There I was victorious, my own temple burning down around me as my opponent lay beaten and bloodied on the ground. I had emerged victorious against a man who is much more demon than human and it felt good. He was fast, powerful, and unlike anything ever seen before, yet it was I who broke him. As I walked away, smirk creeping across my face he rose and I was at the mercy of the Raging Demon. Tekken 7 had just shown that it wasn’t the typical fighter and its story was going to make sure I remembered that.
During my demo, I got to try out a piece of Tekken 7’s new story mode. While campaigns are nothing new to the series, the way that the developers have managed to intertwine narrative and gameplay definitely stands out as a better direction. The fight began with a short cutscene as Heihachi Mishima’s prayer session was interrupted by Akuma. It was gorgeous, but also led to me letting my guard down. Right before it ended Akuma launched a Hadouken prompting the need to dodge before the action got underway.
From that point, there was an onslaught of punches and kicks coming from all directions. Akuma was a formidable foe, bringing into the fold his entire Street Fighter move set, only it had been fine-tuned to fit the Tekken play style. His constant combos, long range attacks, and intimidating demeanor were all accounted for, and it lent to the sense of urgency. What was interesting were the cinematic moments that would occur mid-fight. Akuma would start talking smack, or I’d find myself needing to catch a breath in order to figure out a course of action. During critical moments, the combat would slow to a crawl, most likely to allow players to appreciate the art on display. I’ll be honest, I could’ve done without the slow-mo, but the cinematic sequences were well done and short enough to the point that they never felt disruptive.
Another element of this new story that was really surprising was how well Akuma has been worked into Tekken 7’s plot. Crossovers usually exist on the edge of corniness, or they aren’t even officially alluded to in-game, yet Akuma is actually a central figure. He had made a deal with the late Kazumi (Heihachi’s wife) and vowed to eliminate her husband and son if evil consumed them. It not only fits his character but also the overall story of the Tekken series.
Going into the demo, I expected the fight against Akuma to not work well. I’ve been a Street Fighter fan for most of my life, and Akuma had become my main ever since he was first introduced, so I knew the odds were stacked against me. Here was one of the strongest combatants in the Street Fighter universe who just happens to be known as “The Supreme Master of the Fist.” Yet this is when the balance of Tekken 7 started to shine. Anyone who has played an entry in this series would be aware that Heihachi is a fighter who thrives when things are up close and personal. Fighting against someone like Akuma shouldn’t be possible, and would definitely not be very fun, yet it never felt one sided. Akuma was powerful, as he should be, but there were chinks in his armor that I could exploit, as well as new mechanics that are being introduced in Tekken 7.
It has been seven years since the release of Tekken 6, the last mainline entry of the series. It’s clear that Bandai Namco has learned quite a bit from the studio’s recent outings as what I saw of Tekken 7 today was head and shoulders above previous entries in the series. It all started with combat, fights are quicker and much more intuitive. The Tekken series has always erred more on the technical side, but that often creates stiff experiences. This latest entry has much more of a natural flow as you defend, contest, and go on the assault. Thanks to new mechanics like Rage Arts, Rage Drives, and Power Crushes, I never felt like a fight was ever one-sided or that all hope was lost after taking a beating at the start of a round.
While guarding, side-stepping, and delayed rises are still an integral part of Tekken 7’s strategy, it was these new abilities that helped define the fight. Power Crushes in particular were the most interesting when it came to keeping up your momentum. With the mechanic you’re able to sacrifice a bit of your own life to keep a combo going, essentially keeping your opponent off balance in exchange for your own soul. The Rage Arts and Rage Drives provided a clearer way to use that rage that Tekken 6 pushed to the forefront. Executing a powerful move or giving yourself an advantage unique to each individual character were much clearer options mid-fight then just powering up and hoping for the best. It was a welcome addition as I battled it out with other players.
Tekken 7 feels like a proper sequel so far. It maintains the core that fans love, yet introduces just enough to help make the game worthwhile. What could’ve been a quick gimmick to draw in Street Fighter fans actually feels like one of the best things that the series has done in a very long time. In a way, it felt more like a maturing of the series. The smoother action and more refined technical approach to combat is something that fans definitely should look forward to when the game releases early next year.