Bandai Namco’s own entry into the burgeoning field of ‘90s fighters came a tad later than most. The 3D scrapper hit the market in 1994, hoping to carve out a lucrative piece of the punch pie that was being enjoyed by Messrs. Street Fighter II, Mortal Kombat, Fatal Fury, Virtua Fighter, and Pit-Fighter… Well, maybe not Pit-Fighter. At the time, it was Capcom who ruled the 2D roost, while Sega had used its brand name to dazzle the market with its own dynamic, 3D take on the genre. Compared to these giants, Bandai Namco’s new, unproven franchise had a real scrap on its hands.
Tekken, however, had an ace up its sleeve, which came in the form of the incoming Sony PlayStation. This console would hugely revitalize the home gaming market, pulling in a massive new audience of players - many of whom had never once picked up a controller. This was an untapped market, and Bandai Namco - whether by savviness or luck - had its eye, releasing Tekken exclusively to Sony platform and instantly winning over a dedicated army contenders with visually impressive and technically sound action. The launch of Tekken 2 and Tekken 3 scant years later would further secure the franchise’s place at the table, and the rest is history.
Amazingly, it has been eight years since the release of the most recent entry, Tekken 7, which hit Japanese arcades in 2015 but would not make its way to Western platforms until 2017. This represents a pretty long life for a fighter. But Tekken 7 has nevertheless been a mainstay at every major tournament across the globe, retaining a huge, devoted following and consistently thrilling every contender willing to Get Riddy Fur Tha Next Battul.
This week the hype fires are set to light once again, as Bandai Namco releases its long-anticipated sequel Tekken 8 - conveniently in time to celebrate the series’ 30th anniversary. With the newly-installed Unreal 5 engine, a stacked roster of fan-favorites, and an overhauled online system, the legendary series is preparing to step into a ring currently occupied by some stellar competition. So don your studded gauntlets, park your pandas, and don’t forget to pack your daddy issues…
…It’s time to rejoin The King of Iron Fist Tournament.
Tekken 8, as previously mentioned, launches at a time of great feasting for the fighting game community. Street Fighter 6 and Mortal Kombat 1 are readily established, Guilty Gear Strive is enjoying its third season, and fine underdogs such as Granblue Fantasy Versus and Under Night In-Birth have also benefited from rad new releases. It is a time of evolution in the fighting game genre, ahead of what promises to be a rollicking competitive year for the Fighting Game Community (FGC).
In regard to this evolution, Tekken 8 packs a brand-new engine, powered by Unreal 5. This decision locks the title to only the most current of gaming platforms, but also marries modern tech to what has always been the shiniest fighter on the market. Surprising nobody, Tekken 8 looks sensational. The character models are an improvement from those of Tekken 7 and boast some of the smoothest animation that the franchise has ever seen.
The Unreal 5 upgrade is best reflected in Tekken 8’s stages and special effects. And while Tekken has also been the most visually-hungry fighter, the new engine allows for some stunning scenery, further bolstered by dynamic lighting effects, turbulent background action, and more llamas than you ever knew you wanted. Whether depicting the bright sunshine and rolling hills of Ortiz Farm, or the devastating aftermath of a war-torn Times Urban Square, each stage is positively alive with atmosphere.
Tekken 8 looks sensational. Improved character models boast some of the smoothest animation the franchise has ever seen.
Particle effects, famously used in Tekken battles to designate hits, blocks, throws, and reversals, offer additional flash and flair, while the heaving flames, shattered floors, crumbling walls, and blinding lasers lend an air of authenticity to a series that has always chosen to err on the side on realism… Well, as real as a game starring a CEO bear can be.
Tekken, like all fighters, has a bespoke style and aesthetic that defines it - a look that makes a series instantly recognizable. And Tekken‘s persistent strive towards, let’s call it, fantasy-photorealism, will not be for everybody. In any case, Tekken 8 has stepped up, moving closer toward realism than it has perhaps ever been. This is reflected not just in its bulging biceps and comedic haircuts, but also in its overall sense of mood and atmosphere. It’s odd to lead a review of a fighter with such a heavy emphasis on its visual appeal. But frankly, this is the element of the sequel that demonstrates the most evolution.
