Retrospective: Tekken


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If Double Dragon II, Mega Man 2, Contra and Sonic the Hedgehog got me interested in video games in general, then the fighting game explosion of the 1990s cemented that interest into love. Street Fighter – specifically Street Fighter II – seems like the perfect game to do a retrospective on with regards to this genre: it’s currently celebrating its 30th anniversary, Street Fighter II led to the genre’s explosion decades ago and Street Fighter IV led to the mainstream resurgence we’re enjoying to this day. The problem with discussing Street Fighter is not only has it been done to death, but there are far too many iterations of the various games, to the extent where it becomes difficult to discern what’s a revision, what’s an expansion and what’s a sequel in many cases. It doesn’t help that, bare minimum, you’re dealing with at least 3 different flavors of gameplay, possibly even more depending on who you ask.

So where does that leave us? I kind of fell out of Mortal Kombat between its original foray into 3D and the spectacular reboot. There are way too many games in the King of Fighters franchise to write a coherent article on. I’m barely versed in Guilty Gear and Blazblue’s story can be a little incoherent at times. Why not Tekken? What Street Fighter II did for me with 2D fighters, Tekken 2 did for me with their 3D counterparts. Since then, I’ve been a fan of the series: I even owned a VHS tape of “Tekken: The Motion Picture”, a movie that butchered the story of the first 2 games not unlike Mortal Kombat’s first live-action film. As such, I’m fairly well versed with the franchise in general, though admitted I’ve had my peaks and valleys when it comes to the series. Best of all, the latest game in the series – Tekken 7 – is set to hit Western shores via console today. As a bonus, Tekken will be releasing on PC (via Steam) for the first time ever with its latest entry. So, let’s look back on how we got here and delve into the grand history of the King of Iron Fist Tournament. I’ll be sticking with the mainline entries in the series: don’t expect anything on ports, spinoffs or the movies, live-action or otherwise – not even the free-to-play Tekken Revolution, which has been taken down in preparation for T7’s release. Those fall outside of my field of expertise and for the most part, the Tekken fanbase would rather disavow their existence anyway.


My first experience with the original Tekken is a very foggy one. I’m almost certain that I first encountered the game at a tourist trap on a family vacation in 1995. It was in one of those giant arcade cabinets that were commonly used for newer titles in the days where arcade games were still plentiful. At the time, I was still really into Mortal Kombat – and they just so happened to have a standard-sized cabinet with MKII in a similar area – so I just ended up blowing my quarters on that instead. I wouldn’t really play the first game until years later, after Tekken 2 and 3 had already been released and become classic titles in my PlayStation library. I was mainly spurred on to attempt the game due to a cheat device I’d purchased for Tekken 3 – unlocking Dr. Boskonvitch is …not worth the effort, honestly – and the device also came with saves for both earlier Tekkens with all content unlocked. Curious to see the game’s roots, I ended up picking up the game. Years later, I’m still not sure if it was a mistake.

The first Tekken, as with most games in the series, centers around the eponymous “King of Iron First Tournament” – Tekken translates to “Iron Fist” – held by Heihachi Mishima, owner of the Mishima Zaibatsu: a massive conglomerate with ties to several industries bent on global domination. Offering a generous cash prize of 1 billion dollars to the champion, the tournament itself consists of matches to the death between 8 contestants. One such competitor – and the game’s main protagonist – is Kazuya Mishima: Heihachi’s estranged son who he threw off a cliff at the mere age of 5 to see whether he was a worthy heir to his fortune, leaving a massive scar across his torso. Fueled by hatred for his father, Kazuya trained long and hard for 21 years, becoming a proficient martial artist and an undefeated fighting champion. Other contestants include Paul Phoenix, an American martial artist and the only man able to fight Kazuya to a draw; Nina Williams, a skilled assassin sent to execute Heihachi Mishima; Yoshimitsu, leader of a ninja clan intending to steal the prize money to give to the poor; King, a luchador-turned-Catholic-priest only capable of communicating through growls and snarls befitting his jaguar mask who wishes to use the prize money to build an orphanage; Michelle Chang, a young woman of Native American and Chinese descent wishing to avenge her father who was murdered on Heihachi’s order in order to recover a treasure he found; the enigmatic Jack, a Russian military android and Marshall Law, the archetypical Bruce Lee character who was also a restauranteur wishing to use the tournament’s prize money to open his own martial arts school.

The game’s single-player “arcade” mode – present in both the original arcade release and the later PlayStation port – is typical for early entries in fighting game series: after selecting their character, players face a gauntlet of matches, facing every other character on the roster. After the other characters have been defeated, players are then challenged by a “sub-boss” – a special character that is determined by the character selected. These include Lee Chaolan, Heihachi’s adoptive son and Kazuya’s rival; Anna Williams, Nina’s younger sister and rival assassin; Kunimitsu, a dismissed ninja of Yoshimitsu’s clan who intends to steal the treasure found by Michelle’s father; Ganryu, a corrupt sumo wrestler and Yoshimitsu’s rival; Kuma, Heihachi’s pet bear and rival to Paul Phoenix; Prototype Jack, a prototype model of the Jack android built strictly with power in mind; Armor King, rival and friend to King and Wang Jinrei, friend of Heihachi’s late father and rival to Marshall Law. After defeating your character’s rival, you’re treated to a final showdown with the tournament’s organizer himself, Heihachi Mishima. Defeat him and the game is won: your reward being either a montage of instant replays of all of your victories in the arcade version or a primitive CG ending in the PlayStation version, followed by the game’s credits.

