Character Difficulty Tiers?

Hey KI Community,

I’ve been swapping among a bunch of characters, lately and, paired with my experiences against the whole cast, I’m starting to theorize about tier lists. Not “good-to-bad” tier lists. Rather, from “noobs can do well pretty quickly” to “this guy or girl requires a deep understanding of KI” for basic pick-up-and-play proficiency. Here’s my first stab at it. What do you guys and girls think?

Prelude: I’m going to be editing these lists to reflect the insightful feedback in the comments. If you see someone commenting about a character in the wrong place, it might be the old place that’s wrong–not the current place.

Assumptions about the “New” Players this List Addresses

  1. You’re playing without combo assist (i.e. you ultimately want to be good at the game)
  2. You could be brand new to KI or brand new to fighters
  3. You’re mostly playing against other new players (i.e. letting matchmaking do the work)
  4. Your aim is getting better at the game and playing it or fighters in general over the long term

In other words, this list helps a new player who wants to be good get started :slight_smile:

Tier 1: Character’s Full Potential is Far from Obvious–Playing against Other New Players will Usually Have you at a Disadvantage

  • Gargos
  • General RAAM
  • Omen
  • Kan Ra
  • Kim Wu
  • Aria
  • Aganos

Tier 2: Will Frustrate New Players at First, but Overcoming that Frustration is Relatively Straightforward

  • Glacius
  • Spinal
  • Fulgore
  • Maya
  • Riptor
  • Cinder
  • Arbiter
  • Mira

Tier 3: New Players can Succeed against other New Players without Complication

  • Shadow Jago
  • Jago
  • Hisako
  • Thunder
  • Sadira
  • Sabrewulf
  • TJ Combo
  • Tusk
  • Rash
  • Orchid

um I think you missed Orchid, I’m guessing she’d be on the bottom

1 Like

Riptor definitely doesn’t require a mastery of KI to climb ranks with. I disagree with a lot of the other categorizations as well, but that one stands out.

1 Like

Thunder for sure takes skill to use and gets wrecked very easily against zones if you don’t know what to do

1 Like

I think this is a great idea. I think your categorization is a bit off. People are going to get hung up on how difficult the character is to win tournaments with (which is a traditional tier list) instead of focusing on how easy the character is to pick up and play. I would change “climb the ranks quickly” to something more like “will be able to play reasonably well quickly.” And change “mastery level” to something more like “advanced.” I know this seems nit-picky (and it is) but since every KI character requires mastery level skill to play at a high level, you want people focused on the primary value here not splitting hairs about your definitions.

At a quick glance, I would move Shago to the medium tied. He’s not that easy to use for a noob. If move Thunder and Sadira up as well.

Kim Wu should go up a tier, and I would put Glacius and Hisako right on the edge one way or the other.

I might move Cinder down. He’s pretty easy to learn basics with - but hard to pull off advanced tactics.

1 Like

Your feedback was really helpful, thanks!

I’ve adjusted a bit to reflect it. I changed the tier names to avoid confusion with a tournament-viability tier list. Also made some character movements:

  1. Hisako in bottom tier: Her role as a defensive counter-attack character is really obvious from day 1, because there’s really not much else she does well. Her rekka is a screen-control tool that makes new players feel like gods, because other new players don’t know how to counter it.

  2. Riptor down a tier to mid. Getting her movement down takes some time, but she does have a ton of safe moves. Her pounce even bounces off blocks and allows a follow-up fireball. So, she’s really forgiving.

  3. Cinder down to mid. I’m not sure why, but after you mentioned it I feel it, intuitively. I’m open to more feedback on him.

  4. Shago still feels like a bottom-tier character to me. From the outset, it’s clear the Shago’s game is confusion. All you have to do is execute a few of his specials and dash once to recognize that. At low levels, his divekick and his slide will nail opponents 95% of the time, so new players can feel god-like with him. Surging his specials also has really intuitive effects–when I use some meter, the special works more often. Admittedly, they’ll hit a hard wall once they reach players who know how to counter him, but he’s still a safe bet for new players while they’re in their “new” phase with the game.

  5. I still think Thunder is bottom-tier. His mid-low mixup during a combo executes automatically, meaning opening someone up as a new player barely requires awareness of what “opening up” is. And, his instinct makes crossing opponents up on the ground really intuitive. He, like all characters, absolutely has top-tier tech. This list is about using these characters at a level of basic competence. (this is in response to @Diamonvision’s comment)

Great call, thanks! I agree the she’s a good fit for bottom tier.

