For the longest time, Tekken was the holdout: a fighting game franchise that staunchly refused to fix what wasn’t broken. Its graphics got better, and it added more and weirder characters to its roster of fighters, but rarely, if ever, did the series fundamentally change its gameplay. Lapsed players who knew how to play well with certain characters in Tekken 2 could still pick up those characters in Tekken 6 and find them familiar. That’s still generally the case for the franchise’s mainstay characters in Tekken 7, and the fundamentals of combat, with a button controlling left and right hands and feet, have remained largely unchanged. However, two new features—Rage Art and Power Crush moves—bring some alterations to the balance of battle that makes Tekken 7 a very different experience, though it’s not entirely for the better.
Akin to Injustice’s Super Moves and Mortal Kombat’s X-Ray attacks, Rage Arts allow for a single-use tide-turning heavy combo when the player is at low health. Tekken’s usual unblockable special moves still remain, but Rage Arts are closer to desperate wild-card maneuvers than staples of a regular fight, and they’re just as easy for an expert to anticipate and dodge. They’re essentially a nice new set of tools to have in one’s pocket, sullied only by the fact that so many of them are just plain boring to watch in action, as most are reminiscent of the series’s trademark 10-hit combos.
On the more aggravating side of things are Power Crushes—moves that essentially transform you into an unmovable object in the face of oncoming attacks. Players still take the damage from any such attacks, but any latent knock-down/knock-back/pop-up/stagger effects on the enemy are null and void. There are ways around this, but the moves are far too easy to spam, and are tricky, albeit not impossible, to counter. Anyone who thought it would be impossible for Bandai Namco to introduce a button-mashing nightmare worse than Eddy Gordo is in for a new kind of pain.
This is assuming that players even learn how to do Power Crushes at all, what with Tekken 7 not even bothering to tell players how to execute them. Once upon a time, Tekken could be counted on to hold players’ hands and walk them step by step through the game’s most complicated moves and combos, with Tekken Tag Tournament 2’s Fight Lab being a particularly gracious, patient teacher in that regard. As the character designs have gotten weirder (here there’s an anime schoolgirl robot who, god bless her, can throw her head at attackers), the need for a primer has never been greater. Practice Mode does still keep some perfunctory niceties—being able to see the A.I. demonstrate a move before you perform it, the ability to pin a move’s controls onscreen—but much of the game coldly throws players to the wolves.
The game pays compulsory lip service to everything that’s not about getting pro players online.
Indeed, the overarching problem with much of Tekken 7 is a sense of compulsory lip service to everything that’s not about getting pro players online. This is a game that, on the surface, is overflowing with features. A two-to-three-hour story mode finally brings the saga of Heihachi and Kazuya Mishima to a close, and there’s a fairly extensive character customization area, with an entire mode set up to allow players to win additional customization items. There’s even PlayStation VR support. But if you actually play around in any of these modes for more than five minutes, the laziness inherent in the whole enterprise becomes crystal clear.
Some effort has gone into Story Mode, and even then, aside from a few gloriously hyperkinetic (and cheaply difficult) chapters with Heihachi taking down the game’s heaviest-hitting characters, much of it involves watching a tale of corporate espionage that plays out like a seven-year-old’s take on a John le Carré novel, narrated by what sounds like a sentient bottle of Ambien. The game’s single-player Arcade Mode is five stages followed by a boss, with individual character stories relegated to a secondary story mode with a snippet of backstory, followed by a single fight against a relevant enemy. Yes, there’s character customization, but options are haphazard, with no consistency (for example, there’s a top reminiscent of the famous yellow Game of Death/Kill Bill tracksuit, but there’s no matching bottoms), and most of the better options are held hostage as unlockables through the boring Treasure Mode (an endless series of fights to win random loot) or as microtransactions. The PSVR support is essentially an unfinished demo where you can play a fight in an infinite space with no camera angle constraints.
Ultimately, Tekken 7’s focus is decisively weighted toward tournaments and the VS Battle mode, and arguably that’s where it belongs. Those who care about hitboxes, chip damage, and mining the game for infinite combos will ignore all other noise and still find a fast, free-flowing, hard-hitting entry in the series. But compared to its far more accessible, thoughtful, and robust fighting-game peers, Tekken 7’s begrudging acknowledgments for casual, solo players seems all the more callous, charting a course for the series that may be trying to move onward without a large section of potential players.