I can count all the franchises from my childhood that have stood the test of time on one hand, Tekken being one of them. Tekken 2 was one of the first video games that blew my mind when 6-year-old me played his first games console, and from that day on the Tekken franchise has held a very special place in my heart. The comforting thing about holding a fighting franchise dear to you is the satisfaction and confidence that a fighting game can never be awful. Sure, Tekken has stumbled once or twice during its 20-odd year bout, but without question it has always been regarded as the absolute best, nay the champion, in arcade fighting … so does this championship belt still shine brightly upon the 7th major release? Is Tekken still a strong contender 20 years later? Get ready for the next battle!
Tekken 7 is the latest release from the legendary fighting franchise from Bandai Namco, available right now for PS4, XboxOne and PC. This new addition in the fighting series marks its 9th entry in 23 years and focuses on the intense and lengthy feud of the delightful Mishima family, notably Head honcho Heihachi, Devil-ridden Son Kazuya and mardy Devil-ridden grandson Jin. Boasting a roster of 38 characters, Tekken 7 has the largest selection of fighters in the main series to date, 30 of which are returning favourites and 8 who are making their debut. Avid fans can expect similar game modes to what they’ve come to enjoy, an arcade mode, VS mode for local mulitiplayer, vast customisation options and an extensive single player story mode that takes you through the climatic finale of the Mishima Bloodline narrative. Hardcore Tekken fans have been frothing at the mouth in anticipation for home release since arcade goers have had the luxury already at sampling the game’s new fight presentation and mechanics, and now that it’s finally here does it still pack a knockout punch? In short, Tekken’s gameplay has never been better, however everything around it is somewhat disappointing.
It’s fair to say that innovation can be hard to find when it comes to a fighting game, after all what more do you need besides punching, kicking and throwing the odd magic shape at one another. It’s also fair to say that if you’ve not played a Tekken game for a while but you have sampled one in the past, you’ll be able to pick this new one up and hold your own pretty comfortably. For the most part anyway. There may not be any obvious signs of innovation from the outside, however what Bandai Namco have done instead is making this 9th Tekken game create more exciting, chaotic and competitive fights that can change hands in a matter of seconds. The most notable addition to your arsenal is the all new RAGE meter which automatically triggers the moment you enter a dangerous level of health, that not only makes your strikes more powerful, but it also gives you the ability to unleash a devastating attack that can turn the tide of any losing fight, Rage Art. Activating this terrorising manoeuvre will invoke a cool cinematic barrage of attacks that can literally deplete your opponent’s health in half, or better still, defeat them in one swoop. Admittedly, being such a huge Tekken fan for such a long time, activating this attack, though awesome, isn’t very Tekken and it did feel a little peculiar landing it the first time, but regardless, it can add an extra layer of frantic competitiveness knowing that your combatant is on the ropes and could still win; weakened players can also inflict Rage Drive, which sacrifices your Rage meter in favour of powering up particular attacks. It’s not just flashy new power moves that have been added to your offense but also subtle ones such as ‘Power Crush’, a form your chosen fighter takes to ensure you still hit the powerful move you are building up. During Power Crush, you’ll still take some damage, however you will not be knocked to the ground or have your attack disrupted by your enemy, meaning for a small price you can still deal a great amount of damage. Not only has Tekken been improved in its slick, faultless fighting, but all new presentation and visual aids have been added to each fight, my personal favourite being the tense, nerve wracking slow motion camera that activates when both fighters go for an attack at the exact same time, causing everyone to shriek at the screen if it’s a win or lose situation. I think with any other game or franchise, you would be forgiven for being a little mift that after 20 odd years nothing much has changed, however here it’s clear to see and so evidently from the first match you play that Tekken has never been better, this is an incredibly satisfying and greatly enjoyable button masher.
