A key art for Tekken 8

Review: Tekken 8 (Sony PlayStation 5)

Get furious.

11 mins read

It was deeply funny to me to load up Tekken 8 and see that the big philosophical theme around this game is “aggression.” A fighting game promising a new “aggressive combat system,” is surely redundant, I thought to myself, since what is any fighting game if it is not “aggressive?” Of course, once you start playing the claim makes sense. “Aggression” really is the defining characteristic of this experience. It’s just a weird way to try and sell a game that competes against the likes of Mortal Kombat (which, for the record, is also very aggressive).

What the developers and marketers of Tekken 8 mean with the “aggression” system is just that the game rewards playing aggressively, even by fighting game standards. This is a far cry from the fighting games I generally like to play (such as Dead or Alive, where the focus is on precision timing and counter-attacking), but where I thought at first that Tekken 8’s all-out approach might favour button mashing, it doesn’t take long for the deeper nuances to start to show themselves.

The series has always been the fighting game for technically inclined fighting game fans, and it has been really amped up with this one. Tekken 8 demands a level of speed and quick memory for intricate combos and contextual information that I’ll never develop, and it’s that demanding that I doubt I’ll ever get to the point that I can fully enjoy it, but it’s also going to make for some spectacular shows in the hands of the skilled, and I suppose that’s the really point of the game being designed this way. Perhaps more than with any other genre, fighting game developers are aware of the importance of e-sports and Twitch.

A screenshot from Tekken 8

In fact, the unfortunate reality is that the fighting game genre is consolidating, and every year we see fewer and fewer contenders. It’s very likely that we’ve seen our last Soulcalibur with the PlayStation 4 title, and Dead or Alive seems lost to limbo because the developers can’t figure out how to produce a game for people who like sexy without it being called sexist. Mortal Kombat is hanging in there, yes, and Street Fighter continues to carve out a unique identity as the ultra over-the-top experience with its weird-as-anything character models. Aside from those few mega properties at the top, though, there does seem to be a shrinking window for developers to do something that challenges the status quo with the genre.

Success with a fighting game really comes down to those that offer serious competitors something to sink their teeth into and for enough of those to commit to turning the game into their main hobby that a community forms around it. A fighting game that can’t crack the e-sports market can kiss its player engagement away, and there’s a narrow set of parameters in terms of what people like to see in those competitive fighting games. Of those, Tekken sits somewhere close to the top of the pile. A skilled player is almost always going to beat someone who mashes buttons. Furthermore, if you’re not willing to sit down and spend a lot of time learning intricate combos in the relatively drab and dull “practice area,” then your mileage with the game will likely be very limited.

That’s not to say that you can’t enjoy parts of it if you’re not a pro. Tekken 8 has an option to flick a button and play with a version of the game where spectacular attacks can be pulled off without combos. This, along with easy mode, ensures that just about anyone, of any skill level, can work through the story mode and enjoy the single-player qualities of the game.

A screenshot from Tekken 8

Unfortunately, the story mode is some dismal trite, and a barest-effort narrative does little more than provide players with a sequence of contrivances to ensure that every character gets to drop in and do some kind of bash-up. I do appreciate that fighting games are a uniquely challenging genre to build a narrative in, but there have been better efforts than this (Mortal Kombat, for example), and you’d think with all the expense that the developers went to to make the story mode flashy and cinematic that they’d put more effort into the narrative.

The ”Arcade Quest” mode, meanwhile, performs a little better. This spins a fun little story about an arcade fan that aspires to break out from their dingy little local arcade and take on the best in the world in Tekken 8. This mode has customisable avatars and little environments to explore and, as simple as the overarching story is, it captures the unique qualities of camaraderie and competitiveness that are such a hallmark of the fighting game community.

However, you’re still not going to get much mileage out of Tekken 8 unless you take a deep breath and step out into the deep end of competitive multiplayer. I can’t be blunt enough about this – Tekken 8, like with all the Tekken series, can be overwhelming. Good players have a habit of dismantling your attacks – even if you’re not button mashing – in a way that can only be described as “frustrating enough that you’ll want to throw your controller at the wall.” It takes a lot of persistence to overcome that initial learning curve, but as you do, and as you start winning matches, something clicks. It’s a big, ugly, visceral fighting game, without the over-the-top satirical gore of Mortal Kombat, and while it could do with being a little less self-serious (outside of a tiny handful of joke characters), there’s some magic in the intricate dance of two players that know what they’re doing taking one another on.

A screenshot from Tekken 8

It is unfortunate that it’s so aesthetically bland. I’ve been playing the game solidly for days now, and I couldn’t remember a single background if you asked me to. There’s a lot of detail in those environments (as well as the characters) thanks to Unreal Engine 5, but there’s also not a lot of personality. Characters have their own victory animations and fighting styles, but it’s all too humourless and timid to be really memorable. It’s like the developers were so wedded to the idea that every single fighting game fan should like Tekken that they were afraid to do anything that might rub a player the wrong way. It would explain why Lucky Chloe, the most polarising character in series history, is conspicuously absent from the roster, and instead, we have newcome Reina who is… well she’s yet another tough badass yas you go gurl fighter in a roster full of those.

