Tekken 8 Review – To Rule With An Iron Fist

Fights take many forms. From back alley brawls to climactic wars across sweeping battlefields, different fights mean different things to those who dare start them. Some fight for honour, others for glory, others still for less noble intentions. The latest contender in today’s fighting game renaissance, however, rejects these motivations. A fight is about who’s left standing. Nothing else. So says the fighter that stands above them all.

From Bandai Namco and Tekken Project, Tekken 8 is the next major entry in the fabled 3D fighting franchise. Yet, despite such dense history, it’s also one of the most approachable. With plenty of flair and enough content to outshine even its most celebrated contemporaries, Tekken 8 is a masterclass in fighting games, and a wonderful insight into what makes the fighting game community (FGC) so special.

I promise there are pictures of people other than Reina.

First and foremost, Tekken 8 feels sensational to play. Controls are smooth and responsive, and visual feedback is constantly being gifted to the player. There’s such vast combo potential that even mashing may net you a cool-looking string. Before resorting to primal tactics, however, you may want to try Special Style. This new control scheme is a simplified version of certain key inputs, allowing players to easily pull off signature moves, air combos, and powerful Heat attacks.

As a first-timer with minimal Tekken experience, I found Special Style to be a nice way to try out characters and get a sense for what they can do. The fact that the new controls can be instantly switched in and out of with a press of L1 makes for an easy gateway between initial experimentation and in-depth labbing. Playing through character stories with Special Style taught me universal combos, unique character quirks, and some positioning fundamentals, all of which served me long after the fact.

Inner demons, outer combos.

Outside of beginner-friendly controls, there are other new mechanics to explore. The new Heat system offers burst moves upon activation, with a flash of armour and expanded combo potential. From there, the fun truly begins. Heat is built with Tekken 8’s aggressive nature in mind, offering the opportunity to either go wild or turn the tide back in your favour. The system adds an extra layer of resource management to every fight, making Heat as mentally engaging as it is visually.

With the new, there is also the old. Tekken is a series famous for its incredibly long movelists on every character, and Tekken 8 is no different. As someone learning the controls proper for the first time, the lists are intimidating. Fortunately, Tekken Project has the perfect counter. Enter Arcade Quest, perhaps the best tutorial system I’ve ever experienced in a fighting game.

Max taught me this one.

A simple narrative framework meets cute Xbox Live-style avatars to teach new players the basics. Any trepidation immediately dissipates as Max, our guide to the world of Tekken, takes us along our journey. And what a journey it is. The story in Arcade Quest is tropey anime fun. Players take the role of a mysterious up-and-comer joining Max’s merry band, aiming for Tekken World Tour stardom from humble beginnings in Gong Arcade. There are even distinct arcs in the story, as each arcade you visit specialises in a different style of gameplay—each with dedicated tutorials from Max, of course.

It’s a delightful way to ease in new players and introduce what the FGC can be like. I myself learned plenty about low counters, power crushes, and actual Tekken notation for the standard control scheme. Arcade Quest encourages you further still by letting you rank up within it, mimicking the ranking system found in competitive online battles. By Quest’s end, I was a Tenryu-ranked Reina main with a solid understanding of enough fundamentals to go off and win my first online set. Not least because Arcade Quest ends with a perfect segue to online battles—no spoilers here, don’t worry. At every step, Tekken 8 pushes you in just the right way.

You’re damn right it was, Michael Murray.

Speaking of good pushes, Tekken 8’s main story, The Dark Awakens, is nothing but a constant push to the next grand moment. It is an absolutely off the rails and bombastic tale, yet still continues the Mishima saga in meaningful ways. Kazuya’s on top, Jin’s our only hope, and the story team have no shortage of electrifying contrived scenarios to hammer that point in. I do wish Tekken took just a little time to expand on some events. The series’ lore is so rich, it feels like there’s room for more depth. Letting me form a real emotional attachment to this cast would only add to the everpresent hype.

Yet, I can’t fault Tekken 8 for not bothering. Where else can you play out an entire tournament arc and battlefield rumble scenario in the middle of armageddon? This story is a rollercoaster, and a damn good one at that.

Average Scarborough afternoon.

The wild ride only continues in the optional character stories. Each member of the roster gets a series of five fights against characters with direct narrative relevance to them. That offers the golden nugget of unique match intros and outros, but the fun doesn’t stop there. These short gauntlets each come with a cinematic ending that is nothing short of spectacular. The production value is at an all-time high in Tekken 8, yet these endings still perfectly capture the goofy PlayStation 1-era energy of yore. I was genuinely laughing at so many of them (shoutout Panda), and even found myself a little hurt by the sadder ones. Even with its zanier tendencies, Tekken knows how to tug on the heartstrings.

All of this is supported by absolutely stellar music and visuals. Stages are vibrant, effects never feel overly busy, and the characters look the best they ever have. The soundtrack is banger after banger, with “Silently Boisterous” being a personal favourite. Character creation is near top-tier, to the point where I’d happily pay for an extension to it with more in-depth customisation. As is, however, you can create undeniable drip and even cosplay as your anime and videogame faves. Then, pick your uniquely designed main as the character select music blares at you, readying you for the next battle. It’s all just so fun.

This chair was here when I arrived, I swear.

Tekken 8 is also ridiculously content-rich. Fighting games have been upping their game in recent years when it comes to additional modes and ways to play, and Tekken Project did not let themselves fall behind here. There’s the fun cinematic story, Arcade Quest as its own unique story, character stories for all 32 characters, ranked online, casual online, King of the Hill, Tekken Ball, and a character customiser that essentially doubles as an entire dress-up game within Tekken 8. Not to mention the robust practice mode, with combo training, customisable bots, and perhaps most impressively, replays.

Match replays are nothing new to fighting games, yet Tekken 8’s implementation deserves special mention. Not only can you scroll through a previous fight to see where mistakes were made, you can immediately learn from them in whatever environment you like. Found a fault? By default, Tekken 8 will provide you with a recommended combo at the top of the screen. You can start practising that combo with a bot at the press of a button. Alternatively, you can take control of your character in the moment and try executing whatever recommended counter or combo the game suggests against the ghost of your opponent from that match. You can essentially dive right into the replay in real time! It’s an incredibly cool feature, and makes learning from your mistakes that much easier. After getting destroyed by a friend’s King, I went and watched the replay. I immediately learned how to tech throws and picked up a quick counter combo. Once again, Tekken 8 allows me to improve at every step. With lessons learned, there’s only one thing left to do.

I had to.

Now that the stories and Platinum trophy are behind me, I am only excited to continue. I’ve been trying to get into fighting games properly for years. I’ve spent hours with Mortal Kombat, tried my hand at Street Fighter 6, and even watched plenty of Dragon Ball FighterZ content to see if it was for me. Tekken 8 is finally the one. It’s fun with friends, exciting in every moment, and a terrific teacher for the rounds to come. Plus, I get to tap into my inner fashionista between matches. In a word? Excellent!

Sarim played Tekken 8 on PlayStation 5 with his own bought copy.

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