Tekken 7 Review
Author: M.S.
System: PS4, XBONE, PC

When 2d fighting games took the world by storm in the early 90’s with the revolution known as Street Fighter II, studios started following suit, trying to capitalize on the new fighting game craze. From Mortal Kombat to SNK’s bevy of contenders to many of the knock off clones, this once booming genre became over-saturated almost overnight. This is where the 3d fighting games sidestepped the competition and came in to overtake the crown.

What was different about fighting in three dimensions was the ability to sidestep opponents and pummel them in a more realistic and visceral way than ever before. Where many 2d fighters required a lot of patience and practice to perform the most basic combos, almost anyone could mash on the buttons of a 3d fighter, watch as your character performed a deluge of high flying moves, and feel like some sort of badass in the process. 3d fighting games took over the marketshare and brought some of the most influential titles of the PS1 and PS2 generation with releases such as Virtua Fighter, Soul Edge – later evolving into Soul Calibur – and then Tekken. Where Virtua Fighter ended up being more of a hardcore fighter with its focus on counters and Soul Calibur was more casual-friendly with its unique take on sword and sandals combat, Tekken split the difference marrying depth with flash eventually going on to become the most successful fighting game franchise of all time – culminating with the release of Tekken 3, widely thought to be the greatest 3d fighter.

While subsequent releases differed in public opinion – Tekken 4 was seen as misstep while Tekken 5 brought the series back to the pinnacle of the genre – Tekken faced less competition to the throne as years went by and therefore it became complacent, delivering only incremental changes to the formula over the years. But as 2d fighting games saw a renaissance in the last decade thanks to the release of Street Fighter IV in 2007, 3d fighting games saw somewhat of a decline. Virtua Fighter fell off the face of the earth and interest in Soul Calibur waned due to subpar entries – Soul Calibur 5 was one of my greatest disappointments ever. Even the once powerful Tekken lost some of its lustre with the controversial Tekken 6, so much so that I remember coming back home to visit from university only to find brand new copies in the bargain bin, a mere couple months after release.

With Tekken 7, Bandai Namco hopes to right the ship and bring back the series out of bargain bin status. While it brings its unparalleled fighting game magic to the table, the package as a whole feels unfortunately less robust, delivering an underwhelming and safe – albeit great – fighting game.

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Tekken 7 gets off to a shaky footing right off the bat with its primary solo offering: its story mode. With the disappearance of Jin Kazama at the end of Tekken 6, the story of the Mishima Bloodlines is at its climax as the G Corporation and the Mishima Zaibatsu are still engaged in a never-ending war that has uprooted much of the world and serves as the backdrop for what will culminate in a showdown for the ages between father and son.

There are a few cool moments spread throughout the campaign, including playable throwbacks to previous games and even one that will surprise and delight Tekken fans, delivering on unanswered questions in a thoughtful, and surprisingly emotionally resonant, way, but overall, the campaign feels rushed and filled to the brim with unfulfilled potential. What was meant to conclude the very dense, confusing storyline that began 3 decades ago, ends up being a mostly uninspired and sometimes broken affair for a couple of reasons.

First off, having the story narrated by a nameless reporter recounting events was a huge mistake. Not only did I find this method of storytelling unengaging – mostly due to the terribly uninspired and sometimes laughably inept vocal performance – but when most of your story is being told by nameless proxy who the players have no connection to at the expense of any sort of screen time for the dozens of fan favorites we’ve grown to care for, there is a big problem. For a series that is supposed to be ending a pivotal chapter in its history, regardless of how overblown the story has become, to not have the majority of the cast get the same sort of love and treatment is a crime.

Where the story mode is downright broken is in its actual structure and gameplay. Taking a page out of NetherRealm’s recent games, the campaign mixes storytelling cutscenes inter-spliced with the occasional fight. Where Mortal Kombat and Injustice gave us the chance to see the story through the majority of the cast, Tekken 7 only allows you take control of a half-dozen of its 35 plus combatants – including Street Fighter’s crossover Akuma, who surprisingly gets as much screentime as anyone else.

