Tekken 8 - A wrestler in an animal mask holds a microphone
Image via Bandai Namco

Review: Tekken 8 Is an Extensive, Exhilarating Journey

As someone completely new to series, Tekken 8 was pretty daunting to walk into. Move lists that could have over a hundred attacks can leave you wondering where to start with your character. The paddlings I received online showed me that I wasn’t quite on the right track just by picking a character and winging it, that’s for sure. While the game does have tools to make it easy to hop in and start slapping folks around and its single player modes have tons of fun in store no matter what your skill level, it’s the satisfying journey of finding a character and delving into their incredible depths that really makes this game shine bright.

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After picking up fighting games a few years ago, I’ve always had an interest in the series, but those expansive move lists always left me worrying. Yes, I know that when you have dozens upon dozens of moves, they can’t all be useful and you’re more supposed to just incorporate them as you slowly learn a character. Still, how do you play someone like King or Jin right out of the gate? What are the good tools? What are my pokes? What moves are good at catching the opponent when they miss? It’s a lot to put together.

If you’re not super sure and you don’t want to put in a ton of work to start having fun, Tekken 8 offers Special Style. This allows you to mash buttons to do some cool combos with each character. So, if you don’t want to commit a ton of time but want to start smacking friends, activate this mode by pressing L1 and you’ll be doing wacky attacks in no time. The really neat part about this mechanic is that you can turn it on or off at will. So, if you like some of the combos but still want to learn how to play your character with a bit more purpose, you can quickly flick them on if you need them and turn them back off when you’re done. It gives you a lot of flexibility in how you incorporate them into your play.

You can also just tank your way through some of your opponent’s strikes using Heat. When you activate Heat, you do a Heat Burst where you can absorb a hit and then smash your opponent right back. While in this mode, your character is stronger (but only until the bar runs out), you do chip damage with your strikes, and you gain access to unique moves (many of which are pretty impressive to see). You can also end Heat using a powerful Heat Smash, which stomps foes for a lot of damage if it hits.

Tekken 8 - Boxer Steve punches law in the stomach hard enough to lift him off the ground.
Image via Bandai Namco

Similarly, when you’re at low health in Tekken 8, you enter a Rage state. Here, your attacks do more damage, and you can also activate a Rage Art with R2 that just hammers your foe (while also protecting you like Heat does when you activate it). These are some of the most impressive attacks in the game, and honestly, being able to do these by simply pressing R2 at the right time is just great. You just have to focus on your timing without worrying about how to actually input the button presses.

While learning your character, you have a few single player modes that you can play on the lower difficulties (or if you just feel like beating people up with a character’s sweet moveset). Story mode, The Dark Awakens, lets you play on one of several difficulties, and also gives you infinite chances to play many single-round matches, so it’s a decent mode to mess around with. Plus, the story is fun (although a bit complex to understand if you’re new to the series even WITH the in-game explanations).

Story Mode largely focuses on Jin with some dabbling with other characters, which is fine if you like Jin but less interesting if you don’t. If you want more character experience, there are Character Episodes that have a handful of matches and a brief story for all of the characters in the game. You can also tweak the difficulty here to breeze through the array of fun side stories. It’s a great way to experience each character to see who you like, and you get a good amount of Fight Money (which you can use to buy customization items for characters and avatars, among other things).

Tekken 8 also offers Arcade Quest, a playful mode where you work your way through arcades across the country, fighting a variety of CPU players of varying skill levels. This mode is where many of the beginner’s tutorials lie, so you’ll want to pick up this mode and play through it if you aren’t sure how the game works. The light challenge, ability to pick whichever character you want to play, and then have some of the more basic concepts explained to you make it a great starting point once you want to start getting more serious about learning a character.

A dark-haired woman holds a bird in her hand.
Image via Bandai Namco

Having so many single player modes that can cater to lower-skill levels is nice, but what about when you want to start getting better? The game features a Practice Mode where you can look at move lists, how many frames each move takes to go out, your frame advantage for follow-up strikes, as well as properties and damage. You can play around with your attacks and use the frame information to string together some combos of your own, or you can check the same for moves executed by your opponents to look for gaps. Adding combo challenges and samples to the mix give you the usual fighting game tools to tinker with your character until you figure them out.

While I could flip through the move list and have the game demonstrate each strike, I still wasn’t sure where to start to take my characters seriously in Tekken 8. Luckily, many of the characters work fairly similarly to their iterations in the past, so if you have experience in the older titles, it will carry over. If you don’t, much of the knowledge out there on the older games can still give you some guidance. I found that looking outside of the game was a big help at first. While you have tools to learn within the game, connecting with the community is an excellent place to get started, too.

But say all of that doesn’t help you much, and you just start getting blown up online. The game features replays for your matches, which you can watch to check for your mistakes so you can plan to avoid them next time. If you’re just getting started, you might not have a good idea how to counter things. This title offers tips to help you figure out what to do, though. If you’re getting smacked, you can press R2 to bring up a tip about a better way of punishing something the opponent whiffed with, or a hint as to a better combo route. If you’re getting walloped the tips probably won’t have much to say, but it’s really cool to get some hints during a replay about what you can try next time.

