Street Fighter V Beta Ken Impressions
To the surprise of no one, Ryu’s fiery rival returns in Street Fighter V. What people didn’t expect was the transformation he’s made in the process. Sporting a different look and possessing many different properties in his move set, the separation between the two shotos is clearer than ever. Ken’s moves are certainly flashier than Ryu’s, but the choice to use one over the other is more complicated than that.
Ken has been fine-tuned to be more of an in-your-face combatant. This is immediately evident in his standing normal moves. A lot of his stuff works great at close range, but his reach is notably shorter than in previous games. The most dramatic difference is his new medium kick. Players who like to control spacing with that button will be sorely disappointed in its lack of range.
My favourite button of his now the crouching medium punch. It looks like a standard crouching medium punch, but you can link into and out of it with ease. When you pull off the full sequence of the crouching medium punch into the target combo, the end result can be devastating.
Speaking of the target combo, Ken’s classic medium punch into hard punch target combo returns in a slightly different form. For starters, you have to hold back on the medium punch for the correct medium pimch to come out. Also, the second hit now sends opponents into the air, putting them in a juggle state. Not exactly sure why this is the case, but you can still end the combo with just about any of his special moves.
If you’re looking for his step kick, you won’t find it in his normal attacks any more. Instead, the move is now tied to his V-Skill. By tapping the medium attack buttons, Ken runs forward, covering a larger distance in an instant. If you hold the buttons down, Ken will finish his run with the step kick.
Mapping the step kick to this run animation greatly reduces its usability due to the greatly increased start-up time. Also, the kick causes a knockdown now, which greatly limits your pressure options. As for the run itself, I think its only real outside of his V-Triggered state is for Crush Counter follow-ups. In cases where you land one, Ken can run forward and punish the enemy with a big follow-up. You can also use it for run stop tick throws, but you’re leaving yourself vulnerable during the entirety of the run animation.
In regards to his special moves, let’s start with his Hadoken. Ken has never had the strongest fireball, which seems to have gotten even weaker here. Maybe not in terms of damage, but definitely in terms of start-up and recovery time. You might be able to hold your own for a while in a fireball war, but you probably can’t chuck then at a pace that will win in the long run. You’ll also be at risk of getting smacked if you your opponent blocks a point blank fireball. It’s a nice tool to have, especially as a set-up move for his Critical Art, but playing a lame Ken is going to be harder than ever.
Where Ken would always outshine Ryu was in the uppercut department. Ken can still uppercut with the best of them, as his heaviest version still engulfs his fist in flame. I could be wrong on this, but I did notice a general trend against uppercut invincibility on start-up for all characters, Ken included. For that reason, you can get stuffed out of one easier. Worse yet, if you miss or your uppercut is blocked, you’re forced into a counter hit state right up until you fully recover on the ground. Savvy fighters will make you eat a max damage combo for missing, so you must be more careful when you use it. The EX version of the move gets a nice boost, as it’s now Ken’s Shoryu Reppa.
Ken’s Hurricane Kick has been changed the most. The heavy version of the move has a completely different trajectory, as it loops upwards before coming down to Earth. The EX version goes upwards like in Marvel vs. Capcom 2. I don’t think the heavy version is meant to clip opponent’s out of the air, but it looks like a more damaging version of the move that causes a knockdown.
Almost as dramatically different is the EX version of his air Hurricane Kick. Once triggered, his angle of descent changes so that it acts almost like a dive kick. On hit, opponents are sent airborne in a juggle state, opening the door for a myriad of juggle options. Neither of his Hurricane Kicks work well as cross-ups anymore without V-Trigger, but this is a neat tool in exchange.
Speaking of, Ken’s V-Trigger puts him in a powered-up state where his moves get buffed with less recovery time. His Hurricane Kick also gets a larger hitbox so that he can pull off cross-up Hurricane Kicks like he could in Street Fighter IV. While there are a number of characters in the game who have a similar type of V-Trigger, the most interesting aspect of it is its start-up animation. When activated, Ken lunges forward in a motion that can’t be cut short. On one hand, he’s vulnerable during this dash, so activating this randomly could get your face punched in. On the other hand, the extra dash can put you in better situations for combos that you wouldn’t have otherwise. Unlike Ryu’s V-Trigger, which you can pop almost at will, Ken’s is better served off of a hit confirm.
The final move we need to cover is his Critical Art. This kick attack is sort of reminiscent of Ken’s Ultra 2 in the Street Fighter IV series, but it only has one initial hit before going into the full animation. I love the fact that Ken has a ton of ways to combo into it, upping the move’s utility.
Ken is certainly the flashier of the two shotos and one that I had a lot of fun playing as in the beta. However, his cool new additional come at a price. Shorter normal attacks make it harder for him to compete in the footsies department and his overall damage output is lower unless you’re able to hit optimized combos every time. I also think his V-Skill isn’t all that useful outside of a few edge cases where it’s great. In any case, Ken is more different now than ever and that’s ultimately a good thing for character variety. He also might fit into your style of play better than ever if you’re an offensive-minded combatant.