Tekken 7 Review
The long running fighting franchise makes its debut on modern consoles
If I ever want a bit of perspective on the history of console fighting games, I look at my shelf, where there is a copy of Tekken 2 for the PlayStation, which still has a price sticker on it. A lot’s changed in the 22 years since its release, and there has been another 5 core installments of the franchise over that period. With Tekken 7, the long running fighting game franchise hopes to entice fans for one more round of hand to hand combat. It's got new features and an expanded roster; however, some things never change. The Mishima family is still feuding, choosing to settle matters of company ownership through knocking the spit out of each other. Along the way, other members of the Mishima brood surface to stake their claim and a cast of colourful fighters emerge who each have their own battle to fight.
Brawling is what it’s all about in Tekken. You’re not really here to be riveted by a captivating story, and the Mishima saga has dragged on for so long that the creators have surrendered themselves to the ridiculousness of it all. Instead of the traditional arcade-style campaign where you would battle through 8-or-so stages, you now branch through the narrative. You start with Kazuya, son of Heihachi, and actually fight as young Kazuya, in a scene reminiscent of the Tekken anime film. Strangely, there is a “story assist” ability, which will perform moves for you if you just want to hurry the whole thing along. And, in what may be unintentionally hilarious, there is a scene/QTE where you get to throw Kazuya off a mountain.
Story Battle is a fun diversion, which holds something interesting for old and new fans alike. Tekken 7 even tweaks battles slightly, by having you, say, fight several fodder enemies in a row, or survive a battle up an elevator. On the flipside, Arcade Mode is rather short, compromised of as little as five battles, ending with Street Fighter’s Akuma. What some may consider a strange addition, while playing through the story, you can discover what link Heihachi has with the raging demon.
Though the story mode is an interesting change to battling, it was a shame to see other modes lacking. There are no team battles (in which you can choose several characters to battle in a row) or survival mode. If this is a tactic to be released as DLC with the season pass, like the recently announced Tekken Bowl, it would be quite a shame.
However, the fun and challenging Treasure Battle mode, introduced in Tekken 5, does make a return. In this mode, you can win cosmetic items and money from within chests, as well as increase your rank by battling increasingly harder opponents. An aspect that I believed elevated Tekken above some other fighting titles was that the AI behaved quite authentically, and was capable of utilizing combo strings and tactics to put the pressure on. This way, the ceiling for increasing your skills, which can then be utilized online, is very high and rewarding.
While the cosmetic system in Tekken was never a large pull for me, you can spend hours going through Treasure Battle to find that one rare item that lets you character wear a pink horse mask. Money is also plentiful, which you accrue by winning battles, competing in different modes, and playing online. With it, you can purchase FMVs from the gallery, cosmetic items, and ways to personalise you profile—health bar, message title (i.e. PHD in Punishment), which are fun little distractions.
All that is simply window dressing, though. What really matters is how well you can knock the teeth out of your fellow man. Graphically speaking, characters do look extremely nice, finding a middle ground between Street Fighter and Injustice/Mortal Kombat. Characters aren’t designed to be facsimile of humans (especially characters like the bear Kuma or giant human… thing Gigas). The sheer breadth of customisation options can take even the most human-looking characters and turn them into metallic humanoids with a fish orbiting their heads, and when knocked out, will float into the air.
When stepping into the ring in Tekken 7, you need to know what, exactly, your “ring” is. Your battle arena has a big impact on combat. There are claustrophobic stages, where only a few strides will take you to a wall; infinite stages extending into forever; and breakable stages, where a strong hit will send your foe plunging towards a lower level. A handful of old stages appear, too, like Dragon’s Nest from Tekken 5, with a few new additions like Devil’s Pit. The latter is interesting because, for its first couple of matches, it has walls, and then transforms into an infinite stage, forcing you to be mindful of your environment.
The biggest change to Tekken 7 is, perhaps, the introduction of “Rage arts”. Each character has two: one is like a super move, which if it hits, initiates a combo that takes a huge chunk out of an enemy’s health bar. The second is a twist on a traditional move that, while less effective, can be easier to pull off.
Rage arts add a whole other layer of meta to the game. With the older system—in which rage meant you dealt more damage—you now have to add the potential of half your health vanishing. When one player enters this stage, online battles become extremely tense. You know your foe is waiting for the right moment to strike. And, if you’re the one with rage, you try to bait them into getting reckless. Fights can turn on a dime and help with that sense of apathy you sometimes feel when a player is absolutely steamrolling you.
But Tekken giveth, and Tekken also taketh away. There have been a few tweaks to combos and juggling moves. A handful of moves for each character will now not open up combos. However, the sheer number of moves for each of the 30+ characters means there are tons of options to win a fight. Lei Wulong and some other staples do not make a return either, but may well appear in future DLC.
Speaking of new characters, they each offer a unique playstyle, some familiar and some totally new. Kazumi Mishima has a number of moves in the Mishima-style, but also employs a tiger that can catch you off guard. Akuma is one of the most high-profile new additions and the developers have managed to do a great job with taking his moveset from the Street Fighter games and giving it a new twist. Josie Rizal has kickboxing flashes of Bryan, and Bruce from previous games. Katarina Alves is all feet, in the vein of Hwoarang and Baek. Claudio Serafino has a more literal, magical style to his play. Master Raven is to Raven what Christie is to Edd and fights in a ninjutsu style. The aforementioned Gigas is hulking bruiser who moves slow but hits hard. Shaheen fights in a military style, but is heavy on footwork and can be pretty devastating. And, Lucky Chloe, some kind of neko-girl, is a mixture of breakdancing and flashy combos.
Online has been a large part of Tekken for a while, and Tekken 7 is no different. There were a lot of bugs when the game launched, which marred my experience for a little over a week. A few bug fixes later and the majority of issues have been ironed out. In online, you can participate in ranked battles, unranked matches, as well as tournaments.
Ranked battles is extremely fun and testing, as it should be. You never know if that person with a lower ranking will prove the fight of your life, or that person with hundreds of wins will be child’s play. Add that to the option of re-matching after battle and there’s a real feeling of being back in the arcade, feeding money to the machine so you can beat that one opponent who got the better of you.
Tournaments are not particularly enticing for me, personally. There’s the challenge of getting through each of the brackets, but with cash on the line, which is not really too great an amount, it never captured my attention. Likewise, I wish that some of the interesting handicaps of Treasure Battles, such as double damage and double speed, would add another fun layer to normal battles.
Music in Tekken 7 is the best yet. From lifting piano riffs to some hardcore, dubsteb-inspired EDM tracks, it’s eclectic and adds an extra layer to the experience. Combine that with classic sound bites before kicking off a battle and character sound effects, and the experience comes together very well. Tekken 7 balances nostalgia and fantastic songs.
Tekken 7 is a thoroughly entertaining fighting game that, while a step-up in terms of mechanics introduced, does lack some older battle features that would have elevated it just that little bit further. Its online component could use further development, but there is no denying the game has a very solid foundation to build on.