Platforms: PC (Reviewed), Xbox One, PS4

Street Fighter V has made it clear that a fighting game cannot survive in today’s market without offering something beyond basic "versus" capability. Injustice 2 proved that there is a large market for deep and enthralling fighting game narratives. Tekken 7 seems to have learned from its predecessors, yet hasn’t implemented these lessons well.

While still a fun and solid fighter at its core, there is little here to set Tekken 7 apart from previous entries in the Tekken series.

Time to Rage

Here’s a quick rundown for anyone new. Tekken 7 is a 3D fighter with a few hybrid 2D mechanics. You can side-step to the left or right, but you don’t have free eight directional movement like characters in Soul Calibur have. You attack using four buttons, one assigned to each limb. Pressing these buttons in sequence allows you to execute canned combo strings. The core of Tekken’s combo system involves linking these strings together to juggle your opponent, slam them against the wall, knock them over balconies, and otherwise use your environment to maximize your damage.

As far as new mechanics go, Tekken 7 doesn’t have much to offer. The most notable additions are “rage arts.” When a character falls below 20% health they go into “rage mode,” which offers them a boost to their damage. We have seen this before in Tekken 6. However, now you can expend your rage mode to do a rage art, essentially a super attack. They make the end of every battle extremely tense and, in general, they are a welcome addition to the system. Still, super attacks aren’t anything new to fighting games, so this feels a little bit more like Tekken is catching up to the rest of the pack rather than innovating.

There is also the new “power crush” property, which allows attacks to continue to execute even if you get hit during them. In other words, it’s super armor. Once again, this isn’t anything new to fighting games. Unflinchable frames like this have existed since the days of Street Fighter II. But it’s still a welcome addition to the overall Tekken system, and deepens gameplay in a complex and meaningful way.

All the other system changes will go completely unnoticed by casual players, though they have quite an impact on high-level play. Tekken 7 has completely reworked its hit-states, removed the “bound” system, and generally shortened its combos to focus on footsies and the neutral game. This makes the game much more compelling to play and helps to prevent one-sided shut outs, but it’s not exactly a feature you can easily advertise on the back of a box.

Tekken 7’s most marketed selling points are its new campaign mode and a guest appearance of Akuma from the Street Fighter series. Akuma might just be the most fun character to play in the entire game. He has all of his Street Fighter moves from fireballs to dragon punches, and he even has a Street Fighter-style super meter. This fusion of Tekken and Street Fighter mechanics flows naturally and bodes well for the eventual release of Tekken X Street Fighter. It’s disappointing, however, that Akuma is the only character in the game to make use of these new and interesting fusion gameplay mechanics.

Burying the Lead

The campaign is, technically, one of the most impressive story modes I have seen in a fighting game yet. Yes, even more technically impressive than Injustice 2. It pulls tricks like causing characters to have flashbacks in the middle of battle, synching context-sensitive dialogue with the moment you connect with your opponent, pulling the camera out mid-battle to show the carnage around you, and much, much more. It blends the boundary between cinematic and gameplay more so than any other game. Graphically and mechanically, it is a masterpiece.

Which makes it all the more disappointing that the story is just… bad. Instead of following any of the main characters, you follow the most affect-less reporter in history who just so happens to be reporting on the main characters. This nameless reporter seems to exist for no other reason than to lay heavy-handed dialogue on us in between fights. His entire story could have been chopped out of the narrative and it would have been better off for it.

Unfortunately, the rest of the campaign still has some serious flaws. You only get to play as six characters from the roster. Most of the other characters don’t even show up. Heck, Jin is a major character in the narrative and he spends the whole thing in a coma! You can play as the rest of the roster in special “character episodes” once you complete the main plot, but these feel like an afterthought and have nothing to do with the overall narrative.

Playing through the campaign does give you some interesting battle options. You can use a “story assist” button to automatically execute some harder to perform moves. If you play on the easiest difficulty, you can even do auto combos simply by tapping a button. One has to wonder why these functions weren’t included as an option in versus battles. They would go a long way toward making the game more accessible to new players, without affecting high-level play at all. Since these mechanics only exist in single-player, they actually actively hinder your learning experience. You’ll learn to mash buttons hard, yet that’s exactly what will kill you in a multiplayer match.

A Solid Entry for Tekken Fans

That’s about all that’s worth mentioning. No other mode deviates from the standard fighting game stock. You’ll see versus mode, arcade mode, and an expanded online suite, but you won’t find an in-depth tutorial, mission modes, or anything specifically designed to help people learn how to play. I wouldn’t call any of these modes bad or poorly constructed. The online netcode works great and the matchmaking system is smooth and effective. It’s just that Tekken 7 doesn’t do anything as creative as the virtual lobbies of Guilty Gear Xrd Rev 2 or the gear system in Injustice 2.

As a fighting game and a fighting game alone, Tekken 7 is well constructed. The roster is full of interesting characters with diverse fighting styles, from the flip kicks of Law to the vampiric magic of Eliza. You can even put a pop idol in a cat outfit up against a giant bear. With room for expansion via DLC, Tekken 7 promises to end with a roster big enough to make even the VS series blush.

Tekken 7 also benefits from being a game that has been out in Japanese arcades for some time now. Not only is there a massive tournament following for the game already, but Bandai Namco has had a wealth of opportunities to balance and rebalance the roster. It certainly feels like one of the more fair fighting games currently on the market.

If all you want is a good head to head fighting experience, Tekken 7 is fantastic. You can stop reading the review, pick it up, and enjoy many nights trying to beat your friends. But if you are looking for a more complete package, Tekken 7 disappoints. While the campaign is technically impressive and there’s some fun to be had in grinding resources to customize your characters’ appearance, you’ll get bored quickly unless you have someone to play with.

Unfortunately, this means the review is going to conclude with a fairly obvious statement. If you like the Tekken franchise, you’ll like Tekken 7. If you don’t, then you won’t. Tekken 7 doesn’t do anything to draw in new players, and doesn’t really mix-up its mechanics enough to make it feel different from prior entries to the casual observer. Longtime fans will appreciate the subtle tweaks, but if you are just a casual fighting game fan looking for something mash away on, there are far more complete packages to choose from.