By William Haderlie / June 27th, 2017
|Developer||Bandai Namco Studios|
|Publisher||Bandai Namco Entertainment|
|Release Date||June 1, 2017|
|Genre||3D Fighting Game|
|Age Rating||ESRB T for Teen|
The genre of fighting games has split into many different sub-genres over the many years of its existence, but perhaps the most primal split is still between 2D and 3D games. There were a couple early quasi-3D fighting games, such as Pit Fighter, but the first major entry in the new genre was Virtua Fighter in 1993. The very rudimentary polygon graphics of this title may seem quaint now, but I still remember the first time I saw that game in the arcade at Jackson Hole, Wyoming. People surrounded it slack jawed at how amazing it looked, even though Street Fighter II still remained the king of the arcade. Part of the reason for this lukewarm interest was a mild confusion about how to even control the fighters in more than two directions. But honestly most of it seemed to be a lack of interesting characters with a lot of personality. Soon after, a title arrived that would change that and kick start the 3D fighter sub-genre in earnest: Tekken. The graphics were only slightly better than Virtua Fighter, but the characters had a ton more personality. This difference was compounded even more with their sequels: Tekken 2 and Virtua Fighter 2 are extremely different games. But the largest factor in determining which series would end up the dominant 3D fighting game was the fact that Tekken 2 was one of the first games for the fledgling PlayStation 1, but the Virtua Fighter games were relegated to the (soon to be defunct) SEGA systems.
There are two reasons I am starting off the review with a brief history of the series. The first reason is to give my own history with the series, which is to say that I’ve been there since the beginning. I must admit to being much more into 2D fighting games, particularly those from Japan, but I have owned every single Tekken fighting game except the very first one. And I even participated in some small tournaments during the Tekken 3 and Tekken Tag Tournament arcade periods. But the larger reason is because this game is very much a culmination of all the Tekken games before it. It is no secret that the sales for Tekken 6 and Tekken Tag Tournament 2 were considered underwhelming, but perhaps worse, they were also met with malaise and negativity among the general fighting game populace. The most hardcore fighting game fans cannot really make or break a release by themselves, unless your development budget is extremely small, but they do tend to be the proverbial canary in the coal mine if you cannot convince even your most dedicated fans. So after a few years of development and much arcade testing, this is the product that Harada and his team wanted to return into prominence with. The direction they chose is to take all the story and history they have developed over two decades, and to not only attempt to create the best fighting mechanics, but to also bring the central story of the Mishimas to a conclusion.
There is a lot about the Story Mode of this title that I do not want to spoil. But I can say that you will finally find out the entire history of what has been going on with the Mishima family since the very beginning of the series. That shot you see above is possibly the most iconic in the entire history of the series. If you ask anyone what the story of Tekken is about, you can get varied responses because it has been all over the place depending on the characters you choose. But the central story has always been about the son trying to get revenge on the father for dropping him off a cliff and (you find out later) for killing his mother. Of course, you also find out that the son (Kazuya) is part Devil, but none of this was really explained until now. The story mostly takes the form of a motion comic followed by CG sequences and then a short bout of fighting. During the main story you only really control about 5 of the characters, but if you are truly worried about not knowing how to control those characters you can lower the difficulty and add on controller shortcuts that will make moves and combos a button press away. The story is not really going to win any awards for quality, but to be fair they had to cobble together many disparate elements and it is a fighting game, not an RPG. But when Guilty Gear Xrd -Revelator- and BlazBlue Central Fiction told much better stories more recently, that is a minor disappointment. But still, this is far more story for these characters than any of the fighting games previously contained.
Once you finish the Main Story, additional side stories and a Special Chapter will unlock for you to select. The Special Chapter is very short compared to the other 15 Chapters of the story, but it also features a much more difficult battle to challenge you. You are rewarded with a short bonus scene that has to do with the victor in the battle between father and son. More importantly, you also unlock short bonus stories and scenes for all the other characters in the game, even the DLC character Eliza. Mostly the side story scenes feature a fight with their primary rival or antagonist through the entire series. Some of those rivalries are recent, and some of them date back to the very first game. Unfortunately, my largest complaint for this entire release is that each of the side characters who are not part of the Main Story are given a very short shrift when it comes to story content. There is merely a text opening for you to read that gives some idea of what they were doing during the period of this game, and then you fight one battle and you have an in-game cut scene showing the consequences of your victory. Of course, the difficulty with developing the story in any fighting game rears its head here: they have to account for the win from either side. Hence none of the battles actually have any bearing on the overall story. This is, of course, why they had to just choose the Mishima story as the thread to weave all of these games together. But it still could have been done better, if it was given more time and resources.
What the development team did spend more time and resources on is the character variety and solid fighting mechanics. Given the choice, that is the better decision for this genre. Not only do you have a massive list of potential characters with a ton of variety (really only Kuma and Panda used to be palette swaps of each other), but you can customize each of them with up to 8 different looks that you can pull up for any of the different modes but the Story. Pre-ordered and Day 1 physical copies of the game include the vampire Eliza, and the developers have already stated that they intend on introducing characters that are new to the Tekken series as well as possibly bringing back some old characters that didn’t make it into this entry (reports on whether the old characters will be free or paid haven’t been fully verified yet). With the massive move list that has been part of the series for many years, having a cast list already this large is quite enough to justify the price of the game even before you add potential DLC onto it. But it is still nice to know that Harada and team are still working to support the game further.
