A lot has happened in the fighting game scene since the last entry in the Tekken series. In the absence of classic franchises such as Virtua Fighter and Soul Calibur, upstarts like NetherRealm Studios have garnered audiences with their accessible and generous beat 'em ups. Ever since Tekken 7 appeared in the arcades two years ago, the build-up for its home versions has been excruciating. Every news bit or offbeat tweet by Tekken boss Katsuhiro Harada was met with much ado. The question is, can the old king reclaim its crown?
First things first. Tekken 7 is finally here and it feels just like Tekken should. Even though the game mechanics and characters are once again fine-tuned, combos you learned all those years ago still work. They come as a second nature the moment you pick up the controller and choose your favorite character. It was simply magical when I loaded up the game for the first time and took Asuka for a spin, playing her game like I always have. Only everything felt faster and more refined. Tekken's fighting system, where each face button represents one of the four limbs, has always allowed for full creative control over combos or otherwise linkable moves. It also means you are hopelessly slow if you play with your thumb. A PS4 controller is recommended for tapping the face buttons with fingertips.
Characters can possess up to 100 individual moves but it's never been the purpose to learn them all. The idea is to practice the moves suited best to your preferred playing style. With such a large of pool of punches, kicks, throws and counter attacks, you're sure to adopt a unique fighting concept. For example, I've yet to meet Asuka online who fights like me. I'm not saying it's the best way but it's my way. The flexible system also allows plan B. If the opponent detects my initial fighting plan, I can come up with something else fast.
Tekken Revolution was an important stepping stone on the road to Tekken 7. I think many players overlooked this free-to-play game for PS3 which run from summer 2013 to this spring. It sped up the pace of the fighting from the previous Tekkens and got rid of the ridiculous floating air juggles that almost ruined Tekken Tag Tournament 2. I'm glad both these alterations to the fighting formula were carried over to Tekken 7, perhaps to a disappointment for fans of TTT2. Tekken 7 rises the tempo further and it's positively startling how fast and fluid the fighting here is. The PC version reviewed is ultra-responsive with no input lag whatsoever and the transition to Unreal engine has been painless. It all works like a charm.
Rage is a new addition to the game mechanics. When in a low health, it's possible to enter a rage stage and unleash a flurry of attacks in order to turn a desperate fight in your favor. It's not an "I win" button it might sound like as the rage is pretty much telegraphed and can be easily blocked or countered. Still, it's as close to special moves as Tekken has ever allowed for and they're criminally easy to pull of. More than anything, rage is there to add visual flair to the fights than to consistently turn the tide.
There has been shake-ups in the character roster with some of the fan favorites, like Anna Williams, Lei Wulong and the Chang girls missing, and a bunch of new fighters entering the ring. Akuma from Street Fighter series joins the ranks of big bad baddies and Heihachi Mishima's once wife and Kazuya's mother Kazumi isn't exactly human either. A hulking mess of metal and meat, Gigas hardly fits the screen. Master Raven replaces Raven with her feminine future ninja antics and Jack-7 steps in for Jack-6 (like that was a big difference!). Snooty Katarina and nervous Josie represent the busty babes while Claudio and Shaheen could pass for male models. Bubbly Lucky Chloe dances to the stage to annoy those she fells in oline games and lovely (and narcoleptic) vampire girl Eliza makes a welcome comeback from Tekken Revolution for pre-orderers. No doubt she'll be later made available for everyone.
From all the newcomers, I took a liking to Lucky Chloe and Kazumi. Chloe's elastic street dance routines fit my playing stance and Kazumi's unearthly beauty and elegant demeanor is juxtaposed with her aggressive and sporty fighting style of fast, vicious strikes and violent kicks. Eliza, who at the time won the vote to be included in Tekken Revolution from a very colorful roster of abandoned character ideas, is more fleshed out here as a fighter and her quirks, like blood sucking and dozing off, are better justified.
