To say that the Tekken series has been eccentric over the years would be an understatement, as Namco’s signature fighting game has featured fighting kangaroos, a running theme of fathers throwing their children into volcanoes, and a martial artist whose arch-rival is a bear. Contrary to how ridiculous the story may seem at times, the action has always been serious, with the series serving as an EVO staple for the past decade. The latest game in the franchise, Tekken 7, attempts to blend the two contrasting tones once again.
The core Tekken formula hasn’t changed all that much since 1994, as the four-button fighter has always stayed true to its roots. Tekken 7 doesn’t move away from what fans have come to love about the series, but it does add some new mechanics that make this outing even more fun to play. The biggest addition is a new rage mechanic, which allows players to unleash a powerful special attack once their health bar is almost depleted. These attacks are incredibly flashy, and enter a cinematic that isn’t entirely unlike Street Fighter‘s ultra attacks. Since they can only be pulled off when one character is almost defeated, it ends up making matches even more of a back-and-forth affair.
Beyond gameplay mechanics, Tekken 7 also takes a page out of NetherRealm Studios’ playbook by introducing a cinematic story mode. Past games have toyed with a grander story than just arcade endings, as Tekken 6 tried to make the game into a beat ’em up, but this is by far their best attempt. The story doesn’t break any new ground, as it’s mostly a series of regular battles with cutscenes between them, but there are enough interesting plot twists that keep the action moving at a steady pace. Namco even goes to some ridiculous lengths to justify Street Fighter‘s Akuma being in the game, and the ending will have major repercussions on the franchise going forward as one of the franchise’s key figures ends up dying.
While I enjoyed the story mode for its ridiculous theatrics, it only ends up using a handful of characters from Tekken‘s incredible roster. Fan favorites like Paul Phoenix, King and Yoshimitsu are nowhere to be seen during these events, and the series’ protagonist (from Tekken 3 onward), Jin Kazama, actually spends the entire game in a deep sleep. He finally wakes up by the time the credits roll (Namco had to get in their Tekken 8 tease), but it seems like such a waste. Making things worse is that there are no arcade endings to be unlocked. This really hurts hurts the new characters in particular, as the game gives players no reason to care about most of them.
Despite getting the short end of the stick as far as character development goes, I found myself really digging some of the new fighters. My favorite ended up being Lucky Chloe, a Japanese idol that uses choreographed dancing to attack others. There might not be much story setup for her appearance, but thankfully her attacks are filled with enough personality that I was happy to continue beating up chiseled martial artists as a young girl in a cat outfit. I found that Tekken was able to better convey a fighter’s character through the action itself thanks to the flashy looking rage attacks.
Since there’s now no significant reward for completing the arcade mode, Tekken 7 doesn’t give players a ton of reasons to come back to its limited amount of solo content. The only mode with any depth is its Treasure Battle offering, which has players taking on an endless supply of computer-controlled fighters. It manages to keep the action varied by occasionally adding in modifiers to matches (such as sped up matches or attacks that do double the damage), and by throwing heavily customized characters at the player. While this mode is enjoyable, it’s still disappointing to see such a bare-bones offering from Namco, especially when past games featured surprisingly solid bonus mini-games like volleyball and bowling.
Normally a fighting game wouldn’t need to have a ton of single-player modes as competitive play is the big draw, but sadly, Tekken 7 offers up some severely hindered online play at the moment. Not only is the interface to get into a match needlessly clunky, but the matchmaking is currently busted. I was only able to get into one ranked online match after searching for an hour. While the match itself played alright there’s no reason that finding a match should be so difficult. Making things worse, my non-ranked matches didn’t fare much better, as its player match mode had multiple people watching the host play against one other person instead of everyone in the room engaging in matches. The online play is filled with bad ideas and even worse execution.
The only area where the developer really went all out is the in-game gallery, which features cutscenes and artwork from past titles in the series (going as far to even include videos from pachinko games). One of the first things I did upon booting up the game was purchase all of Tekken 3‘s endings, and it was a real blast of nostalgia getting to see all of these great cutscenes that I had worked hard to unlock as a child. It’s not only a really great nod to hardcore fans, but also can serve to get new players caught up on the 30+ characters that comprise the game’s roster.
By introducing new mechanics, Tekken 7 shows that Bandai Namco’s popular fighting series still has plenty of fight left in it. The new rage mechanics really help freshen up the combat as it adds an extra layer of strategy, while also lending itself towards dramatic finishes. A few disappointments, such as the lacklustre online play and lack of arcade mode endings, hold the overall package back from being as good as it should be, but it’s still a blast where it matters the most.
This review is based on the PlayStation 4 version, which was provided to us, and was reviewed on PS4 Pro.
Few fighting games have had the longevity of the Tekken series, but Tekken 7 manages to both refine and add new wrinkles to an already solid formula. Wonky online issues aside, this is the best the series has looked in a decade.