Tekken 7(PC, PS4 [reviewed], Xbox One)
Developer: Bandai Namco
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Released: June 2, 2017
Tekken 7‘s “Mishima Saga” story mode begins effectively with a flashback of Heihachi throwing his young son Kazuya off a cliff. Featuring a more pointed narrative that focuses on the key players, it’s really easy to get drawn into the campaign, especially since it’s still all so silly, dealing with ancient demonic evils and drop kicking missiles. It’s mainly so enthralling for lapsed players or newcomers because it spends an apt amount of time catching people up to speed, weaves in some new faces, and features multiple languages based on the nationality of each character.
At this point series producer Harada and company know that the story has gone off the rails, and I kind of love them for it. What initially started as a drama surrounding a family company eventually wrought baby mamas, cartoon cameos, devils, ogres, and sheer insanity. Tekken, especially in recent years, might look overly grimdark, but it’s actually more lighthearted than a lot of other fighters on the market. The “character stories” mode that runs parallel to the main plotline is a great concept to delve into some more personal tales without making the core narrative feel bloated.
Oh, it has an actual arcade mode too, which I’ll never stop making fun of Street Fighter V for lacking. It’s actually pretty good, with miniature storylines and another link to the overarching promotion system that determines your character rank and grants you bonuses (Fight Money, which is used to buy basically every cosmetic option in the game). Treasure mode is probably where you’re going to be spending most of your time though, billed as an endless set of matches with randomized enemy outfits. There’s not much to it outside of it being a gauntlet, but I adore loading up each battle. Not knowing how absurd my opponent is going to look and earning droves of gear (through literal treasure chests and Fight Money on top) makes it easy to go “just one more round.”
Contrasted to Injustice 2, gear is cosmetic, which I’m perfectly fine with. The idea of having the movesets of fighters drastically altered by gear is a neat idea, but as someone who prefers a more pure approach to fighting games I’m okay with laughing at a Jenga set crumbling on someone’s head rather than worrying that perhaps a theoretical Jenga black hole explosion is overpowered, or second guessing if I chose a “no gear” mode before I ventured online. There are some superfluous pieces like extra UI options and damage flair colors (and some interesting options are locked to chests and can’t be acquired by in-game currency), but it was really easy to earn enough cash to dress up several of my favorite characters in the first hour — in other words, it didn’t feel stingy or exploitative.
What is stingy though is the atrocious VR mode that may as well not even be there. It’s a gloried close-up camera that doubles as a (less functional) training or versus CPU mode, where you can alter your viewpoint slightly. There’s a 3D character viewer too, which hearkens back to the retro era of figures and 3D galleries (a la Smash Bros. and Metal Gear Solid) but just falls flat. If you didn’t even know Tekken 7 had VR support on PS4, you may as well just put it out of your mind.
If you’ve never played Tekken before in general, you might want to sit down, watch a few videos, or even get into it with a friend before diving in with two feet. It’s not the most user-friendly fighter around, especially given how floaty it can be — which all funnels back into its precise sense of timing and importance of combos and counters. Spamming ranged attacks, while powerful in most other games, are less so here because you can just sidestep. Leaving yourself open in Tekken is also disastrous when facing certain characters, as one combo can blow up most of your health.
Opening up any given movelist can also be daunting. Some combatants have roughly 100 command moves, or specific stances that can set up around 10 moves each. The story, which functions as a sort of tutorial (there’s no proper option) is a decent enough way to learn the ropes, but the series as a whole does not do a good job of onboarding people, especially in the wake of some of the better fighting game tutorials in recent years. That said, it’s something you can pick up if you stick with it. Training mode wonderfully displays each command or combo on-screen, and you can cycle through them all with a quick button combination or view every single move in clip form, so you can see how it’s supposed to play out.
Its ancillary concepts also aren’t all that tough to figure out. EX moves (which let you power up basic abilities) are in, as is the new Rage system — which is kind of like Marvel 3‘s X-Factor in that it boosts your potential and unlocks supers when you reach a certain health threshold. I was initially resistant to it, but over time I came to learn that you can predict it, and even bake in your damage in certain combos to work around it or even skip it entirely. Once you get good at knowing when it’s coming, Rage becomes more of an accepted truth rather than something that’s broken or gimmicky. This roster facilitates all of Tekken‘s cornerstones, and Akuma and his Dark Hadou shtick fit the theme perfectly. We could use a few more joke characters though.
I was able to test online play, and found it to be rather smooth, even when playing folks in multiple regions. The warmup feature that lets you practice before a game is nice, but with a semi-lengthy sync process before each match, it takes longer than the average fighting game before a match actually starts. There’s also only a few basic options right now (ranked or unranked), so don’t expect a fleshed-out miniature world on par with Guilty Gear Xrd. We’ll report back if the quality changes, but for now online play seems on track.
I was pleasantly surprised with Tekken 7, and will be keeping up with the meta and pro scene for the first time in years. While Harada and his crew could have easily given us a little more to do long term other than chase more treasure, it doesn’t feel like grinding in the slightest given how fun it is to play.