anti-Cross card. Hearing your thoughts just made me learn something new about a match-up I’ve been struggling with! Thanks again!


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