The bar for the fighting game genre has been uppercut to astronomical heights in recent years. Exceptional one-on-one combat remains the primary bullet point, but other series have complimented their packages with robust suites of destinations, from cinematic story campaigns to comprehensive training dojos. Although Tekken 8’s fighting remains a treat thanks to some neat tweaks to its strong formula, the rest of the package, while respectable, falls short of some of its contemporaries.
The Heat system is the big new addition, adding a new gauge that, when activated, adds chip damage to attacks, buffs your blocks, and even adds follow-up moves to extend certain combos. My favorite use is spending the full meter to unleash a unique and powerful combo attack, and weaving this into an assault can be devastating. Heat offers a fun and effective new trick that rewards aggression while also providing a solid counter to an opponent’s relentless assault. Combined with the returning Rage system, it’s another way to help turn the tide of a one-sided battle without feeling like a protective crutch – pure skill still wins the day.
Rage Arts have been smartly simplified to a universal button for easier execution and more spectacular finishes. Another good tweak is that health bars are divided into sections displaying recoverable and non-recoverable HP, the former of which is replenished by attacking (even if blocked). I like seeing when I should turn up the heat to regain a few hit points. I also like being encouraged to end an opponent before they can heal themselves, once again promoting aggression in a way that speaks to my playstyle.
Tweaks aside, as far as the basic meat and potatoes go, if you want some good old-fashioned Tekken, this eighth entry delivers. The 32-character roster feels as great as it ever has, and new faces, such as the enigmatic Reina or the coffee-obsessed Azucena, are fun additions I’m enjoying mastering. Tekken 8 also scores a win in the looker category. Powered by Unreal Engine 5, our favorite combatants have never looked or been animated better. Stages pop and are packed with details, whether you’re battling under the neon lights of an urban city square or amid Peruvian ruins with roaming alpacas. As nice as they appear, they fall apart even better when you’re knocking opponents through walls or slamming them through the floor.
Tekken 8’s cinematic story mode, which centers on the ultimate clash between Jin and Kazuya, is a step above Tekken 7’s. Admittedly, that’s a low bar to cross; not having a monotone journalist narrate the tale already raises it several notches. Absurdity is the name of the game, thanks to the narrative’s onslaught of laugh-worthy action scenes, culminating in a final bout that takes the series as high as it’s ever been on the “outrageous” meter. While more fun than Tekken 7’s story, Tekken 8’s tale is still an uneven experience. A choose-your-fighter tournament arc in the middle is a cool idea, but your selection is meaningless. A gigantic battle reminiscent of Avengers: Infinity War unfolds as a generic, ill-designed brawler where players pummel waves of foes in a manner reminiscent of Tekken 3’s Tekken Force mode, and feels just as dated. The final confrontation, while epic, drags on for so many rounds that it becomes a slog. It almost feels like a parody of climactic boss fights while playing it totally straight.
While the main story mode is a solid starting point for Tekken 8, Arcade Quest offers another narrative-driven quest better suited for teaching players the ropes. As a customizable Xbox 360-esque avatar, you and your Tekken-obsessed friends travel to various arcades to climb the ranks of the competitive scene while learning the power of friendship and having fun. It does a decent job of providing thorough tutorials on new mechanics like the Heat system and teaching helpful combos and general fight psychology, making it ideal for both newcomers and returning veterans. The downside is suffering through a supremely bland tale that feels more like a saccharine lesson in fighting game etiquette (i.e., let people play how they want and don’t be a jerk) for kids.
Offline offerings are otherwise underwhelming. Character Episodes remain succinct ladder climbs to watch Tekken’s trademark humorous fighter endings. Tekken Ball returns as a cute addition, but nothing worth revisiting after a round or two. I enjoyed testing myself in Super Ghost Battle, which pits you against a learning A.I. mirroring your behavior and tendencies. While the practice mode features robust breakdowns of stats such as frame data, a more guided experience would have been welcomed. You’re still largely left to wade through menus for desired lessons (which boil down to inputting commands without much context as to why it’s effective and when to use them) and sift through tons of combo lists. The Gallery is disappointingly slim compared to 7’s, leaving the bulk of fight money spent on unlocking new pieces for the popular character creator.
Hardcore players will likely spend their time trading blows in the largely smooth online mode. Bandai Namco has jazzed up online play with an explorable hub to show off your Arcade Quest avatar while challenging players to bouts. This presentation is mostly for show; you still access the same menu options available elsewhere. But it adds a little flair to the tried-and-true fun of gaining ranks and spectating fights.
As a complete package, Tekken 8 doesn’t reach the heights of recent rivals like Street Fighter 6 and Mortal Kombat 1. But when the match begins, and you’re exploiting openings to unleash flashy combo strings and air juggles, it remains a thrilling, if very familiar, one-on-one experience. The latest King of Iron Fist tournament still has work to do to feel wholly satisfying or ground-breaking, but it remains a fun arena to test your mettle against friends and rivals.