You’d think that after 23 years, someone could be forgiven for throwing his son off a cliff and leaving him for dead.
Tekken 7 proves that family grudges are just as hard to kill as the franchise’s resilient characters, who reappear Lazarus-like as soon as they’re needed. The struggles between Heihachi, Kazuya, Jin and everyone else still caught in their webs may start to feel a little tired, but the fighting bits are the best yet.
We’re treated to a more beautiful, fluid and gratifying Tekken with this seventh iteration. Its unique take on 3D fighting has survived the ages, even though — or perhaps because — the basic recipe hasn’t been altered too much.
Tekken’s mechanics are different from those of other fighting games. Instead of light or heavy attacks, each face button is mapped to a limb: left arm, right arm, left leg and right leg. Moves are built around a directional input and button press, instead of quarter- or half-circle motions. Most importantly, players can sidestep into the foreground and background, more fully utilizing the three-dimensional space.
One of the best things about Tekken has always been its fluidity of movement and combos, and that’s not lost in Tekken 7. It still feels good to dance around opponents, poke into their space and find that perfect opening to build a combo on. This entry’s new fighters — anime pop star Lucky Chloe, demon-fueled Kazumi, tricky ninja Master Raven — slot nicely into that framework. While it’s rewarding to master one or two characters, I was pushed to try many more, thanks to the game’s diverse, weird cast. Only a few characters really slide into the background.
Each fighter has their own unique Rage Arts and Rage Drives, attacks that are accessible when players drop to 25 percent of their health bar and can knock off a third of an opponent’s life. Tekken has never been a franchise about powerful finishers, but Rage Arts don’t feel out of place. They’re a tempting counter to reach for when you’re in trouble, but you can definitely miss, or even get countered.
These new special moves struck me as a strong addition to the series’ repertoire, but Tekken 7’s biggest problem may be the sheer number of options available at any given moment during a bout. Each character has some 50 to 65 different moves, including stance changes. Even if you’re a fighting game connoisseur, that’s a lot to page through. For casual players, the number of attacks to learn may feel paralyzing. It almost encourages that button-mashing behavior so loathed by anyone who knows what they’re doing.
Depth is something Tekken is known for, something that helps set it apart from other fighting games. But at this point, the game needs additional tutorial modes that help players prioritize the most important concepts to learn. Practice mode is great — especially with included videos that show you how each move works — but I wish it clarified the broad strokes for new players.
If you’d rather train against AI opponents, Treasure Battle is immensely satisfying. You’ll be tested by a series of enemies that gradually grow more challenging, but each win unlocks a customization option from a massive collection. Those costume pieces are so bizarre and awesome — a hat that’s actually a full Jenga tower, rainbow wigs that shift colors as you play and so on — that each reward feels worth the arcade-y journey.
All these costume options are particularly important for setting yourself apart when you jump into online play. Once I was ready, I had a pretty stable connection to servers on Windows PC. There weren’t always a variety of matchup options — Tekken 7 lets you select your opponent from a list that shows rank and character pick — but the matches were consistently exhilarating. (Even if I was getting my scrub butt whooped.)
For those who play Tekken games for their ludicrous stories, the seventh entry may leave you wanting. It’s another chapter in the continuous power struggle of the Mishima clan, so naturally, Heihachi and Kazuya’s rivalry — and its casualties — take center stage. The Tekken series has always reveled in weirdness in its plot, but despite nearly two hours of cutscenes in Tekken 7, I didn’t find much of the campy fun I had hoped for.
Tekken 7 is a sweet reward for anyone who’s been following along for more than two decades, but it could do a lot more to onboard new fans — especially considering the uneven story and lack of a strong tutorial. Still, if you want to spend the time (and look for help on YouTube), Tekken 7’s unforgettable characters and fluid fights are worth the work.
Tekken 7 was reviewed using a pre-release PC key provided by Bandai Namco. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.