The original Tekken originally came out at the tail-end of 1994 and it shows. The gameplay is more akin to the premier 3D fighting game of the day: Virtua Fighter, Sega’s arcade smash hit from 1993. Unlike VF, Tekken relies upon four buttons: each representing a specific limb – the left and right arms and legs. This button layout would remain constant throughout the franchise and even managed to get adopted by other fighting game series, most notably the Mortal Kombat reboot in 2011. Many of the more fantastic elements that would become synonymous with the Tekken franchise – especially juggle combos – were absent, leading to a far more grounded experience. Bafflingly, even the ability to sidestep – truly a keystone mechanic in the majority of full 3D fighting games – was absent from the original Tekken. Having said that, some elements were present even from the series’ simple beginnings: specifically, the method for performing special moves. While most fighting games would rely upon a specific combination of joystick motions and button presses, Tekken would prefer to perform special moves in a way far more akin to combos: focusing on timed button presses, occasionally paired with simple motions. This would ironically lead to a far more simplistic approach to attacks, leading many casual players to success simply due to the fact that “button mashing” – generally considered a novice approach to fighting games in general – can instead function as a method of learning attacks, effectively teaching new players the game’s mechanics and allowing them to better transition into more advanced strategies. Distance also plays a role in the game’s combat: though most attacks are incredibly short range, if the two characters separated by a great distance, one can charge at the other, with the potential to tackle them for a great deal of damage. Another odd quirk present only in the original Tekken is the ability to select different camera angles in combat. By pressing the Start button (Select in the PlayStation release), players could choose from 3 different heights in addition to the default, including one that depicts a near-overhead view. It’s a strange feature that doesn’t really add anything to gameplay, but it was at least a unique experiment for its time – perhaps it could’ve been inspired by similar functions found in arcade racing games at the time?

The game’s graphics, however, fared even worse in retrospect. Remember the blocky designs from the original Virtua Fighter? Even to this day, their primitive attempts at depicting characters in full 3D are considered whimsical to those nostalgic for the 1990s. The original Tekken’s visuals were definitely far more advanced than those of the original Virtua Fighter, but this comes at a substantial expense to their lasting appeal. Tekken’s artstyle definitely relies far more on advanced polygonal modelling than VF but the modelling itself is still extremely primitive: definitely representing a time before the technology had improved to the point where anything visually appealing could be done at a reasonable cost. It’s not uncommon to see parts of various characters’ bodies become disconnected from one another during attack animations. The character models themselves are also fairly hideous: let’s just say there’s a reason why Sofia from Battle Arena Toshinden was considered the ideal choice for a fighting game bombshell over Nina Williams in the early days of the PlayStation. Don’t get me started on Kunimitsu’s original design! The male characters didn’t fare much better – truth be told, I still refer to Jack as “Ducky”, due to his odd body proportions resembling the mutant hodgepodge of the same name from Toy Story. Having said that, at least the stages are merely simplistic – definitely the highlight of this game’s aesthetic design. Somehow, even the pre-rendered cinematics are remarkably hideous. Hell, King’s ending even manages to use live-action children (presumably filmed on a green screen) which only serves to further illustrate how hideous everything else looks.

Conversely, the music and sound design is fairly well done – a trait that would remain consistent throughout most of the series. As stages merely represented various locations across the world as opposed to portraying unique areas related to the game’s roster, the music needed to focus more on the environment rather than the competitors – generally a more difficult task when creating a memorable soundtrack. Considering a majority of the songs from the first game were reused in the sequel, it’s safe to say they nailed it. It’s tough to decide which theme in this game is my favorite: I’m torn between Fiji and my hometown of Chicago. Better still, the PlayStation version included a fully arranged soundtrack in addition to the original Arcade version. I prefer the Arrangements, but the fact that both are present is impressive. Likewise, the quality of the voice samples is good for the time. The only really distracting bit that all but one of the boss characters share voice samples with the base roster: Jack’s voice is used for a whopping 4 characters, including Heihachi himself! Of course, given the limited capacity most of these characters appear in the original release, it’s understandable. Somehow, Wang Jinrei managed to get a unique set of voice samples – though, personally, I always believed it was just a modified version of Nina’s clips. It’s particularly noticeable on his pain grunts.

The original Tekken began a long-running tradition of PlayStation exclusivity with regards to home releases. Compared to later releases, the original game’s port is actually a mixed bag. Short animations that played upon selecting a character were removed in the home release – likely due to hardware limitations. Likewise, the graphics in the PS1 version were slightly degraded from the arcade release, though not to the extent generally seen with 2D fighters on the platform. However, the PS1 version did come with several extras. For example, when starting the game, players were treated to a playable bonus stage from Namco’s arcade classic Galaga while waiting for the game to load. This was a pretty major deal at the time, as Namco had patented the concept of running minigames during load screens – an unfortunate situation that would prevent this from becoming more normalized in a time when load times were truly obscene. As I mentioned earlier, upon completing the game with any member of the base roster, players would be rewarded with a short CG animation ending, depicting what exactly happens to their chosen avatar after winning the tournament. Upon beating the game with a character, their respective sub-boss would be made playable. Skilled players could even unlock the game’s final boss, Heihachi Mishima by completing the game under set conditions. The most impressive unlockable, however, was a third costume for Kazuya: by netting a perfect score in the Galaga mini-game. Not exactly worth it in my opinion, but it is a neat little Easter egg.

At this point, there’s really no point to revisiting the original Tekken, except out of pure curiosity. New players should also probably avoid the game, simply because it’s missing several mechanics that would later become synonymous with the franchise. Tekken 1 aged terribly and I’m actually a little surprised that the game itself hasn’t become an obscure trivia piece like the original Street Fighter. Unlike Street Fighter, the game’s sequel would be an improved remake of the original game. I guess the original Tekken’s importance actually stems from its storyline: it introduced us to so many characters that would become fairly iconic and the story arc involving the Mishimas – generally considered the central plotline of the franchise – requires the first game’s story to be completely understood, regardless of what was added in future releases.

Tekken 2

I guess you could say I’m something of a hipster when it comes to the Tekken series. While most people first experienced the series through its third game, for me, it’s all about number two. Tekken 2 was one of the first video games I ever rented myself – as opposed to simply being taken along for the ride at the time. A Blockbuster Video had recently opened up right by my house and they were offering rentals for the original PlayStation. The games I remember renting most commonly at that point were MegaMan 8 and the aforementioned Tekken 2. When I managed to get my hands on a PS1 of my very own, those two games were at the top of my list of games to purchase, but for some reason, they were harder to find that I expected.