The Arcade Mode is very rudimentary for this game, featuring only a few fights before it ends with two special matches between a rotating cast of the main villains/characters of the Mishima Saga. And if that is all there was to it, I would be taking off review score points. But instead of just leaving it at that rudimentary Arcade Mode, they also include Treasure Mode, which I found to be much more satisfying. Treasure Mode replaces what would typically be called Survival Mode, in that it is an endless fight featuring a series of consecutively more difficult opponents. But thankfully your health bar does restore fully between each round and each fight. Instead the mechanic is that you loot treasure chests, between one and three, from the enemies you defeat, and you also fight opponents that have a difficulty based on their own Rank. You can unlock new character profile phrases, names, health bars, and all sorts of customization options, but the primary draw is outfits and effects that you can add to really customize your main fighters.
Most of the treasures that you receive in Treasure Mode are prioritized for the character you are fighting with, but there is an element of randomness to it as well. You also earn Gold by competing in this mode, and once you reach really large winning streaks, you will really start piling up the Gold. You can then spend the Gold to unlock even more customization options or the previous CG scenes and endings for the entire series, as well as a massive amount of character art for each game. There are also Special Fights which routinely happen during the mode which give options for higher ranking treasure chests and special loot. Some of these special fights involve taking on a boss character (such as Devil Kazuya), while others have you fighting a clone of yourself with a specific outfit you can steal. The most challenging are fights with specific conditions such as Turbo, Double Damage, or only Juggle Damage. That is half of the reason I spent so much time on the Treasure Mode; the other half of the fun with this mode is Ranking.
The first fighting game that I played with a major ranking system was actually Virtua Fighter 5. You could work your way up the Dan ranks by winning more and more matches until you got to the top ranks, and it was determined by win percentage. This game uses that same principle but has expanded upon it even more in the 7 years since that game’s release. Also they have two separate Ranks attached to your profile, one for Online and another for Offline. During Online mode you can only Rank up during Ranked Matches, in order to prevent abuse of the system. In Offline mode you can rank up in Arcade Mode, Treasure Mode, and Offline Multiplayer. The most efficient of all those ways of ranking up offline was the Treasure Mode I previously discussed. Not only does it make sense to also loot a bunch of treasure while you are trying to rank up, but some of the later ranks require a very large total of wins, so the endless mode makes that much easier to achieve.
Once you reach the Dan rankings you start to have specific titles conferred on your character. Each of the titles is displayed when you use that character in any mode. Many of these titles are extremely flashy, especially when you start reaching ranks like you see above where my Eliza is a 24th Dan. Of course, for many more casual players they are unlikely to see any of the later titles (this particular one was the result of a 136 match winning streak). It’s nice to have these systems that do more than just get you to purchase a game, but keep you playing it long after your first week. And adding onto the fun of these mighty titles when you are playing Online or Offline Multiplayer is seeing a character that looks absolutely amazing, such as a toy robot looking Jack-7 or a fully beast mode King. And given that almost every item, outfit, and haircut can have many different colors that you can customize them with, there is almost endless variety in how you can make your characters look.
The last thing I want to discuss for the review is a little more technical, which is why I saved it for the end. There are no real negatives for this release other than a minor quibble about there not being enough side stories for the other characters. So instead I’m going to go into the most controversial addition to this game, which can be seen as a good thing or a bad thing depending on who you ask. Rage mode has been a part of the Tekken franchise for a couple games now—it happens when you character’s health enters the last 25%. The benefit of Rage mode has been that it offered a comeback potential by increasing the damage you could do significantly. They added a new wrinkle to this mode in Tekken 7 by introducing Rage Arts and Rage Drives, which add further comeback potential at the cost of removing your Rage. Rage Drives are a multi-hit move that can be used as a combo starter, but require a bit more execution to pull off. Rage Arts are a single one blast move that can be potentially blocked but have armor (armor means that you can be damaged but cannot be hit stunned out) during the active frames of the move animation. This has caused some Tekken purists to be upset over what they consider to be catering to the casuals or the imbalance of the meta-game to favor comebacks, something that they have felt the series has been better about than other notable examples (Marvel Versus Capcom 3). For me, I’m mostly okay with the addition and it’s not going to affect my final score. I can see the reasoning both for the change and for the resistance against it, but the tournaments so far have not suffered at all. And the inclusion of the slow motion in addition to the Rage Arts have made for some pretty hype moments.
The graphics are an improvement over the previous two Tekken games of this generation, but not enough for it to be a major thing. They were much more focused on making this a culmination game rather than breaking new ground. Especially great is having access to every CG scene in the series previous to this. Likewise with the music being good, but not fantastic. Instead, the ability to customize your own playlist from previous games is a really amazing addition to fighting games that I wish more series would do. And speaking of what I wish more games would do, every other developer should be required to play this game so they could see what it’s like to have a diverse cast of voice actors. Every character in this game speaks their native language, whether that is Japanese, Korean, Spanish, French, Italian, Russian, English, or others. I cannot describe how happy I am about that development—I’m almost willing to give a game 5 stars for that alone. But really that is unnecessary in this case because so much else about the game is amazing. It did not take me long with the game to rediscover that similar feeling I had when playing Tekken 3 for the first time, that this series had exceeded my expectations and showed me something new. I’m not the only one: there is a general feeling of excitement for this series in the FGC that I haven’t felt for several years. The $49.99 base price of this game is more than justified, and I can see myself playing it far more than even the hours I’ve already spent grinding out ranking. The online is stable and the offline is more fun than it ever was before. What a return to form this has been, and it was worth the long wait in arcades testing when they come back with such a strong entry. I’m not sure where the story will go with the Mishima Saga finished, but I know that my excitement for this series has been reinvigorated.
Review Copy Was Self Purchased
3D Fighting gameBandai Namco EntertainmentBandai Namco StudiosPlayStation 4Tekkentekken 7