‘Tekken 7’ review

Unless you’re a fighting pro (and even if you are), chances are that at some point you will try to input a certain move in Tekken 7, but instead of watching the attack play out on screen, your fighter will do something you haven’t seen before. You’ll look down at your controller, rack your brain trying to remember what combination of buttons you inadvertently pressed, and, inevitably, pause the game to check your move list. It’s okay, this happens in a game where each character has more than 50 named moves — many more when counting combos. Heihachi Mishima, a series favorite, has 78, in addition to a large assortment of (sometimes) incredibly complex combo strings.

To its credit, the game is still approachable for casual fans thanks to its arcade roots. Like all entries in the long-running series, this Tekken 7 is actually an enhanced port version of a fairly long-standing arcade game. Tekken 7 launched in Japanese arcades in 2015, followed by an updated arcade version, Tekken 7: Fated Retribution. This version of the game takes Fated Retribution, and adds a single-player story mode and other features to provide the most comprehensive version of the Tekken 7 experience.

There’s not enough here to keep those outside of the serious fighting game bubble occupied.

To say that Tekken 7 has deep combat would be an understatement. On a purely mechanical level, Tekken 7 is a deep, strategic fighter, with new visuals that benefit from new, more powerful hardware. That’s something to get excited about. However, besides a few, albeit welcome, adjustments, Tekken 7 is still Tekken. That isn’t necessarily bad, but it’s a bit disappointing that, after such a long wait, the overall experience feels too familiar.

While it’s only been a few years since Tekken Tag Tournament 2 arrived, it’s been almost seven since the last canonical entry in the franchise, Tekken 6, came to consoles. After such a long layoff, one would expect Tekken 7 to feel fresh and exciting. Unfortunately, minor gameplay refinements aside, Tekken 7 settles on being not much more than a re-skinned, prettier version of Tekken 6. From an underwhelming story to the uninspired offline variants, it feels surprisingly half-baked. Even the online format, where Tekken 7 should ideally get its legs, lacks the kind of progression fans of come to expect of all games in 2017. There’s an immersive and incredibly layered fighting experience to be found, but Tekken 7 doesn’t make a convincing argument that you should stick around to find it.

The Mishima Saga flatlines

Leading up to launch, Tekken 7 was billed as the final chapter of the Mishima family saga, which would fill in the often confusing gaps in series’ long, winding story, settle the conflict among three generations of Mishima men — Heihachi, Kazuya, and Jin — and finally reveal the origin of the “Devil” gene, which allows Kazuya and Jin to transform into demons.

The implication, that Tekken 7 would somehow elevate or focus on its narrative, seems disingenuous, to say the least. For fans who have followed (or tried to follow) the story over the past 20-plus years, Tekken 7 doesn’t offer a satisfying, comprehensive conclusion. It’s a curious blend of retreading events from past games, and filling in backstory.

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Narrated by a journalist covering the war between the Mishima Zaibatsu and the G Corporation, the 15-chapter Mishima Saga features a fairly boiler-plate blend of still images with character voice-overs. The frame, which allows players who are completely unfamiliar with the series to still get something out of the story, dispense a bland narrative.

It’s also hard to take the Tekken 7 campaign seriously, when Akuma, from the Street Fighter franchise, plays an important role in its story. His presence makes the whole saga feel contrived and convoluted. It’s an ending for the sake of an ending, nonsensical and unearned. While not entirely unexpected, the story that was supposed to make sense of the lore somehow manages to create more questions than answers.

The Mishima saga finale creates more questions than answers.

For a fighter that values precision, the story mode devolves into a button masher. Half of your battles feature waves of identical enemies to run through. You have one health bar in these fights, and it doesn’t refill with each slain enemy. That never becomes a problem, though, as the enemies are basically test dummies, there solely to be demolished without putting up a fight.

The other half of the battles, the “real” fights, are standard best of three matches. In these fights, but nowhere else in the game, there’s a “story assist” function that makes combo moves easier to perform. While this increases accessibility, it feels totally backwards to the core identity of this very technically oriented fighter, and begs the question: Who was this story made for? The most curious aspect of the main fights is that when one starts, there’s no clear indication beforehand of which side you are on. You don’t ever feel as if you are taking part in the story. Instead, you are dropped in periodically to progress the jumbled narrative.

