Tekken 7 Review — If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It
With 23 years on the books, the Tekken series has seen phenomenal critical and popular success. Tekken 7 doesn't change much, but no one asked it to.
After hours upon hours of time within Tekken 7, I am still consistently won over by the game’s rock-solid fighting mechanics. Yes, the fighting genre and overall meta surrounding it is a generally dense layer to break into for newcomers. More specifically, Tekken 7 doesn’t do novices any favors in recounting the latest accounts of the Mishima Zaibatsu. But, without a doubt, fans of the (often bizarre) series will be pleased with the (admittedly small) steps Tekken 7 has made to modernize in the fighting scene, and it will likely sport a terrific online community in the years to come.
Tekken 7 isn’t entirely new to the fighting scene, first appearing two years ago as an arcade cabinet across Japan. The current console version of Tekken 7 is actually more akin to the updated arcade version, Tekken 7: Fated Retribution — an update that included the prominent Rage Drives and Rage Art mechanics.
As mentioned above, newcomers to the series will likely feel like a fish out of water, somehow managing to be both dense and shallow at the same time. The game presumes you fully understand the entire backlog of Tekken stories (or, at the very least, read the Wikipedia summary of them). But, frankly, I wouldn’t waste your time — Tekken 7‘s story is one of the most ridiculous and cringey video game stories to date, bar none.
As a quick primer, the game picks up following the events of Tekken 6. The Mishima Zaibatsu (super evil arms-dealing corporation #1) is in a power struggle with G-Corp (super evil arms-dealing corporation #2). The entire story lies between the power struggle of the Mishima family, with the three generations (Heihachi, Kazuya, and Jin) predictably facing off in a shadow war trying to destroy each other. In the background of this, players follow a handfull of minor characters from past games and listen to the tale of a reporter as he tries his damned hardest to dryly explain everything that has happened in the series so far.
With often unenthusiastic English voice acting, frankly unlikable protagonists, and a world that is literally too stupid to continue existing, I actually sat around wondering if the story was some sort of meta joke on how bad fighting game stories are. The game is clearly trying to be more serious in its tone, with countless world-ending scenarios popping up, however things get lost in spiky-haired nonsense, obscure cameos, and the like.
Ultimately, the story would end up being the most disappointing aspect of the game. And while I know most gamers and genre fans have built up a strong tolerance to fighting game stories, I find it increasingly hard to be dismissive when other titles (notably Injustice) manage to craft stories that are deep and engaging along with strong fighting elements.
Luckily, players will breeze through the story of Tekken 7 quicker than they may expect, leading them to the heart of the game: gameplay. Players have a mix of online options (versus and tournaments) as well as offline modes (arcade, versus, practice, Treasure Battle).
While the pre-review servers have functioned excellently so far, despite my fighting game talent (or lack thereof), I can’t comment on how servers will stand post-release. That said, Tekken 7 does offer a lot by way of customization, allowing players to take others on in tournaments, ranked play, or standard match ups.
A bulk of my time has been testing my skills in the superb Treasure Battle mode. As an offline challenge you are tasked with facing off against an endless stream of enemies, with each victory nabbing you a Treasure Box with customization items. The further into Treasure Battle you go, the harder the enemies get and the more lucrative your rewards. To spice the mix up, the occasional Special Battle is thrown in, asking players to take on special bosses or face opponents at double speed. When you eventually lose a match, you start over from the beginning of your streak, keeping all the rewards you nabbed.
Treasure Battle offers an intensely rewarding gameplay loop. Nearly every night I’ve had Tekken 7 I would get stuck in a near-endless string of battles, thinking “one more round and I’ll go to bed.” The fact that the player and character customization options are so deep only help in bolstering this mode, allowing the rewards to seem worthwhile.
Meanwhile, Practice and Arcade mode are typical fighting game fare. The Arcade mode is short and sweet, easily being beatable within 15 minutes. And while I can’t remember Practice Modes in the latest fighting games I’ve played, it seems like Tekken 7‘s is one of the most accessible to people coming into the fighting genre anew. For instance, along with a Move List, players can watch the moves be re-enacted with instruction on timing for button presses. While I’ve never been able to pull off 10-hit combos reliably, I was able to accomplish that feat with some very heavy instruction.
Most importantly, let’s chat about the gameplay. As a person not overly invested in the fighting game scene on any particular game, I was surprised with how much I enjoyed the fighting mechanics. Both cinematic and gratifying, each round I had (with difficulty level adjusted) was tense and satisfying. Very rarely did I feel like I fell victim to cheap shots or combos that weren’t my fault.
The Rage Drive and Rage Arts mechanics are not nearly as visually interesting as the super moves found on other games, but they are well-worth the risk from a gameplay perspective. There have been more than enough times the powerful hits (which deplete about 30% of your opponent’s health) was able to turn the tide of battle right when all was lost.
The characters are all diverse visually and from a gameplay-wise, while also being (seemingly balanced). It took a while before I settled on Lili as my main, but I’ve been able to enjoy my time with any character I pick up. However, I trust the avid Tekken community to find imbalances in characters I may have missed in my relatively short review period.
Moving on, the game is visually interesting. While Tekken 7 doesn’t feel like it is bringing much new to the table in terms of visuals for fighting games as a whole, every scene in the (bizarre) story was fun to watch… as long as I didn’t care about the plot. It did come at the expense of some longer-than-usual load times on my PlayStation 4 Pro, but nothing too long that wasn’t forgivable.
Last but not least, while I wasn’t the biggest fan of the game’s techno-heavy soundtrack, I can’t fault Bandai Namco for not giving players overwhelming options. Tekken 7 players interested in music will have the option to craft their own soundtrack from any previous Tekken title in the past, meaning I could go on a nostalgia-heavy trip as I’m beating down Heihachi with ballet-inspired kicks.
Tekken 7 may not be the perfect entry point for newcomers into the long and twisted narrative that follows the Mishima Zaibatsu, but they will unmistakably have fun with the rock solid gameplay and mechanics. With the addictive Treasure Battle mode, deep character customization, and strong character options, Tekken 7 is one of the best titles in the 23 year-old series.