Tekken 8 is Bandai Namco’s latest entry in its long-running fighter series. The franchise has gone through multiple iterations to stay up-to-date with current fighting game trends. Yet, Tekken 8 could be the best offering in a long time.
Developer & Publisher // Bandai Namco Studios and Arika & Bandai Namco Entertainment
Platforms // PC, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X|S
MSRP & Release Date // $69.99, Jan 26, 2024
Reviewed On // Xbox Series X
Tekken 8 Cranks Its Story Mode to 11
The Dark Awakens is the franchise’s first foray into a fully-fledged cinematic story mode. It is here players are treated with an all-encompassing narrative filled to the brim with cutscenes. The story follows Jin Kazama. Six months after the events of Tekken 7, Jin was defeated at the hands of Kazuya Mishima. Jin’s defeat brought about a battle that killed millions in the process. Additionally, Jin also lost the ability to awaken his devil powers. In contrast, Kazuya reveals to the world his devil form and calls for a new King of the Iron Fist Tournament. The tournament pits fighters representing different national blocs against one another. Winning nations are rewarded, while the losers face destruction from Kazuya’s evil corporation war machines.
As Jin recovers his abilities, he is joined up by Lars Alexandersson and Lee Chaolan as they lead a rebellion against Kazuya. Jin is convinced to join the tournament to stop Kazuya Mishima. Kazama faces off against a familiar foe and defeats him in the Asian Bloc qualifiers. This sets up The Dark Awakens story that goes through a 15-chapter rollercoaster ride.
A Step in the Right Direction
The Dark Awakens mode is by far Tekken’s most ambitious story mode it has ever undertaken. Clearly, Bandai Namco is taking cues from Morkat Kombat 1 with its big-production value narrative, which exceeded my expectations.
The Dark Awakens clocks in around 4 hours, most of which are cutscenes. During that time almost all of the 32 characters are featured. It helped bring together and create an overlying context for Tekken in a way it has flirted with before. Also, it’s worth mentioning that some of the cutscenes do drag on quite a bit, and a lot of anime tropes and presentations are overly relied upon. I am talking about mid-air battles, energy beams tugs-of-war, and ridiculous amounts of pre-fight trash-talking. Another funny aspect of the cutscenes is how characters speak different languages to each other, but somehow, they all manage to perfectly understand each other. It’s a minor thing, but I found it a little funny. It is cheesy, goofy, and over-the-top and it works.
There was one chapter that stood out in particular that pits you as several different characters fighting off waves of troops and Jack robots in an open space battlefield. You can quickly switch between enemies, and it felt similar to Dynasty Warriors. Though it does sound like a gimmick, it worked well and broke up the pace. The narrative was paced well, with the stakes rising with every subsequent chapter.
Despite these minor criticisms and gimmicky-like modes, The Dark Awakens mode is a welcome addition to the Tekken package. Safe to say, Bandai Namco should use The Dark Awakens design as a future stepping stone for additional story-related content for the Tekken franchise.
New and Improved Character Episodes
After completing chapters, players unlock character episodes. These episodes provide additional story beats for each character. Each episode involves multiple fights and ties that specific character’s role in the overall narrative of The Dark Awakens mode.
No doubt, the new and improved character episodes are feedback from the last mainline Tekken game. Previously, in Tekken 7, character episodes were comprised of one match only and were obviously low effort.
Plenty of Modes, But Some Are Greater Than Others
Tekken 8 features a plethora of modes, making it one of the most content-rich offerings in the fighter’s history. Players can customize their own Xbox-style Avatar and learn all about the game’s combat while unlocking goodies in the Arcade Quest. Players go to different arcades challenging players there and moving up the rankings that of course increase in difficulty. Arcade Quest unlockables include new clothes for your Avatar and different customization options that appear near your health gauge like borders, slogans, and more. Though it’s only minor customization options, I felt that it added a little more motivation to keep progressing in Arcade Quest.
