After defeating his father, Heihachi Mishima, Kazuya continues his conquest for global domination, using the forces of G Corporation to wage war on the world. Jin is forced to face his fate head-on as he battles Kazuya in the middle of New York. After suffering defeat by his father’s hand, Jin needs to regain his strength and reconnect with the demon power he was so used to relying on up until this point.
I love Tekken! It’s such a fun, dumb franchise where the same three people constantly try to kill each other, but it’s over-the-top fun in all the best ways. I have not played every iteration, but I wanted to dive into the latest installment since we’re arguably in the middle of one of the best years for fighting games. Street Fighter 6 and Mortal Kombat 1 highlighted some of the best elements each franchise had to offer. Does Tekken 8 complete the hat trick? I think it does, with a few snags here and there.
If you have some gaps in knowledge in the Tekken series lore, Tekken 8 thankfully has recap segments on the main menu. They are done in a sketchy, black-and-white storyboard style, invoking the edge that the franchise has had for quite some time. These recaps don’t detail everything and mainly focus on the growing hostile relationship within the Mishima family. The relationship between Jin Kazama and Kazuya Mishima is the main driving force for the entire narrative. Despite an ensemble cast pulled from various regions worldwide, some new and some old, this isn’t their story. They are supporters, and this could be detrimental.
Many people don’t play fighting games for their story, but most franchises have tried to take their lore a bit more seriously or, at the very least, to provide a sense of agency for their large cast. You’re not just playing characters because of their fighting style; you’re playing them because you were attached to their story arcs. While many of the characters have great personalities with some pretty fun dialogue written between specific encounters, the game seems to prioritize Jin and two other characters, which I will not spoil. The narrative is primarily about how Jin needs to overcome his literal and figurative inner demons (eight games in, and we are doing the “conquer your inner demon” story you’ve probably seen in every other franchise). It is, however, handled well as Jin realizes he doesn’t need to be a monster to defeat another monster. He’s allowed to have his happy ending.
I would be more critical of the story if the amount of cheesiness isn’t right. Despite many characters treating the situation seriously, the game’s direction and framing show we, the audience, aren’t supposed to. One of the playable characters is a bear that other characters can sometimes understand, even when it’s not making any noise. Despite every character speaking different languages, communication is never an issue! Everyone must be bilingual or able to read the subtitles on screen. Even moments played for dramatic effect are still winking at the camera. I’ll give it a pass, but if you were hoping for a more emotionally dramatic story regarding the other characters, you’re not getting it from Tekken 8 immediately.
Maybe you’re not looking to get into Tekken 8 for the story and want a good, dynamic fighting game to play with friends. That’s completely understandable, and Tekken 8 fulfills that role in spades. The game features an expansive roster of characters right out of the gate, and they all play slightly differently. While everyone’s attack patterns are more or less mapped to the same default layout, the moves and how they affect your opponent will vary. Every character features a different fighting style, sometimes informed by their homeland, whether it’s Jin’s karate, Azucena’s mixed martial arts, or Steve’s boxing style. Many movements are indicative of those combat techniques and not just window dressing. Jin’s karate style has direct yet powerful punches and kicks. Steve, who ended up being my second favorite character, doesn’t use his legs but has a wide range of punching abilities. And then there is Kuma the bear, who is powerful, but his range is garbage.
You can block and counter moves efficiently by reading your opponent’s directional inputs, but you can also counter your opponent if you attack them at the right time. The main mechanic this game introduces is the Heat System, which allows you to go into a “Heat State” once per round that will allow you to perform specific finishes and combos. You can even recover some health in the middle of combat if you can keep up the pressure. There’s also an optional control scheme introduced that’s perfect for newcomers to help ease them into executing the more intense moves without having to memorize complicated button combinations. Some characters feature ranged moves, which make them a little too unbalanced, but it makes sense story-wise why they would possess particular inhuman abilities. Still, in the heat of the action, on normal difficulty, I had a relatively fun, well-balanced time trying out different characters both in the main story campaign and the arcade mode.
However, everything outside of the core fights had a few snags. I played this game’s PC port, and my PC specs are a bit higher than average, as I stream fairly regularly. Unfortunately, while I admire the attempts the game makes and seamlessly blending gameplay with cinematics, whenever the game tries to transition from one to another, there are noticeable drops in frames and lag with surprisingly frequent load times before major events. The animation rendering on the models is superb, but the game often broke my immersion. There would even be some moments during cutscenes where I am pretty confident that a soundbite got cut out or loaded in with a low-volume setting, so I could barely hear it. This problem also occasionally popped up in the online hub when I tried to set up online matches. There is a lobby where you can run around and interact with other people’s avatars, but sometimes, just running around causes the game to lag and stutter. I’m glad I didn’t seem to have any framerate or input lag issues regarding the matches themselves, but it feels weird that everything around them had these noticeable dips in quality.
You can do online matches and complete certain criteria to gain coins, which you can use to purchase cosmetics that you can apply to your online avatar or to purchase costumes for your custom version of a playable character. It’s not the most involved customization, as it’s just swapping out some casual or streetwear clothing for most characters, but it is charming. Considering the game’s art style is expressive, it’s nice to see these characters in different outfits and contexts.
The accompanying soundtracks also helped the characters stand out and were hands-down one of the best things about the game. Naturally, featuring a cast from different parts of the world, it’s a very varied soundtrack that incorporates different music styles from hip-hop to techno to even a little jazz and classical. Even the main theme during the menus is super addictive and catchy. Almost all the tracks come with this unbridled energy that gets you in the mood to get up and work out, which fits the kinetic style that the game is going for.
Tekken 8 was a solid time. The new features are fun without taking away from the core gameplay and provide a solid foundation for newcomers and veterans. Tekken 8 strikes a good middle ground between dark, edgy, and incredibly goofy. It’s very charming, with a conflict many fans still seem invested in. While it would’ve been nice to see more from the rest of the ensemble cast, and the optimization might dip in a few places, Tekken 8 is worth a look at. The game is cross-compatible, meaning if you buy it on any platform, you can verse your friends anywhere on any console. Set up your tournament and see who is the best of the best!