From a gameplay standpoint, Tekken 8 is… well… it’s Tekken. While series such as Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat have redefined themselves for their latest entries (admittedly to various measures of success), Tekken 8 follows the series’ ongoing methodology of “Kinda the same, but bigger & louder”. Tekken 8 does bring new mechanics to the ring, most notably in the form of its new “Heat” system, (sadly, still no sign of Kazuma Kiryu).
Tekken veterans like Paul Phoenix and Forrest Law (left), will lock horns with newcomers, such as the fiery Azucena Ortiz (right)
The “Heat Burst” mechanic, (activated once per round by hitting 2 & 4 together), puts the character in a strengthened state for a limited time, powering up their moves and increasing chip damage. This status allows access to the all-new “Heat Smash”, a cinematic auto-combo that deals significant damage but instantly drains the remaining gauge. Additionally, the “Rage Art” (Super) system returns from Tekken 7, allowing for a powerful and explosive last-ditch maneuver to be pulled out when a player is in dire straits.
Aside from the above mechanics, however, it is mostly business-as-usual, with Tekken 8 retaining focus on its launcher > juggle system, as well as an emphasis on Oki, wall-bouncing, and off-the-ground attacks. Tekken 8 does not hugely evolve its tried-and-tested combat in the same way other big-name fighters have, but the new engine does allow for its moment-to-moment engagement to feel responsive and crisp, with only the more cinematic moments causing any drop in frame rate. As a whole, Tekken 8’s flow is exceptionally smooth, offering sharp response times and clean, fluid motion.
As ridiculous as this may sound, one of the sequel’s biggest boons is the load times, with fights now starting up in mere seconds. As each successive sequel has gobbled up more and more resources, load times have been an increasingly troublesome bugbear. God Bless the SSD for giving us what may be the fastest load time in the franchise’s history. No, seriously, guys, I’m really excited about this.
At this stage, 30 years in, we have to wonder whether Tekken will ever truly look to overhaul its core gameplay. After all, its been eight years since Tekken 7‘s release and Tekken 8 is quite comparable from an in-ring standpoint. That said, the fanbase clearly has an “If it ain’t broke…“ mentality. And, in that regard, Tekken 8 will likely deliver exactly what the people want - even if it all feels curiously over-familiar.
Tekken 8's shiny new engine makes for dazzling visuals and spectacular effects
When it comes to online play, Tekken 8 features an entirely new lobby suite, with a fully-realized 3D hub world and customizable avatars. Much like Street Fighter 6‘s Battle Hub, the Tekken Fight Lounge lets players hang out, converse, emote, spar, dance, play a round of Tekken Ball, and duke it out in Casual, Ranked, and Tournament matches. Like Battle Hub, it’s a cute setup that offers a sense of pseudo-community. For those who prefer their matters of the fist a little more formally, all of the online options are also available directly from the main menu.
As for the quality of the online… Well, the jury is still out. It should be made absolutely clear - first and foremost - that Tekken 8 online is an improvement over Tekken 7. The majority of the fights I’ve encountered have been clean and highly responsive, courtesy of the rollback netcode. That said, in both the previous beta and during this review process, I have had more than a few matches that have stuttered, either at the start of a round or during their busier moments - one Floor Break caused a fight to de-sync entirely.
This glum news might lead to eye-rolling from the community, but take heart. Overall, Tekken 8’s online experience is off to a positive start. Hopefully, once the servers are launched and populated, any remaining creases will be swiftly ironed out.
Tekken doesn’t do subtlety. It never has. Find me another fighter where a boxing Raptor takes on a haunted wooden man.
Tekken 8 boasts not one, but two forms of story mode: The lore-loving epic “The Darkness Awakens” and the newly-designed “Arcade Quest”. The former depicts the latest chapter in Tekken‘s tale of Very Angry Families and sees Kazuya Mishima - who’s done with screwing around - pushing for a cataclysm of biblical proportions. Thus, it is up to everyone’s favorite sexy war criminal, Jin Kazama, to gain mastery over his cursed Devil gene. Jin will then take the battle to his father - looking to prevent global annihilation with the aid of three schoolgirls, a robot, and a sentient panda.
