Tekken 8 Review — IGN

The Tekken series is steeped in legacy. From the mechanical skills and knowledge needed to compete at the highest levels, to its iconic music and characters, to inside jokes spanning three decades and an ongoing story dating back just as far, each new entry has a heavy burden to bear. How do you honor that legacy without being chained down by it? That is the question Tekken 8 thoughtfully considers, and the answer it comes up with is a simple, yet profound one: you accept what’s come before, but you don’t let it stop you from moving forward. Whether it be a literal dash forward using the powerful new Heat system, impressive training tools, or the compelling story of a man trying to break generational shackles to create a brighter future, Tekken 8 is always honoring its past while striving to improve its present. And most of all, it’s just some really good-ass Tekken.

They say if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, and Bandai Namco smartly hasn’t tried to change the parts of Tekken’s combat mechanics that were already great. Movement, spacing, block punishing, and whiff punishing all remain as vital as ever, but two significant additions also twist those mechanics in exciting ways: recoverable health, and the Heat System.

For the first time in Tekken history, other than the Tekken Tag Tournament games, recoverable health plays a major part in matches. Blocking big attacks and taking chip damage, absorbing them with a Power Crush, or being hit after getting knocked airborne will do partial gray damage. The only way to get this health back is by throwing out your own attacks, as you won’t recover at all by just standing still and blocking – you have to go on the offensive to reclaim your life, and this made me adapt my mindset in a wonderful way.

It’s also a huge shift, as Tekken has always been a defensive game. It’s not uncommon to watch high-level Tekken matches of the past and see two characters appear to almost glitch across the screen as they continuously cancel their sidesteps and dashes and block everything while looking for the smallest opening. A lot of that hasn’t gone away in Tekken 8, but recoverable damage gave me the constant pressure to go on offense while I still had health that could be recovered, and never made me feel like I was out of the fight while being juggled across the stage.

You have to go on the offensive to reclaim your life, and this made me adapt my mindset in a wonderful way.

The new Heat system pairs with this new offensive mindset perfectly. There are myriad ways to enter Heat, whether it be through landing staple moves from a character’s move list or simply pressing a button, and you start with a full bar of Heat every round, so there’s no reason not to use it. Heat enhances your offense in every facet – you do increased chip damage while recovering more of your own health, you unlock new moves or properties for each character, and you can use the rest of your meter for a powerful combo extender or finisher.

Do you press your advantage when you have your enemy on the ropes, or do you wait for an opportunity to recover health? Do you add a little bit of damage onto a combo now, or maintain stronger pressure after a knockdown later? Since you regain all of your Heat after every round, these are questions you get to answer every round, and Tekken 8 is much more dynamic for it.

That said, one aspect of these changes I could see eventually getting frustrating is how it gives even more offensive pressure to characters who thrive on it, like Hwoarang and the various members of the Mishima family. It’s scary enough to try and keep blocking when it seems like it’s been your opponent’s turn to attack forever, so adding in chip damage and extra tools for characters with overwhelming offense is even more to deal with. But since these tools are universal, you always have a chance to turn the tide yourself, and Heat makes execution for a lot of moves easier, such as the Mishimas’ electric attacks no longer requiring a single-frame input. Heat is both your most powerful offensive tool and a great equalizer.

On top of Heat naturally smoothing out the beginner’s on-ramp a bit, Tekken 8 also has some of the best training tools I’ve ever seen in a fighting game. The new Arcade Quest mode is a great way to slowly ramp up the difficulty of CPU opponents, and the Training Mode is incredibly full featured, with combo challenges, save states (so you can drill specific situations like wall breaks easily), punishment training, moves you can pin to the screen while practicing them, and handy notes and icons that tell you the specific properties of each attack.

But the crown jewel is the integrated replay system. You can watch your own replays back, or even those of other players you find online, and take control of the characters at any time, as long as they were played by a human. That means as soon as you run into a troublesome situation in a match, you can immediately hop into your replays, watch back what you did, and then try a dozen different ways to find something better. It’s a phenomenal addition, and one I’ll be using constantly as I strive to improve.

To simplify things even further, there’s also a control mode called Special Style that binds important moves to a single button press. You can even bind the Special Style toggle to a button that you can press mid-match if you’re getting overwhelmed and just want to do something cool and productive – the menu will pop on screen, even when playing online, so both players will know when someone activates it.

The replay mode is a phenomenal addition, and one I’ll be using constantly as I strive to improve.

However, Special Style isn’t useful in any way that’s viable competitively. Unlike Street Fighter 6’s comparatively paltry moveset being downsized with its Modern Controls mode, Tekken characters have dozens if not hundreds of moves, and you can’t realistically map a majority of those to four buttons. You can alter some of them by pressing a direction as well, but Special Style is mainly meant for beginners and those who want a quick taste of what a character can do, which it does provide nicely.

New Challengers

Joining the roster’s returning mainstays are three fighters new to the Tekken series. Victor, the French UN Agent voiced by actor Vincent Cassell, Azucena, the energetic coffee entrepreneur, and the enigmatic Reina.

Victor sports some really flashy attacks that look cool as soon as you pick him up, and his vanishing strikes have great mixup and pressure options that are, thankfully, able to be punished if abused too often. His connection to the story is a nice addition to the lore as well, framing him as a character who has been in the background training other longtime roster mainstays.

Azucena, as befitting of her occupation, is always moving. Both her personality and moveset are always baiting you to attack, and then hammering you hard for it. She’s destined to be polarizing due to her taunting nature and obvious early strengths, but even after fighting against her many times, I am more excited to learn ways around her pressure than I am frustrated to face her.