Tekken Ball makes a comeback in Tekken 8. The last time the mode graced a mainline Tekken game was in the seminal Tekken 3. In a nutshell, Tekken Ball pits 2 players where they have to strike a beach ball into an opponent’s court to win. Tekken Ball often creates hilarious matchups and helps break up the routine. However, don’t expect it to have staying power as the initial charm doesn’t last too long. Fortunately, Tekken 8 also does a lot right for its online component.
Tekken 8 online multiplayer smartly features rollback netcode. In layman’s terms, it is a sort of predictive network solution that attempts to predict your movesets to reduce latency. Simply put, it worked well. The few online matchmaking fights I got into were perfectly playable. At least they were perfectly playable in the sense that I was able to experience my fighter get destroyed with little lag. The latency was present but was at a tolerable level. It’s also a good thing Bandai Namco turned on crossplay to help ensure Tekken 8 has a healthy player base in its lifetime.
Tekken 8 Super Ghost Battle & My Replays & Tips Are Revolutionary
Practice mode is a staple of any competitive fighting game. But what Tekken 8 has done with its version of practice mode, dubbed Super Ghost Battle, is revolutionary. Yes, I don’t use that term lightly, and here’s why.
First, Super Ghost Battle mode relies on AI to mimic your play style. So, when you spar against yourself, you will get a feel of how you play. Second, players can download the playstyle of any Tekken player and use them in Super Ghost Battle. This is a great way to up your game, especially if you’re sparring against Tekken 8’s best players. Lastly, and probably most impressively, Tekken 8 replays are on a whole different level.
The My Replays and Tips feature could be a game-changer for the fighting game community. In a nutshell, Tekken 8 will save your replays of any online match break it down for you, and give you feedback. For example, if you got knocked hard during a combo, the replay will provide feedback on how you could have countered the combo. No doubt, My Replays and Tips will be a valuable tool for those who seek to get into the competitive fighting scene.
Right, But How does Tekken 8 Play? Well, It’s Pretty Good
Tekken has a distinctive feel to it compared to other 3D fighters. The game rewards aggression, but there must be precision and rhythm to it. When I first played Tekken 8, I immediately jumped into The Dark Awakens mode. However, I was left frustrated as I couldn’t string together combos to save my life. However, dabbling with the Arcade Quest Mode helped me get used to Tekken’s simple, yet intricate, combo system.
The traditional Right Punch, Left Punch, Left Kick, and Right Kick are all there. Stringing combos together all depends on momentum and stance, and it feels amazing when you land a combo or cheeky counters. Grapples are still satisfying to pull off and help give you a breather if you’ve been cornered. My favorite character remains Hwoarang. I love his Taekwondo move sets. His multi-swing kicks and round-houses are unmatched. Amazingly, he plays similarly to previous entries, yet the much-improved graphics and animations made him feel better than ever. Also, it helps that my kids now are learning the beautiful Korean martial arts, which motivated me to stick with Hwoarang.
Of course, it wouldn’t be Tekken without air juggling, which is of course fair play in the game. Juggling requires some timing to keep your opponent in the air, but the timing is unforgiving and requires precision to execute. However, there are some new systems in play in Tekken 8 that both expand combat and help bring in newcomers alike.
Heat Wave Incoming
Tekken 8 introduces the Heat system which adds a dynamic layer to fights. Players can enter Heat mode once they fill the smaller bar right below the health gauge. When in Heat (no not that kind of heat) player attacks will continue to do damage even if their attacks are blocked. When you are in Heat Mode you can activate Heat Slam which is an auto combo move. However, Heat Mode can only be activated once per round, so you have to use it strategically.
If you get knocked around a lot, flames will engulf your health bar, which means you can unleash your Rage Art move. It is an ultimate move similar to the ones found in Marvel vs Capcom. Rage Art moves have a brief cutscene where the fighter powers up and unleashes the attack. It adds a lot of dynamism to turn the tide of battle while adding a lot of style to the mix.
Special Style Has Your Back
If you’re new to the franchise, Tekken 8 offers the Special Style mode. Essentially, with the simple press of LB/L1, players can change to single-command mode to help pull off special moves with ease. It’s a nice way to ease new players in and since you can quickly switch between normal and Special Style mode, it doesn’t interrupt the flow of a fight.