Except, to hell with waiting for next time. Tekken 8 lets you take over your character during a replay to try your new idea live. You basically take control of your character (or the opponent, if you like) so you can play around with things that might stop you from getting stomped next time. There are so many matches that I lost because I couldn’t figure out what to do with one thing my foe was doing. Here, I can hope into a replay, stop when the opponent is going to use that ability, and start trying things to stop it. This is an amazing tool for dealing with specific problems against characters and opponents, and I love how quickly it lets you fix gaps in your game plan.

Finally, you can practice against AI opponents built from your own character and others in Super Ghost Battle. These AI enemies use movesets and attack strings based off of players online, so they’re a good way to dabble in online play without actually fighting people online, if you’re too nervous. More interestingly, you can play against your own character and see what the AI would do with your game plan. See my own play style in use showed me some depressing gaps in my play (why don’t I block more?) in a neat light, and makes for a cool addition to the game.

Tekken 8 - Asuka divekicks Leroy
Image via Bandai Namco

Being able to practice in so many different ways will be useful, as Tekken 8 features a massive, varied roster. The cast has a ton of playable fighters, each having a lot of personality in their moves and abilities. Most of them all look really impressive as well, and I found myself spending a ton of time just trying out many of them. In doing so, I found there were many that I gravitated toward. So many that I am still kinda lost on who I want to sink most of my time into. I usually only feel inclined to play two or three people in most fighters, but here, I liked so many styles and characters that I am still figuring out who I like best. I’m used to finding a lot of fluff in fighters with massive rosters, but here, it just feels like a ton of great characters that you can spend hours picking from.

You can also infuse these characters with all kinds of personality thanks to Character Customization. While you can make an Xbox Live-like avatar for Arcade Quest, it’s in customizing the actual fighters that things get really interesting. You can get all kinds of neat costume additions for free, or else spend Fight Money that you earn in-game to unlock many more (and you earn Fight Money fairly quickly through playing every mode). I decked out King in a flower-print suit with a dapper top hat and a donut in his mouth, and could then take that ridiculousness online immediately. No waiting months to get a single new costume for my actual fighter like a certain street fighting game. Just creative outfits right out of the gate.

That said, the main costumes look far better than anything you can create in Tekken 8. Even so, it feels like it’s the player expression that they wanted to focus on. Yes, the developer-created outfits are better, but the creators wanted you to be able to express yourself with the way you look. This pairs well with the massive move lists, which are also a way of telling your opponent about yourself. Yes, there’s optimal ways to play your character, but it’s all of the variety in the attacks and how you, personally, would work them into your game plan that make the character feel unique to you.

While that excess of moves is overwhelming for me right now, it also feels exciting because there’s so much nuance to the characters. I feel like there is a lifetime of discovery lying in each of those move lists, if I’m interested in digging into it. I could always just use Special Style and go wild if I don’t want that depth, but as I’ve started digging into King (as I love grapplers), I’ve been floored by the sheer number of neat things he can do once he muckles onto you. There’s just so much, and while it’s so much at first, just grabbing a few moves and working them into a match feels like I could play this character forever and keep finding exciting things.

Tekken 8 is daunting to get into, don’t get me wrong, but it’s the same kind of fear you feel when you start something new and exciting in your life. It’s like taking on a whole new hobby and you know very little about it. There are so many places you can go and so many things you can do with this new, thrilling entry in the series. There is just so much possibility and a community to be found. While I have a very long road ahead, this game makes you want to keep taking those steps with its helpful replay tools, great characters, stunning visuals, and its array of handy features to help me turn the tide when I’m in danger or to have fun when I need things to be a bit easier. There’s a wealth of wonderful fighting to be had, and it’s a fantastic time to take your first steps into Tekken.

Tekken 8 will come out on January 26, 2024 for the PS5, Xbox Series X/S, and Windows PC.

Tekken 8

Get ready for the next chapter in the legendary fighting game franchise, TEKKEN 8. PS5 version reviewed. Review copy provided by company for testing purposes.

There’s a wealth of wonderful fighting to be had in Tekken 8, and it’s a fantastic place to take your first steps into Tekken.

Food for Thought
  • The ability to hop into a replay and start playing at any point is the coolest feature I've seen in fighters in years. I am gonna be able to see how to fix so many mistakes so quickly.
  • The cast is filled with tons of great characters with no filler. I am having a genuinely hard time picking just one to play as.
  • There is so much content whether you want to take it easy and have fun or learn a complex fighter, so I feel there's lots to do regardless of your skill level.

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Joel Couture
Joel is a contributor who has been covering games for Siliconera, Game Developer, IndieGamesPlus, IndieGames.com, Warp Door, and more over the years, and has written book-length studies on Undertale, P.T., Friday the 13th, and Kirby's Dream Land.