Tekken 8 Review
Turning Up The Heat
With the way the fighting genre has been exploding over the last year, you'd be forgiven for thinking it's the late 1990s again. Street Fighter 6 was a fantastic return to form for the series, and while Mortal Kombat 1 has been rocky in parts, it's still another reliably enjoyable game. To cap off the trinity of current kings of the genre, the King of the Iron Fist has reared its head once again with the release of Tekken 8. It's been close to a decade since Jin, Kazuya and the rest of the gang have had a new tournament, but even as the genre shifts and evolves, Bandai Namco's fighter remains a top-tier franchise with its new entry.
Those already familiar with the ways of the franchise will be able to jump right into Tekken 8 without missing a beat. The core fighting engine is still a strong foundation for the series. Each of the face buttons corresponds to a different limb with adjustments made to where you are striking handled in combination with the D-Pad/Analog Stick. You can attack fighters as they are lying on the ground, and each fighter has multiple grappling attacks. As one of the last standing 3D fighters, players can also strafe incoming attacks by bobbing and weaving around them. Destructible stages also make their return to the series here. Hit an opponent hard enough, and you can send them spiraling through the walls or floors.
If you're a newcomer to the series and feel overwhelmed, though, the Special Style option can help you learn some of the ins-and-outs of the game. This control scheme maps specific styles of attack to the face buttons. For example, square does special moves, while triangle handles launchers and air combos. You won't be able to fully master the combat using this scheme, but it's a good starting base if you find yourself getting frustrated with the title's nuances.
The big new addition, which is featured in both regular and Special Style, is the Heat System. Once per round, players can either tap a button or perform a Heat Engager combo to go into their Heat state. While in this state, attacks are amplified against blocks and new combos are available. You can choose to let the meter burn out normally, or you can churn through it immediately by either using a Heat Smash, which is a powerful combination, or Heat Dash, which lets you move quickly on your opponent to catch them off guard. Unlike similar meters found in other fighters, such as Street Fighter's EX or V gauges, the meter is charged right from the start of the round. This lets players choose the appropriate time to unleash it, whether it be right from the jump or as a last second lifeline. It's a flashy and chaotic addition to the series that allows for players to utilize it in multiple ways.
It's been quite some time since I played a Tekken game, and months of Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat made the transition to Tekken 8 a bit rough. In comparison to those games, the window for combos and specials feels a lot stricter. However, I was able to get my feet back underneath me in due time. And once I was able to reach that point, I was reminded of just how good this series can feel to play. Chaining together combos feels great, and I love the emphasis on aggression that this specific entry fosters. The Heat System is designed in a way that steers you towards being aggressive, but also can dish out damage to players that choose to just button mash.
While it may not feature the series' largest roster, the 32-combatant deep roster of Tekken 8 is among the strongest. The returning roster has been shaved down to characters that are either crucial to the title's story, such as Jin, Lars and Xiaoyu, or enjoyable to use, like King, Feng and Law. There are also three new characters for this game, and all of them fall into either one or both categories. Reina, who utilizes Mishima Style, has a fun personality and is a blast to use. UN spy Victor oozes style and has a big role in the story, but I haven't quite gotten the hang of his weapon heavy style. Finally, there's my new favorite, Azucena, the mixed martial arts superstar/coffee mogul. Her very goofy gimmick masks a fighting style that is adept at punishing mistake-prone opponents.
The main story of Tekken 8 unfolds across The Dark Awakens mode. This cinematic-heavy tale, which runs around 3 hours or so, once again focuses on the battle between Kazuya Mishima and Jin Kazama. It picks up following the events of the previous game, and Kazuya is no longer holding anything back. With the extent of his Devil powers now out in the open, he announces a new King of the Iron Fist tournament. Each nation will send one fighter to represent their country, with the winning nation getting control of the Mishima Zaibatsu, and the losers being wiped off the map. The stakes have never been higher, and it's up to various heroes and groups to stop Kazuya before it's too late.