Opposite the 2-3 hour story are 29 character episodes to tell stories about the rest of the game’s cast. Each episode features a few paragraphs of banal text to read, followed by a single fight. That’s it. While the character profiles add length to the story, it’s a poor make-good for anyone who has a favorite character outside of the core trio.

Going through the motions

While the story mode has needless filler, the rest of Tekken 7’s offline content could have used some beefing up. There are two main game modes outside of head-to-head fights: Arcade Battle and Treasure Battle.

Arcade Battle delivers to straight port of the arcade game, Tekken 7: Fated Retribution. There are five stages, and while opponents and stages for the first four battles are randomized, the final battle always pits you against Kazumi Mishima. Up through Kazumi’s first form, the fights are relatively benign. When she transforms, the difficulty spikes dramatically. As a quarter-munching arcade game, this makes sense, but a balanced, gradually ramping difficulty would be more rewarding at home, where time and training are your only limiting factor. While it’s neat that the mode is included, we would have liked to see more variation in the format.

“Treasure battle” is an endurance mode, where you fight until you die. Advancing unlocks collectables, outfits, and accessories for the 37 character cast, as well as in-game currency to purchase more cosmetic upgrades.

Tekken 7 has a robust customization system that will certainly please anyone who loves modifying every aspect of their favorite character. That alone, given the staggering amount of wardrobe and player profile customization options, may keep players coming back for more.

In theory, treasure battle is the game’s most intriguing mode, but, like arcade, the difficulty takes too long to ramp, mitigating the challenge and subduing the feeling of success during a particularly lengthy run. Occasionally, matches have modifiers like doubling the game speed or damage, but these are too far in between to really make the mode sing.

If you aren’t interested in playing Tekken 7 online, or plan to play with friends locally, there isn’t much here to keep you going for very long. Neither arcade or treasure mode, like the story, excel in keeping you engaged outside of the competitive sphere. 

You get what you put into it

While Tekken 7’s new features do not necessarily enhance the experience, the core 3D fighting experience of playing Tekken remains sound. It retains the series’ four button layout — right punch, left punch, right kick, left kick — making it relatively easy for beginners to pick up — a trend that really started in full with Tekken 6.

The only way for you to hold your own playing Tekken 7 online, though, is if you make a concerted effort to learn its intricate combo system. While some powerful moves can be performed by simply pressing two buttons at once, the game doesn’t really reveal itself until you take a deep dive into the move lists. When you start out, Tekken 7 may feel like a rote mixed martial arts brawler, but if you put the time into it, the game opens up as a strategic fighter that emphasizes reading your opponent and performing the exact right move at the exact right time.

The most noticeable changes can be found in fighter movements and the damage counter. Unlike recent entries in the franchise, sidestepping isn’t nearly as effective of a defensive maneuver, as it’s slower across all characters. Linear movement, both forward and backwards, is more deliberate, though. This is a welcome modification, as it gives you more control over your combos, and makes spacing even more important. But, it’s not a game-changer. The damage system is on a downward sliding scale. Long strings of attacks dole out more damage in the beginning, and decrease with each successive blow. The modified damage counter can lengthen matches and level the playing field a bit for those still getting their footing, but it doesn’t wholly change your approach to matches.

Enhanced character models, better environments, slicker animations, and an even greater emphasis on positioning may be enough, but Tekken 7 doesn’t advance the series in any profound way. Hardcore fans who relish in the competitive scene will likely latch onto Tekken 7, but that in itself may be a strike against it with new and casual players.

Tekken 7 Compared To

Our Take

Tekken 7 offers the most technically diverse fighting mechanics around, and a deep customization system. While the offline variants, the nonsensical story, and the throw-in online progression system dampen the overall package, it’s still a solid Tekken experience when it takes the stage. We wish it did more to move the franchise forward, though.

Is there a better alternative?

It depends. If you are a Tekken fan, then yes, Tekken 7 is the best way to play Tekken right now. But if you are a casual fighting game fan, the recently released Injustice 2, which has competitive multiplayer and deep single-player modes, is a more complete package.

How long will it last?

The story and character profiles took us about five hours. If you are into customization, treasure battle could keep you going for a while. And if you get invested in really learning all that Tekken 7 has to offer, the online multiplayer could keep you going until, well, the next Tekken game.

But if you get invested in the online multiplayer, Tekken 7 could last you quite a while.

Should you buy it?

If you are a longtime fan of Tekken, yes, you should buy Tekken 7.