I’ve been a long time fan of Tekken for more than a decade now. Since it first landed on the ps1 in Tekken 3 up til now in its first current gen outing with Tekken 7, I’ve been hooked with its technicality and analog way of translating button inputs to limb movements. Combos and moves are like perfectly timed dance steps, with one leading to another, that graciously crushes your opponent. It’s nothing like any other fighting game out there. It’s simple, but it’s one of the hardest things to learn and master.
But there’s one other thing that keeps me hooked to this franchise -the lore. Say what you will about its quirkiness in story telling, but Tekken 7 is supremely better in terms of story telling than any other fighting game thus far, and this iteration finally brings to a close a decade-long family feud that drives the story of the Tekken universe – the story of the Mishimas.
At its core, Tekken 7 is still the same 3D fighting game we’ve enjoyed playing all these years. Its classic formula of precisely timed series of button inputs and frame by frame timing are still intact, albeit with fresh gameplay mechanics for players to master, such as power crush and screw. Power crush allows players to power through incoming mid and high attacks by executing an uninterruptible move while taking damage. While not completely removed from the game, screw attacks replaces bound as the standard combo extender which puts your opponent in a vulnerable position for combo follow ups. The introduction of these mechanics keep the game fresh and exciting, as it forces players to learn and master new combos and setups. I myself have been a victim of muscle memory, and combos that worked before, do not necessarily work anymore in Tekken 7, especially those that relied heavily on bound. And with a bigger damage fallout for hits at the farther end of your combos, you’ll have to be selective of the moves you’ll put in your combo string to dish out the most damage.
These big changes in the mechanics results to tighter matches – fights are quicker, and combos are slightly shorter, but smarter. And with the revamped Rage mechanics, matches are made even more intense. Lowering your health to a certain level still triggers Rage, but unlike in Tekken 6 and TTT2, Rage doesn’t just add more damage to your hits, it enables you to pull off Rage Art and Rage Drive attacks. Think of Rage Art like Super Combo moves in Street Fighter, but even simpler. With a single tap of a shoulder button, or a dedicated combination of buttons, one can turn the tide of the match to his favor with a cinematic ultra move that deals a huge amount of damage. Some nifty players even end their combo string with a Rage Art move to deal massive amounts of damage and eventually secure a win.
Rage Drive on the other hand are enhanced combo strings that has similar properties to that of power crush, that it can power through mid and highs, which can turn around the game completely. Like Rage Arts, Rage Drive can be inserted in combo strings to deal massive damage. Both Rage Arts and Rage Drive consume your Rage, and can leave you vulnerable to certain moves so use it wisely.
The game features dynamic stages just like in Tekken 6 and TTT2, with breakable walls and floors which opens up more combo opportunities. However, Tekken 7 ups its ante by introducing cinematic twists. When a fighter needs only a single round to win the match, a stage can change entirely, while the background music changes too to a more intense one. Certain levels change weather, or add a subtle effect. Dramatic slow down kick in for moments when players trade blows, especially with clashing knockout moves, bringing out the most tense moments in the game. This makes Tekken 7 such an enjoyable game, not just to play, but to watch as well.
Speaking of cinematic, Tekken 7 delivers a solid story through its story mode “The Mishima Saga”, which finally concludes the epic father vs. son feud between pivotal characters Kazuya Mishima and his dad Heihachi Mishima. It gives a deeper understanding behind these characters’ motivations, and players will finally know why Hei threw Kaz off that cliff in the first place. It is one of the most emotionally driven story arcs I’ve played through in any fighting game.
Folded into the story mode is the introduction of Street Fighter’s Akuma, which surprisingly blends in well with the story, and gameplay-wise even. Apparently, he’s canon too! Without spoiling much, Akuma offers one of the toughest boss fights in any fighting game ever, reminiscent of Shin Akuma. This is also where Kazumi Mishima, Heihachi’s wife makes her canonical debut – a pivotal character that holds the answer as to why the family feud started.
In story mode, cutscenes transition seamlessly into matches. I was even taken aback when it retells the intro movie of Tekken 5 as flashback, then transitions into an actual fight against a barrage of Jack 5’s. If you’re finding the story mode too hard, Story Assist is there to help pull off some basic moves with just a tap of a button.
While the main story mode is laser focused towards the Mishimas, other characters in the game have significantly less air time in Character Story Episodes. In this mode, you’re given a quick premise about the character, fight through one match, then that’s it, end of story for that character. It doesn’t fold in well even with the main story arc. It doesn’t even explain the origins of new characters and aren’t given proper introductions, such as Katarina, Lucky Chloe, Gigas, Shaheen, and of course the Filipina Josie Rizal who’s actually just a reskin of Bruce Irvin.
Which brings me to the characters. There are lots of characters in Tekken 7, and we see tons of new faces in the game, bringing in new fighting styles to learn and defend against. But what surprises me though is the elimination, or replacement, of a lot of characters. Old fan favorites such as Lei Wulong, Anna Williams, Armor King and Julia Chang, as well as Roger (thanks to pro-Animal rights activists), Ganryu, Marduk, Zafina, and Mokujin are all gone! Dead characters Baek and Wang are of course gone, and clone Christie Monteiro is removed from the roster. Some new characters are clones or reskins, such as Master Raven who is in essence, Raven, and Josie Rizal being simply a female Bruce.
Visually, the game looks and plays great. Powered by the Unreal Engine 4, each hit you make now feels a lot more powerful with explosions of impact and destruction effects. Environments and characters are very well detailed, and lighting, bloom and stage effects are breathtaking. Plus points too for the reimagined Dragon’s Nest stage from Tekken 5 which looks absolutely gorgeous in this game. Best of all, it’s a smooth lock at 60fps with no noticeable drops in frames which is crucial for any fighting game.
