Last year, we saw some big fighting games leave their mark, but 2024 has started off strong with Tekken 8. Bandai Namco’s premier 3D fighter has finally returned after the longest period between titles.
I had a bit of hesitation leading up to this release. Part of the was because of the rollback netcode. Would that be up to snuff? The other reason was that the previous mainline entry didn’t keep my interest very long. Although Tekken 8 has some issues, all of the new mechanics and additions have kept me playing since release.
Tekken 8 Gameplay Breakdown: The Heat System and Aggressive Fighting Mechanics
Tekken has long been considered a legacy fighting game series. Many of the fundamentals have remained the same over the years. That’s still true in Tekken 8. Long-time fans should have no issue jumping in and landing some of their favorite moves. Of course, there are some flashy additions to excite old fans and first-time players alike.
The bulk of these come in the Heat System. Once per round, each player can enter this limited-time state to give them an edge. It changes the properties of some attacks, adds chip damage, and gives access to Heat Dash and Heat Smash attacks. The Dash technique adds a gap-closing movement technique not unlike a Drive Rush from Street Fighter 6, while the Smash technique is similar to Rage Drives in Tekken 7.
Aggressive is the best word to describe these new mechanics — and Tekken 8 in general. Some characters have had memorable combos restricted to Heat mode, while others gain new properties. Throw in the unique Heat Engager starters and a few other changes, and we’re left with a roster that’s simultaneously fresh, familiar, and offensively centered.
For me, the changes that push the series to a more aggressive place are welcomed with open arms. There are plenty of good reasons to power crush or use a low parry if need be, but once you’ve entered Heat, it’s all about laying the smackdown on your opponents. This series of mechanics has made pretty much every round I’ve played an exciting one.
Tekken 8 Arcade Quest Mode: A Meta Adventure
This isn’t the only campaign, though. Newly added is Arcade Quest, a sort of meta adventure surrounding a hypothetical Tekken 8 arcade scene. You create your own little avatar to act as the rising star as you travel around and take on players. All of this leads to the ultimate dream for any competitive player: the Tekken World Tour.
Arcade Quest is pretty cheesy and quite tongue-in-cheek with how much it praises itself as the game it’s based on. What I really liked about it is how it teaches mechanics in a fun way. New players should absolutely play this to learn everything there is. Veteran players can freshen up this way, although they might be more influenced by the fun alternate costumes locked away. Either way, this isn’t the only place your avatar shows up.
Tekken 8 Fight Lounge: Tekken Ball, Rollback Netcode, and the Replay System
Another new mode is the Tekken Fight Lounge, which serves as a playable online lobby system. Here, you customize your avatar, interact and chat with other players, and fight them. You can also challenge them to the beloved Tekken Ball minigame, which mixes elements of volleyball and dodgeball.
Don’t worry if you’re not a fan of these kinds of lobbies. It’s not necessary to use this. You can join matches just fine from the main menu without loading into an avatar-filled server. Either way, you can play against others with well-implemented rollback netcode and crossplay. After three entries with shaky online play, I’m ecstatic to play Tekken 8 with relatively few hiccups.
Last, but certainly not least, I must praise the replay system. While there are great avenues to learn with Arcade Quest and Punishment Training and Combo Challenges in Practice mode, I’ve learned a lot by watching my replays.
More types of tips pop up when you watch, and this time around, they’re interactive, too. Being able to take control and react differently to a match you played is an incredibly effective method to teach. It’s one of the most innovative features I’ve recently seen in a fighting game, and I’d love to see others in the genre adopt it.
Tekken 8 Graphics and Character Models: A Mixed Bag
I can’t not mention how Tekken 8 looks. Even on my Xbox Series S, the game is a visual delight. The stages all look fantastic, and the characters look the best they ever have with impressive, minute details and well-designed new outfits. Those who liked the Tekken 7‘s outfits will be happy to learn they’re unlockable, among some other classics.
However, some elements restrict how varied the roster looks. Pretty much every male character has been enhanced with an overall buff body, which seems off for some, like Law and Hwoarang. Although Tekken is a series with fighting animals, robots, and demons, there was a grounded take on martial artists’ physique that also fostered visual diversity. Losing that is quite an unfortunate change.
