Spanning thirty years across arcades and multiple console generations, few video game franchises can boast a coherent yet crazy narrative like Tekken does. As the catalyst for the game’s events and the ongoing “King of Iron Fist” tournaments, the Mishima bloodline saga took a huge turn when in its previous instalment, its patriarch Heihachi Mishima was defeated for good by his son Kazuya. But the fight continues in Tekken 8; Kazuya’s aspirations for global domination can only be stopped by the one man who has the power to do so – his son, Jin Kazama. This fight has been years in the making; a rivalry that sees Devil Gene-afflicted Jin struggle to control his power in his efforts to end the cursed bloodline. It’s Devil versus Devil, father versus son – and to use the game’s eponymous tagline, fist meets fate.
Putting Jin at the forefront of the story, he fights two battles; the first an internal conflict with the Devil inside him, and the second an external conflict – Kazuya’s obsession for power and world domination. Jin and Kazuya face off in Times Square in Jin’s efforts to end his father’s reign, only for him to lose control of his Devil powers and be incapacitated. As a threat to the world, Kazuya opens the next King of Iron Fist Tournament to draw out Jin and take his dormant Devil power, adding grave sanctions and consequences to the nations whose fighters lose. Fearing he could lose control again, Jin enters the tournament to square off against his father one last time; to regain the power he has lost and to put an end to the Mishima blood feud for good.
We follow Jin’s journey in a cinematic story mode through Tekken 8, as he takes part in a traditional hero’s journey to control his Devil powers and put a stop to Kazuya’s plans. Old and new faces are woven into the narrative either through the battle between Jin and Kazuya, or as part of the tournament itself – Bandai Namco doesn’t take liberties with including every fighter that it possibly could, so the starting roster of 32 all manage to find a place. Newcomer Victor Chevalier has ties to older characters such as Raven and Dragunov with a heavy military focus, while Reina’s motives are slowly revealed as she joins Jin and his band of brawlers as they seek to end Kazuya’s reign. Without spoiling too much; there’s the long-awaited return of Jin’s mother Jun Kazama, the chaotic return of Tekken 6’s big bad Azazel, and even some moments that would not be out of place from an episode of Dragon Ball Super.
The best part about Tekken 8’s newcomers is that each one has a varying degree of playability – Azucena for instance ia my favourite with her energetic and hype-filled MMA skills, while it took me a while to warm up to Victor who switches between his knife and karambit to the sci-fi sword ‘Take-Ikazuchi’ for some brutal close-quarters hits. Reina is probably the most interesting of the three, fighting with a blend of Taido and Mishima-style karate to hit opponents with power moves and grapples.
Of course once you’ve finished the main story, there’s 32 additional Character Episodes to jump into, blending miniature story modes for each character with a five-fight Arcade Mode, before ending with a character movie. Its the little things like this that allow a nostalgic feeling of slugging through ten fights in Arcade Mode with your favourite character just to get a little bit of story by the end. Arcade Battle still exists (despite the game not receiving an arcade release) but ends after your 8th battle with CPU opponents or character ghosts, so you can still pretend you’re dropping in a dollar and fighting through to the end. The only downside is, from the get-go, all characters are unlocked – so there’s no more challenge of finishing Arcade Mode numerous times over to get all the characters.
In fact Bandai Namco have taken their absence in arcades this time around and crafted their very own mode – Arcade Quest, a great mode to create your own avatar and take on challenges through several different arcades in the world of Tekken. This mode is especially great for those unfamiliar with Tekken or even if you want to hone your skills, as each arcade you battle through teaches you or refreshes you on the game’s mechanics. Think of it as a live practice mode with win conditions, such as dealing a certain amount of damage or performing particular movesets or strategies, that not only allow you to get better at Tekken but also to unlock additional rewards. Once you’ve played enough of Arcade Quest you can also unlock Super Ghost Battle mode, allowing you to create your own ghost characters and have the CPU learn how you play, to replicate your play style with each character. By battling others in Super Ghost Battle you can see how players and developers around the world fight, and use what you’ve learned in Arcade Quest to make yourself the ultimate fighter.
Tekken 8 not only wants you to be a better fighter, it also doesn’t shy away from continuing to build on the core mechanics that make Tekken one of, if not the best 3D fighters around. Tekken has never strayed from its four-button layout that assigns a left or right punch and kick to each button, but this time around there is an increased focus on offensive gameplay and aggression – improving on the ‘Rage’ system that has been in place since Tekken 6, and including a new limited ‘Heat’ mechanic. It also brings in a Special Style control mode, allowing newer players to get a feel for the game and perform some pretty damaging combos with singular button presses instead of memorising excessive inputs. Special Style can be accessed simply by pressing a trigger, and can be switched back just as easily.