Offline mode has been streamlined to just the basic Arcade Mode, Treasure Battle Mode, Versus Mode and Practice Mode. Absent in this lineup of modes are the Time Attack mode, Survival Mode, Team Battle, and Ghost Battle of previous generations. While Arcade Mode and Versus mode are staples, you’ll most likely end up spending more time on Treasure Battle mode, where you can grind customization items in a series of fights reminiscent of Ghost Battles introduced in Tekken 5. You can stop at any time, and when you do decide to re-enter Treasure Battle, your will start from where you left off with the same number of wins. With each battle comes a chance to get a promotion to the next rank, a system introduced in Tekken 5, which lets you progress through a series of ranks, from the lowest ‘Beginner’ rank, to the highest ‘Tekken God Prime’. Winning battles gives you a chance for promotions, while consecutive losses risks you getting demoted to a lower rank. To help you achieve higher ranks, practice mode offers a robust training mode with tons of toggles and options to help you master your chosen character.
When you’re ready, head on to the online mode to battle players from all over the world, to upgrade your online rank, and even win tournaments. There are 3 online modes, Ranked Match, Player Match, and Tournament. In patch 1.02, Ranked Match pits you against other players for a chance to be promoted to higher rank. With better ranks, comes tougher online opponents. It works the same as the offline rank system so be careful, as losing Ranked Battles can result to you getting demoted to a lower rank. While waiting for a match, you’re taken into a warmup stage where you can practice your combos and mixups. You’ll be interrupted with a prompt when a match is found, and before the match starts, you’re shown some stats about your opponent such as how many wins the player has in total for that character, and a historical win-loss indicator to see how you and your opponent fared in your most recent battles. Win or lose a match, you have the option to ask for a rematch with the last player you played against which is always a good thing.
Next is Player Match, which is basically an unranked online mode. Through this mode, you can quickly scan for other players, join other player’s lobbies, and create your own lobbies.
Tournament Mode is where the money’s at. It pits up to 8 players in either single or double elimination fight fest. With more players participating, the bigger the prize pool. All players will receive an item at the end of the tourney, with the top 3 players gaining higher quality items. You can join tournaments, or host your own depending on your tourney preferences. If you’re knocked out of the tournament, you can continue watching other players’ matches.
Surprisingly, Tekken 7’s online mode holds up quite well. As long as you’re connected to a player with 3 bars and above connection rating, you’re good to go. Even at 4 bars, combos connect with great precision as if you’re playing locally. Plus you never have to worry about which side of the screen you start on as you can select which side you want to fight on from.
The experience worsens though at 2 bars and below, so don’t even bother connecting with players – it’s terrifyingly unpleasant. Thankfully you can always see your connection rating with your opponent prior to choosing any kind of match, lobby or tournament. Unfortunately that isn’t the case for Tournament mode, as you may be pitted with an opponent with very low connection rating. Matchmaking for me takes quite a while though, and there are still instances of “connection to opponent has been lost” or “host has left” errors which should have been fixed in the latest patch.
Remember that agreement you agreed to when you first booted up Tekken 7 which asked for your region? Make sure to sign up for your local region as you cannot change this at any point currently. Unfortunately, for matches involving lobbies, some players may kick you out immediately when they see that you’re not from the same region. I’ve signed up for a North America agreement, thinking I should keep it the same as my PSN account’s region, thus I’m tagged as a player from North America. Almost always I’m kicked out from Tournaments and lobbies when connecting to Asia based matches, or for lobbies specifically saying “PHILIPPINES ONLY” or “ASIA ONLY”.
Tekken 7’s player and character customization is so rich with options – it’s never been this deep and robust – from health bars, to name plates, with character customizations ranging from the silliest to the most epic looking. Customize to your heart’s content and make your character truly your own. Best of all, there are no stupid premium currency and microtransactions. All in-game currency can be earned, and the game is generous enough to reward you with lots of it. Plus, you don’t have to worry about players getting too overpowered because of items, as they are limited to cosmetic changes, and a few select item moves (who uses these anyway?)
On the PS4 version of the game, long time fans will be delighted with the inclusion of the Tekken Jukebox mode, which brings all the tracks from the entire series. Not only that, the Jukebox mode also changes the background music that plays throughout the game, from the menu, character select, and even the stages.
For the die-hard fans of the series who couldn’t get enough of Tekken CG cutscenes, you can unlock the entire series’ CG cutscenes and artworks at the Gallery. There’s tons to unlock, from concept art, to CG movies from the Tekken Pachinko game!
Lastly, for those who own a PlayStation VR, there’s a VR mode for you to tinker with, though don’t expect too much from it, like a first person fight or something. It’s basically just a match and customization model viewer where you can move around in.
Overall, what started decades ago in the first Tekken game comes full circle spectacularly in this latest chapter of the Tekken series, while introducing new mechanics that freshens up the gameplay without being too overly alienating for long-time veterans and newbies alike. It’s in its best and purest fighting form ever, both in gameplay and visuals. It’s a joy to play and watch, and I just couldn’t get enough playing match after match, after match, both offline and online. While the online mode needs a bit more of refinement in terms of matchmaking, choosing the right battles leads to epic and intense online matches. Matches never get dull thanks to new rage mechanics that could turn the tide of the battle at any moment. While it falls short with single player modes, in the character story episodes, and with missing characters, Tekken 7 still is a robust package. It is the best in the series, and even perhaps one of the best in the genre in recent years. Whether you’re a fighting game pro, or an aspiring newbie, Tekken 7 is worth your attention.