The original King of Iron Fist Tournament ended with Kazuya making his way to take revenge on his father, eventually defeating him in mortal combat – not to be confused with Mortal Kombat, which I mentioned earlier.  After clobbering dear old dad, Kazuya then decides to add insult to injury by tossing Heihachi off the same cliff he was thrown off as a child – an event that was actually depicted in Kazuya’s ending in the first game – and takes control of the Mishima Zaibatsu. He proceeds to become ten times the evil bastard his father was: Kazuya increases the Zaibatsu’s illegal activities and further militarizes it with the intent to achieve world conquest. He even kidnaps preeminent scientist Dr. Bosconovitch in order to create biological weapons for him. However, Heihachi managed to survive his son’s brutal onslaught, eventually climbing from the cliff with the twin intents of retaking his corporation and murdering him. Two years after the original tournament, Kazuya holds a second – this time offering a grand prize of one trillion dollars – in an effort to lure Heihachi out into the open in order to kill him once and for all. Many of the competitors return from the original tournament, but there are some new faces as well. Jun Kazama – an officer of the WWWC, an environmental protection group – joins the tournament in order to investigate the illegal and unethical experiments the Mishima Zaibatsu have been performing under Kazuya’s rule. There’s also Lei Wulong, a police detective from Hong Kong who utilizes drunken-style martial arts – he was clearly inspired by Jackie Chan – investigating Kazuya Mishima due to a number of killings and several mob-related transactions across the world.

As I mentioned earlier, the original cast returns for the most part – but many return with new motivations. The mysterious ninja Yoshimitsu intends to rescue Dr. Bosconovitch from the Zaibatsu’s clutches to repay him for saving his life and giving him a new cybernetic hand in the process. King fell into a depression after an orphan in his cares dies, but Armor King convinces him to fight in the new tournament to redeem himself. Marshall Law achieved his dream of opening his own dojo but fights to avenge one of his students injured by a mysterious Tae Kwon Do practitioner. Michelle Chang’s participation is assured by her mother’s kidnapping – Kazuya wishes to obtain the pendant Michelle wears on her neck, which apparently holds the secret to a great treasure. Paul Phoenix returns to avenge his defeat at the hands of Kazuya in the previous tournament. The original Jack has been replaced with Jack-2, a more advanced model equipped with a new computer chip – one that makes him capable of learning from his mistakes – who also intends to rescue his creator Bosconovitch, the only man capable of helping him with his goal to become more human. Finally, Nina Williams has once again been hired to assassinated the head of the Mishima Zaibatsu, but also harbors an intent to settle the score with her sister Anna.

As with the previous game in the series, Tekken 2’s main single-player mode once again involves your typical fighting game arcade ladder. Players square off against 7 members of the base roster, followed by a fight with their character’s respective sub-boss. This is followed by a fight with Kazuya Mishima, sporting a fancy purple suit this time around, and if they’re able to defeat him, they go onto face the final boss: Devil Kazuya, overtaken by the alter ego that allowed him to survive that fall all those years ago. After that, you’re once again either treated to a montage of your previous victories or a short CG cinematic, depending on whether it’s the arcade of PlayStation version.

The gameplay has improved significantly from the original game, though it’s still a bit stiff compared to future iterations of the series. Tekken 2 gives certain characters the ability to sidestep – generally considered the hallmark of any 3D fighter – which allows for expanded movement options as well as fully utilizing the 3D space the game inhabits, making it feel less like its 2D counterparts. This allowed for a wider variety of defense, allowing players to sidestep attacks and counterattack with the proper timing. Unfortunately, the game still retains the Virtua Fighter-esque moon jumps from the original – which makes things kind of awkward at times. On a more positive note, Tekken 2 would begin to allow for combos via juggling: certain attacks could knock one’s opponent into the air and from this state, the combo could be continued. Juggling would eventually become a series trademark, but at this point, it’s relatively primitive. Aside from that, the game retained the inputs and special move motions from the previous game – though the returning characters also gain access to brand new moves, leading to a much deeper arsenal.

This expanded repertoire of attacks would also influence the sub-boss characters. In the original Arcade release of Tekken, the sub-bosses (and even Heihachi himself) were effectively model-swaps of the base roster. However, in Tekken 2, these characters would gain entirely unique moves to differentiate them from their inspirations, while retaining the base movesets from the first game. This also helped to further develop them as characters. Best of all, they’re even unlockable in the original arcade version – if they’ve been unlocked, the game’s attract mode will even advertise how many characters had been unlocked at that point. The sub-boss characters from the previous game return and their motivations are as follows: Kuma returns to exact revenge after his defeat at the hands of Paul Phoenix – while managing to somehow transition from sun bear to Grizzly; Anna Williams acts as Kazuya’s bodyguard and hopes to have a final showdown with her older sister; P. Jack was rebuilt after his defeat in the first tournament and hopes to prove he’s the superior model to the newly-activated Jack-2; Ganryu seeks to redeem himself for his criminal actions and hopes to win the heart of the beautiful Michelle Chang; Lee Chaolan maintains his position in the Mishima Zaibatsu and fights to sabotage his adoptive father Heihachi’s plans to retake the company; Armor King fights to provide support for his comrade and rival King; Kunimitsu was dismissed from the Manji clan in disgrace and seeks to steal her former master Yoshimitsu’s titular sword; and Wang Jinrei fights to bring down the evils of the Mishima Zaibatsu, providing guidance to Jun Kazama in the process. New sub-bosses join in: Baek Doo San, a Tae Kwon Do user who went on a rampage destroying many dojos – including Marshall Law’s – after accidentally killing his father and Bruce Irvin, a former Muay Thai kickboxer who works as one of Kazuya’s enforcers and was loosely involved in the death of Lei Wulong’s partner. There’s also the addition of a secret character, who can only be fought under certain circumstances and must be defeated to be unlocked: Roger the genetically modified kangaroo and his model swap Alex, cloned from dinosaur remains. Both are the bio-weapon creations of Dr. Bosconovitch and utilize a combination of boxing and “commando wrestling” techniques in combat.

The advancement of the graphics of Tekken 2 echo that of its gameplay compared to its predecessor. The overall artstyle – best displayed in the various CG cinematics and promotional artwork – is a step in the right direction and definitely inspired the look of future games in the series. It’s a bit less prominent with the in-game visuals, but I’d argue that those were improved further when compared to those of Tekken 1. The character models appear to be somewhat less complex than the first game’s – at least when compared to their respective contemporaries – with Tekken 2’s in-game visuals being roughly equivalent to those of Virtua Fighter 2. As such, everything looks a little more squared than the previous game, but given some of the abominations from the first game – the original designs for Kuma and Marshall Law still creep me out – that’s perfectly fine with me. There is one unique visual trick that really impressed me: in Devil’s stage, there’s a mirror in the background that constantly repeats, effectively showing about 5 or 6 layers of reflection. It’s impressive that the original PlayStation’s hardware could handle a graphical trick like that, even if the appearances of victory and loss messages manage to repeat themselves as well. The pre-rendered CG cinematics were also significantly improved over the original game, with characters that no longer resemble something rejected from a freshman animation student’s demo reel – though those live-action children sneak into King’s ending once again. The strangest improvement made to the CG cinematics over the original game’s is that they appear to be better staged: compare the special extended introductions made for the home releases of the first two games – the first game’s comprises of random vignettes vaguely introducing the characters, while the second game’s manages to express both personality and character development.

