The folks over at Bandai Namco are cooking up a storm, and Tekken 8 is on the menu. It’s been a little over 8 years already, and the fighting game community is itching for the latest installment to come and shake up the scene once again.
Ever since it was first revealed during the September 2022 PlayStation State of Play, the buzz around the game has been, in simple terms, electric. Naturally, we couldn’t contain our excitement when we got invited by Bandai Namco to get our grubby hands on an early build of the game in person, along with the chance to pick the brains of Tekken Project Director Katsuhiro Harada and Producer Michael Murray.
We’re extremely excited, and we think you should be too because the game is definitely bringing the heat.
*We attended a Tekken 8 hands-on event together with select media from Southeast Asia. We got to play an early build of the game on the PS5 for almost 2 hours in VS. mode using provided controllers and fight sticks, and 10 characters were made available to us to use during the session.
If Looks Could Kill
Let’s get the obvious thing out of the way first – If you’ve seen any of the previous gameplay trailers and character reveals, you’ll know that Tekken 8 looks absolutely phenomenal. The game is being rebuilt using Unreal Engine 5, and everything looks cracking. Impact and animations feel weighty, the visual and particle effects are over the top, and being afforded the power of the current-gen consoles really emphasizes a marked graphical leap over its predecessor both in look and feel.
Leaving the last-gen consoles means that the game can do and show more, and this is evident even in the early levels that we got to see. There’s Yakushima, a level with light rays peeking through the tree canopies, shining on the shallow pool of water where the hotly-contested battles happen. There’s also the arena that looks like a futuristic UFC ring with lights aplenty, and even what looked like a damp and musty underground cavern, among others.
All of the levels in Tekken 8 look and feel more dynamic, with more moving parts and breakable environment pieces. In particular, lighting is used to great effect and really puts some nice contrast between elements across all of the arenas. While some of the ones we saw look similar to some levels from Tekken 7, they’re definitely a significant touch-up from before and look much cleaner and smoother overall.
One more thing that’s given a facelift here is the characters, and save for Paul (I don’t think we’re the only ones that hate it), all of the revealed character designs have been utterly fantastic. Each character in the roster has much more flair, with facial expressions looking livelier, and body and garment details more noticeable.
A particular favorite and recently revealed, Xiaoyu, has been redesigned to look much more mature while still retaining a playful side to her that has defined her personality over the years. Even Nina, who gets a much sleeker look with her short hairstyle, is absolutely ace.
Special character intros have been improved in Tekken 8, and while we’ve tested these with a limited character pool, they’re lengthier, and the exchanges more impactful. There are a couple of very exciting ones, but that’s something we’ll leave Bandai Namco to show instead of us spoiling it. They’re hype AF, as the saying goes, so watch out for them!
Related – Tekken 8 Balanced for What Feels Exciting
Additionally, characters also take visible battle damage, which can clearly be seen during the closing scene of matches. It’s the small touches and attention to detail that really make the game special, and Tekken 8 has it in spades.
Put together, the game is more visually expressive overall. There’s much more feedback where needed, effects have been dialed up a notch, and the action is just super crisp, making for a more engaging outing that makes for gameplay that’s very exciting to watch as a spectator, and to play as a competitor.
It’s Getting Hot in Here
“Aggressive” is a defining pillar in Tekken 8’s design. The word has been reiterated countless times during the gameplay introduction video published a month ago, and it’s all defined by the Heat System. Playing enough matches over the course of the hands-on session, it’s easy to see that there’s indeed an increase in mechanical complexity because of the new Heat components, adding a new layer of strategy that will infuse gameplay with a jolt of adrenaline.
Related – Tekken 8 Achieves Fine Balance for Newcomers and Advanced Players
Heat in Tekken 8 is an encompassing system that provides players with opportunities to deal massive amounts of damage. Every character will have a full Heat Gauge once per round and can be activated through the use of a Heat Burst or Heat Engager. While the Heat Burst can be activated at any time and can even be used to “Bound” an opponent a la Tekken 6, the Heat Engager is quite different in some key areas.
Heat Engagers are attacks that also trigger the Heat State when they connect, and each character will have multiple attacks that are considered engagers. They’re usually some of the more iconic moves for each character, like Paul’s Phoenix Smash, and will put you in an advantageous situation to deal more damage. On their own, these engagers trigger Heat, but we learned through playing that the Heat State will remain deactivated when used as part of a combo, so knowing when and how to use these engagers is a crucial skill to learn.
Activating the Heat Gauge raises the level of complexity quite a bit, adding more moves like a manual cancel called Heat Dash, a powerful attack called Heat Smash, and even using gained Heat Energy to unleash both of the aforementioned techniques. These are advanced techniques that add to the number of things for the player to think about, taking skill to master and an even greater understanding of mechanics to use effectively.
The Heat System also has a special property that elevates the inherent characteristics of each fighter. Each character will have varying buffs while in Heat State, a couple of which have been revealed already (King and Law) during the aforementioned gameplay introduction trailer, but some of the other buffs are nothing to scoff at and will provide distinct advantages from an execution standpoint like Jin and Kazuya. Needless to say, matches will be more dynamic and highly strategic affairs.
There are reservations about how all of this will prove to be too oppressive for defensive-minded players, and during our time with the game, we can feel where the concerns could be coming from. Then again, it’s still too early to say until the system makes its way to a wider audience, especially in the hands of actual pro players. Despite the many gameplay trailers released, we’ve yet to actually see a full match that can unlock the potential of these systems.
Related – Tekken 8’s Dials Defense Down to Keep in Line With the Heat System
Based on what we’ve played though, Tekken 8’s Heat System has a good mix of being simple enough to use and understand thanks to some moves being activated at the touch of a button, but also deep enough to require hours and hours of practice to master. It gives players an opportunity to play at a breakneck pace that leads to frenetic battles and, ultimately, a more entertaining viewing experience.
No Style Like Special Style
One fantastic Tekken 8 feature that could also be its most polarizing is the Special Style control scheme, allowing newcomers to keep up with more experienced players by having certain strings and moves connected to a single button. Even Heat Engagers and Power Crush moves are included in the list, offering players of all levels an almost complete suite of attacks for different situations.
The fact that this control scheme can instantly be activated with a touch of a button during a match is something that should certainly prove to be divisive, along with it being usable across all modes of play. Yes, even online matches.
The Tekken 8 developers have made certain tweaks to the system that will answer most concerns. Despite reservations about how the game has now seemingly added an “easy mode,” the Special Style controls are definitely predictable when used over and over again since it only has one specific move or string mapped, leading players who are dependent on it to a low skill ceiling and stagnant playstyle.
Related – Tekken 8 Special Style Controls Cannot be Customized
The moves assigned to the buttons are also not customizable, meaning you cannot suddenly assign hard-to-execute combos macro-style. Certain limits have been put in place to ensure that Special Style caps are at a certain level, and should players want to improve, they’ll need to switch back to a more execution-based style to overcome more advanced players that can easily catch on to patterns.
Overall, Tekken 8 is shaping up to be faster, and much more mechanically complex, but at the same time offering newcomers levels of accessibility not seen in previous installments. There’s still a lot we don’t know about the game, along with intricacies about certain systems that may still be revealed by the team in the coming months leading up to its eventual launch.
While it’s still too early to tell how this will all play out, the fighting game scene will need to get ready for a new challenger coming soon.
Tekken 8 is in development for the PS5, Xbox Series, and PC.