Recently, the fighting game community has been at each other’s throats over how “anti-beginner” the Tekken series is. Tekken 7, the latest entry to forgo a tutorial mode, is at the discourse’s center, with one player suggesting it needs changes to stay relevant. A good tutorial wouldn’t hurt, along with design that respects player time. Others, however, agree that Tekken 7 is the most approachable entry thus far. This juxtaposition between approachability and challenge has been a contentious topic for fighting game fans for a minute now, and Tekken 7 is just the latest victim.
One of the oldest 3D fighters out there, Tekken began living rent-free in folks’ minds back in 1994 with the OG arcade release. In the nearly three decades since, developer Bandai Namco Studios has released at least 17 different games within the Tekken universe. That’s not including the anime, manga, and films that have spawned in the wake of the series’ sustained popularity. There’s clearly hella Tekken media to consume, which makes entering the franchise as a newbie rather difficult.
There’s also the convoluted combos, a massive roster of characters, and a long list of moves to memorize that further isolate and prevent beginners from enjoying the franchise’s rich lore. Tekken 7, the latest entry, did streamline some of the daunting systems, introducing simpler control schemes and automatic combos that make the game a bit easier. Folks took notice, too, with the game sitting comfortably in the 80s across Metacritic and OpenCritic, and holding a “very positive” rating on Steam.
Still, though, Tekken isn’t the most beginner-friendly of the fighting games. The narrative, which is all about one particular family, gets lost if you haven’t played every mainline game. My fave character, the Bruce Lee lookalike Marshall Law, has a long movelist with copious stats for damage output and hit range and frame data (i.e. a move’s speed and its overall effects) that learning and memorizing it all grows exhausting and tedious. Tekken 7 doesn’t even include an actual tutorial mode, instead opting to fold it into the main campaign, meaning there’s no real way to work on perfecting your character’s combos. You can go into the practice mode, but even that doesn’t do a good enough job at teaching you the mechanics. Because of these issues, many folks within the community have produced their own tutorials to help newcomers familiarize themselves with the practice mode.
That the franchise was established almost 30 years ago and presents a dizzying array of fighters and maneuvers to get lost in, is the kernel of the latest Tekken discourse. One player in particular, an amateur competitive fighting gamer and streamer named Fitt3dcap, has been at the center for the audacity of suggesting the series must adapt if it wants “new blood.”
“Tekken is very anti-beginner as a series,” Fitt3dcap said. “[I don’t care] what anyone says, Tekken [in my opinion] is the only fighter out there that doesn’t respect people who have limited time or hasn’t been playing the series out the womb. The series need changes if they want new blood.”
In the wake of this tweet, Fitt3dcap unknowingly opened Pandora’s Box (or to be game-specific, Jinpachi Mishima’s gut), unleashing a torrential shitstorm of criticism both well-reasoned and ill-defined. To understand what the fuss was all about, especially considering Tekken 7 recently seven million copies, Kotaku Dot Com reached out to several players from casuals to pros to coaches. The answers, unsurprisingly, are varied.
A Casual Perspective
Casual online player I AM OP (that’s legit his handle) reacted to Fitt3dcap’s tweet, saying he never understood the argument that Tekken is anti-beginner. To him, you can “just play casually and enjoy the game” if you don’t have time to master Tekken’s eclectic roster and deep move list. OP told Kotaku that not only was Tekken 7 his first fighting game, he also called it “easy to get into” because of the slower, more readable animations and one-buttons auto-combos.
“Tekken in its current state doesn’t need to be easier,” OP said. “There are [a] lot of characters that are beginner friendly like Leroy, Claudio, Katarina to name a few. Both in terms of gameplay and execution. But the game should have some sort of single-player mission mode which indirectly teaches some gameplay elements. Having blocks of text as a tutorial doesn’t help in my opinion.”
OP admitted that the game—and any fighter—can be anti-beginner when you “stop finding people around your skill level.” The gap between one player who just picked it up and another who’s been playing since launch is wide, he said, especially in competitive settings. But despite the skill differences between players, OP believes Tekken 7 “hits a sweet spot” for all in terms of gameplay.
Coach Says You Gotta Study
Tekken coach Roland “MaK” King chimed in on the discourse, saying Fitt3dcap was spot on. In his mind, Tekken 7 is “the easiest installment of the series and it’s still hard as fuck.” King expanded his argument in a response to Kotaku, fully agreeing with Fitt3dcap that Tekken as a whole is “probably the hardest fighter to play for sure.” The 3D elements (which add another plane of existence to the fighting genre), the massive roster, the extensive movelist—it’s a bit much and could be off-putting for newcomers. That said, King touched on one particular way Tekken could evolve to attract that new blood Fitt3dcap mentioned, and it comes from a prior installment.
