There’s a reason why the Tekken series has been awarded the Guinness World Record for longest-running video game storyline: nobody dies. You can throw a Kazama or a Mishima off a cliff as many times as you like and it’s not guaranteed it will work. If you really want someone dead, they have to disappear into a volcano. Or at the hands of Ogre; but sometimes even that might not be enough.
Tekken 8 has finally arrived, coming on the back of 2023 being a very good year for fighting games. As well as the next chapter in the Mishima Saga, Tekken 8 is powered by Unreal Engine 5. The power under the hood is revealed straight away at the title screen. Kazuya’s face is the focal point, and almost photo-realistic. Unless you press a button to start the game and his eye glows. Then you know he means business.
The main story is known as The Dark Awakens and is a culmination of everything that has been before it. It is however a mixed bag, with plenty of missed potential. Even for its short, less than four hours runtime, its pacing seems all over the place. It starts off very by the numbers, picks up a bit as you get to fight as someone other than Jin, then has some sections reminiscent of the old Tekken Force modes in earlier games. It then quickly loses that momentum as you head into the final battle. I’d lost count of how many times I faced off against a specific individual; just when it felt like this was the last time, another health bar would appear on screen, needing to be depleted.
The wider issue with the main story of Tekken 8 is how exactly it unfolds. Obviously, many of the cutscenes are interspersed with you fighting whoever looked at you the wrong way in the exact moment before. You will defeat them, and then in the next scene you see them absolutely pummelling you like the actual fight had no relevance at all. This happens far too often. It may be with different parameters such as the new Heat mode activated or the now traditional Rage system, but it is still largely the same battle over and over again.
On the subject of Heat, it works differently to Rage. That is automatically triggered when you reach low health, but Heat can be activated at any point by using the RB button. A little bar underneath your health bar will tell you how much you have remaining, as it drains once activated. It does automatically refill in between rounds.
It isn’t exactly a game-changing feature, but what is good about Heat is how it is woven into various existing aspects of Tekken. You can start it manually by pressing RB, but you also have certain attacks that trigger it, known as Heat Engagers. Similar too, if you press RB again when Heat is active, you perform a Heat Smash. Not unlike a Rage Arts, these predetermined moves are best used when in a spot of trouble. These can be blocked however, so it depends how wise your opponent is to them.
What is also new is the Special Style. Previously, the Tekken series hasn’t perhaps felt the most newcomer friendly. But that’s where Special Style comes in. On the LB button you instantly change the four controller buttons to allow you to easily execute special moves for your character including air combos, Power Crushes, throws and more. It’s handy to get newcomers in as they can learn a new fighting game faster, but veterans can also try their hand at a new character without learning expansive move lists. And, best of all, those adverse to using it aren’t punished by it when fighting against those making the most of it.
Another area where you can try a new character is the Arcade Quest mode. This is another story-driven mode where you create a chibi avatar and travel around the arcades competing in various Tekken 8 tournaments. It is a love letter to the excitement and feverish days of waiting for a new cabinet to arrive and playing against your friends to see who the champ is.
It is, however, another missed opportunity. Arcade Quest is essentially an extended tutorial for you to really get to grips with a character. It could have been so much more. There are numerous arcades to visit and you can see a lot of people playing classic Namco arcade games, but you can only play Tekken 8 wherever you go. Even having one of the earlier Tekken games in an arcade would have helped turn this mode into something more than just a disguised tutorial.
Maybe I have just been spoiled with the Yakuza and Like a Dragon games, walking into an arcade and being able to play every cabinet that’s on display.
Arcade Quest does unlock Super Ghost Battle as a mode however, which is a very intriguing concept. Not only can you fight against ghosts from other players around the world, you can also fight against your own ghost to learn more about your own style. This can help you discover your strengths and weaknesses and should not be missed by those players wanting to spend a lot of time online.
Finally, Tekken Ball makes a return. This wacky variation is like beach volleyball, where you attack a ball to propel it into your opponent. The stronger the attack, the faster the ball travels. This can be played online too if you head to the beach area of the Tekken Fight Lounge online lobby. This in itself is a cool area to explore that I would imagine gets pretty full when the game fully releases.
Tekken 8 launches with 32 characters. Of those, three are new to the series: Victor Chevalier, Reina and Acuzena Milagros Ortiz Castillo. Reina will perhaps be the easiest to pick up for veterans, as her fighting style incorporates the Mishima Fighting Style.
We also know that Eddy will be returning to the series despite not making the original cut. He was an early favourite of mine ever since Tekken 3, so his absence was a bit of a shock at first. But then, playing through the roster, it feels incredibly strong already. My other two favourites, Hwoarang and Law, are both present, so I tended to focus on them. But dabbling with the others and I would go as far to say that there aren’t really any bad ones. Jun Kazama also returns as a playable character for the first time since Tekken 2 – ignoring the non-canon Tekken Tag Tournament games – so also feels like a brand-new character as well. In all honesty, this may be one of the best opening rosters to any fighting game. 32 is already a grand number, and more are on the way.
All the other features you would expect are here too: Practice mode, character episodes (similar to the Arcade mode of previous games with usually a funny intro and outro video), Arcade Quest avatar customisation and character customisation. Shout out as well to the jukebox containing all previous Tekken soundtracks in there from launch, and not as paid DLC as has been the case before.
It is hard to argue against the fighting action being and looking superb in Tekken 8. A decent amount of new features will try and get newcomers interested, but they don’t feel too intrusive that veterans will feel like they need to re-learn new characters either. Both the Story and Arcade Quest mode could have been handled better, which for two of the headline features is disappointing. But the actual fighting is the best it’s been in Tekken; the cinematic moments are a real plus point as you get a brief second to appreciate how good this game looks.
It will be interesting to see who and what gets added in the coming months. I can’t say that Tekken 8 is the complete package just yet, but it is off to a very good start.