Not sure if this is a controversial opinion – so it probably isn’t – but I think that Tekken 2 has the best soundtrack in the entire franchise. This is one of the rare entries in the series where stages – and by extension, stage themes – are associated with specific characters, as opposed to just general locations. While associating stages and music with specific characters leads to more work in the long run, it’s been a rare case where it hasn’t been worth it. Tekken 2 keeps the trend alive. With a range of musical styles represented – from the mechanical techno of Jack-2’s “A Man of Artificiality” to Nina’s jazzy lounge-inspired “Silent Assassin” – and a range of moods – Jun Kazama’s peaceful “Morning Field” is a complete contrast from Heihachi’s imposing “AS BALD AS” – Tekken 2’s soundtrack is so varied, that it has something for everyone. Best of all, most of the music from Tekken 1 (all but one stage theme) returns in Tekken 2: repurposed as the theme music for the various sub-bosses. The songs that stand out the most for me, however, would have to be the character select theme – one of the best of all-time, in my opinion – and the background music for the PlayStation-exclusive extended cinematic. The latter, titled “Black Winter Night Sky”, brings back pleasant memories and gives me goosebumps every time I hear it – to the extent where I think I’m no longer capable of skipping the cinema any time it comes up. Another welcome return was the home console exclusive rearrangements – once again improving the already great soundtrack. Likewise, the game’s sound design has been improved significantly. With few exceptions, each character has their own unique voice acting – further establishing the sub-bosses’ unique personas. There are also an expanded range of sound effects

Tekken 2 was the first game in the series that advertised an arcade revision: arcade games getting revised, rebalanced and modified to remove glitches isn’t exactly an uncommon scenario. To this day, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Tekken 2 Rev. A cabinet – I’ve only seen the more common Rev. B machines. By that token, the home port – also exclusive to the original PlayStation – is a significant improvement to the first game’s. As the ability to unlock boss characters – a major feature in first game’s home release – was added to Tekken 2’s arcade version, Namco needed to step up their game when creating a home port of Tekken 2. To say they succeeded would be putting it mildly. Additional modes, both single-player and multiplayer, were added to the game: Time Attack challenged players to complete the arcade ladder under specific conditions in the lowest time possible, Team Battle allowed multi-character match-ups with either the CPU or a friend, Survival Mode pitted players against an endless onslaught of opponents with a single bar of health and Practice Mode provided a safe environment to learn new characters or master those that were familiar. We’d take modes like this for granted nowadays, but compared to the original Tekken – which only offered Arcade and 2-Player Versus modes – it was an impressive amount of content. Tekken 2’s console version also managed to add some interesting cheat codes: big head mode, “sky mode” – which outright amps up juggling potention to an insane degree and even a wireframe mode that makes Tekken 2 resemble the arcade versions of Nintendo’s classic Punch-Out.

For each game in the series, I’ve been doing at least a single playthrough in their respective arcade modes, both to reacquaint myself with their respective quirks and to catalog the continued evolution of the franchise. I once believed that Tekken 2 represented as colossal a leap in quality from its predecessor as Street Fighter II did in its respective franchise. I still agree with this assessment, but I’ve come to realize that this isn’t quite the endorsement I originally intended. Both second releases refine existing mechanics and implement new features which would certainly influence the franchise to this day, but in the end, they’re just the first step on a journey toward greatness. Having said that, Tekken 2 is still among my favorite games in both the Tekken series and the original PlayStation’s library as a whole. It’s just a bit stiffer than I remember.

Tekken 3

Simply put, as much as I would like to believe otherwise, there is one constant truth with regards to Tekken: the third game is the most important game in the entire series. Not only did it complete the evolutionary steps taken by its predecessor, but it is the game in the series that finally permeated the zeitgeist of mainstream popular culture. If you ask anyone with even the most remote knowledge of video games what the first thing comes to mind when they hear the word “Tekken”, it will be Tekken 3, no matter what. Even I’m not immune to the game’s ubiquity – and I personally prefer Tekken 2. It doesn’t help that Tekken 3 was the first Tekken game I owned: it was the latest game in the franchise by the time I had picked up my PS1 and therefore the easiest game in the franchise to find at that point.

The second King of Iron Fist Tournament ended with Heihachi achieving victory over Kazuya. Proving that the Mishima family elevates bastardry to an art form, the vengeful father proceeds to toss his unconscious son into an active volcano before reclaiming his rightful place as head of the Zaibatsu. However, before his defeat, Kazuya managed to impregnate Jun Kazama – under unknown circumstances – who would later give birth to their son, Jin. Jun would raise her child alone and the two would enjoy a peaceful life together. Meanwhile, having dispatched the failed usurpation of his corporation at the hands of his own offspring, Heihachi would embark on a quest to regain the trust of world leaders by using his vast resources to quell wars and other international conflicts. To this end, he established the “Tekken Force”: a mercenary group dedicated to this goal, as well as protecting the interests of the Mishima Zaibatsu itself. During an excavation in Mexico, one Tekken Force squadron goes missing, with only one member describing their assailant as an “ogre” or a “fighting god”. Intrigued by this description, Heihachi plans to capture this mysterious being: the thought of using its power reawakening his bygone goal of world domination. Not long after, several martial artists would begin disappearing – many of whom were previous participants in the Tekken tournaments. When Jin is a mere fifteen years old, Ogre attacks his home, knocking him unconscious. When he awakens, he finds that a strange mark has appeared on his left arm and his house has been razed to the ground – worse still, there is no sign of his mother. Following his mother’s final wishes, Jin approaches his grandfather Heihachi: he explains what had happened and begs him for training, so Jin can find the strength to exact his revenge against Ogre. Heihachi agrees and begins training Jin in Mishima-style Karate. Four years later, on Jin’s nineteenth birthday, a third King of Iron Fist Tournament is announced. Several strong fighters from across the globe enter, not knowing that they are merely bait to lure the enigmatic God of Fighting out of hiding.

