Tekken 8 Turns Button Mashers Into Tournament Masters
Inverse score: 8/10.
Heihachi Mishima is dead. And with him, so is the tradition of Tekken champions winning the King of Iron Fist tournament and celebrating by tossing Mishima into a volcano. In the wake of the series’ OG grandfather no longer being a driving force behind mashing fists with faces, Tekken 8 instead focuses on the rivalries between his grandson, and longtime face of the series, Jin Kazama and the forces striving to tear him apart.
Katsuhiro Harada’s signature fighting game series has found its way onto each and every PlayStation console (and Xbox too, as of Tekken 6), so it was only a matter of time before the latest generation would see fists fly. With the capabilities to take advantage of new hardware thanks to Unreal Engine 5, Tekken 8 is developer Bandai Namco’s pinnacle for the series from a technical standpoint alone. But it’s the game’s robust new training modes and campaign that truly elevate it, even if the latter can feel undercooked at times.
A Bold New Story
Tekken 8’s single-player story mode comes by way of a robust series of fights that begins with Jin and his father Kazuya Mishima duking it out in a rubble-filled city street. But before too long, you’re embroiled in a large-scale military operation between G Corp, one of the various offshoot corporations that sprung up in the wake of the Mishima Zaibatsu’s fall from glory, and Yggdrasil, a vigilante freedom force of fighters from around the globe. Meanwhile, the premise of the King of Iron Fist Tournament, which becomes the main setting for the early chapters, is quickly swept away by the inclusion of literal angels and devils.
Each subsequent fight is more over-the-top than the last, with higher stakes as mythical beasts and gods make themselves known in elaborate story cutscenes. And while the campaign for the new story mode, “The Dark Awakens,” centers around Jin and how he regained his mojo, players will routinely take control of a majority of the Tekken 8 roster for at least one round. For the iconic King of Iron Fist Tournament, players can pick which character to fight as during each preliminary match of the tournament.
Midway through The Dark Awakens, the gameplay shifts from one-on-one duels to a brawler’s battleground with one versus a dozen enemy grunts. This pseudo-action mode tries to bring the complexity of Tekken 8’s combo system into a brawling experience while not quite succeeding. Lock-on and camera mechanics make it troublesome to keep the attention focused in one particular place, and the overall shift in gameplay design only lasts for a couple of brief chapters before returning to tried-and-true solo battles. Compared to previous Tekken story modes (Tekken 6’s scenario campaigns, in particular), these chapters feel undercooked and take away from the strengths of Tekken 8’s campaign.
Practice Makes Perfect
To help players grasp the finer mechanics of Tekken 8, a robust Arcade Dojo mode takes the Iron Fist story into a meta-narrative. Rather than controlling the Tekken champions themselves, players insert themselves into an avatar as they work their way up the ranks by playing the fighting game in arcades across the globe, one quarter at a time. Players can craft a cute chibi avatar of themselves and rise through a series of tutorials and tournament matches to slowly claim both glory and accolades on the journey to becoming a professional Tekken player. Each trial, combo challenge, and Arcade Quest rivalry teaches players the fundamentals and systems of Tekken 8.
Those fundamentals are crucial. Tekken 8 is one of the more mechanically dense 3D fighting games on the market. High and low attacks (and the way to wield or block each) are among the most basic moves you’ll need to master, but what of the more significant techniques that form the backbone of Tekken? Juggling your opponent in the air is a crucial skill but easier said than done. To teach the player, Tekken 8 offers a plethora of tutorial modes tailored to each character. Jump into the Practice mode with any character, and you’re given free rein across challenges to study up on the given properties of each established combo. If there’s a specific matchup that feels one-sided, another set of tutorials focuses on mitigating and countering any specific move in that fighter’s list of attacks.
Tied into the Arcade Quest mode are Ghost Battles, a revamped version of replay or challenge data. These AI creations watch how the player reacts from just a couple of fights, modeling the way they move and which combos to pull off based on the player’s natural tendencies. Bandai Namco enjoys putting these fights everywhere (you might see a challenger appear during the later stages of the basic Arcade Battle mode), and playing against these AI combatants is another great way to learn the finer intricacies of Tekken 8’s complex fighting system.
Beyond improving your skills, investing your time in Tekken 8’s story and multiplayer modes will earn you plenty of Fight Money, which can be spent to overhaul the wardrobe and accessories of a given character. As with prior Tekken titles, players have free rein with how they want to dress up their fighter in ways that won’t affect gameplay, although a couple of back accessories do unlock an extra move, such as guns that can trigger a unique effect when activated by the player.
Tekken Ball is the last mode that rounds out the complete Tekken 8 package and surprisingly comes with online play to boot. If smacking your friends wasn’t stimulating enough, players can instead whack on a giant beach ball to keep it juggled in the air as it launches at the other player across a line in the sand. The first person to mistime their counter or let it fall to the ground takes damage and play resumes as normal — assuming they didn’t knock themselves out by taking too much accumulated damage. Those I played with cared less for defense in Tekken Ball and instead would rush the net and try to knock each other out in as few balls as possible.
If there’s one mark that Tekken 8 feels as though it might be a step back from the most recent Street Fighter or Granblue Fantasy Versus Rising, it’s the experience of downtime between matches. All of these fighting games have ways to dress up your avatar and run around the lobbies to interact with other players across the globe. Granblue Fantasy, for example, includes mini-games to play a messy version of soccer or an obstacle course to run through against the timer. Tekken, on the other hand, is filled with large open spaces and arcade machines that don’t do anything except provide a vintage ambiance, complete with retro Namco arcade machines as window dressing that you can’t actually hop on and play.
Bandai Namco has never put together such a feature-rich version of Tekken before, and even as the latest chapter of the Mishima saga comes to a close, the legacy of the signature fighting game series will be celebrated for years to come.
But what Tekken 8 proves more than anything is that the infamously complex franchise is still capable of evolving. The new game makes a serious investment in making its most intimidating features accessible to a wider audience, while also offering weird detours and an ambitious story mode that reveals the limitations of the Tekken brand.
Tekken 8 launches on January 26 for PS5, Xbox Series X and S, and PC.
INVERSE VIDEO GAME REVIEW ETHOS: Every Inverse video game review answers two questions: Is this game worth your time? Are you getting what you pay for? We have no tolerance for endless fetch quests, clunky mechanics, or bugs that dilute the experience. We care deeply about a game’s design, world-building, character arcs, and storytelling come together. Inverse will never punch down, but we aren’t afraid to punch up. We love magic and science-fiction in equal measure, and as much as we love experiencing rich stories and worlds through games, we won’t ignore the real-world context in which those games are made.
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