“To attract more new blood, the game just has to implement a more pleasant experience,” King said. “I was watching a friend play Tekken 6's campaign mode and even that was a step in the right direction. Teaching players different aspects or mechanics as they progress through an immersive story is a great way to bring in new players. I don’t think it needs to be easier. Adding a more in-depth training mode or some element of teaching [like Tekken 6] would more than suffice.”
King, who’s only been coaching for about five months but has been playing Tekken for over six years, said the franchise used to be “much harder” when he was introduced to it with Tekken 6. Things are different now, thanks in part to a thriving fighting game community offering tips and providing lessons, but King said new players would have a hard time because “the game lacks a sense of direction for people coming into it.” To alleviate that confusion, King said to study the pros.
Even Pros Find Tekken Difficult
Former pro Miles “KawaiiFaceMiles” Mackenzie meme’d the Tekken discourse, declaring folks need to “Tekken [their] ass to practice mode and stop taking L’s” instead of arguing. In a more serious reply to Kotaku, Mackenzie, who got into the series with 2013's Tekken Revolution, admitted that Tekken could be “considered harder than most fighting games.” It isn’t a traditional 2D fighter like Killer Instinct or Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite, she said, games that put players against each other on a two-dimensional plane. Adding in that third dimension, allowing players to also strafe (or sidestep) left and right instead of moving just forward and backward, makes the Tekken franchise a challenge to understand as moves could come at you from unpredictable angles. However, Mackenzie also acknowledged that Tekken 7 in particular is the “most approachable” game in the franchise thus far. She said the way she got good was, like Coach King suggested, studying players who were great with the characters she wanted to main.
“Most tips I would recommend to newer players is to stick to at least one character you absolutely love whether its because of tier placing, design, fighting style, etc., and then just dive deep into learning them as well as learning the cast as you go,” Mackenzie said. “The Tekken roster has a lot of characters and a ton of moves to learn and it’s rather daunting, but I started by watching those who are masters at my main character and learning from them. I chose to study them closely and understand their playstyle so I can understand my character better like ‘Why is this move good here?’ ‘Is it plus frames on block?’ ‘Is it a frame trap?’ ‘Does it have really good tracking?’ Critical thinking like that can really help a player push themselves to reach that next level.”
Current Tekken pro for over a decade Fergus McGee added his two cents to the conversation, saying the game has “infinite opportunities to give the player a sense of satisfaction and improvement.” Fergus told Kotaku that, hell yeah, Tekken has “a huge entry barrier.” This, for him, makes it a “hard fighter” to get into but not impossible, especially if you put in the practice.
“There is a lot to learn with this game, characters, matchups, knowing your own options and figuring out what moves are strong from the large movesets the game offers you,” Fergus said. “But at the same time, the game is super rewarding and provides that ‘funny brain juice feeling’ a lot when you finally counter a string/move you’ve been struggling with or when you punish something optimally. The game has infinite opportunities for injecting dopamine. I think Tekken 7 nailed it perfectly. It made the game a bit simpler from its previous iterations while keeping things interesting. I don’t think there needs to be many changes made for Tekken 8.”
The Man Behind The Discourse
Fitt3dcap, the man behind the debate, told Kotaku he was only half-serious about it all. However, he truly does believe that Tekken is anti-beginner because, in his eyes, the game basically “drops you off in a workshop and demands you fix something but never gives you instructions on how.” He gave up within three months, preferring other fighters like Guilty Gear: Strive and Street Fighter 5.
“To me, Tekken is probably the hardest fighting game I’ve tried and no, I don’t exactly consider that a good thing.” Fitt3dcap said. “Tekken’s issue is that it’s hard for some of the most arbitrary reasons. Basic movement? That’s like three months of practicing. Learning matchups? You’re gonna study so much that by the time you’re finished [hitting the practice lab with] the cast, you probably did an equivalent to a four-year course at a university. Even teaching throws, something that is so basic in 2D games, requires lab time. It’s an unfun and punishing experience.”
Fitt3dcap said there are ways for the series to become more beginner-friendly, and it starts with “better single-player options.” He mentioned action-adventure modes seen in previous entries, such as Tekken 5's Devil Within or Tekken 3 and 4's Tekken Force, adding that bringing these back “would be cool.” Still, though, “a proper tutorial mode” is his, and most others, biggest request.
“The most difficult aspect is just learning basic fundamentals because it’s gatekeeping by no way of learning in-game,” Fitt3dcap said. “Everything you need to know exists in a Discord or Tekken Zaibatsu, and for a game that’s so rich in legacy mechanics, that’s really unacceptable. The game really does no favors to those who are just hopping in. At least, give us a proper guiding tool.”