Ken has the same basic strategy as Ryu. His fireball pressure isn’t quite as good, but his Shoryuken has a wide horizontal sweep and he’s got some cheap grab setups.
Ken’s fierce Shoryuken has such a long range that you can’t fake a wall dive on him. Only use wall dives to go off his wall, then float right above him and steer behind his antiair.
Ken can air hurricane into a grab, then follow up that grab with a crossup, Jab Shoryuken, tick throw or nothing. This is where he’s most dangerous, so never let him start the shenanigans. At sweep range Ken can vary his air hurricane timing to make the crossup ambiguous, you never want to be at this range.
O.Ken loses the grab and the crappy kick moves, but his basic fireball/dp game are improved. Play him honestly, poke his whiffs, interrupt his fireballs with C.MP when you can.
One of the main things you have to watch out for is that his hurricane kick has some invincibility to it. It will eat some of your pokes, and can shut down some of your wakeup options. If you’re dealing with a player that likes it, play midrange and predict with C.HP pokes to hit him out of it.
Top Tier Ken
The best Ken players are a different breed. They play precise so it’s very difficult to get your normal game going against them. Here’s how it plays out:
From long range, they’re happy to throw fireballs at you all day. They are looking for you to jump or wall dive. Ken’s fierce DP has such a wide sweep that they can reach you in the air from a long distance away. The best Kens can reliably DP in the other direction while being crossed up, which significantly slows down your wall dive game. Overall long range does nothing for you so you can’t spend time there unless you’re running away to preserve a large life lead.
Close range is bad too. Ken’s jab DP beats all your pokes, and hurricane kick is hard to react to. Worse he has all sorts of setups for his grab. He follows up the grab with a nasty 50/50 crossup jumping medium into a large combo or a DP or a number of tick setups into another grab. You can 3P Backflip out of this, but better Ken players catch on right away to this and will follow after you with a sweep. This can still be worth it for you, since a sweep damage isn’t that bad and his followup isn’t as strong since he’s too far away to crossup jump. Avoid this distance and stick with midrange.
Just outside sweep range is where you’ll get the most work done. At this ideal distance, you can poke Ken out of fireballs with C.MP. You can also jump fireballs and land a full combo. To do this effectively, you have to read your opponent’s tendancies. Even top shoto players have a trigger that tells them to throw fireballs. Some always do it at a certain distance, some after knockdowns, some when you show them a particular poke, and some when you bulldog a fireball. If the fireballs are forcing you out, block one and immediately jump from outside your normal jump range with a late J.MP. You can throw this out while their hands are outstretched from a fireball and connect from a very long distance. Learning this reach is an essential Vega skill.
Once you shut off his fireball game, he’s going to going to get spiky. He can try jab DP your pokes. If your reaction time is good, you can poke him on the way down, but if you’re even a little slow at this or you’re online and the game is laggy, then play it safe and don’t poke as he will recover in time and do another jab DP. Slide is your best weapon against poke hunters, since the low hitbox is easy to whiff.
If you take away his fireballs and play cautious against DPs, Ken is going to want to get in and start his mixups and cheese. You want to have your Flip Kick charged all the time, looking for a jump. Top Kens are especially good at taking micro steps back and forward to get you slightly out of your ideal range, then jumping while you reposition or they see you stand up and lose your charge. If you need to move back, 3K Backflip. If you need to go forward, Slide. If you need to go forward a little bit, take a step back and Slide, keeping your charge the entire time.
Ken can also get in with Air Hurricane Kick tricks. If Ken does a Hurricane Kick very early in his jump, it will move very fast at a low arc. Ken wants to surprise you and DP or throw right when he lands, but should always be able to to Flip Kick this if you’re expecting the possibility. Ken can do his Hurricane Kick mid-jump and the arc will be slower and higher. This can cross you up and stick you in major frame disadvantage. Sliding out is good if you can react immediately. Flip Kick done very late won’t hit him, but might get you out of danger. Early 3K Backflip will go throw his hit frames and let you recover in enough time to throw him while he’s stuck in the landing pause.
- There’s a sweet spot just inside half screen where your LP Roll will hit him out of his LP Shoryuken after the invincible frames are over. Learn this spot and spend a lot of time there. When he can’t DP you, he’ll jump, fireball or hurricane in, and you have good answers for all these.