The ‘Heat’ system adds a timed meter that, when activated, boosts your character’s power and opens up new and aggressive options to turn the tide of a match. Heat can be activated through various means such as Heat Burst, which acts as a Power Crush to cancel out an opponent’s attack, or through a Heat Engager, coming from a strong attack in the middle of a combo. Tactically you can only use Heat once per round, but while in a Heat state you can also utilise a Heat Smash to burn the gauge and do some significant damage to your opponent. If your opponent is a defensive type and won’t let you get a hit in, the Heat state also deals chip damage;a component of your health bar which is recoverable as long as you’re not taking additional damage. Coupled with the return of Rage and Rage Arts, there are numerous ways to deliver a comeback when you’re on the edge of losing, making each match that little bit more exciting.
If you still haven’t had your fill even after all of the modes you’ve played through, Tekken brings back yet another fan favourite from the archives in Tekken Ball. That’s right, Tekken 3’s beach ball mode makes its return in Tekken 8. Power up your moves and slam the beach ball at your opponent, but don’t be caught off-guard otherwise the ball will knock you out if it passes you, or you’ll take damage depending on the incoming hit. You can also head over to the newly improved Practice Mode, going over the basics of combo challenges and moves, as well as learning how to read opponents’ unsafe moves and fighting back to punish them.
Since Tekken 5, customisation of your character has been a big part of the game, and Tekken 8 allows three different variations of customisation – a jukebox mode to change songs throughout the entire game (you can pick from almost every Tekken arcade or console title from years past), an avatar customisation mode for your Arcade Quest and Online presence, and character customisation for each of the 32 characters available. There are some throwback outfits in the character customisation selection, but I have to say I was a little disappointed with the lack of variation. A few classic outfits appeared, but for a game that wears its heart on its sleeve when it comes to history, I would have loved to have seen some Tekken, Tekken 2 or Tekken 3 outfits for characters like Nina Williams or Kazuya Mishima, considering their tenure.
Each character has some unique items to be equipped but a lot of characters share very similar options. For instance, everyone can have a bread helmet, but it’s the same bread helmet for every character. Some items are unlockable only through gameplay, while others use the in-game money system to unlock, which is accrued through general gameplay and quite easy to obtain.
When it comes to online play, it’s harder for me to talk about in this instance. Using the same avatar as Arcade Quest, you jump into a giant wonderland of Tekken arcade machines, meeting up with other players online and challenging them to battles. You can customise characters and avatars here too, as well as joining Tekken Ball sessions or training for the next fight. I was a part of the Closed Network Test and the Closed Beta Test, and had the opportunity to experience the modes in their early days, but the window for online testing in the review period was short, and despite checking the majority of servers, I was unable to get in to any matches. One can only hope that the servers can handle the uptick of players when they go live, though if the early access modes are anything to go by, neither Bandai Namco nor players should worry.
With the move to Unreal Engine 5, Tekken has never looked better. Characters still feel and play the same as previous iterations but with more fluid and human motion. There’s no detail spared, no janky textures, and the game runs extremely smooth. There’s a minor noticeable shift when moving from cutscene to fighting in Story Mode, but otherwise everything is visually stunning. The same can be said for the music – it’s typical Tekken, heavy on the electronica and rolling beats, but with the option to change music back to classic Tekken tracks. Even the game’s cinematic intro gives off flashbacks to Tekken 5. And while we get a treat with Vincent Cassel voicing new character Victor, some of the voice acting could do with a bit of work. It’s true to Tekken though – without the melodrama the game just wouldn’t be the same.
Tekken 8 shows just how easy it is for a long-running franchise to remain fresh and relevant, while still offering a familiar experience to established fans. An engaging Story Mode coupled with Character Episodes keeps the narrative running, while Arcade Quest and Tekken Ball gives newcomers the opportunity to learn the ropes. While some fans may not like that their favourite character is missing from the roster, Tekken 8 fills the gaps with fresh new faces and the hint of more characters on the horizon. It’s time to get ready for the next battle!
Special Style allows new players to learn the ropes
Heat System raises the stakes in each fight
Strong and balanced roster of fighters
Aggressive gameplay makes for quick and entertaining fights