Five years after the last installment, and eight years after the last canonical one, the Tekken series finally continues with Tekken 7. Tekken Tag Tournament 2 is considered by many to be the definitive Tekken experience, so this latest installment has some big shoes to fill.
Right out of the gate, Tekken’s iconic gameplay is back in full force. The combat is as fast-paced and fluid as it has ever been, with tight and responsive controls that let you really feel the impact of each hit. The fundamental mechanics remain unchanged; each of the face buttons is mapped to one of your character’s limbs, allowing for lengthy combos to juggle your opponent, and more powerful strikes through simultaneous button presses. However, some new mechanics have been added this time around.
The first of these are power crushes. Certain heavy attacks are now able to absorb damage from your opponent’s high or mid attacks without being interrupted, creating a risk-vs-reward scenario of sacrificing your own health to land a powerful blow.
The next is the Rage system. Rage Mode itself remains unchanged from Tekken 6 and TTT2; it activates when you are down to your last chunk of health and increases your attack power. Added to Tekken 7’s Rage system are Rage Drives and Rage Arts. A Rage Drive is a special attack or combo with increased damage on top of the boost granted by Rage Mode.
A Rage Art is a powerful ultimate attack that can turn the tide of battle in a pinch. Using either of these will bring you out of Rage Mode, so there is an element of strategy in deciding whether you want to hold onto that attack boost or give it up for a chance at dealing massive damage, as Rage Mode will end even if the attack does not connect.
The cherry on top of the already sweet combat is the new dynamic camera. Whenever simultaneous attacks from both sides are about to connect, the game will go into slow motion as the camera zooms in on the action, creating a tense and suspenseful buildup to see whose strike will land.
Unfortunately, unlike TTT2, there is no tutorial to explain the new mechanics, or even the fundamental ones to newcomers. Fortunately, there are a number of game modes for you to train yourself in. These include Story Mode, Arcade, Vs, and Practice, but the one you will be spending the most time in is Treasure Battle, which is like Ghost Battle in previous games, except at the end of each match, you unlock an item for character customisation. Long-time modes such as Time Attack, Survival, and even the iconic Team Battle have been inexplicably removed.
The online mode contains the standard player and ranked matches, as well as a tournament mode. It can take up to several minutes to find and connect to a match, but thankfully, the game lets you practice fighting on a dummy while you wait. Once you do connect, the game runs smoothly, with no noticeable lag.
Tekken 7's story mode is titled "The Mishima Saga". It concludes the long-running blood feud between father and son Heihachi and Kazuya Mishima. It is told from the perspective of a nameless, faceless journalist who provides voice-over narration with all the enthusiasm of a dead sloth. His deadpan delivery could be forgiven if the writers had given him some witty lines to accompany his tone, or if he sounded as though the events of the story had left him jaded and dead inside, but instead, he just sounds bored.
The story mode plays out similarly to Injustice in that it has you switch between characters as the story progresses (though only a handful of characters from the full roster appear in the Mishima Saga). Focus is brought slightly away from gameplay and more onto story this time around, since you cannot use the Rage system except for when the game allows it. There is also a mechanic called Story Assist that gives you access to shorthand versions of stronger attacks and combos. Fortunately this is optional, and you can kick ass with your own skill if you wish. Presumably, Assist is meant for characters you are not all too familiar with.
The plot itself gets off to a bit of a slow start, but really picks up from the second act onwards, and actually gets quite emotional. This is due in no small part to the seamless blending of story and gameplay. Aside from jumping directly from cutscene to gameplay with no loading times, there are also moments during gameplay in which the fight will enter slow-motion and the characters will utter a short line of plot-relevant dialogue, or even flash back to previous games with absolutely zero cost to game flow. This may seem a strange detail to focus on in a fighting game, but it is something I personally love and wish to see more of.
Aside from the main story, there are individual character stories for those who do not appear in the former. These are all just single fights enclosed by some intro text and an outro cutscene, but they are nonetheless enjoyable, since not all of them are as grim-dark as the main plot. It is refreshing to see that Tekken is still not afraid to poke fun at itself.
Visually, Tekken 7 is absolutely stunning. The lighting and particle effects are gorgeous, and the stages are all dynamic. Some even change between rounds: a rising elevator in round one reaches a roof for round two, for example. The game runs at 1080p and at a smooth and consistent 60fps. You can really appreciate how far graphics technology has come, as the cutscenes from every Tekken game (including those from the pachinko machine) are unlockable.
The voice acting (aside from the aforementioned narrator) is appropriately hammy and over the top, as is the norm for Tekken, and hearing characters carry full conversations in multiple languages has a surreal charm to it. The soundtrack, conversely, has very little variety. The majority of the stages have techno or dubstep themes, and though some of them are catchy while you are listening to them, none of them are very memorable.
There is a solution to this problem, however, in the form of every soundtrack from the entirety of Tekken. That is: you are able to switch out the Tekken 7 soundtrack for that from any of the other games in the franchise, or you can pick and choose individual tracks from each game to put into a playlist.
With so much content from the rest of the series present here, Tekken 7 is a celebration of the franchise up to this point. The amped-up combat mechanics and the poignant conclusion to the Mishima story are all steps forward, but they are countered by a number of steps back. The lack of a tutorial, forgettable soundtrack, and absence of some staple gameplay modes may alienate newcomers and leave veteran players wanting.