Each of the 14 chapters usually culminates in about one or two fights that usually comprise of a multi-round showdown with a rival or a barrage of JACKs that spawn the moment you take one down. This is pretty much the script throughout, rinse and repeat, and never changes much, except for the odd quicktime event or a solitary fight where you get to switch between over the shoulder third person shooting and the standard fighting mechanics. I wish there were more moments like that, but they are too infrequent.thumb-1920-673325

Now lets talk about the actual fights in this mode because, oh boy, they are cheap as a motherfucker. Let’s talk about AI that literally reads your every move, abuse any sort of weakness, can never be staggered, and, I don’t know, can teleport every which way at anytime. There was a particular fight where I got my teleport spam-happy opponent into a corner only for him to be caught in an infinite loop in which he dodged everything I threw at him.

I’m not joking when I say these fights make Shao Khan in 2011’s Mortal Kombat look like an angel in comparison. Luckily I exploited the same types of moves they did – with the help of the story modes’ preset combo inputs – to get by, otherwise I would have probably given up much sooner. Changing the difficulty doesn’t help much either.

When we have a studio like NetherRealm that has set the standard for storytelling in games, with lengthy 5-6 hour cinematic joys, Tekken 7’s limp 2-hour affair somehow manages to simultaneously feel hollow and lacking while overstaying its welcome due to the sheer amount of frustration that comes with taking on its ungodly AI.

Outside the main campaign there are additional chapters for the many characters not featured in the main storyline, which replace the individual stories from previous entries, but they are one-off fights instead of the typical 8-fight narrative’s we have come to expect. They also culminate in some of the weaker ending cutscenes we’ve seen in the series’ venerable stable and really show a lack of love or effort – or both – compared to some of the gems of the past.

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While the story mode falls mostly flat, there are a couple of other single player modes that will divert your attention, some more substantial than others.

Arcade mode is the standard ladder tournament found in most fighting games, but it has been truncated to a slight 5-fight events that feels mostly throwaway at this point. You may fiddle around with it just so you can try out some of the new fighters before heading online, but it’s easily the least enticing of the single player suite.

Treasure Battle pits you against fighters made up of ghost data of supposedly real players – akin to Tekken 5 – rewarding you with treasure chests, which unlock fighter customization parts and in-game currency which can be used to purchase parts as well as additional items such as artwork, custom profile and HUD display items, and even galleries stocked with cutscenes from the long lineage of Tekken’s previous entries. It’s a simple and addictive mode, which had me saying “just one more round” if only to see the animation of the treasure chest opening as I found it more satisfying than the items the chest actually housed.

They run the gamut of silly (ie: a cake hat that drops individual slices, fork and plate included) to ridiculous (ie: a giant fish). Besides a few cool outfits and pieces I found – that of course only unlock through the hard to come by rare chests – most of these pieces feel underwhelming and something I would never subject a custom character to. Regardless, most of my time playing Tekken 7 was spent in this mode and I feel like the same with go for most people too as it is definitely the most worthwhile time investment due to the bountiful rewards it sows. Special shout-out goes to whoever got the rights to the New Japan Pro Wrestling license because nothing beats seeing my Lili in a Bullet Club shirt or King sporting Kazuchika Okada’s Robe and signature Rainmaker clothesline.

Practice mode returns as well with the same bells and whistles the series – and most fighting games – are known for, including programmable AI, which can be helpful in creating specific situations to practice against. It’s all fairly standard, but I can’t help but feel like the series has been due for a proper tutorial system for years, which is unfortunately nowhere to be found here. It’s a missed opportunity as it could’ve taught new players – and even some existing ones – the ropes and how to implement some of the new systems in play.

What is also frustrating is the inability to highlight move sets onto the HUD, forcing me to go into the move list every time I wanted to look up a new move. I will give credit to Tekken though for not only showing a visual demonstration of all of its thousands of moves, but for being the only fighting game I can remember that consistently has had accompanying auditory cues on how to perform them.

