It’s easy to look at the landscape of fighting games and not see a place for Tekken 7. Almost everything about it seems so outdated, as many other fighters have moved beyond its many aspects. When you think about what a fighting game is nowadays, you can easily spot a formula: a character has a given set of skill divided into three categories (or more) – one for regular moves/combos, one for special moves, and one for super moves. These special moves can be enhanced, burning part of a meter that builds up as the match progresses, but you can also save up your super meter to unleash a devastating, cinematic attack that deals around a third of your opponent’s health when successfully landed.
Meanwhile, that has never been the case with Tekken, and even in 2017 at the height of this formula’s popularity, while every other fighting game zigs, Tekken 7 zags. Perhaps it’s just because of its current competition in the genre, but Tekken 7 feels like a breath of fresh air.
Everyone Has Daddy Issues
The story of Tekken 7 comes down to the same thing every other Tekken game has come down to: daddy issues. General family drama definitely applies, but it’s mostly of the paternal nature. Important Japanese man throws his child son off a cliff, child son survives, but is pretty peeved about it. Suddenly, the son devotes his entire life to destroying his father. But, he also has a son of his own, and being a bad father runs in the family, so now that son devotes his entirely life to destroying his father, but also at some points his grandfather. Did I mention the original Important Japanese man also has a father who wasn’t much of a family man either? Yeah, he shows up in Tekken 5 and gets defeated by his great grandson, because of course he does.
Sure, other people have interesting stories also, and the Tekken of old would let you experience them by playing through the King of the Iron Fist Tournament as that character, but these stories have often been ancillary. And Tekken 7 literally makes them ancillary. You have the story mission, which mostly focuses on Kazuya Mishima’s latest attempt to destroy his grandfather (although you play as several other characters who help make that happen or try to stop it, and everyone else who wasn’t featured in the main story gets relegated to a new “Character Episode” feature. The main story itself flows well, and it avoids typical contrivances to get people to fight (*cough* Injustice 2 *cough*), but it’s fair to say that other characters feel tragically underwritten, and Tekken 7‘s Arcade feature doesn’t help.
But the biggest problem with the story mode is a bit of what I like to call Mortal Kombat syndrome. In the 2011 Mortal Kombat, the enemies got harder and harder until it reached a boiling point with Shao Kahn. Playing as Raiden, you either had to be a gosu Mortal Kombat god or spend the entire fight against him teleporting when he throws his hammer and then uppercutting him. Like Mortal Kombat, Tekken 7‘s last few bosses have regenerating health and super armor that make a straight up fight impossible, so I found myself using the “story assist” feature to spam one special kick that would knock the final boss on the ground and then continue to hit him while he’s on the ground over and over again. It wasn’t fun.
That being said, it was finally nice to see Tekken fully delve into Heihachi Mishima (Important Japanese Man). In previous games, he just felt like Evil Bad Guy #3 – someone purely malevolent for the sake of it. In Tekken 7, they actually explore his motivations and deeper character moments. You may still draw the conclusion that he is an irredeemable bastard, but at least you’ll have more ammunition to do so. The folks at Bandai Namco maybe rewrote just a tad bit of Tekken history to do this, but it shouldn’t bother too many people, and additional character understanding is always worth it.
Only In Tekken
Other Tekken 7 characters certainly could have made the story mode more enjoyable, but they get their moment to shine simply by playing as them, either in Arcade, with a buddy or online. Many characters on Tekken 7‘s roster are just so gleefully ridiculous. In both the new and returning characters lists, Tekken 7 is perhaps only rivaled by complete oddball fighters such as Guilty Gear and Blazblue.
You’ll have returning characters such as Alisa, a robot with detachable body parts. She can fire off her fists as weapons and her head becomes dislodged when someone connects with a high attack. Then you’ll have Eliza, a vampire who laid down for “a short nap, but she ended up sleeping for 600 years.” This is a welcome sight in a fighting game that can feel sort of dour, especially in its main story mode.
As always, Tekken 7 brings a new group of fighters to its roster, and they run the gamut of interesting and hilarious. Lucky Chloe is sure to be a fan favorite, as a young woman with an obsession of Japanese culture who walks around wearing cat paws and a cat tail. Meanwhile, Kazuya’s mother makes a first-time appearance, adding to the more serious side. This goes for the story as well, Tekken 7 strikes a good balance between its serious, somber moments, and those of levity.
While Tekken 7, as I said, lacks many of the frills that come with today’s fighting games, it would be a mistake to underestimate it or label it as simple. Combat in Tekken 7 is deceptively technical, giving you all the potential for things like juggles and cancels without making them explicit or providing a road map for them. Because of this removal, Tekken 7 actually feels more free.
It stays pretty ardent to the standard dial-a-combo format, but the downtime in between random button presses feels less pronounced. In a game like Mortal Kombat X, you can feel like you’re standing still if you press a button not part of a 5-hit combo. Tekken 7 is a lot more smooth in this regard, and it even more lends itself to the enjoyment (not necessarily the success) of people who don’t really know what they’re doing when it comes to fighting games.
But this won’t necessarily lead to more success for less-experienced players. Tekken 7 still has a very high skill ceiling, reachable by people who have mastered the more intricate details. More than that, you have to learn to be very careful about responding to opponents attacks either with appropriately targeted blocks or by punishing them with fast attacks after a whiff. These things can’t be achieved with button-mashing. Even in their most mainstream addition (Rage attacks that mimic supers or X-Rays, depending on what game you play), are done so with a their own flair, instead becoming available below a certain health threshold.
In another positive, Tekken 7, for the most part, runs sweet as a nut on PC, something I was admittedly worried about. The biggest framerate drops I experienced occurred in the loading screens, not in cutscenes nor in the fights themselves, where every frame is precious.
Tekken will always have a place among today’s fighting games, but it will always be its own place, and Tekken 7 is the best embodiment of that mentality. They’ve made very little effort to conform to what other fighting games have taken for granted, even down to Tekken 7‘s use of 3D arenas where most fighters conformed to a 2D battlefield years ago. Rather than getting hit by typical fighting game tropes, Tekken 7 was able to sidestep them.
But it’s the ways in which Tekken 7 can still feel fresh despite its classic formula that set it apart from the pack. Even in the few concessions Tekken 7 did make to become more traditional, it did so with its own flair. Its smooth release on PC only goes to bolster the fact that the Tekken series will be around for quite some time, doing its own thing and doing it well.
James Kozanitis is the Features Editor of GameRevolution. You can follow him on Twitter @JamKozy.
A PC copy of Tekken 7 was provided by its publisher. This game is also available for PS4 and Xbox One.