I’d say Shago and Rash deserve an even lower tier for themselves. New players can pick them and completely destroy other new players. Heck even mid level players come on here and complain about spamming Shago’s and Rashes being difficult to deal with.

I’d put Cinder in the Top Tier and RAAM in mid TBH.

I’d put ramm on bottom tier due to scrubs can wreck people with his instinct.

Top Tier: Character’s Full Potential is Far from Obvious–Pick-up-and-Play will Make New Players Salty
General RAAM
Kan Ra

Mid Tier: Will Frustrate New Players Until they Get the Hang of It

Kim wu

Bottom Tier: New Players Can Understand Most of their Potential Very Quickly–Pick-up-and-Play feels Good

Shadow Jago
TJ Combo

Thanks for your input! I imagine Cinder will be hotly debated when it comes to top- or mid-tier. Getting his movement tricks down is really tough, but a lot of his moves are safe, so he’s pretty forgiving.

I’m curious about RAAM, though. Why do you see him in mid-tier instead of top? So far, for me at least, he’s been the character for whom frame data is the most important. After you flip someone out, for example, you can command grab if the other person tries to throw or block. If he jumps, however, you have to Kryll swarm to stop him. And the timing is so quick that the decision is based mostly on gut feel. His OTG game is also a mind game, because opponents can break it really easily. His normals are mostly good, but they’re either slow (lots of startup frames) or they’re unsafe. Opening someone up with a safe move means timing a really slow opener (light stab, for instance) so that it lands without being interrupted. And opening someone up with a fast move means you’d better hope the opponent isn’t blocking.

Personally, I would put him mid, because compared to a lot of the beginners list his special move commands can confuse someone starting out …most of the beginners you can spam opener/linker moves and pull off a decent combo, such as Jago’s qcb moves. But Thunder, especially if you spam triple ax, you’ll end up pulling off a Sammamish and ending your combo unintentionally fairly often. It can really throw a beginner off until they learn to take their time & be deliberate with their commands. I remember with me it was a rather large hurdle to get over.

As someone who recently started playing these types of fighting games in general (Smash only for pretty much the last 15 years), I can tell you that you’re not taking into account a couple of things that real noobs fall for simply because you’ve been playing fighting games for so long. For instance: I still struggle with the fact that during combos and juggles I have to be inputting the next move before the move I’m currently doing is done animating and thus play a half second ahead of where I’m used to. Things that you take for granted are things that noobs find frustrating.

  1. Difficulty of button inputs: After almost 3 weeks of practice in training mode and 6-8 hours playing against NPCs, I still can’t do the ■■■■■■■ DP motion correctly 100% of the time. Quarter circles are easy, but half the time I end up doing QCF instead of DP and as a result I STILL can’t beat the anti-air section of the dojo despite a couple of hours of attempts because I can’t consistently do uppercut into DP into Shadow DP (got the first 2, can’t get the last). This makes characters like Sabrewulf for the up downs and Rash really appealing because his special moves are all quartercircles and fairly easy target combos.

  2. Juggling difficutly. Learning the exact timing you need to juggle someone with Maya, Cinder, Sadira, or anyone else is actually quite difficult for someone that’s not used to these types of game mechanics. The hitbox of a falling person is different than a standing one and it makes it somewhat difficult to visualize where exactly they’re going to be and when you need to hit your buttons. For someone who is still having trouble with the concept of inputting buttons while you’re already doing moves, this is exacerbated dramatically. Any character that requires knowledge of juggling to be good has to be at least mid tier (I’d personally put Cinder higher due to having to master 3 directions of trailblazer and a ton of juggling combos).

  3. Manual timings. This is stuff I haven’t much bothered with except on accident, but learning manual timings is extremely difficult because there’s really no dojo for anyone except Jago, so it’s all trial and error in practice mode to get the timing. One thing I have learned, however, is that every character has slightly different manual timing, some are more difficult than others. I don’t know enough to make quality judgments here, but it should be a factor.

Just a few extra things to think about. This list seems to be geared towards "You played SF or MK for years now you’re coming to KI, who should you play? Rather than “You just started playing fighting games, who should you play?”

EDIT: And I don’t want anyone to think I’m salty. This stuff is mostly just a list of stuff I know I need to improve. I enjoy the challenge and know that a lot of this stuff, especially the DP motion, is just a rite of passage that everyone that’s picked up fighting games has had to work through. I’m just pointing out that some really, really new players have concerns that long time players no longer think about.