Even from its earliest days, I don't think anyone would refer to the story of Tekken as normal, and this one is no exception. You are taken to some very outlandish highs over the course of The Dark Awakens, and none of it felt out of place in the established lore of the series. With that said, I struggle to say whether the absurdity translates to quality. My big sticking point is that with most of the story laser focused on Jin, you don't get a ton of time with the other main characters. A lot of the more entertaining characters end up getting sidelined or ignored, while you're stuck with Jin, who is both not a ton of fun to use and someone with the personality of balsa wood. The Mortal Kombat series isn't perfect in this area either, but they do a better job of roping in all the main players and letting you spend time with them.
For a more traditional experience, Character Stories offer up some classic Tekken cheese. You choose your desired character, get a brief spiel about why they are here, fight through five battles and then get an ending that can vary wildly in tone. The character endings in past games were often delightful, and that's mostly the case here. There's not a ton of depth to the mode, but I think the endings are worth unlocking if only due to how short it takes to complete five matches.
It's through Character Stories that you best get a taste of the series' strong personality. It's constantly ridiculous, but almost always played with a straight face. There is not one, but two different bears (Kuma and Panda) that are just constantly hanging around, and no one even bats an eye at them. Jin and Kazuya cause as much damage in their clashes as Kaiju do. Azucena decides to enter the global conflict enveloping the world of the franchise in order to increase the social media presence of her coffee company. Its contemporaries can get pretty silly at times, but they never quite reach the baffling heights Tekken gets to. After all, we are talking about a series where multiple characters have been casually tossed into volcanoes, only to return right as rain for the next entry.
Another single-player mode is Arcade Quest, but this is almost entirely for beginners. In it, you take a created Mii-like avatar to different arcades in a quest to become the next great Tekken player. The storyline is saccharine nonsense about how there's no wrong to play Tekken, but the mode does serve as a solid tutorial. As you make your way through each arcade, you'll get lessons about different maneuvers that will help you in the other modes. It's helpful for getting a handle on the action, but you won't miss anything by skipping it.
As a whole, though, I don't think the single-player options in Tekken 8 match-up with its contemporaries. What it lacks is a mode that will keep players coming back repeatedly over the coming months. You can finish up The Dark Awakens, Arcade Quest and Character Stories in a few hours, and what's left after those are supplemental options. Side-game Tekken Ball and Ghost Battles offer up some fun, but I can't see them holding my interest for too long. If you're not someone interested in going online, or have someone close by for local matches, I'm not sure there's enough juice in the solo modes to keep you invested long-term.
For those willing to go online, though, there is more to dive into. The Tekken Fight Lounge serves as the title's online hub, and from there you can get into both Ranked and Unranked matches. You can also go up to other players online and face-off against their Ghosts for an additional challenge. Having played several matches across both options, I can safely say that the net code is great as well. I only encountered one match where there was some lag. All the other fights I partook in ran flawlessly. The title supports cross-play across all platforms as well, which is always nice to see.
Competing in matches both online and off will reward you with in-game currency. These funds can be used to unlock artwork, videos and more importantly, new clothes to customize your fighters with. There are full-body outfits which call back to past games, as well as single articles of clothing that can be combined to create an entirely new outfit. It's a surprisingly robust system, and I have already seen characters from other fighting game recreated. There are still limits on what you can edit, but I was surprised at how versatile the options were.
The Tekken series has always been flashy, and Tekken 8 is no exception. As it stands now, this might be the best-looking fighting game on the market. The character models are insanely detailed, with fine attention paid to their clothing and physical features. The multi-tiered levels look almost as good. Background detail helps make them feel lived alive and smashing through walls and floors has never looked better, all thanks to Unreal Engine 5. While not a major part of the game, the voice acting is solid across the board. Each character speaks in their appropriate language, and while I cannot verify if they correlate with the subtitles, it's still a nice touch. Also a nice touch is the option to mix all the soundtracks from all prior Tekken games into one playlist. Not all the tracks are winners, but I loved the variety.
Although the last entry was no slouch, Tekken 8 has elevated the franchise to a new level. The fighting remains deep and varied, and the addition of the Heat System gives it a fresh edge. Combined with some of the best visuals this console generation, and a lag-free online experience, and you have one of the most satisfying fighters on the market. A strike against it, though, is the relative lack of single-player content, in comparison to recent competitors. As long as you are willing to step into the online arena, though, you'll find plenty of enjoyment here.