As it takes place roughly two decades after the previous game, Tekken 3’s roster contains mostly new characters – though many of these new characters are essentially “legacy” characters, retaining many moves from old characters from older titles: for example, the aforementioned Jin Kazama inherits moves from both his father and mother. After the original King is murdered in combat by Ogre, Armor King trains a successor – the new King was once an orphan who looked up to the original and wishes to avenge the death of his father figure. Hwoarang was a student of Baek Doo San – another victim of Ogre’s – who’s far more focused on avenging his own defeat at the hands of the one man who could defeat him: Jin Kazama. Forest Law is Marshall’s son, secretly entering the tournament to prove his strength to his father. Kuma is the eponymous son of Heihachi’s original pet bear, seeking to avenge his father’s defeat. Julia Chang – Michelle’s adopted, yet inexplicably identical daughter – seeks her mother after she disappears when confronting Heihachi about the true purpose of her family’s keepsake pendant. Gun Jack is a new model of the Jack line built by Jane – a young woman haunted by the destruction of her childhood guardian Jack-2 – sent to the tournament to regain the previous model’s AI to restore the gentle giant’s memories.

That’s not to say that there aren’t returning characters – older, but not always wiser. Nina Williams was used as a guinea pig for an experimental cyrogenic sleep procedure after failing to assassinate Kazuya – leaving her nearly as young as she was 20 years prior, but suffering from amnesia and controlled by Ogre. Paul Phoenix – still fighting at the ripe old age of 46 – felt cheated after traffic delays cost him his rematch with Kazuya, so he enters the third tournament to avenge this loss. Lei Wulong continued his career as an Interpol investigator, gaining a reputation as a “Supercop”, before being invited to the third King of Iron Fist Tournament by Heihachi himself. The enigmatic Yoshimitsu had been further augmented by Dr. Bosconovitch, effectively becoming immortal in the process. He seeks Ogre’s blood – said to have healing properties – to save the life of his friend. Finally, as he is the one holding the tournament, Heihachi Mishima is also participating in the tournament, acting as host and champion.

Some entirely new faces join the roster as well. Ling Xiayou – the granddaughter of Wang Jinrei – is a young martial arts prodigy who single-handedly bested Heihachi’s men in combat after stowing away on one of his yachts. She seeks to build the perfect amusement park in her homeland of China. She’s also accompanied by her pet panda, Panda – who acts as an alternate costume for Kuma. Eddy Gordo was born into a wealthy family. Life was good and Eddy’s future seemed assured, until one day he came home to find his father shot and dying. Following the final wishes of his father, Eddy falsely confessed to the crime and was sentenced to prison in order to evade his father’s killers. Spending many years, learning Capoeira from an old man who had mastered it, Eddy is eventually released from prison and joins the King of Iron Fist Tournament 3 to find out just who was behind his father’s murder. Bryan Fury was a dirty ex-Interpol officer who was revived by the twisted Dr. Abel – a rival of Bosconvitch’s – into what can best be described as a “psychotic cyborg zombie”. He skulks his way into the tournament, targeting both Yoshimitsu and Lei Wulong, the man who revealed his connections to the drug trade. Finally, there’s the puzzling case of Mokujin: originally just an antique wooden training dummy kept in a museum, it was given sentience when the God of Fighting awoke. Mokujin’s fighting style is unique in the sense that he mimics the move-set of another character on the roster, chosen at random – it even changes move-sets between rounds.

If we continue with the metaphorical comparison to Street Fighter I’ve used with the previous entries of the series, Tekken 3 would best resemble the “Turbo: Hyper Fighting” iteration of Street Fighter II for several reasons. The most literal of which would have to be the game’s speed: compared to Tekken 2, this threequel offers a much faster pace. This offers much more potential in terms of combos and especially juggles, cementing the latter’s place as a trademark of the series. Another substantial improvement over the previous game would have to be the jumping physics: height is reduced, but the speed of both ascent and descent increases significantly. This further adds to the game’s breakneck pace, which manages to coexist the with strategic nature of combat from the previous two games in the franchise. Perhaps the most important improvement from the previous game would be the expansion of the sidestep mechanic: it has now become a standard movement option for every character in the game. By tapping up or down, players can move freely into the game’s three-dimensional space – jumping and crouching are still possible, though now they require holding their respective directions. Furthermore, each character has a much wider array of special attacks than even the expanded move-sets from Tekken 2 – even the few returning characters learn some new tricks.

The standard arcade ladder returns. Players are tasked with beating a random assortment of 8 characters, before facing off with Heihachi Mishima. This is followed by a battle with Ogre himself. The first round is pretty standard – Ogre takes on a green-skinned humanoid form, dressed in Aztec-themed armor. His fighting style consists of a mish-mash of various moves taken from the sub-bosses of Tekken 2, implying that many of them met their end at his hand. However, if you manage to defeat the God of Fighting, he’ll take the downed body of Heihachi in his arms, absorb his fighting spirit and transform into his true form for the next round: a monstrous winged abomination truly worthy of the name “Ogre”.  True Ogre retains his previous form’s attacks, but also gains the ability to breathe fire. Defeat him and you’re rewarded with the traditional victory montage or CG cutscene, depending on which version you’re playing.

Unlockable characters return, though they’re handled differently than in previous games. Rather than each character being associated with a member of the base roster, they unlock in a set order – each time the game is completed with a new character, another one unlocks. On the one hand, I personally liked the sub-boss concept – especially because you could choose the order in which the new characters unlocked – but this new method does a lot to make these additions to the roster feel more natural and less gimmicky. Best of all, as these characters are unlocked, they show up in the arcade mode as standard opponents: further cementing their status as “real” characters. As an added bonus, some characters are granted special third costumes – selected with the Start button – effectively expanding on Kazuya’s special costumes from the previous two games and further cementing them as a feature in future titles. These include a skin resembling Jack-2 for Gun Jack, school uniforms for Jin and Xiayou and even Tiger Jackson – Eddy’s discarded prototype design.

