When I was little, fighting games were listed alongside Power Rangers and professional wrestling as one of the many forms of media that my mother deemed "too violent" for me. My older cousin had a Super Nintendo and Street Fighter 2, but I could only watch from afar. Eventually, I grew old enough to circumvent these restrictions, but my cousin had upgraded by then, and the first fighting game I really dug my teeth into was Tekken 2. I have that intro burned into my brain, and I've always held a fondness for the series ever since. Thankfully, the King of Iron Fist Tournament has reciprocated, offering a solid fighting experience that rarely dipped in quality for sequel after sequel. Tekken 7 goes above and beyond the normal grind with smart changes to the formula, an honest stab at a story mode, and an upgraded presentation that is befitting a generational leap. This is still the same Tekken you remember, but it might just be Tekken at its peak.
In this tale of devils and volcanos eternally retold, the G Corporation and the Mishima Zaibatsu are at war. Just as the longstanding feud between Kazuya and Heihachi comes to an apex, a mysterious stranger emerges with tales of the past. The story focuses in exclusively on the Mishima family and a few hangers-on, which was somewhat disappointing in a game with such a diverse and interesting roster. It is also all told from the perspective of an unnamed reporter character with some of the worst English voice acting I've heard in a game in a long while. Still, once you learn to skip past the frame story segments, there is a lot to like in the game's campaign. You'll see connective tissue from other games return, including past cutscenes complete with outmoded graphics that are a nostalgic rush for longtime fans. The interactive cutscenes and narrative clearly takes cues from the work NetherRealm have done in Mortal Kombat and Injustice, and it's a boon to someone looking to play the game alone.
For the characters unrelated to the main plot, there are brief "Character Episodes" that take the place of the traditional arcade ending movies. These are amusing, but I'd have much preferred a full arcade ladder since they only last for one fight before giving you a jokey animation. Outside of the story, solo players can dive into the arcade mode (which is only about four to five fights), watch cutscenes from every past Tekken release, or grind out customization loot in Treasure Mode. The latter is what you'll really want to be doing if you sit down with the game and don't want to go online, since the majority of hats, flags, and wrestling shirts are locked behind the mode. If you like loot boxes, you'll enjoy the stream of rewards here, and it doesn't seem obviously designed to slip in microtransactions later.
Speaking of, the custom character builder is easy to use, and you have a lot of options to change up your own version of Eddie, Jack-7, or Master Raven. In addition to a wide variety of shirts and pants, you have full outfits for the ladies, facial hair options for the dudes, and almost every item can be colored any way you like. I was disappointed by just how many items were common amongst all characters, and how few nods there were to past outfits amongst the unique items that are here. I feel like Tag Tournament 2 did a better job of giving you items that would fit each character rather than throwing a maid outfit and wrestling tights at everyone. All that being said, it's rather funny to put full clothing on the various giant robot and ursine characters on the roster.
If you've kept up with Tekken, you're not going to find many surprises amongst its selectable roster. Outside of Roger Jr. possibly being taken out of the game because of animal abuse concerns, there are very few absences and a handful of new characters to try. I mostly stuck with my old standbys and was able to pick up and play just as I have since the 90s. The biggest newcomers are the Street Fighter-style characters, who bring along an EX meter and projectiles to the mostly martial arts focused gameplay. Playing Akuma in a 3D environment is novel, and this is probably the best translation of Street Fighter mechanics into a 3D space ever (sorry Skullomania). After a few rounds unleashing Raging Demons, I'm all the way back in for Tekken X Street Fighter should that ever come to pass.
For the most part, Tekken's consistently solid gameplay has been untouched, although there are a few new flashy moves that should draw in the same casual crowd that made the game one of the highlights of the original PlayStation. When you take a multitude of hits, your character builds Rage and emits a red aura around them. You can use that to unleash slightly stronger attacks as you could in Tekken 6, or you can use one of two Rage Art super moves. One of these moves is always mapped to a single button press, meaning that they're not obscured behind complex combos and can be enjoyed by all types of players. Combine that with the intense slow motion moments inserted automatically when two fighters throw moves at the same time and you have gameplay that is easy to pick up and complex where it counts.
Of course, if you're into the series for its complexity, you'll want to take the fight online. While I have heard of some players having connection issues on other platforms, I didn't run into anything that dire on Xbox One. Outside of some very uncommon lag, the game ran fine and my losses were swift and numerous, meaning that those players who are actually halfway decent at fighting games will probably have a good time climbing the ladder. Sadly, if you're looking to become one of those folks but aren't there yet, Tekken 7 probably isn't going to be the best teacher. Outside of letting you know how to do moves, the game's tutorials and training modes aren't really going to get you up to speed, and you'd be better off learning online than trying to take advantage of what's here.
On the whole, Tekken 7 feels like a rebirth for the stalwart fighting franchise. This is a game that old players can pick up after a long absence while also providing everything that fighting aficionados expect from a Tekken game. From the huge population that has popped up everywhere (even Steam), you can see that the formula that shot the series to greatness before hasn't been messed with. If you've ever enjoyed Tekken at all, then 7 is a welcome return that gives more of what you want from the franchise, opens the door to future releases and gives Bandai Namco's other fighting franchises a better outlook going forward
Tekken 7 was reviewed on Xbox One with a copy provided by the publisher. It is also available on PlayStation 4 and PC via Steam.
Bandai Namco isn't reinventing the wheel with Tekken 7, but it's been long enough that a solid entry in the franchise feels fresh. The new additions are small in scope but deliver in a big way, making this easily one of the best entries in the series.(Review Policy)
- Solid Franchise Iteration
- Greatly Improved Campaign and Presentation
- Pick Up and Play Fights
- Street Fighter-style Characters
- Weak Tutorials
- Horrendous Reporter Voice Acting
- Alex the Raptor is Missing