Tekken 8 was teased at EVO 2022 back at the start of August with a little cinematic that took viewers back to Kazuya’s ending cutscene from the original Tekken. You know the one, it was where we learned about his favourite hobby… throwing people he’s related to into an active volcano. This new teaser has made the series’ longterm fans excited to get ready for the next battle once again, and it’s also made me think about what I would like to see from the franchise as it moves forward onto the current generation of consoles.
Before we go ahead, I should preface the rest of this article by letting you know that I am a Tekken fan, and I’ve been playing the series since I first got my hands on Tekken 2 back on the original PlayStation. Everything I’m about to say comes from a place of love for the Tekken series, and well, a little bit of envy for what the bloodier competition has been delivering to its audience. I once got the wind knocked out of me by a partner because I was juggling her as Lei Wulong, and she didn’t find it very funny. I still play Tekken. I love Tekken as much as you do. I just think it needs to evolve in its presentation – and that the developers at Bandai Namco could learn a thing or two from NetherRealm.
As a fighting game, Tekken 7 has by this point proven it has everything it needs to be one of the big multiplayer powerhouses. New mechanics like Rage Arts and screw hits are welcome additions to the fighter’s formula, and after several DLC releases the roster now has just about every Tekken character a dedicated player is likely to want to see, even including some weirdo guests. Fighting game fans know at this point that Tekken 7 is a solid, good time, and that’s why it’s the best selling entry in the series. But if Bandai Namco wants to sell even more copies next time – even quicker – then how does it recruit new competitors for us to fight online?
The obvious answer to me is to upgrade the Story Mode, and get it on the same level as the best of the competition. Tekken 5, Tekken 6, and Tekken 7 all had stories about the Mishima bloodline to tell (similarly to that new, good, Tekken anime), but these stories basically never felt like the main event – despite being the focus of both the merchandising and advertising for the brand for the duration of each entry’s time on store shelves.
Devil Within from Tekken 5 and Scenario Campaign from Tekken 6 both felt like half-step evolutions of the 2.5D Streets of Rage-style Tekken Force minigame from Tekken 3. Tekken 7, meanwhile, presented players with a distinctly low-budget Story Mode that split its attention between the “Mishima Saga” and a series of character vignettes. Each of these attempts at a campaign ultimately felt insubstantial, and none of them have ever made me want to go back for another go through, even now we know that the next Tekken game has been on the way.
It’s not that I’m not invested in the lore, even if I have had to do some work to absorb it, almost in spite of what the games actually seem to want. Tekken has never been shy about releasing media in other more narratively driven formats, and I’ve been there to enjoy it each and every time. I was there for the new anime show Tekken: Bloodline on Netflix the day it launched, and I was there when Titan Comics released a Tekken comic series a handful of years ago. Back in 1997, I watched (and rather liked) the anime film Tekken: The Motion Picture, and I even somehow managed to find a way to enjoy the live action Tekken film adaptation released in 2009. I know, there’s something wrong with me, right?
I like the story as presented enough to know that Mishima characters like Tekken 5 big bad, Jinpachi, and Tekken 6 upstart, Lars Alexandersson, should have been huge revelations that shook the franchise and its dynamics. But I’ve played Tekken enough to know that thanks to the understated nature of the campaign modes, they just ended up feeling a bit flat and useless because they weren’t at the top of the tournament meta. And they weren’t Jin, Heihachi, or Kazuya.
As is the case with most successful fighting games, there are story arcs and icons to care about — but the Tekken games as of now just bury them. This is a stark difference to modern NetherRealm game series like Mortal Kombat and Injustice, where each time they release new story content it feels like a cinematic event. Since 2011, the Chicago-based developer has been knocking it out of the park with each new release, and have even somehow even made audiences care about characters like Johnny Cage and Scorpion.
If modern Mortal Kombat can make you truly care about the fates of the ‘he punches them in the balls’ and the “Get over here!” guys from back on the Mega Drive and SNES, then it’s by now obvious that a good storyteller can make you care about anyone. That’s the level NetherRealm is on, and that sort of thing is what Tekken 8 still needs to master. If it wants to get its hooks into more of the public, then Tekken needs to bring its extensive lore to the front and center in a similar way. It needs to not only be cinematic, but be truly engaging to anyone that picks it up to play it. Everyone that plays a Tekken should care about Paul Phoenix and Marshall Law in the same way.
The series can do this without betraying Tekken and changing what it is, even. Consider Devil May Cry 5, for example: it doesn’t shy away from reintroducing characters and plot points from prior games, or its anime-ish devil boys and their continuing bouts of family drama, but instead fills in the gaps for the player and focuses on the emotions that would be caused by the story so far. It does this between bouts of familiar high-speed action gameplay that players expect, but interwoven with good writing and high production values elevate the entire thing to near-masterpiece level. I’m aware that games like Mortal Kombat 11 and Devil May Cry 5 probably have bigger budgets than Tekken 7 did, but I also think that those development costs were probably worth it in the long run? Especially when you’re selling some 9 million copies per game, now.
Arcade ladders, wacky ending cutscenes, bowling minigames or comprehensive versus modes don’t have to go anywhere, either. They’re definitely part of what I love about Tekken. But I believe that Bandai Namco Studios need to catch up in regards to entertaining the casual gamer, if they want Tekken to continue to grow. I know that casual can come off as a bit of a dirty word to gamers sometimes, but every Tekken pro was just someone dabbling with the game at one point. It’s about getting bums in seats, as the television and film industry would say.
Perhaps Tekken is sticking to its tried and true arcade formula roots because it didn’t come as close to franchise death as Mortal Kombat did when Midway closed down in 2010, and has thus never needed to force people to put eyes on itself to justify its own existence. Perhaps Bandai Namco truly just believes it can continue to put out top-tier arcade fighter action and it’ll be enough to keep going. I still think it’s a risk, though. A lot of arcades are closing down around the world, as woes and crises continue to slow down the attachment rate to in-person entertainment.
As options become more limited, and purse strings tighten, video games have become more expensive than ever. If Tekken 8 is going to be $70 next year, then the developer needs to make sure that the experience is worth it for the casual fans as it is for people like me that will beat the snot out of their friends online for hours and hours. The answer to that is in a robust Story Mode. Oh, and crossplay… and not making the Lei Wulong character a piece of DLC this time around. Good lord. Never again.