The graphics continue their evolution from the previous game, effectively refining Tekken 2’s artstyle into something slightly more realistic. That’s not to say that they’re not still as stylized as earlier iterations of the series, but it’s clear that Namco began mastering the art of 3D modelling by the time the third game in the series was released. The arcade version was released on the Namco System 12 architecture – the successor to the System 11, which hosted the previous two games and was based on the hardware of the original PlayStation. Having said that, the fact that said console received a near arcade-perfect port is a testament to Namco’s abilities. The in-game graphics keep the somewhat-blocky look from the previous game, but both the textures and models themselves have clearly improved – effectively pushing the PS1 to its limits. Due to technical limitations, the stages found in the home console version still retain their format from the previous games in the series: flat textured arenas surrounded by flat background textures – though they have been enhanced significantly from the previous game, achieving a grungy, more stylized look. However, this is in stark contrast to the arenas found in the arcade version: the extra processing power afforded by the System 12 allowed for rudimentary 3D models to be placed into the game, achieving a much more impressive look given the time of the game’s release.

Likewise, Tekken 3 continues the series’ tendency towards catchy music, properly characterizing the fast pace and fluid motion of the game’s combat. However, due to a shift in the game’s overall tone, the soundtrack tends to split itself between either a more industrial or hard rock sound overall – which helps to define it from previous games in the series. Even if I did prefer the music from the second game, I can’t deny the quality behind Tekken 3’s compositions and many of the tunes in this game are still among my favorite in the series. Though many characters would share stages, unique character themes have returned. I think my favorites would have to be the themes of Bryan Fury, King, Nina Williams and Yoshimitsu, though Jin Kazama’s theme is generally considered a classic as well. The PlayStation version gets its own unique arrangement once again, and the quality disparity between the two is the highest it’s ever been, at least in my opinion. The Arcade version’s soundtrack almost sounds like a workprint – incomplete prototypes – when compared to the console version’s arrangements.

The home port of the game on PlayStation expands the content further than it did in the previous two games. In addition to bringing back the Survival, Team Battle and Time Attack modes, Tekken 3 brings in two more modes. The first is Tekken Force, which effectively turns the game into an arcade-style beat-‘em-up, where players can choose any character on the roster and pummel various low-level members of the eponymous mercenary organization through four stages, with other playable characters acting as bosses. The interesting part is that each character has a different line-up of bosses – though Heihachi is generally used as the final boss. The other is Tekken Ball – which is among the most interesting modes in the game’s history. Effectively like a cross between volleyball and dodge ball set within the confines of a standard Tekken match, the two fighters attack a ball to send it back and forth. Players take damage when they’re hit with the ball or if the ball lands on their side of the stage – last fighter standing wins. Tekken 3 also adds a Theater Mode, which allows players to rewatch any cinematics they’ve previously seen. As a bonus, the first two games can be disc-swapped and the cutscenes from those games can also be rewatched. The PlayStation version also adds some exclusive characters. Anna Williams returns, having undergone the same procedure as her older sister – partially due to their familial bond, but mostly out of jealousy. She awakens with none of the side effects Nina suffered from and seeks to restore her sister. Dr. Bosconovitch is also unlockable, sporting a weird playstyle. He fights with a random assortment of moves – which can appear glitchy or broken at times – but is also capable of fighting from the ground, a good trick to have considering he can randomly collapse after certain attacks. He’s entertaining to watch but outright dangerous in the right hands. Finally, Tekken 3 showcases the franchise’s first guest character: Gon. Yes, before Akuma would garner major hype in Tekken 7 and Namco would further exploit the concept in the Soul Calibur games, the diminutive dinosaur from the manga of the same name would make history as Tekken’s first playable cameo. Unfortunately, the inclusion of Gon would have the unforeseen side effect of making the PS1 release of Tekken 3 – by and large the definitive version of the title – impossible to re-release due to the inherent licensing issues. To make matters more ironic, Gon was a fairly popular character in all regions and there is a significant minority of the fanbase that want him to return in future titles.

I suppose it’s safe to say that Tekken 3 is objectively a better game than Tekken 2, effectively building on its premise and mechanics and taking them to their logical conclusion, as well as acting as the exemplar that future games in the franchise would be judged against. Like many games before it, while I’ll accept its objective superiority, I still end up preferring Tekken 2. Granted, I’m sure that this was mainly just due to an inane grudge I had: I happened to like many of the characters that T3 effectively killed off – particularly the sub-bosses. Tekken 2 had a larger selection of characters than its sequel and many of the discarded characters were among my favorites. In retrospect, I can fully understand and appreciate that Tekken 3’s roster had much more variety behind it, even if it didn’t represent every style from its predecessor. Having said that, I never actually hated the game – quite the contrary, I had a blast with it back when I was a kid and while replaying it for the sake of this article. Still, the best was yet to come.

Tekken Tag Tournament

My personal hype for the series was at its peak when Tekken Tag Tournament was first released on the PlayStation 2 as one of its launch games. It seemed like a perfect escalation in hindsight: Tekken 2 was one of the first games I rented, Tekken 3 was the first game in the series I bought and Tag Tournament was the first game in the series I’d outright buy a console for. It was my first PS2 game – offering comfort to me as the Dreamcast was being discontinued in North America – and in the end, I believe it made the system worthwhile all on its own. Tekken Tag Tournament appeared to be something like a cross between a testbed for the new technology that the upcoming slate of sixth-generation consoles – the Dreamcast’s Soul Calibur was also more than just an arcade-perfect port – as well as a celebration of the Tekken franchise’s history.

Tag Tournament is unique in the sense that it’s a major title in the franchise, but it’s also non-canonical. As such, the game outright lacks a storyline: the game is probably best described as a dream match, like the King of Fighters ’98 and 2002 or the Marvel vs. Capcom series. Fortunately, I don’t really care because this gives the game the excuse to bring back a significant chunk of the Tekken 2 roster, including Michelle Chang, Kunimitsu, both Jack-2 and Prototype Jack, Baek Doo San, Bruce Irvin and the incomparable Lee Chaolan. Oh, and I guess Jun Kazama and Kazuya Mishima come back as well – obscure choices, if you ask me. In fact, it might just be easier to list off which characters don’t return from Tekkens 2 and 3: Marshall Law, King I, Kuma Sr., Dr. Bosconovitch and Gon. Personally, I always found the elder Law’s absence interesting – I generally subconsciously assume he’s on the roster – especially given the inclusion of other identical predecessors like Michelle and the earlier Jack models. Best of all, characters even receive additions to their existing move-sets which helps to further differentiate the Tekken 2 legacy characters from their various inspirations and successors. What’s interesting is that the characters returning from Tekken 3 have additional colors for each of their two costumes, while the Tekken 2 characters have a single color per costume. Likewise, a random assortment of characters from both games have a secret third costume, selectable by choosing the character with the Start button.