I don’t know why everyone thinks TJ is easy to use. If I where a newcomer, I would be so intimidated because he has so many special moves.

TJ has easy motions (b-f, d-u) for his specials which are fast and their use is obvious. That doesn’t make him necessarily easy to win with, but you usually don’t have trouble with TJ wondering “what am I supposed to do next?” And most people don’t have trouble with executing his moves. Tricky juggles are a part of his more advanced gameplan but even then it’s not really hard to see the strategy.

@deth2munkies you are so right. DP moves are taken for granted by the FGC. We really have two different categories of KI beginner - those who have played other fighters and those who haven’t. Probably we need a revised structure and the very easiest tier should exclude anyone with a DP. Jago is considered a good beginner character because he is so similar to a SF shoto character, but if you can’t DP you really can’t play Jago very well.


You know I never really considered Sadira “easy” as much as she is simply fun to use. I would put her in the mid-tier because while her jumping antics are pretty easy to pick up, how to correctly use her advanced juggles as well as use her Instinct not so much.

In fact I still see many regular Sadiras who can’t jump cancel, and drop webs in the most random of places.

She IS easy to pick up, BUT she is very hard to master.

1 Like

That’s an amazing write up. I totally understand the feeling of being new to fighters in general. To be honest, dragon punch input is really hard in general, unless you’re using a stick, which is otherwise unnecessary.

Mastering a character takes tremendous skill and knowledge of the game no matter who the character is. This list is about characters that let you feel good and perform relatively well long before you master them. Here are some things re: your points to consider:

  1. Difficult button inputs: dragon punches are good fast anti-air moves. A new player will rarely need to use dragon punches, because they’ll mostly be playing against other new players. These other new players won’t often know how to get tricky in the air in ways that require dragon punch counters. Jago, for instance, can rely completely on his down+HP as an anti-air when a player is new. Dragon punch anti-air is a technique that differentiates beginner Jagos from experienced Jagos. However, beginner players will still feel at home with Jago even without his dragon punch.

  2. Juggling: This is straight-up an advanced mechanic. New players can easily win games with the low-tier characters against other new players without juggling at all.

  3. Manuals: Like juggling, new players don’t even need manuals. Manuals are meant to confuse someone who knows how to break combos. New players do not know how to break combos, so manuals at the beginner stage are unnecessary.

Every character in KI has top-tier mechanics and tech that require higher levels of mastery to perform. However, what separates the bottom tier from the top tier on this list is the degree to which new players using the characters need to use the tricky stuff in order to succeed against other new players. Sadira’s on the low end, for example, because picking up a simple air combo is pretty easy after you gain a few levels with her (her throw pops the opp up, then jump+MK is an air auto-double, then finish out with a heavy fireball). Recapturing and advanced air combos make great Sadira players great, but new Sadira players don’t need them at all to succeed against other new players.

I dunno, Jago’s Tiger’s Fury is not only a better anti-air in a lot of situations, it’s also his damage ender, so it feels pretty essential to me. Same thing with air juggling with Maya and Cinder in particular since a lot of their better setups rely on it.

Then again, I’ll admit, I’m part of the casual/hardcore crowd: I love theorycrafting and research, but when it comes to playing the game, I just don’t have the time or motivation to put in the countless hours of practice to truly get to the top level. So to me, knowing how to do your optimal combos is really important. Sure, you can win with Jago at low levels without ever using his DP, but getting anywhere past that low level is going to require mastery of not only how to do the input, but the timing. Same thing with juggles and same thing with characters that have really easily breakable autodoubles (i.e. Aganos) learning how to do manuals.

While you can win at low levels with any character just by playing a better neutral with normals and not even bothering with combos. I think you have to take into account that people are going to want to go from brand new to at least semi-competent with the character, and I think that leap is a lot easier with certain characters than it is with some that are easy to just pick up and play.

It’s just another dimension to look at, I realize it makes a tier list very difficult to actually make, but that’s just the way I look at things.

I actually think TJ is one of the harder chacters for new players. If you mash with him you often drop your combo because of his auto barrage combo trait. And down up can be a tricky input (I struggle with it) as if your timing is off you end up jumping instead of doing the special it certainly took me some practice when using a stick.

I think Riptor is still the easiest character for new players to pick up just back forward inputs, and fireball movements in addition to a combo trait that pretty much lead to Combo-Assist.

Mastery is entirely different but in terms of a characters initial learning curve I think riptor and Sabre are the easiest.