I like how the characters look more like dolls in Tekken 7. It's better than some photorealistic faces I necessarily wouldn't find attractive. The game looks either gorgeous or undeniably gorgeous, depending on the hardware. There's cinematic depth to the backgrounds, colors and weather effects and a sense of beauty in the movement. Hair and tapestry of the garments flow gracefully in the motion as the fighters dance around. This emphasised aesthetics is a sole reason why many characters have got a new styling and wardrobe. It's quite mesmerizing to watch a fight between Kazumi and Xiaoyu, how their skirts flutter and moves glide and connect. Granted, the stellar animation has always been there in Tekkens but somehow it's elevated in detail and fluency.
Tekken 7 got some nasty feedback before the release for its limited number of offline gaming modes. In the wake of a massively single-player friendly Injustice 2 that might be true to a certain extent. There's no time attack, survival, tag team or traditional Tekken force to be found. As for the latter, good riddance, I always hated it anyway. For reclusive fighters there are only a Mishima saga story mode, an arcade mode with a whopping five battles, treasure battles and VS with two local players.
The story focuses on the bitter feud between Heihachi Mishima and his son Kazuya. Despite of the dramatic premise, the heights the tale takes come off unintentionally comical. Lots of time is spent on fighting against lines of mundane clone soldiers and the normal game rules don't really apply. There's even a story assist button as a shortcut to easy and powerful moves. The story mode is not entirely without merits though. There are some striking picture compositions and embarrassingly enough I even shed a tear in the end (or maybe it was that extra glass of wine I had).
Overall the Mishima saga is just nonsense and its execution seems like a rush job with a mix of ill-fitting still screens, pre-rendered scenes and real-time graphics. The narrator couldn't sound more emotionless even if he tried to and kills any shreds of the credibility. It would be completely insane to put too much emphasis on the Mishima saga though. You play it once, unlock the super-brief character episodes and then forget the whole thing. It feels like the story mode is there just because every fighting game nowadays is supposed to have one. The truth is, no matter of their quality, they're disposable goods. For example, I really enjoyed the story in Mortal Kombat X but I never returned to it after completing it.
Bare-bones single player content might be an intentional move to push players online. It's funny how people have cried over this. After all, isn't playing against human opponents in the arcades the way the fighting games were meant to be played in the first place? Online play performs well and offers the usual ranked and non-ranked matches, either in lobbies or quick games, and tournaments. At the launch at least there were lots of different characters being played. No particular fighter seemed to stand out in the crowd. Eventually it will narrow down to a few select powerhouse characters, like in any fighting game scene. People should enjoy the diversity as long as it lasts.
When taking a break from online games or it just doesn't tickle your fancy, treasure battles are where you'll be spending the most time in. Not only you gain the best offline ranks but also unlock items and earn fight money to buy more of them to customize the characters with. It's fun to dress up your favorites either in a good taste or perhaps in something so gaudy it throws off your online opponents! It takes no wizard to foresee the future DLC packs will add more game modes, characters and customization items.
The lack of comprehensive tutorial may be off-putting to newcomers. There's a practice mode but it can't replace a few good lessons in the game mechanics and rules. All you get are hints on a loading screen and one of the hints is actually telling this, as if it's a big help! As it is, Tekken 7 might appear as tailored to Tekken fans and fighting game enthusiasts overall. It should have no reason to alienate anyone though. The fighting mechanics at play are as fun as they're deep. Whether played for just an entertainment or for real as a pro, the game caters for both. At its core, Tekken is more confident than ever, building upon the series' strengths of in-depth gameplay and battle chemistry. When you get in the zone, pulling off your moves and taking control in online matches - or poking around at loss for that matter - it's probably the best I have felt in the fighting games.
It's hard to criticize Tekken 7 for skimping on the offline content when the fighting and the feel for the game are this good. I applaud Harada-san and his team for sticking to the basics and believing in what they're doing, only letting their guard down to let the ridiculously embarrassing story mode slip in. It comes down to a question of Western abundance versus Japanese purism whether Tekken 7 hits the sweet spot. I know I will vouch for the latter any day over superfluous frills. Tekken 7 is the most fun and exhilarating I've had with the fighting games in years and I have pretty much played them all. Virtua Fighter 3 might be forever etched in my heart as my favorite beat 'em up but Tekken 7 is the best these days offer. There are fighting games. Then there's Tekken. The king is back.
Video game nerd & artist. I've been playing computer and video games since the early 80's so I dare say I have some perspective to them. When I'm not playing, I'm usually at my art board.