What’s disappointing about the solo content is that for a series revered for its goofy and diverse set of modes, what’s on offer here is surprisingly safe and unexciting. There’s no Tekken Bowl, Tekken Force or even Tekken 6’s Scenario Campaign, instead we are left with the same modes we expect from any other fighter, except Tekken is not for being just any other fighter, its known for being boisterous not milquetoast. Sure Treasure Battle is fun, but it is essentially just a small evolution of existing modes straight from Tekken 5, not a revolution. For a series who hasn’t had a proper home canonical console entry since 2009 – not including the Tekken Tag spin-off series – I expected a lot more out of Bandai Namco. There sure isn’t a lot of meat here any way you cut it.tekken-7-1-3

While this will be a huge disappointment to some, many hardcore fighting fans won’t care as long as the fighting is good and I’m here to tell you, the fighting is good; it’s damn good.

There is a reason Tekken is the best-selling fighting game series of all time and it’s all because of the fighting. Its simple four button set-up – each corresponding to a limb – is essentially an extension of oneself and it’s in this elegant design philosophy that we find the depth and intricacies that have fans coming back to over the years. While not much has changed over the years – I dusted off my PSP and copy of Tekken 5: Dark Ressurection just to make sure – there is a reason for this: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Fighting is one-on-one and takes place on a 3d plane where your job is to put the beatdown on your opponent before they do the same to you. It’s a fast and fluid game, but requires reading your opponents movements by dodging, ducking, weaving, and sidestepping out of their reach and countering with a barrage of your own. It’s almost like an elegant dance and when you get proficient in learning when to make your move, it feels like Swan Lake.

When everything is going right, there are few fighting games that are as enjoyable to play as Tekken. Punches and kicks land hard and fast with a clean, crisp precision and are as satisfying to watch, as they are to perform, while grabs are dizzying displays of acrobatic prowess and can counter the tide of battle.

What makes Tekken 7 so good is that it can be enjoyed by those of any skill level, but it rewards those that not only learn how to pull off its enormous stable of moves, but when to implement them in different situations. That doesn’t mean that you won’t have just as much fun wailing on buttons, but those who take Tekken seriously will find a lot to love in the little tweaks present in 7, from the faster speed, to the scrapping of bounded moves from 6, Tekken feels better than ever in this entry, even if they are not the game changers we were expecting.tekken7-3

Speaking of game changers though, there are a couple brand new mechanics that are introduced in Tekken 7 that are sure to be as controversial as anything the series has brought to the table in the past – including the aforementioned bound system. These come in the form of the all-new Rage system, which replaces the one found in Tekken 6.

Rage activates when your fighter’s health drops below 15% and is shown visually via a flashing red health meter. Whereas rage in Tekken 6 buffed damage output to give you or your opponent a chance to come back, Tekken 7’s rage allows you pull off one of two moves in the form of Rage Arts and Rage Drives.

I’ll start with the less controversial Rage Drives, which essentially work as a counter move or string of moves that can be used to open up combo opportunities on unsuspecting opponents. They are situational, but when you learn to use them effectively, they give you the chance to get back on the offense and mount a comeback. While I only started getting the hang of them recently, they are a welcome new addition, requiring some effort in mastering them.

Rage Arts on the other hand are essentially Tekken’s foray into the super moves that litter other fighting games – mostly of the 2d variety. With the simple press of a couple of buttons – or one shoulder button – your fighter with perform a highly damaging combo that if connects, can take off a substantial amount of the opponents hit pool. It’s an effective way to give those who are trailing in fights a way back in and further gives new or more casual players a fighting chance.

My problem with Rage Arts stems from the fact that this reliance on super moves really changes the meta-game in Tekken and I don’t know if it’s for the better.

First off, for a game with such speed as Tekken 7, always being wary of your opponents rage meter slows down the flow of matches because you are always apprehensive of when they will use it. In 2d fighting game like Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat it works because it is harder to mount a comeback due to more difficult combo inputs, but in Tekken, where a single combo string can knocked out more effortlessly and also knock out more than half your opponents health, it seems like an unnecessary inclusion.

