In 1994 Namco released Tekken, an outstanding 3D fighting game with a loose story based on the struggle between a father and his powerful son. In 2017 Bandai Namco gives us Tekken 7, an outstanding 3D fighting game with a loose story based on the struggle between a father and his powerful son. You know what they say: If it ain’t broke, slowly tweak it so each new installment is just as good as the last without feeling stale.
The Tekken franchise has made great strides over the course of its 23-year history, but it’s hard to tell if you’ve been following along. If you stopped playing after Tekken 2, for example, you’d be surprised that since Tekken 3 every character in the game has the ability to sidestep in and out of the 3D plane. If Tekken 3 was your last game, then you’d be caught off guard by environmental hazards introduced in Tekken 4, and wouldn’t know what to do when your opponent slams you against a wall for big damage.
But for those of us who’ve been playing since the beginning, it’s all part of the fighting game’s natural progression. Tekken’s been building off the original’s solid foundation for more than two decades, each new installment improving in incremental ways. Tekken 7 is the next satisfying step in the series’ evolution.
The original Tekken laid the groundwork by creating a simple, intuitive fighting game system that was as easy to pick up as it was difficult to master. In Tekken 7, as in the original, each of the four controller face buttons represents a limb—two arms, two legs. In symphony with the directional pad, those buttons generated fighting moves that felt natural, immediate and quite brutal. It’s the core of the franchise, and a damn strong core at that.
Tekken 7 takes all of the franchise’s changes and refines them further. The rage system introduced in Tekken 6 has been expanded to include rage arts, flashy supermoves that trade the increased damage of rage mode for a 30 percent hit to the enemy’s health gauge. There are also rage drives, powerful moves that grant a player frame advantage to blocks and open up new combos. Both types of moves offer good comeback potential for players finding themselves on the wrong end of their health bar. These new rage mechanics add some excitement to lopsided fights without being obnoxiously overpowered.
There’s also power crushes, special moves that allow players to power through enemy attacks, ignoring high and mid attacks. These slow-but-strong blows are also excellent for turning the tide of battle, but they’re easily avoided by seasoned opponents.
The bound system from Tekken 6, which produced some spectacular but unrealistic juggling combos as characters bounced off hard concrete into the air, has been replaced with the screw attack system. Now, characters twist sideways when landing after launched. Sidestepping has been slowed down across the board, making the game more about ducking and blocking than sliding. And combo scaling changes mean that keeping your opponent in the air longer yields diminishing returns, which makes stringing together moves more strategic.
The changes made to Tekken 7’s combat system all lend themselves nicely to the brutal, up-close and personal battles the franchise is known for. Where other fighting games encourage players to fly to the far corners of the screen and launch screen-spanning special moves, Tekken has always been more grounded. For the most part you’re not going to win a fistfight from across the arena.
Well, maybe if you play Akuma, a visitor from the Street Fighter franchise and one of ten new fighters participating in the latest King of Iron Fist tournament. I’ve been facing off against quite a lot of Akuma players in my various online Tekken 7 battles. I’ve had some issues finding opponents on the PlayStation 4 version of the game, including connections dropping before the match starts. Once I get into a battle everything runs great, from the early blows to whenever Akuma finishes wiping the floor with my poor Otaku, Lucky Chloe.
It makes sense that the Street Fighter star get more play than my rather controversial favorite new combatant, as Akuma is one of the few fighters to get major play in Tekken 7’s sadly lacking story mode. The story is narrated by an investigative journalist seeking to uncover the secrets of the Mishima Clan following the death of his wife and child. They were killed during a skirmish in the world-spanning battle between the rival Mishima Zaibatsu and G Corporations. The story mode is a series of pitched battles that utilizes only a small handful of the game’s 38 playable fighters.
As Cecilia mentioned in our early impressions of the game, story mode is beautiful but empty. The journalist is a device to tell a slightly altered version of a tale Tekken fans have played through over and over again, revealing secrets of the Mishima family that aren’t very shocking. Prior to release Bandai Namco touted Tekken 7 as a resolution to the conflict that began back in 1994’s Tekken. It delivers this resolution, but in an unsatisfying way. We have been there and done that, only now Akuma’s involved.
Where other fighting games use story mode as a means to introduce players to the fighting mechanics and various systems, Tekken 7 feels like it really just wants to get this bit over with. It even offers simplified special moves to help players breeze through the fighting sequences.
Meanwhile, the colorful cast of more interesting fighters is given short single-battle vignettes that barely offer any insight into their characters. Lucky Chloe’s brief interaction with series mainstay Eddy Goro is little more than cute nonsense. Saudi Arabian fighter Shaheen is a heroic and honorable character whose solo story mission hints at a background much more interesting than anything I played during the three-hour story mode. So many amazing new characters, so little info given. It’s a bigger shame than Street Fighter V’s initial set of skimpy story mode missions.
Outside of story mode, Tekken 7 doesn’t have much single-player content. Solo players can fight through arcade mode with various characters, which is satisfying but tedious. Treasure battles gives players a chance to fight to win cash and unlock special customization items, but otherwise it’s just a string of endless basic battles.
The customization options in Tekken 7 are exquisite. Each character has various unlockable outfits, tops, bottoms, hats, accessories and hairdos. Going beyond costumes, Tekken 7 includes options for special particle effects, player bio card frames, title plaques—hell, players can even change the health bar that appears in battle. Dressing up your character and customizing your display are certainly things to do by yourself, but I wouldn’t call them single-player content. You’ll want to take your custom characters online. Maybe Akuma will be laughing hard enough at the pizza strapped to your Leo’s back to let you get a couple of good hits in.
Since the introduction of online play to home consoles, fighting games have been struggling to find a good balance between single-player and multiplayer content. Some games, like the recently-released Injustice 2, nail it. Tekken 7 doesn’t: it’s a competitive multiplayer fighting game with an eye for online play. From the sparse solo content, it looks like the series is tired of pretending otherwise.
And that’s fine. Tekken 7 is a fighting game that wants to be played against other people. Each new mechanic introduced since the series’ inception was created for the sake of player-versus-player battle. You want to know why we’re still exploring the relationship between Heihachi and his demon-possessed son seven games into the series? Because fans don’t really give a shit. They want fresh-feeling battles that build upon the core without breaking it, and that’s what Tekken 7 delivers.
There isn’t much variety to the game’s online multiplayer component. Players can choose ranked play, casual play or participate in a tournament. That might not seem like much, but when the combat is as tight and polished as Tekken 7’s, it’s more than enough. The fighting is the star here, and variety comes in the form of other players.
If you’re timid about bringing your fighting skills to the online arena, that’s fine. There are other fighting games out right now that will give you that single-player fix. But if you’re ready to hit and kick other players until they stop moving, whether you’re a seasoned veteran or a newbie just getting your feet wet, Tekken 7 is the real deal.