‘Tekken 8’ Is Peak Fighting Game Bliss

There was a time when arcades reigned supreme, and Bandai Namco’s 3D fighter Tekken series was a top contender for king of the fighting games. Despite being someone who grew up in the twilight of arcades’ popularity, my first experience with Tekken wasn’t with a cabinet, but with a kiosk at Toys “R” Us. As a kid who loved playing Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat at home, my attention was instantly piqued by the flashy graphics and explosive audio of Tekken 2 blasting from the chunky TV hanging precariously above the store’s video game aisle; I had to practically be dragged away.

Fast forward to 2024, and Tekken still has my attention in a chokehold. The latest entry, Tekken 8, brings that same audiovisual and tactile bliss to the 4K era. The last of the Big Three fighting games to get a modern sequel in the past year after Street Fighter 6 and Mortal Kombat 1, the question stands: is it still a contender?

The answer is a resounding, “Hell yeah.”

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One of the first major 3D fighting games to make a splash in the era of 2D sprites, the Tekken series has always stood apart as a technical showcase of its time. While other fighters are confined to a single plane, Tekken allows players to strafe around their opponents, adding deeper dimension to movement. It’s also a more grounded style of game, relying less on aerial combat (i.e. spamming jump) and focusing more on landing staggering blows to lift enemies off their feet for extended ragdoll juggling. Centered more on complex combos than character-specific special moves, and with a lack of projectiles, it’s a game that emphasizes aggressive fist fighting over area control and defensive turtling.

But while its mechanics may be grounded, the game’s tone is anything but. While other games pull their inspirations from martial arts flicks, Tekken feels like the product of an anime fever dream. There’s demons, cyborgs, exorcists, and not one but two different bears to play. The story itself is ludicrous, centering around the Mishima family, a lineage of martial artists/corporate criminals perpetually hell bent on patricide as sons, fathers, grandfathers, and even great grandfathers take a Darwinian approach to parenting in the struggle to maintain power. Along the way, there’s illegitimate children, fake out deaths, and just about every soap opera cliché imaginable wrapped in gloriously stupid fun. It’s also, somehow, considered the longest running narrative in video game history with a single storyline continued throughout all games in the series for the last 30 years (earning it a Guinness World Record).

After killing his father, Kazuya now ponders how to kill his son.

Bandai Namco [Captured on PlayStation 5]

That narrative continues here in Story Mode, which charts a multi-chapter arc picking up where 2017’s Tekken 7 left off. Series mainstay and recurring protagonist, Jin Kazama, is out to take down his father, Kazuya Mishima (himself a former protagonist who had to take down his own dad) before he can use their family business, the G Corporation, to achieve global domination. What ensues is all out war and a globe spanning adventure reuniting fans with tons of callback characters. Of course, there’s a tournament too.

The overall story is epically silly but never wears thin, and serves as a playful way to string together multiple battles across its many chapters. The cut scenes are beautifully rendered in ways that feel cutting edge, without much of a drop in quality when the gameplay begins. It’s not quite as seamless a transition as what’s seen in games like Mortal Kombat 1, but the actual bouts are by far the most cinematic fighting games can get without fully stopping the action for a cut scene or fatality. The 3D perspective means the virtual camera can shift stylistically through space to really emphasize impact on particularly savage blows. This does wonders for destructible environments, a franchise mainstay that other games have toyed with but never done quite so well. There’s a special kind of “oh shit” feeling to roundhouse kicking your buddy in the chest to send them flying through a window like a human shuttlecock, wailing over the balcony into the glass ceiling a level below.

Off you go, bud.

Bandai Namco [Captured on PlayStation 5]

True to its arcade roots, Tekken 8 can be an extremely technical game with tons of difficult combos to master. It often feels better suited to an actual joystick setup than a controller, unlike its contemporaries that found a more mainstream friendly sweet spot, but it never leaves players feeling powerless. One of the best bits of modernization is the addition of Special Style, a streamlining ability that simplifies harder combos to single button presses, empowering newcomers to absolutely wreck the competition without mastery of the systems. And unlike the similar “Modern” control scheme in Street Fighter 6, it’s not something predetermined prior to the match, but can be toggled on or off at the touch of a button mid-game. This flexibility does wonders for players looking to try new characters while still having a chance to win.

There’s also the Heat System, a simple button press that allows players to execute easy and empowered combos for a quick comeback or aggressive push, as well as the Rage Arts that function as super moves. While not as over-the-top as Street Fighter’s Critical Arts or Mortal Kombat’s Fatalities, they’re stylish extensions of already bombastic moment-to-moment gameplay.

Effortlessly stylish even in uppercutting.

Bandai Namco [Captured on PlayStation 5]

Despite its accessibility, Tekken 8 is never content to leave players who want to learn out to dry. Outside of the story and standard arcade modes, there’s a new addition called Arcade Quest that functions as a longform tutorial for all the game’s major systems. In it, you’ll create a cutesy avatar and enter a virtual world of fictional Tekken players all looking to be the very best. Through scripted missions and challenges, the mode is a substantially lengthy training ground with the veneer of a dedicated single-player campaign. Through this, players also unlock Super Ghost Battle Mode which rather ingeniously creates a doppelgänger of your selected character that uses AI to learn your play style and throw it back at you, forcing you to compete against yourself as others would. It’s an idea that feels pulled from racing games, and with investment, can become an incredibly useful tool for training.

Online, the game features crossplay with other platforms and a rollback netcode (a must-have for reliable online play), as well as a full virtual lobby that mirrors the experience of Arcade Quest with real people. In the pre-release online sessions provided by Bandai Namco over the course of a single night, connections were smooth and matchmaking mostly reliable, although the limited trial window meant lobbies were somewhat empty. It’s likely an issue that won’t exist once the game goes public.

Teach me the art of violence.

Bandai Namco [Captured on PlayStation 5]

Other offerings include Versus mode, which is the standard local PvP deal, allowing players able to select from the huge roster of 32 characters for meat-and-potatoes brawls. Lastly, there’s Tekken Ball, a goofy throwback mode from Tekken 3 where players bash each other into submission with a giant beach ball. It’s a fun yet janky distraction whose novelty quickly wears thin.

All in all, there’s tons to love about Tekken 8. Rebuilt from the ground up using Unreal Engine 5, it’s a visual showstopper oozing with panache. Its gameplay is fluid, with combat that’s crunchy where it counts and easy enough to pick up and instantly feel like a bad ass. It’s an experience that, from the onset, is practically overwhelming with sights and sounds — from glittery particle effects to up tempo music cranked to eleven — that replicates the sensory overload of being in a crowded arcade of yore, even when you’re just perched on the couch.


It’s fun while it lasts!

Bandai Namco [Captured on PlayStation 5]

With so much to offer and seemingly little of the exhausting live service seasonal elements that have overtaken the industry today, it’s a clear-cut joy of an experience that will hit you right in the id for months to come.

Tekken 8 launches on Jan 26 for PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X|S, and PC.