Technically, Tekken Tag Tournament adds two new characters to the roster as well. Tetsujin is effectively identical to Mokujin, only it’s made of iron or gold depending on the costume. There’s also the game’s final boss, simply referred to as “Unknown”. Unknown is a young woman who slightly resembles Jun Kazama – fitting, as she was originally conceived as her sister back when the game was intended to be canonical – with glowing yellow eyes, a mark on her arm resembling that of Jin and appears to be nude, but covered with a purple slime. She’s accompanied by a spirit, resembling the upper body of a werewolf that mimics her every action. Like Mokujin, she attacks by mimicking the move-sets of much of the remainder of the cast, but can switch out her repertoire at will during combat. Interestingly, she always starts using Jun Kazama’s fighting style.

For the most part, Tag Tournament retains the gameplay elements of Tekken 3 – with only a few refinements to the game’s speed and mechanics. For example, sidesteps have become even more responsive than in the previous game, allowing for frame-perfect evasion. This allows veterans of the previous game to dive right into the major mechanical change to the game: the shift to tag-team combat. Players choose two characters this time around and engage in two-on-two combat. Unlike most tag-style fighting games, rounds are won when a single character loses all their health, not unlike a tag-team match in professional wrestling or the obscure SNK fighting game Kizuna Encounter. This makes checking on both character’s health a necessity and adds a strategic element to the game: aggressive players will want to ramp up their combos to take out the character with higher damage as quickly as possible, while more defensive players will want to continuously switch out characters when one gets close to getting knocked out. Players can also shift the order of their team by holding down the tag button before the start of each round, though this reverts to the original selection if no action is taken in future rounds.

Tagging can be achieved a couple of ways: pushing the tag button whenever the character can attack allows for a raw tag – the easiest method, but also the least safe – and by performing a tag throw. There’s a generic function for the latter that works with all but one combination – Kazuya and Devil, who technically appear as a single character when paired – though certain teams also have unique team throws which often deal greater damage than the standard version. Certain characters can even tag out of special moves. When tagged out, characters can regenerate red health – common in this style of game. Likewise, if the on-screen character gets hit a certain number of times, their partner’s “Netsu Power” activates, designated by the inactive character’s health bar flashing. When tagged in, the affected character will inflict extra damage per attack for a brief period. To add further importance to partner selection, certain characters require more or less hits to achieve this power-up, depending on the team’s canonical relationship, if any. Some pairings even include special introductions, win poses and loss animations that refer to rivalries or friendships.

The arcade ladder returns as the main single-player mode, reverting to 8 matches – though, given the fact that this technically offers 15 opponents in total, it kind of evens out. Secret characters are handled differently in both versions of the game: the arcade version ties them to how long the game has been booted, while the PlayStation 2 version handles unlocks the same way Tekken 3 did, though I find it interesting that unlockable characters will be encounter during the playthrough they’d be unlocked – whereas in T3, they wouldn’t appear until after they were selectable. The seventh fight is unique, in the sense that it’ll involve a fight with the two characters’ rivals working in tandem, while the eighth and final fight is a two-on-one fight against Unknown. Unknown has a major advantage in her fight: she can regain red health on the fly and it needs to be drained to defeat her. She can negate the player’s recoverable health with specific attacks. Fortunately, it’s only a one-round fight – but considering some of the crazy things her ability to change fighting styles on the fly can allow for, it’s a crazy fight regardless of its length.

Compared to every other entry in the series, Tekken Tag Tournament’s graphics are perhaps the most interesting to discuss – simply because there was a significant difference between what was seen in the arcade and home console releases. The arcade version of TTT ran on Namco’s System 12: the same exact arcade board that handled Tekken 3. As such, the graphics in the game had a similar blocky look. The minimal take on 3D backgrounds also returns – in fact many of the stages appear to have been recycled directly from Tekken 3, with slight alterations. There are even secondary variants for some stages. This is in stark contrast to what the PlayStation 2 version achieved, far outstripping its originator. Character models in the home version become nearly identical to the CG renders littering the game. The backgrounds have been significantly improved as well, with many showcasing the PS2’s sheer strength with several characters appearing in multiple backgrounds. The stage where you fight Unknown gets the most dramatic overhaul of all: while the arcade version featured nothing but a black background, the console port reveals a Greco-Roman temple filled with candles. A big contrast if you ask me.

As with every other Tekken release, there were separate arrangements for both the Arcade and home console versions. However, the soundtrack from the arcade version is generally considered a rarity: the PS2 release excised it for some reason. This meant that I had to go out of my way to rediscover its existence – I honestly couldn’t remember how the arcade version sounds, as most of the time I’ve spent playing this game has used at least some form of the home port. The few times I actually did play the arcade version was in an actual arcade: not exactly the best setting to appreciate a video game’s music. Perhaps because of that novelty, I find myself actively preferring the original release. Somehow, despite utilizing the same exact archaic MIDI output as earlier games in the series, it sounds like Namco’s sound team achieved something truly special with this one. It’s honestly a breath of fresh air when compared to the arrangement, which is heavily focused on a techno instrumentation this time around – with some tracks achieving an almost “pre-dubstep” sound – which can come across as a little oppressive at times. That’s not to say I hate the console version’s music – it just appears that most of the tracks are relatively hit-or-miss, while the arcade version seems more balanced. As I mentioned earlier, most of the game’s arenas are distinctly inspired by character stages from Tekken 3 and as such, they are named after the characters they’re based upon – with the sole exception of the “School”. This, coupled with the lack of individual stages for a clear majority of the game’s roster heralds a return to music being associated with stages, rather than characters – which the series would continue to this day. While I am a bit saddened at the loss of unique character themes, I’ve managed to get over it. As I’m most familiar with the arranged version, I’d have to say that I only really have favorite songs from that iteration of the soundtrack: my picks would be Xiaoyu, Yoshimitsu and especially Ogre. The voice clips in TTT sound identical to those from the previous two games, I’m not necessarily sure if they used higher quality samples, but the grunts and screams are otherwise the same recordings.