‘The Mishima Saga’ is Tekken 7’s hotly anticipated, original story mode, the title’s prized fighter, and on paper that’s exactly how it’s described, however despite how epic it tries to present itself, in reality there’s just no character or drive throughout. The story follows and ultimately concludes the history of the Mishima bloodline feud and the world war caused by their rival corporations. This story, a tale spanning 9 games across 23 years, a narrative revolving around global domination and demonic beings… is wrapped up by a monotoned, bland and pointless journalist who just so happens to be investigating the family. Disappointing isn’t the right word, but crap does come close. Even being a huge fan, I can happily admit that the Tekken story is rather farfetched and confusing at the best of times, but with its bizarre cast, epic showdowns and satanic undertones, I’ve always been immensely thrilled playing through this weird nonsense, so you can imagine my anger and frustration finding out that it all boils down to a boring clump of mehs, pffts and yawns. Sometimes I’ll give a boring story the benefit of the doubt if the gameplay greatly and positively outweighs it, and though Tekken’s 7 fighting is pure class, the ‘Saga’ battles themselves are just as boring, formulaic and predictable as ever. Almost every chapter is made up of a round that involves you killing countless goons or JACKs, followed by a challenging yet sometimes unfair 2 round match against another cast member; most characters need to be defeated twice, yet you fail after being knocked out once, prompting you to start again and for mild game rage to commence. This map of boring cutscene, followed by goon attack, followed by boss battle, followed by boring cutscene, followed by goon attack, followed by boss battle, followed by … you get the picture. As you’ll only be tackling 1 or 2 matches every chapter, you’ll be swapping in and out of the shoes of various fighters, meaning you never get used to controlling 1 fighter and developing your skill with them, causing me in some cases to just wish the match away as quickly as possible. That being said, one decent feature has been added to counteract this, Story Asist, which means at the push of a single button you create a shortcut to executing a number of powerful or handy moves. This cheat helps guide newcomers through the story with ease, making sure you’re not stuck on a particular stage simply because you can’t pull off decent moves with the person you’ve got, however all it did was help me complete each stage quicker and get the story wrapped up and out the way. Tekken is a thrilling, nerve-wracking fighting game, yet I’ve never seen its flagship single player campaign delivered so tediously before.
As well as the story’s excruciatingly slow pace, dull narration and predictable level layout, the fact that the narrative only really revolves around half a dozen characters means for the most part you’ll be fighting with the same people, against the same people. If your favourite contestant is any one of the Mishima clan or their ever-expanding family tree, you’re in luck, however for those of us that love playing as King, Law or even bad ass Kuma the bear, you’ll be sorely disappointed. That being said, my eyes lit up the moment I noticed that within the game’s gallery, each fighter had their own ending movie which could be unlocked after completing their Character Episode within the story mode. “Great” I thought, “this is the Tekken I’ve come to love, an arcade mode with a silly and overdramatic movie to be rewarded with” … or at least I though that’s what I was getting, instead I’m treated to a few lines of backstory, 1 match and an almost pointless cut scene semi-relevant to the game’s main story. Yay. To make matters worse, said Arcade mode is only 5 fights long and drastically lacks the same level of difficulty from its past incarnations. This isn’t the Tekken experience I’ve grown up with and certainly not the Tekken experience I expected to be getting.
Tekken 7’s actual fighting modes may be a little more miss than hit, however what is a strike in the right direction is the simply staggering customisation mode. Tekken has never been afraid to embrace the bizarre, and what’s more bizarre than fighting as an 8-foot killer robot wearing a penguin hat in bright pink sequin trousers? Yes, nothing! Customise every inch of your chosen fighter with 1000s of silly hats, accessories, jackets, masks, absolutely anything you could want someone to wear, it’s there, ready to be bought with your hard-earned fight money, or to unlock playing through the series’ new Treasure mode. Considering that Bandai Namco have made a big deal about Tekken 7 being a celebration for the series, you’ll be thrilled to hear that you can purchase classic costumes for the franchise regulars, and if you’re lucky enough to own this on PS4 you can also customise your listening experience by making a playlist featuring every piece of music from every Tekken game, which is awesome to say the least. Tekken 7 may not be packed to the rafters in riveting content, but it is bursting at the seams with stupid and wonderful items and clothes to really customise your game with, and with the all new Treasure mode rewarding you with some money-can’t-buy items, there’s a genuinely exciting reason to play.
I have tried my best to keep this review non-biased and fair, but the sheer love I have had for this franchise for 20 years of my life has made it difficult to do so. Don’t get me wrong, Tekken 7 is a brilliant fighting game and without a doubt in my mind the finest and most polished fighting game on the market today. Period. All new brutal finishers, slow motion K.O cam, refined combo damage, the actual fighting comes second to none and is an obvious and massive step up from not just Tekken games that have come before, but fighting games that have come before. That being said, everything around it just bleeds disappointment, and the lack of a lengthy and challenging arcade mode means that once you’ve finished the bland story mode it’s multiplayer or nothing. If Bandai Namco repeat what they did with Tekken Tag Tournament 2, updating it with new characters and making improvements throughout its tenure (for free mind), then Tekken 7 could become an essential purchase, but with the content this light, maybe it should have stayed an arcade exclusive for just a little longer.