Back’s Benlog: Tekken 7

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Today’s Title: Tekken 7

(Minor plot spoilers)

The fighting games I’ve enjoyed over the years would probably not be considered the most advanced by bigger fans of the genre. I grew up preferring games like Soul Calibur and Mortal Kombat in comparison to something like Street Fighter. For me, what will often decide how much I like a fighting game comes down to how much solid single player content they can offer and if I’ll actually be able to execute the majority of a character’s moves reliably.

Obviously, Street Fighter is a standard bearer for the genre, and I recognize that it’s not broken so much as I am. For some reason, I can barely throw a fireball in those games, but the inputs of a Mortal Kombat game make perfect sense to me. It’s a difference between directional gestures and hard inputs, so the fighting games I’ve enjoyed the most tend to actually be easier with a good d-pad rather than the analog stick, which is the bare minimum needed to play more advanced fighters.

My perception of Tekken was that it was in that same advanced tier. The only experience I have with the series was with Tekken 3 and while I played the hell out of that game as a kid, I never really learned anything about it or its systems. I was content to button mash my way through the arcade mode just to watch the brief, anime-as-hell character endings. That was the entertainment for me. That, and watching in awe at Eddie Gordo’s batshit animations as he ruined me completely.

The decision to buy Tekken 7 mostly came about due to word of mouth telling me that this was a very well-made fighting game with a pretty damn entertaining story mode, and the fact that I could unlock all those goofy endings from the old games to watch at my leisure certainly helped the cause. But I did feel like I was throwing myself to the wolves here. All I learned from those days as a kid was that Tekken takes a lot more thought and practice than I’m typically willing to give a game. I didn’t know if the gameplay of Tekken 7 would actually be something I could break into and enjoy, but I felt bold enough to try (which is another way of saying the game was on sale).

So I started by jumping into the story mode which sets out to resolve the original feud of the series between Heihachi Mishima and his demon son Kazuya. The story is broken up into chapters often delivered from the perspective of a reporter whose life has been in shambles due to the events of the last game.

Now if you didn’t play Tekken 6 like had not, you might be wondering what those events were? And Tekken 7 doesn’t really explain that too well. From what I gather, the series “hero” since Tekken 3, Jin Kazama, did some pretty fucked up shit in an effort to kill the source of all evil and the world is just perpetually at war because of it. All of this is to say I have no god damn idea what’s actually happening in this series.

When you don’t have that actual perspective on the game’s story, it makes the whole “reporter narrator” angle framing pretty flat. However, I have a feeling I wouldn’t like this approach to the story mode anyway. The game is at its best when you’re playing it and those fights gets meshed with the over-the-top cutscenes, so the narrator plot just stalls the momentum of the story’s action.

Tekken has a goofy universe that plays its main story very straight, even though it’s all just as silly as the game’s karate grizzly bear. It’s fun enough to watch these unique characters duke it out, and the fact that that Street Fighter’s Akuma can literally just jump into this family revenge story and you wouldn’t even blink with surprise is a credit to the spectacle they’ve made. Yet if you want to know how the story got to this point, you might be a little disappointed with Tekken 7‘s offering of an explanation.

There’s access to all the character endings from the past games, and you can get a brief summary of the story up to those points as well. But individual character stories and descriptions are surprisingly bare. The game sort of mistakenly assumes players have been on the ride for most of this time, and the individual character episodes are literally just one fight and a quick ending. So if you want to actually understand the story and not just watch it, you’ll probably have to spend way too many hours on the Tekken wiki.

But I was surprised by how much more I enjoyed Tekken 7 when I wasn’t playing the story mode, and instead picked a character at random for the game’s treasure battle mode. This mode is an endless gauntlet of random fights where you constantly unlock new customization items and increase your rank to take on more challenging AI. This game probably has some of the best, stupidest customization options of any fighting game of any that I’ve seen which means there’s always some material reward that I appreciated. But it’s also just fun to take on AI that’s going to be of comparable skill to yourself with different approaches depending on the character they went with.

Contrary to what I expected, I was actually looking forward to taking this completely new character into the practice room to learn his abilities. I can’t say I have 100% confidence of pulling off his best moves mid-fight, but I definitely have a better feel for Tekken moves and combos than I ever have in a Street Fighter game. Part of this has been helped with the Rage feature, which gives you access to more advanced moves when the opponent drops you below a certain amount of health. It gives you a trump card to turn the battle around if you can find an opening, and it means you might be more willing to experiment with moves because it failure to pull something off doesn’t necessarily guarantee a loss.

Learning the details of Tekken 7 has been fascinating and rewarding, but no part of the game will give you a harder crash course on what the game should look like than playing online. I’m happy to say I’ve won a few matches here and there, but a big part of Tekken comes down to executing on openings and delivering a juggling combo from hell. Whoever can do that the best will often win, and that person will almost never be me. It’s a fun mode and I didn’t deal with too many technical issues, but the game is definitely in that latter stage where even starting out you’re going to get ruined by people who know their business. That business is to play hacky sack with your corpse.

It’s also a shame that the online scene is dying down to the point where tournament mode is basically just done. Part of that is on the design of it, where rewards require everybody to stay in the lobby even after losing. But I also imagine the matchmaking is just at a point where it would be really difficult to get the numbers you need at a comparable level.

I think all of that is more a result of the genre more than the quality of the game, though. Tekken 7 is a good game all-around, it’s just that fighting games struggle to maintain a long life-span without drastic upgrades and enhancements. If you’re not hopping in from the get-go, it can often seem too late to play any of them and enjoy yourself.

Still, Tekken 7 showed me that there is plenty of enjoyment to be had in exploring this genre that isn’t dependent on how good you are in a game’s online scene. Learning the mechanics and appreciating the crazy worlds that these games call home can be enough. Sure, the core of them all is that competition, but Tekken 7 is a solid game that serves as a reminder that fighters are perfectly capable of being well-rounded games that are worth a player’s time.

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