Admittedly, I used Special Style when I was learning the ropes to help build my confidence. Lord Cognito of the Iron Lords Podcast hilariously described it as the new “Dad Mode”. Once I felt I had a grasp of the fighting mechanics, I then switched to normal mode to get into the nitty gritty of fights.
Tekken 8 Brings the Graphical Candy
The visuals in Tekken 8 are absolutely stellar. In no part due to Unreal Engine 5 (UE5), the game retains its bulky and sculpted character design but cranks it up to 11. You will immediately notice all the individual pores on some characters’ faces. Especially Jin Kazama, who desperately needs some Neutrogena products to keep his face clear. But that is more of a testament to the intense graphical fidelity of Tekken 8. In addition, characters will regularly have beads of sweat drip down from their foreheads. While veins will pulsate from their marble-esque cut bodies. When it comes to the graphics department, there’s no shortage of impressive attention to detail.
The environments also look spectacular and vibrant. A lot is going on, from cheering fans in an octagon-like arena to food stands that get rocked when a character is pushed toward them. However, my personal favorite is the frantic battlefield level where soldiers and tanks are up in arms. This has to be one of Tekken’s best and most varied stage designs in a long time.
With a Performance To Match
Initially, I had trepidation when I heard Tekken 8 was being built on UE5. After all, the engine is allegedly notorious for being heavy on system resources. Any frame stutter, shader compilation, or any other technical issue can make or break a fighting game. I would even argue that technical/performance issues in fighting games are just as detrimental as they are to competitive shooters. To my surprise and delight, Tekken 8 performed beyond my expectations.
The gamer hardly skipped a beat. Tekken 8 maintained a rock-solid 60 fps in all the matches I played. The only noticeable frame dips were a handful of the cutscenes immediately after a match. However, these instances were few and far apart and did not detract from the experience.
Tekken 8 Maintains its OST Gold Standard and Audio Design
Make no mistake, Tekken 8 continues its long-standing tradition of a quality heart-pumping official soundtrack (OST). Even though I may have fallen off Tekken for a bit, I would regularly have its OST recommended. Honestly, it would not disappoint and does exactly what fighting game music is meant to do, which is to pump you up. Luckily, the same applies to the eighth entry’s soundtrack.
From blistering techno beats to melodic vocals, there’s something for every occasion in the Tekken 8 soundtrack. The opening title track, My Last Stand takes epic to a whole new level and will have you pumped within seconds. However, in particular, the Baroque Attack (Climax) track stands out from the pack. The track fuses a classical string ensemble accompanied by a hardcore drum and bass beat.
Sound design adds immersion and impact that help create a visceral fighting experience. By any measure, Tekken 8 does a wonderful job with its sound design. Every punch and kick has resonance to them, which brings you into the fight.
Character grunts, screams, and other audio idiosyncrasies are ever-present. In some way, these audio cues add a little bit of persona to the characters. For instance, King still roars like a jaguar as he has done since the inception of the franchise. Unfortunately, Law’s obnoxious high-pitched screams remain as well. Clearly, it’s a nod to the late Bruce Lee, it was annoying in Tekken 1 and remains so almost three decades later. For the most part, the audio design is on point, but there was one glaring issue I have to mention.
I played a majority of Tekken 8 on my Xbox Wireless headset, and occasionally I would notice an audible clip with some counterattacks. The clipping sound was enough to create a discomforting situation. Perhaps it’s a bug that will be etched out with a future patch. Or it could related to my headset, time will only tell. But again, for the most part, Tekken 8 delivers when it comes to its audio design and soundtrack.
Final Thoughts on Tekken 8
Make no mistake, Tekken 8 is one of the finest offerings in the long-running series. It offers plenty of modes to keep you busy while making it welcoming to both newcomers and vets alike. Dare I say, Tekken 8 is the best iteration since the ground-breaking Tekken 3.
Note – A code was provided for the purpose of this review.