Faring much worse are the female characters. Every single one has a skinny body, and a majority have what genuinely looks like the same face. A lack of expression compared to their male counterparts (except for Reina) only makes them feel less unique. It’s disappointing after the visual and body diversity presented in the likes of Street Fighter 6.
Tekken 8 Character Creation System: Improved but Less Creative
For those who are less enthusiastic about certain character details, there’s always Character Customization. The fan-favorite mode naturally returns, and it’s capable of making custom looks that are indistinguishable from the original fighter. Color selection is vastly improved, and I’ve also enjoyed how clothing properly fits this time around instead of looking baggy.
This mode isn’t without its issues, though, as it feels much more limited across the board. Default outfits are one-pieces, which is a huge detriment when I just want to change one thing. A majority of clothing items are also universally shared. In general, they have a small number of options. Unfortunately, the Character Customization tool that can produce the best-looking creations is stifled with fewer creative avenues.
Is Tekken 8’s Story Good?
Another returning aspect is a cinematic story mode, this time called “The Dark Awakens.” Picking up from where Tekken 7 left off, it follows Jin Kazama as he tries to defeat his devil-powered father. What follows is a short, but action-packed campaign with big fights and a lot of fan service.
In many ways, it’s the most enjoyable Tekken campaign by a long shot. The fights are epic and the story motivated me to keep playing. One of my favorite parts is that it uses the entire roster. It’s still a primarily Kazama-Mishima story with some characters regulated to secondary and tertiary parts, but it’s fun to see so many of them come together and interact with one another. Two standout chapters also manage to shake things up really well.
That being said, I didn’t love it. It feels like a generic shounen anime, complete with a ham-fisted power of friendship motif. Don’t get me wrong: I enjoy shounens, and I love seeing friendship conquer all, but I don’t think this narrative earns that.
The previous entry had a fantastic build-up to a single final fight between Heihachi and Kazuya. Tekken 8, meanwhile, has multiple Kazuya fights, and they start feeling drawn out. The pacing also shifts into overdrive for the second half, which dilutes what should have been many hype set pieces. Although the final chapter does some fantastic things in terms of gameplay and music, it also starts feeling incredibly monotonous.
It ends up a mixed bag if you’re a stickler for some of these things like me. Those who just want an explosive campaign with fun references and a dash of character development will enjoy what’s presented.
Tekken 8 Soundtrack: Jukebox Mode FTW
What has helped make the gameplay feel so fun is the soundtrack, which I casually listen to outside of playing. I admit there are a couple that don’t land for me, namely with the Sanctum stage and what might be the worst character select theme I’ve ever heard, but the rest of the tracks easily carry this soundtrack to top-tier status.
Cementing it as the best offering in the series is the Jukebox mode, which is no longer limited to one platform as it was in Tekken 7. It includes most of the tracks from the entire series, including the arcade and console arrangements for earlier titles. You can then assign two tracks to each stage, as well as to multiple menus. As someone with a lot of love for tracks across every game, I think it’s a fantastic feature to include.
Is Tekken 8 Worth it?
Tekken 8 Pros
- Aggressive-Based Heat Mechanics.
- Great soundtrack, further enhanced by Jukebox Mode.
- Innovative Replay System.
- Online supported by Rollback Netcode and crossplay.
Tekken 8 Cons
- Limited character customization.
- A Fun, but strangely paced story campaign.
This is an outstanding return for the King of Iron Fist Tournament. While I have my critiques, they come from someone whose fondest early gaming memories are button-mashing through Tekken 3. I want character customization to be at its best because that’s been one of my favorite features since it was added. I want the stories to hit harder because, as crazy as they are, the characters deserve it.
At the end of the day though, none of those negatives are related to the core gameplay. Proper working rollback netcode, crossplay across all platforms, and aggressive Heat Mechanics are what will keep me playing whenever I can. Tekken 8 is pure fun — and that’s what’s most important to me.
[Note: The reviewer purchased the copy of Tekken 8 used for this review.]
Tekken 8 Review: Unapologetic and Aggressive Gameplay Mark Iron Fist’s Triumphant Return
Tekken 8 doesn't reinvent the wheel, but the new changes make for a fantastic new entry.What Our Ratings Mean