Secondly, from the time I’ve spent playing friends and online, there seems to be an over reliance on Rage Arts that acts to detriment of the player as much as a boon. There were multiple fights where I faced excellent opponents who were mixing up their game well, only for them to lose the composure that brought them such success, while they frantically jammed on the super button in hopes of winning the match – this also happened vice versa, but I want to make myself look better than I am, of course. No doubt, over time we will see less of an overreliance on these Rage Arts, but so far I feel about them the same way I did with Soul Calibur V’s implementation of supers: I don’t like ‘em.

Speaking of online, the game employs the same suite of options you come to expect from other fighting games. There are ranked, player, and tournament style matches that come with everything you expect them to and they do their job when the online works.

My biggest disappointment with the game so far comes from the fact that in this first week and a bit, the netcode doesn’t seem to be doing a consistent enough job. There have been frequent dropped connections before matches even start or even lag during 5 bar connections matches with my buddy Ismail – I hope you are happy with this shoutout Izzie because you ain’t gonna be happy with the score. If this doesn’t get patched soon, I feel like there will be a significant drop-off in the community, and fast.T7_BNEA_E3_screenshot_04_1465819865

Tekken 7’s presentation is the epitome of a mixed bag. At times it feels decidedly next-gen, with an excellent particle effects system and some intermittently nice lighting. There has also been a noticeable character design overhaul for some of the existing roster – for better or worse – and some of the models look great. Most of the time the game underwhelms, with a lack of fidelity that we have come to expect from the series.

You can really tell this is a port of a 3 plus year old arcade game. Textures are a mixed bag with the delicate stitching’s in Lili’s dress, for example, looking out of place next to terribly pixelated or flat textures of the environment – you can actually see the seams of the snow texture in one of the stages. For a series that in the past has been revered as much for its cutting edge tech as its buttery smooth fighting mechanics, Tekken 7 feels criminally underwhelming is this regard for the most part.

When it comes to its stages, they are either knock offs of existing ones from previous games or completely forgettable, save for a couple of standouts – a marble encrusted Italian cathedral and the Tekken Arena are quite nice. You won’t find a Dutch field filled with disposable sheep, nor a swanky pool party anywhere. Instead it’s a series of bland archetypical landscapes from a jungle, to a war torn city, to the top of a skyscraper. None are terrible by any means, but there is a distinct lack of character and other than a few interactive moments – you can break through the floors, walls, or balconies in some stages – you will find yourself wishing the developers put a little more love into the aesthetics.

Also, with regards to the “scrolling” found many of Tekken’s stages in earlier games: it was already dated 2 generations ago so it is unforgivable that there are still a thing in Tekken 7.

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This inconsistency in presentation carries over into the sound department. This is no more apparent than in the soundtrack. One moment you will be enjoying the beautifully mellow notes of a synth piano only to have your ears assaulted a round later by some of the most abrasive dubstep music known to man. I would have been okay with this route had the music not only lived up to the top-notch electronica outings of previous games, but actually matched up to action with any coherence, but it doesn’t and it ends up creating a very dissonant experience. It’s a shame because there are a handful of tracks that rank with the series best, including the incredibly catchy menu theme, but they are far and few between.

Thankfully there is the option to listen to replace the games’ original soundtrack with those from the previous games in the series, which is an awesome touch and makes you wish – along with the extensive gallery unlocks – that this much love was put into all facets of the experience.

3.5 out of 5

What could have been a joyous celebration of all things Tekken is instead a reminder that very little has changed in 25 years. What we are left with is a great fighting game trapped inside a lackluster package. It’s a shame because while the competition has died down in the 3D fighting game space, Tekken could have asserted self as dominant species on top of the food chain. Instead it stakes its claim on past successes without delivering enough of the innovation that made it the King in the first place.

While hardcore fighting game fans will find little need for any of the frills due to its unparalleled mechanics, the average fighting game fan will find it a little harder to justify the full price tag asked. Maybe waiting for the bargain bin is once again justified.

Note: Less than one week after release Tekken 7 was already 30 bucks off in Canada.

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