The third and most intriguing new character is Reina, who seems to act as a bridge between Tekken 7 and 8 in both gameplay and story. Seemingly appearing from nowhere, she shares many moves with the recently deceased Heihachi, the patriarch of the Mishima family who was killed by Kazuya at the end of Tekken 7, and she’s my favorite addition to the roster by far. She’s aggressive, flashy, and has some simple tools that will be very hard to master.

More Than Just Heat Mode

Continuing an extremely welcome trend of recent fighting games, Tekken 8 has enough single player content to keep you busy for dozens of hours without ever even touching multiplayer. The cinematic story mode, subtitled The Dark Awakens, is a roughly three-to-four-hour mix of cutscenes and story battles, and while I can’t give away many details, there are a few surprises that should delight longtime Tekken fans, including multiple playable characters. It seems like a good way to showcase Special Style, too, as story weaves in and out of fights and in-game slow motion is used to punctuate big moves – I actually found using it more enjoyable than the regular controls for most of the story since I wasn’t browsing a move list every time I played as a new character. There’s plenty of time to dig deep and try hard in all the other modes, so I was glad to just be able to have fun quickly for this campaign.

Story mode has a few surprises that should delight longtime Tekken fans.

As far as the actual story goes, I mostly enjoyed my time with it. There are some very “capital A Anime” moments, and not everyone gets a chance to shine, but Bandai Namco gives attention to important character arcs that span several games, and there are clear fan-service moments that land successfully. It’s simple enough to understand as a newcomer, too, as the relationships and stakes are laid out pretty clearly from the jump and the Gallery mode includes several summary videos of past games. One of the only negatives presentation-wise is that the real-time action looks so good that the transitions into pre-rendered cutscenes can sometimes be jarring, especially with some slightly smeary effects and different color grading layered on top of them.

In a return to Tekken tradition, there are also character endings for the entire roster that unlock by playing through a quick series of five battles. These are mostly played for goofs, and they do vary in quality, but there are a few that had me legitimately laughing out loud. I won’t spoil any, but make sure you play through Kazuya and Dragunov’s endings in particular for some fun moments.

New to the series in Tekken 8 are two modes: Arcade Quest and Super Ghost Battle. Arcade Quest is actually my favorite of the single player options; mimicking a crawl through various arcades, your customizable avatar moves through different opponents while slowly learning Tekken 8’s mechanics. You can spend as much time as you want in each location challenging characters, all of whom sport different playstyles to test your mettle against. There’s a passable story that preaches the importance of having fun in a stressful genre, but it really works as a lengthy tutorial for those who may be a bit hesitant to immediately jump online. Arcade Quest gives you a ton of encouragement as you go, and it should provide players intimidated by Tekken’s high difficulty a reason to stick around without meeting some of the vitriol you’d see with real-life bad actors.

Super Ghost Battle is a mode in which you can challenge a CPU that’s built from learning actual information about players. You can train your own ghost by fighting against it in order to learn your own tendencies, or even download and play against ghosts from other players. It’s a great way to check yourself as you continue to grow into a given character, and also a fun way to take on other real-life people without having to actually schedule play time. I’ve already had friends tell me that they beat up my ghost in a nice bit of catharsis after I won a set against them online.

The last single player mode of note is the Jukebox. It lets you replace the music for any stage as you see fit, including the track they switch to in the final round, and even includes both some of the menu music and classic tracks from Tekken’s past. And if you don’t feel like fiddling, you can set it to shuffle the soundtracks of Tekkens 1 through 8, Tekken Tag Tournament 1 and 2, and even Tekken Revolution. It’s an embarrassment of riches for longtime fans of the series like me, and a great way to honor its legacy. Plus, now I can listen to the awesome Tekken 3 Character Select music anytime I want. And I want. Please put this in every fighting game.

Online

The biggest factor in the longevity of any modern fighting game is how well it plays online, and I’m happy to say that it’s here Tekken 8 trumps Tekken 7 in every way. Based on the limited online time I’ve had pre-launch, netcode seems much improved, and every match I’ve played against someone in the US (even thousands of miles away) has felt great. I also tried my hand against players in South Korea and Europe, and while the quality wasn’t ideal, the matches were definitely playable – albeit with some jittery artifacts. There are several rollback settings to change the feel of your inputs as well, although I preferred the default. Regardless, it’s great that the option is there if you want it, and Tekken 8 includes cross-play as well!

Also, in an extremely welcome change from Tekkens past, online rematches are now considerably faster. Instead of bumping you out to the versus splash screen as you wait for another load, it will put you right back in the action as soon as you confirm a rematch. It’s a great update, and one of those things that makes you forget how long it actually used to take once you get used to it.

As far as online modes go, the big focus here is the Tekken Fight Lounge, a battle hub where you can run around with your custom avatar to meet and inspect other players, throw down some emotes, and access all the online options, including Ranked Matches, Quick Matches, Custom Rooms, and the welcome return of Tekken Ball. It’s easy to navigate as you can pop open the menu to quickly hop from room to room, but it’s also just a cool looking space to run around in its own right. And if it’s not for you, you can just as easily find all the online modes from the main menu.

Unfortunately, one bizarre omission while in custom rooms is that you can’t spectate matches or go to the practice mode. You can spectate anyone just fine from the Fight Lounge, but if you’re in a room with friends, as of now, there’s no way to watch each other’s matches. Tekken 8 gets so much right about the online experience that this is a weird thing to not have available. Hopefully it gets added in a post-launch patch.

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