‘Tekken 8’ review: from zero to hero

Fighting games often seem impenetrable to casual gamers, but Tekken 8 makes some great strides to ensure players at every level can enjoy its stylish, fast-paced matches. The game contains short videos recounting the story of previous installments so returning pros can refresh their memories and newbies can catch up quickly.

Tekken 8’s story mode revolves around father Kazuya Mishima and son Jin Kazama, who are imbued with a devil gene that bestows them with tremendous strength and even the ability to transform. Kazuya is fighting for world domination, while Jin is learning to fight for love and to protect those closest to him.

It’s a tale told through stunning cinematics and Dragon Ball-esque fights. The cinematics sometimes outstay their welcome, especially as the combat is what everyone is really here for, but they tell a more in-depth story than Tekken has ever attempted before. There are also character stories for every fighter which add a nice distraction from the main story – newcomer Reina’s was the perfect blend of silly and serious, and there are many others well worth playing.

Tekken 8. Credit: Bandai Namco.
Tekken 8. Credit: Bandai Namco.

Even if you don’t know or care for these characters, novice-friendly design means you’ll be battering them in no time. Players can swap between two control schemes, classic and assist, and assist makes Tekken 8 easier to get into than any other fighting game in recent memory. It brings up a side panel with simple combos that can be completed using just one button. What it lacks in depth it more than makes up for in the way it lowers the barrier to entry. While it’s infinitely more satisfying to land a string of combos using the traditional inputs, this commitment to providing new players a comfortable way to engage with Tekken 8 and learn its basic mechanics is welcome in a genre as gatekept as this.

What makes Tekken 8 even more welcoming is Arcade Quest, which is essentially a second story mode, where you – the player, not broody Jin – are the protagonist. This very meta path sees players create a Mii-like avatar who can explore in-game arcades to play matches and tournaments. These fights are less cinematic than the Mishima story mode, but that’s not a negative here. This is the mode for people who want to dive into deeper mechanics and master multiple characters and their fighting styles.

Tekken 8. Credit: Bandai Namco.
Tekken 8. Credit: Bandai Namco.

Friendly non-player characters (NPCs) offer tutorials where you can learn the basics like attacking and blocking, as well as more advanced moves like power crushes and air combos, staples of the Tekken series. Annoyingly, failing a combo requires you to wait a second or so for the tutorial to reset, which doesn’t sound like a lot, but those seconds add up when attempting the trickier strings.

Each fighter has different moves, and all can be ranked up separately in Arcade Quest. This not only offers a huge amount of replayability, but means you can truly master one fighter before moving on to the next, making this the ideal starting point for players new to fighting games or Tekken.

As an additional motivator, you’re also rewarded with in-game currency that you can spend on avatar and fighter customisation. It’s cute, but strangely finicky. Rather than previewing clothing as your cursor moves over it, you need to hit a preview button, and then when you move on to the next piece of clothing a prompt appears to tell you the game is removing the other preview. It makes customisation a stunted experience, which is strange considering how much Tekken 8 pushes it. Even so, seeing the dripped-out fighters in Arcade Quest keeps the fights visually interesting.

Tekken 8. Credit: Bandai Namco.
Tekken 8. Credit: Bandai Namco.

Tutorials and customisation naturally culminate in the online experience, where you’ll fight other players for honour and glory. The review period only contained a short window of opportunity for online matches, meaning it wasn’t possible to see how well the separate ranked system is integrated. Getting into a match can be a little clunky, as two players need to sit at arcade machines using their avatars.

Once the fight starts, though, it’s a thrilling experience. Everything learned in Arcade Quest is tested here: victory is sweet and defeat is crushing, and only very minor visual or connectivity issues interrupt otherwise great bouts. Wiping the floor with someone may feel fun at first, but the best battles are ones that come down to the wire, ending in a slow-motion zoom-in as both fighters swing their final blow, leaving you on the edge of your seat waiting to see if your hit connects before theirs. You still get some money even with a loss, so hitting the floor doesn’t sting too badly.

Perhaps controversially, the assist control scheme is available in ranked play, but the simplicity of the combos should mean pros can learn how to counter it easily and newbies eventually move on to traditional inputs. Either way, it ensures even the most hardcore, competitive modes of play are opened up to everyone. Players can even choose which region they participate in each time they log on, meaning geography won’t impact anyone’s ability to play against their friends.

Whether you’re a beginner or returning player, Tekken 8 is a fantastic entry to the series, and a grand finale to the Mishima storyline. Fights are fluid and stylish, and while it’s time-consuming and often frustrating to master, stringing a stylish combo together and juggling a helpless foe in the air is more than worth the effort.

Tekken 8 launches on January 26 for PS5, Xbox Series X|S, and PC. We played on PS5.

Verdict

Tekken 8 has lots to offer both new and veteran players. The cinematic, over-the-top storyline is gorgeous and ends in a thematically brilliant fight; Arcade Quest is the perfect place to master all the fighters, and online play has never before been more accessible to all.

Pros

  • Stunning visuals
  • Incredibly beginner-friendly
  • Tonnes of replay value

Cons

  • Some frustrating, time-consuming issues in customisation and tutorials
  • Cinematics can drag


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