Tekken 7 on PS4
Tekken is a fighting series that holds a special place in my heart. Some of my fondest memories of gaming as a child include absolutely wrecking my uncles as Eddy Gordo in Tekken 3 – not that it’s some grand accomplishment because anybody can wreck anybody with Eddy Gordo in Tekken 3. I’ve followed the series for years, with each iteration offering me something to love while also giving me plenty to complain about. With Tekken 7, the latest installment in the celebrated fighting series, I was hoping that there would be more love and less complaint, but that unfortunately isn’t the case. What Tekken 7 provides is a great multiplayer fighter whose single-player offerings need some serious adjustment.
Before I go into the woes that plague Tekken 7’s single-player, I should be clear that it isn’t all bad. For one, the story is easily one of the most intriguing in the series. Fans of the franchise are most likely familiar with the fact that the story, as serious as it tries to be, can be quite silly. Ancient beings, Devil DNA, a tournament that decides who runs the world’s most powerful company, and the strongest head of hair to ever grace an old man are all present in Tekken’s lore. All of this holds up a narrative that deals with world war, loss, regret, family, and vengeance – themes that have been threaded through the story since day one. However, while still leaning towards the highly unbelievable – Heihachi battles rocket wielding soldiers with nothing but a door while making his way up an elevator shaft – the inclusion of a fighter from another fictional universe helped to add gravity to the proceedings in an interesting, and enjoyable way.
Akuma, a favorite of many Street Fighter fans, is present in Tekken 7. While the developers could’ve easily just placed him into the game and called it a day – many would have been pleased, present company included – they decided to do the guest fighter justice by weaving his presence through Tekken 7 and, by extension, the history of Tekken as a whole. As Akuma sets out on his mission, players are finally treated to answers for questions that have long been thought about, such as why Heihachi and Kazuya hate one another so much, and the origins of the Devil Gene that has caused the world so much trouble. If I’m being honest, I wasn’t expecting much from the story, yet it managed to keep me enthralled as the tale opened up before me, and that’s saying something because actually playing the fights that take you through the story are a real test of patience.
I’ve been playing Tekken games for the better part of two decades, and one thing that has been common throughout them all is spam. The computer, for lack of a better means to create real challenge, tends to opt for repeating one or two powerful moves over and over until you either win or give up. I’ve come to expect it from each iteration, though Tekken 6 took things to a new, more frustrating level, but I understood that it was an issue that was part of the package. Yet Tekken 7 manages to make this design choice a bigger, more annoying issue. As you up the difficulty, the only way the game really gets harder is by making opponents do more damage and reducing their move pools drastically to where it’s just the strongest attack over and over. Oh, and the computer will ensure that you can’t damage your opponent during these attacks, and they seem to all break through defense. Granted, you can play on Easy if you choose, as there are no trophies or achievements tied to the difficulty, but that removes any chance of actually learning the game.
On the easy difficulty your controls are set to easy as well, meaning combos are done pretty much automatically, making you look like a pro player and sapping any chance at absorbing any ability that will translate over to other modes, including multiplayer. It’s sort of like training wheels on steroids, where the only real way to lose is to not play at all. The only way to get any real enjoyment is to up the difficulty, which often forces you, the player, to start using the same strategy as the AI, which is basically just zoning out and using the same move over and over. I don’t mind high difficulty, heck I pushed myself to beat Tekken 7’s story on Hard, but when it removes the strategy and all of the intricacies that Tekken is celebrated for, it becomes much less enjoyable. I will say that normal mode (three stars) is less frustrating than hard, but it still ends up becoming a nuisance in the later chapters. Still, if you’re just in it to experience the story and not really looking for much of a challenge, normal is definitely the best option.
Thankfully, the issues that plague Tekken 7’s story mode don’t spoil the entirety of the game. While the heavy usage of singular attacks does rear its head from time to time during playing Arcade or the Treasure Mode (which is how you unlock cosmetic items), it’s not as constant, which lends itself well to learning and just plain ol’ enjoying solo play.
Where Tekken 7 shines is in its multiplayer which avoids any of the AI troubles that the single-player component suffers from. A lot of it has to do with the extensive roster. There are 36 characters available right out of the gate, and each one feels completely unique. That lends itself quite well to replayability, as you’re constantly learning how to play as or against different fighters and developing new strategies. During my time, I found the roster to be surprisingly balanced. Sure, there are a couple of characters that rise to the top, I’m aware that perfect balance is an unattainable fever dream, but each pair-up felt like each side had a chance to win. All fighters are viable options, so jumping in with friends (or strangers) and seeing fighters you’d never expect wreck faces is a common sight. Multiplayer is also a chance to see just how tight the fighting mechanics are.
Fighting games are not rare in any way, so when I get to play one that feels legitimately different, it warms up a specific corner of my soul, and I appreciate that. Tekken, as many fans of the series know already, is very much its own thing. It doesn’t have oversimplified inputs that can be found in other games, characters aren’t necessarily broken down into distinct groups, and each successive entry builds upon what came before it in meaningful ways. Tekken 7 carries this tradition, and it shows in every stage of every encounter. From the juggles, to the exploitation of walls, to breaking through defenses and punishing over-reaching opponents. There’s a constant dance as on-screen avatars try to create new scenarios to give themselves an edge, and it’s all done in a 3D arena which just throws in a whole other layer of depth.
Yet for everything Tekken 7 does right, such as a gripping story and tight fighting mechanics, it does some odd things like its repetitive AI and a weird inclusion of VR compatibility on the PS4. I’m not sure what I expected when I plugged in my PSVR headset, but I can assure you that it definitely wasn’t a watered down version of the practice mode that allowed me to use only one stage and sort of look over a fighter’s shoulder if I really wanted to. It wasn’t bad exactly, but it wasn’t good either, and as I write this I’m still trying to figure out why the developers bothered to include it. Perhaps with an update where you can participate in actual battles in more, better detailed locations, it will probably make for some amazing experiences with solid screenshot opportunities. But as it stands right now, it’s certainly not a reason to buy a PSVR or plug yours in if you happen to already own one.
As I pulled myself away from Tekken 7 to write this review, I was left torn. It gets so many things right, with its combat that feels like a substantial improvement over its predecessors and a solid roster that includes Akuma, one of my favorite fighting game characters of all time. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy my time with the game, and I certainly plan on returning back to my PS4 for more. However, I can just as honestly say that the single-player component often felt like a chore that got in the way of the series’ best story. If you’re looking for a great fighting game to play online or locally with friends, then I couldn’t possibly recommend Tekken 7 any more. But, if you’re looking for a stellar single-player experience that’s devoid of one-note AI and frustration, this is certainly one of the most frustrating single-player experiences I’ve had recently. At the end of day, Tekken 7 is a great fighting game, possibly one of the best, if you plan on playing with others. But as a game that leaves you to find joy on your own, while there is fun to be had, you’d have to fight through less than favorable situations to find it.
Score: 4/5 – Great