We’re at a peculiar point in PlayStation history right now.
As it stands, franchises synonymous with the brand that began in earnest over twenty years ago have fallen off their perch as of late. Franchises like Gran Turismo and Tekken — traditionally juggernauts for the Japanese console over the years — have provided underwhelming returns with their latest offerings when compared to their historical counterparts. To say there was a palpable sense of anticipation arriving at an appointment to check out Tekken 7 — the first mainline entry in seven years — at this year’s E3 was an understatement. It’d been far too long since we lay witness to Namco’s unique blend of fighting game.
First, we were ushered into a small theater to get the scoop on how this entry will unfold once it releases early next year. On the story front, series head honcho Katsuhiro Harada has promised a “darker” tone this time around, with the much-anticipated culmination of the Mishima plotline that has raged on for years. But let’s face it, this is the series that proudly drove a storyline that involved series staple Nina Williams — an amnesia-ridden Irish assassin who was cryogenically frozen for fifteen years — getting impregnated without her consent, then giving birth to a boxer named Steve Fox, whom she was subsequently sent to kill by the mafia. Oh, and there’s also a dinosaur named Alex with a penchant for boxing. It’s safe to say the aspect worth championing within the series has always been its gameplay, no matter how wacky the elongated cast seems to grow.
As one would come to expect then, Tekken 7 plays like an absolute dream. Fast, fluid movements, crisp animations, and sharp lighting make this one of the prettiest fighting games I’ve seen this console generation. Dynamic weather also deserves a mention, too. While it doesn’t alter the gameplay in any meaningful fashion it does add a degree of grandeur and importance to the battle at hand. That said, it’s also a bit of hindrance as I found myself staring at Law’s glistening pectoral muscles for longer than necessary — a testament to just how well Unreal Engine 4 delivers the game’s weather effects. Floors are once again destructible too and seem to happen with more frequency than ever before.
One addition to the gameplay that adds a more pronounceable shift to the fighting mechanics is “rage drive,” an intimidating boost of power for standard attacks enacted by sacrificing your character’s rage mode. It’s a more dynamic and cinematic way of turning the fight on its head if you’re finding yourself behind. In fact, round 3 of one of my many fights with colleague Ernest Lin was one such time; a finely poised affair where a few, well-placed strikes by either side would ensure the decisive win and subsequently the all-important bragging rights. With both of us hovering over the point of our health meters that would ensure a ‘great’ finish for whomever was the victor, I struck quickest with my now-implemented rage drive and dealt a flurry of blows that left him reeling. It was a tense moment that in many ways seemed to encompass the fighting mechanic philosophy at the heart of Tekken 7.
With the employment of this seemingly (in the grand scheme of things) inconsequential addition, developer Bandai Namco has managed to craft out a method that allows for a lot more frenetic moments to arise within the fights; a conduit to deliver more dynamic and varied ways for how a fight can play out no matter your skill level. And best of all, it never feels cheap, even if you’re on the losing end of it. Other welcome changes include an expansion to the ‘rage art’ system alongside a much-welcomed removal of the ability allowing you to trap an opponent in an infinite combo. Moreover, you’re no longer able to catch them as they roll from the floor either. So, that’s one tactic out the window.
At its core, there’s seemingly a matter of refinement rather than revolution for the seventh mainline entry in the venerated fighting franchise. And that’s in no way something that should be ridiculed too strongly. With the recent debacle following Street Fighter V’s release and its subsequent failings to provide post-release content in a timely manner, there is the possibility that fighting fans just want a polished experience jam-packed with single-player content by a developer that recognizes the importance of releasing a fully-formed product, rather than drip-feeding content with a premium price attached right off the bat. That said, it’s worth bearing in mind that it’s been some seven years since the release of Tekken 6 and that’s a long time considering we’ve seen two Mortal Kombats and several BlazBlues in roughly the same timeframe. So perhaps the wholesale changes some will expect won’t exactly be present, but for the rest of us, that’s just fine so long as the King of the Iron First returns triumphantly. And it’s looking like it will.