The fighting game genre has always had some barriers to entry, with top-level play requiring hundreds of hours of practice to master combos, positioning, and character matchups. The high skill ceiling has often pushed away more casual players from participating, sometimes making them feel inadequate compared to more seasoned comprtitors. However, the past year has seen developers implementing mechanics that better help rookie players ease into their games. Street Fighter 6 introduced a Modern Control scheme aimed at simplifying things. There have also been more calls for accessibility, and in response, Mortal Kombat 1 utilized “Extra Audio,” which helped sightless players use audio cues in order to play.
That trend is continuing next year with Tekken 8. The upcoming fighting game makes several tweaks to the brawling formula, including some major changes to how controls work and a social mode that captures the lost spirit of the Japanese arcade scene. After spending three hours with it, Tekken 8 already seems like the most approachable entry in the series to date.
Earlier this year, Bandai Namco revealed that Tekken 8 would include Special Style, which simplifies inputs and controls needed to pull off more complicated combos. In practice, the difference between playing with the normal style and Special Style is staggering. An opening battle between Jin Kazama and Kazuya Mishima exemplified this. I started off with just using the normal control scheme. As someone who isn’t an expert at fighting games, all I managed were weak punches and kicks. I didn’t have time, nor the dedication, to execute anything fancy.
Once I switched to Special Style, everything changed. Playing as Jin, I suddenly started pulling off incredibly flashy attacks with his devil wing appearing for moments as he channeled his dark energy to fight Mishima. I felt so incredibly powerful and cool in ways I never had in a fighting game.
The Special Style works quite similarly to Street Fighter 6’s Modern Controls. Each of the dedicated face buttons on your controller are assigned different kinds of moves, like the Square button being used for special and signature moves. The biggest difference, however, is that Special Style can be toggled on and off at any time during battle, unlike Street Fighter 6’s Modern Controls. This gives Special Style an extra edge in flexibility, even when you’re in the middle of being comboed by your opponent.
Game director Kohei Ikeda says that Special Style has its roots in the Tekken 3DS entry Tekken 3D: Prime Edition. In that game, the bottom touch screen was split into four different panels where players could execute a command and pull off combos in succession.
“This time, we wanted to make the player be able to enjoy the feeling of Tekken in a different manner, like they’re actually involved in the game and playing it like it’s intended,” Ikeda tells Digital Trends.
The control overhaul isn’t Tekken 8’s only new feature; it also includes a new game mode in Arcade Quest. This is where players can create avatars and compete against AI opponents in a sort of RPG world. Here, these avatars solve their problems the only way they know how: by playing Tekken in an arcade. The avatars are fully customizable with different facial features and clothing options.
Players can earn currency by defeating AI opponents to spend on new clothing and accessories. It’s reminiscent of Street Fighter 6’s World Tour mode, but with a few key differences. Both games have customizable avatars, but whereas World Tour lets you fight with them, you have to choose a Tekken 8 character when facing off against someone in Arcade Quest. The avatars in Arcade Quest are just kids and teens existing in a world of arcade machines playing Tekken 8. As such, the art direction of these avatars are much more cartoonish, like Nintendo’s Miis or Xbox Live’s avatars, as opposed to World Tour’s designs.
Ikeda says that Bandai’s approach was different from what Capcom was thinking with Street Fighter 6. The development team wanted to recreate the ’80s and ’90s arcade culture that has basically disappeared in the West and more recently in Japan.
“We really felt it was important to kind of provide a replacement for that in the game. So this is kind of supposed to be where we, our generation, would just go into the arcade or be part of the community,” Ikeda says. “We wanted to recreate something similar, a place for people to gather online. Arcade Quest is supposed to teach you the basics of the game, but also kind of introduce you to that culture since a lot of the audience may have never experienced it firsthand.”
I only got to play the first five chapters of Tekken 8’s story, and while the epic showdown of good versus evil continues, it also had some goofy moments that reminded me that Tekken is still just a fun fighting game franchise. Mishima channels his inner Dragon Ball Z-like energy and just decides to host a global tournament to decide the fate of the world, just like how the Dragon Ball Z villain, Cell, did with the Cell Games. This prompts the playable cast of Tekken 8 to fight against each other and prove themselves worthy.
Fighting game stories are often teased for having their characters beating each other to the death for innocuous reasons (I’m looking at you, Mortal Kombat 1). However, the story reasons for doing so in Tekken 8 seem a bit more realistic, even if sometimes they just want to “test your resolve.”
There were a few other features in Tekken 8 that I didn’t explore as much, including Ghost Battles, which return from Tekken 6 and Tekken Tag Tournament 2. Historically, players would fight against Ghost data, but in Tekken 8, there are now Super Ghost Battles. Here, the game learns your own fighting style and habits so that you can train to overcome your weaknesses.
My first several hours of Tekken 8 felt exciting, even though I’m not a fighting game aficionado. That’s thanks to the game’s excellent Special Style feature that certainly made me feel like a much better player than I really am. It also has a bevy of new game modes and features that players can engage with to help keep them entertained for longer periods of time. I’m looking forward to seeing how Tekken 8 stacks up to its contemporaries when it launches on January 26, 2024, for PC, PlayStation 5, and Xbox Series X/S.
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