There’s a lot of weight resting on the shoulders of TEKKEN 8 after 7’s rampant success. Accounting for almost one fifth of franchise-wide sales with a staggering 10 million units sold, TEKKEN 7 marked a turning point for the series as it became more mainstream then ever. It’s a daunting performance to follow up, which is precisely the reason why TEKKEN 8 isn’t playing it safe.
Thanks to Bandai Namco Entertainment, we’ve been lucky enough to go hands-on with TEKKEN 8 to see how these changes pan out for ourselves. After two hours of cramming in as many VS Battles as possible, I’ve come away from TEKKEN 8 excited to play more. From Michael Murray’s opening keynote to getting my hands on the controller, it’s clear that aggression is the name of the game in TEKKEN 8.
TEKKEN 8 feels tailor made with competition in mind, both to satisfy the perspective of viewers and players. It offers the white knuckle do-or-die moments from TEKKEN 7 melded with a style of play that encourages you to always be looking for openings in neutral. This is also something of a cause for concern, though, with a glaring lack of defensive options in the face of this design philosophy that often gives way to limitations in the ways you can respond to an overly oppressive opponent.
TEKKEN 8’s doubling down on aggressive play primarily comes in the form of the Heat. You can enter a Heat state once per round for 10 seconds, providing additional advantage on hit and on block, as well as bolstering or even changing the properties of certain moves. It should be noted that the Rage system is still here, sans TEKKEN 7’s Rage Drives, working hand-in-hand with Heat as opposed to replacing it.
The most interesting options offered up to you in Heat are the Heat Dash, and Heat Smash. The former is a quick dash that can be cancelled to apply pressure, and lead into mix-ups, where the latter is a hefty attack that cashes in the rest of your Heat state in exchange for a good bit of damage. Both of these require Heat Gauge to activate, with Heat Dash consuming one charge, and Heat Smash consuming them all as a result of exiting your Heat state early.
There’s two ways you can enter a Heat state in any given round – Heat Burst, and Heat Engager. Burst is the most simple, activated with a single button across all characters that’s handy in a pinch. Engagers on the other hand, require specific attacks to connect with your opponent in order to trigger Heat, each character sporting roughly five moves each that are capable of this. If you’re wondering why you’d ever opt to use the Engager as opposed to a Burst, it’s because Burst only gives you one charge of Heat Gauge, where Engagers give you two.
These facets in tandem with Heat’s inherent power create tense moments of consideration amongst the chaos. Do you pop Heat now through a Burst to shift momentum in your favour? Or do you wait for an opening to land an Engager, giving you even more options to keep your opponent guessing. Despite my limited time with the game, Heat offered a unique layer of strategy that I can see getting much deeper when the game is able to be dissected fully. It lends to momentum-shifting rounds that aren’t over until someone’s fighter is on the ground.
Being on the receiving end of a beating, only to worm your way into landing a Heat Engager that fundamentally alters the course of a seemingly unwinnable round is exhilarating, and always kept me on the edge of my seat. Recoverable Gauge also contributes to this back-and-forth quite heavily, which allows you to recover a portion of blocked damage through attacking. It’s when all of these systems coalesce into a round where both players are hanging on by a thread, baiting one another into popping Rage Arts or hitting a risky button, that TEKKEN 8 feels like a beast all its own in comparison to its predecessors.
The one area where this hard focus on aggression felt off was in the defense options afforded to the player in TEKKEN 8. You can most definitely still have a defensive play style, opting to employ movement tools and blocking to catch your opponent off-guard when they hit one too many buttons. In terms of other mechanics, though, the preview build we played had none, which often led to turtling when faced with an opponent entering Heat or going on the offensive.
One player entering Heat was usually met with the other doing the same to even the odds, and I can’t help but wonder what the addition of a couple of dedicated defence mechanics would do to change things up. The design intent here is clear, and I suspect some things will shift in regards to the oppression of Heat and how to answer it as we learn to understand TEKKEN 8 further, but it’s a current cause for concern nonetheless.
The move to more aggressive play, comes with new characters, and subtly changed fan favourites. The build we played gave us access to 10 fighters, from series mainstays like Jin, Kazuya, and King to less frequent characters like Jun Kazama and of course the all-new Jack-8. While it’s a little disappointing this build didn’t show off any truly new characters, I’ve no doubt that the final roster will introduce a few fresh faces to the line-up.
What’s presented here, though, was immensely fun to play with on the whole, offering familiar playstyles melded with new additions to keep things feeling new. Heat Engagers are to be found exactly where you’d expect, and playing as empowered versions of these characters when entering Heat offers new ways to make use of iconic attacks. King’s Heat Smash, for example, is a grab, staying true to the character’s identity and game plan even when you’re rushing down your opponent.
There’s also a concerted effort here to make TEKKEN more understandable and approachable to those who’ve yet to dive in proper. On top of simplifying Rage Arts and Heat Smashes to one button affairs, TEKKEN 8 also introduces the Special Style control scheme. Special Style combines the Easy Combo and Assist features of TEKKEN 7 and takes them further. It’s primarily designed for new players, but can also serve as a learning tool when trying to pick up a new character.
When in Special Style, hitting the same button results in a relatively straightforward auto combo that showcases what a character is best at. It also gives players a shortcut to Power Crushes, and aerial combos, which can serve as a basis for building familiarity with a character’s strengths and weaknesses. This palette of auto combos will change as the state of your character does, accommodating for Heat and Rage as a round progresses. It’s worth mentioning these combos are far from optimal, and aim to make the game more enjoyable for those who struggle with executing intricate and long-winded combos.
During the keynote, Michael Murray described the concept of TEKKEN 8 as full-powered, thrilling, and exciting. Visceral one-on-one battles where you feel the impact of every single attack. TEKKEN has always had great game feel in comparison to other fighters due to the weightiness of its characters and the combination of visual and audio effects. The new entry is no different in this regard, only bolstered by the power of the PlayStation 5. It feels and looks like a truly next-generation fighting game.
This is most evident in TEKKEN 8’s stages and character designs. Bursting at the seams with attention to detail, lively backgrounds, and some truly gorgeous weather effects. There were few stages for us to pick from in the preview build, but each offers something distinct both visually, and in gameplay. Character designs have a similar degree of care poured into them, offering fresh spins on storied fighters that are always developed with their core identities in mind.
Where fighting games are becoming more popular and more accessible, I was glad to find that TEKKEN 8 is still undeniably TEKKEN in all of its breadth and complexity. That isn’t to say there aren’t efforts to appeal to the casual fanbase a little bit more here – quite the opposite – but more that TEKKEN 8 embraces the reputation of the series with undeniable fervour.
There’s a clear commitment to delivering a unique type of play within the scope of TEKKEN, as well as creating something that warrants the description of being a truly next-gen fighting game. Though I’m uncertain as to how all of its systems will come together in totality, TEKKEN 8 seems like it’s going to be a remarkably good time for both fans and newcomers alike when it launches in the next 12 months.
The author travelled to Singapore as a guest of Bandai Namco Entertainment for the purposes of this preview and interview content.