This commitment to providing a totally dry and neutral experience extends to the character customisation and costuming. I can’t imagine a more bland and insipid collection of unlocks and options. There are a lot of them, but they’re all variations on the same skirts, pants and shirts, with very few items unique to each character. In other words, great. You can dress up your characters so they look like the over-muscled gym junkies you ignore while you work out. Say what you like about Dead or Alive (and yes, you can say a lot about its costume DLC, I know), but it was playful and whimsical with its costuming. Bandai Namco knows how to do playful – Soulcalibur demonstrated that – but, again, the development team behind the Tekken series in particular seem to be allergic to whimsy.

Tekken 8 is, without a doubt, a highly polished gemstone of a fighting game, and it offers players the opportunity to demonstrate some truly elite skills through the aggressive, offensive-first focus on the combat system. But outside of the overly serious, hardcore fighting game community, it’s difficult to see this capturing the imagination of many. A lack of humour, creativity, narrative and personality makes it clear that Bandai Namco’s only real interest was making sure that no one was offended by the game and therefore it will be the headline act at fighting game tournaments for years to come. Luckily for the developers, they hit the brief and it almost certainly will be exactly that game.

Buy this game on Amazon (Buy buying this game there you support DDNet, which makes a small commission on each sale)

Support 8

Matt S. is the Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of DDNet. He's been writing about games for over 20 years, including a book, but is perhaps best-known for being the high priest of the Church of Hatsune Miku.

  • Consolidation in this niche is an interesting topic, since half of the yearly releases are made by Arc Systems.
    One gripe people have with Street Fighter 4 and 5 are Capcom’s management of the live service aspect of years after launch. Maybe that’s an area Tekken might find its market: longevity.
    However, SF6 did up the ante in presentation and accessibility. So it will be an uphill battle for Tekken.

    • It is nice that Tekken is an effectively complete product out of box, and anything that they do add from now will be genuine add ons to a 100% complete project.

      I really thought that fighting games were doomed to free-to-play spaces a few years ago. The “content” of them is way too easily carved up and developers surely saw the $$$s potential.

      I just hope that if Koei Tecmo ever revisits Dead or Alive, it’s with the understanding that people still want the premium take on fighters.

  • This is pretty much what I expected. I was hoping for a reboot — perhaps a more grounded vision — but I can see how the devs didn’t want to risk stifling the momentum Tekken 7 built for them. It got really big and if the combat system is at least half a step up from the previous iteration, everyone will be on board again for years to come.

    But I do really hope for a bolder aesthetic next time around.

    PS: There are some great discussions to be had about fighting games. Few other genres of video games create a flow state as deep and rewarding as them, and what could be told in a story that was built around such an experience (one that guides you properly) is very exciting to imagine.

    • Fighting games are fascinating, and I say this as someone who isn’t overly great at them. I do fine against the AI and enjoy playing in local, but I’ll never be brave enough to try the competitive circuit.

      I do admire the skills involved, and the way that game developers work to deliver to the very specific needs of that community. It’s a demanding-as-anything genre and I can’t think of game developers that need more skill in their craft than fighting game devs.

      I do with Koei Tecmo could bring Dead or Alive back though 🙁

      • I hope so too. Was one of the slickest looking, and it had a s similar quality as Mortal Kombat, in that it entertained a wide range of differently skilled players.

  • This is the game I’ve been waiting for to finally get me to buy a PS5. Unfortunately, after seeing some of the released game play on youtube, I feel less excited about it. I love my Tekken 7 and I haven’t played a Tekken game I didn’t like. I’m certain this one is going to be great too but there’s something very off about it from the game play videos. One small but, for me, significant issue is the announcer voice. The one from 7 is awesome but this new one in 8 is immediately annoying to me and it happens prior to every single fight. So I can already feel myself becoming frustrated instead of excited to start the fights. Another is the opening movie with the song that sounds like something from a nineties rock band trying to be cool. Lastly, there’s more but I already sound like I’m complaining too much, I really don’t care for the coffee lady at all and putting Eddy Gordo as a DLC is really messed up and sad. To have to pay extra on top of the already high price of the game for one of my favorite characters that has been a staple of the series makes zero sense to me. Anyway, I’m still going to get the game eventually and I really hope I’m wrong about the feeling I’m getting.

    • I do hope you love it when you get a chance to get stuck into it. I’m not nearly enough of a Tekken fan to know how the hardcore will respond to this one. I hope for everyone’s sake Bandai didn’t blow it.

  • Previous Story

    Review: Another Code: Recollection (Nintendo Switch)

    Next Story

    Post-apocalyptic sci-fi action RPG AI Limit will launch for PC and PS5 this year

    Latest Articles