The Darkness Awakens doesn’t have the same cinematic flair, slick production, or fine photography of a NetherRealm Studios’ joint, but it’s still a fine, fun yarn, populated with nicely produced cutscenes and some thrilling action sequences. Importantly, it moves along at a real tick, lacking the tiresome, meandering nature of similar efforts made by Street Fighter V, Dead or Alive, and even Tekken itself. The Darkness Awakens embraces brevity at the cost of depth and in many ways is better for it. New gal Reina also makes for a fantastic foil, a mysterious young woman whose super-cutesy manner belies something altogether more sinister.
Though overly twee, Arcade Quest does a good job at helping new players find their feet
The second story mode, Arcade Quest, is a blended tutorial and single-player marathon. After creating their avatar, the player is introduced to a gang of local Tekken heads, before embarking on a fictional odyssey to become one of the greatest players in the world. This is achieved by visiting virtual arcades, coast-to-coast, and challenging each territory’s finest players. The story and dialogue are hilariously twee, even childish, but it does serve a purpose. Arcade Quest will help newcomers get to grips with the basics; drip-feed them information about their chosen character; and slowly build confidence before they step into the ruthless, unforgiving world of O.N.L.I.N.E.
Perhaps best of all, Arcade Quest may even inspire some players to take that first step into the real world of competitive fighting games. If it does, then its inclusion is especially important. Just don’t expect everyone in real life to use deodorant like these avatar kids.
In addition to these two story modes, the Tekken 8 feature suite includes Vs. battles, Character Stories, (complete with the requisite silly cinematics), an improved Ghost Mode, Practice mode, Replays, a Gallery and Jukebox, and the returning Tekken Ball. Of course, the ever-popular Character Customization is on deck, but while the clothing, hair, and accessories have certainly never looked flashier, the available wardrobe still feels limited when compared to the virtual shopping mall that was Tekken 6.
Overall, Tekken 8 offers a decent, but not exemplary, package of side activities. It’s a definite improvement on its thinly-featured predecessor, but it still feels a little lacking when propped up against some of its contemporaries.
Just a bear in a waistcoat hitting a man with a salmon
Tekken has always been the brashest, loudest, and even brassiest of the big fight franchises, with an affectation for over-amplified style that borders on gaudy. That sounds like an insult, but it isn’t. It is simply Tekken‘s way - as much an assault on the senses as it is on its participants. With loud, electrifying, bass-pounding music, impactful sound effects, booming announcers, and a penchant for environmental destruction, Tekken doesn’t do subtlety. It never has. Find me another fighter where a boxing Raptor takes on a haunted wooden man.
In Tekken 8, a potent new engine has allowed the development teams of Bandai Namco and Arika to turn the volume up to 11, resulting in a visual and aural experience that will leave many exhilarated and some simply bewildered. It will certainly make for an electric tournament atmosphere, that’s for sure. Looking flashier than ever, and charged by its familiar-but-faithful gameplay, Tekken 8 is confidently set to remain a mainstay of the upcoming tournament scene - be it held in Tokyo, Las Vegas, your local bar, or simply in your own living room.
It rarely flips the script, but that’s ok, because - some three decades later - The King of Iron Fist Tournament still packs one helluva punch.
Tekken returns to the ring with a powerful new engine that sees The King of Iron Fist Tournament looking, sounding, and performing at its most majestic. Gameplay still forgoes evolution in favor of tradition, resulting in progress that is mostly skin-deep. Regardless, Tekken 8 remains a blast to play, set to keep competitive hype fires burning throughout 2024 and beyond.
Chris has been playing video games since 1986, back when people saw in black and white. Former editor for Destructoid, their thoughts and reports on the media taste forgot have also been published in outlets such as Eurogamer, Starburst, and Retro Gamer. Joining the Gamer Guides crew in 2023, Chris contributes fair and thoughtful critique on a wide variety of genres.