As I mentioned earlier, the PlayStation 2 version of Tag Tournament improved on the visual and audio quality of the arcade game. It also boasted some additional content. For starters, Unknown is a playable character. Character endings return – though this time, they’re rendered in-engine, aside from Unknown, who got a traditional pre-rendered cinematic. Survival, Team Battle and Time Attack also return from the previous two games. The console version also adds a 1-on-1 arcade ladder and versus mode, for those who are turned off by the tag-team mechanic, the philistines. Then there’s Tekken Bowl mode, a bowling mini-game. Each character has their own strengths and weaknesses with bowling: for example, the cyborg and robot characters have aiming reticules. Oddly enough, this game also utilizes the tag-team mechanic as well, with the team members switching out between rolls. Finally, each 2-on-2 mode offers the option to play via “Pair Play Mode”: allowing two players to team up, each selecting a single character. This in turn allows for up to 4 players to duke it out, using the PS2’s multi-tap – making it a perfect party game. Granted, this mode wasn’t technically exclusive to consoles – a rare variant of the arcade version also included the feature.

For the longest time, Tekken Tag Tournament was my favorite game in the series. It absolutely defined what I would expect from the series from here on out: fast-paced 3D combat with crazy characters. The fact that I have a preference toward fighting games that center around 2-on-2 tag-team action didn’t hurt either. The return of cast members from Tekken 2 was perhaps the icing on the cake for me – as I mentioned earlier, I held a bit of a grudge against the third Tekken game for omitting them. Seeing characters like Kazuya and Michelle return was, ironically enough, a breath of fresh air and the positive reception to the game clearly affected the series’ trajectory in the long run. If the next mainline iteration of the series could continue to build a diverse roster of new and old characters and maintain the solid gameplay that differentiated itself from other games in its sub-genre, clearly the series would continue to thrive. Alas, it was not meant to be.  Oh well, at least TTT managed to be a fixture throughout the PS2’s lifespan and even managed to get a re-release on the PS3 – boasting high-definition graphics and trophy support, but sadly no online multiplayer – bundled with the direct-to-video movie Tekken: Blood Vengeance in a package known as “Tekken Hybrid”.

Tekken 4

Stagnation is a constant threat when it comes to long-running franchises, so reinvention is a necessity. Tekken Tag Tournament may have been the first game in the series to appear on the PS2, but by the virtue of both being a launch title for the system and the fact that it was originally developed for the Namco’s System 12 arcade hardware, it was generally considered the ultimate retread of the previous games in the series – a perfect bookend to the original trilogy, something to keep fans satiated until the next true release in the series. Meanwhile, Tekken 4 was entirely rebuilt from the ground up – developed for Namco’s new System 246 arcade board which was based on the PlayStation 2’s hardware – and changed just about every aspect from the previous games in the series. This degree of separation from its forbearers isn’t exactly uncommon in the fighting game genre: games like Street Fighter III and Mortal Kombat 4 were far greater departures for their respective series than T4. Regardless, many fans of the previous games (myself included) believe that Namco was attempting to fix what wasn’t broken with the fourth numbered entry in the Tekken series. In fact, prior to writing this article, I’d only played Tekken 4 once: it was a rental at a friend’s house. We never bothered giving it a second chance after we unlocked every character that first weekend.

At the climax of the King of Iron Fist Tournament 3, Jin Kazama finally avenged the “disappearance” of his mother at the hands of the monstrous God of Fighting, Ogre. Weak and weary from his fight, Jin was shot and mortally wounded by Heihachi. As he lay there, slowly dying, Jin would transform into a Devil like his father before him. He assaulted his grandfather in a berserk rage and took flight, disappearing. Heihachi survived and ordered his remaining men to collect DNA samples from the downed God of Fighting. He intended to create a new lifeform by splicing Ogre’s genome with his own. Unfortunately, these experiments ended in failure: the Mishima Zaibatsu’s bioengineers determined that Heihachi lacked the “Devil Gene” – which was necessary to splice Ogre’s genetics with another living organism. Undeterred, Heihachi continued his search for Jin Kazama. In the process, he found a photograph of a burnt corpse with deformed wing-like limbs on its back. Recalling that his son Kazuya also possessed the Devil Gene, Heihachi began to search for his remains as well.

Roughly 20 years ago, Heihachi had thrown Kazuya’s prone unconscious body into a volcano to regain control of the Mishima Zaibatsu. However, a few days later, his body was recovered by the G Corporation, a biotech research firm at the cutting edge of biogenetics research. They used their technology to resurrect him and made a deal with the younger Mishima: they wished to use his body for genetic experimentation in order to research the true nature of the Devil Gene. He accepted and for the next two decades, Kazuya slowly began to take control of his latent power, slowly preparing to take revenge on Heihachi for all he had done to him. However, on Christmas Day, Tekken Forces invaded two G Corporation facilities – one containing all of their research on the Devil Gene, the other containing Kazuya himself. While the former mission was successful, Kazuya obliterates the entire squadron sent to retrieve his remains and promises to come after Heihachi next. Enraged at their failure, Heihachi quickly decides to set up a fourth King of Iron Fist Tournament, this time offering control of the Mishima Zaibatsu to the tournament’s champion. Well aware that this is nothing more than a trap to lure him out, Kazuya enters – determined to destroy his father once and for all.

This game’s roster is perhaps the smallest since the first game in the series. The base roster consists of ten characters, including Kazuya. After defeating Ogre in the King of Iron Fist Tournament 3 – but leaving before it transformed into its true form – Paul Phoenix seeks to prove that he truly is the strongest fighter in the universe. Yoshimitsu’s Manji Party seeks to take control of the Zaibatsu to provide food, medical assistance and shelter to the ever-increasing number of political refugees all over the world. Hwoarang’s time in the South Korean military has left him feeling empty, longing for his street fighting days and winning a match with Jin Kazama. He goes AWOL upon hearing of the fourth King of Iron Fist Tournament. Ling Xiaoyu receives a mysterious email revealing Heihachi’s evil intentions and decides to find the truth for herself, as well as hoping to be reunited with Jin Kazama. Marshall Law returns to combat after his Chinese fast food chain goes bankrupt and decides to enter the tournament to renew his fortunes. Some new combatants also join the fray. Steve Fox was a young British boxer who ran afoul of the Mafia after he refused to throw a high-stakes fight. They put a price on Steve’s head and he decided to go into hiding in the United States, but quickly realized that no matter what he did, his life would always be in danger. He enters the King of Iron Fist Tournament 4 to reenter the limelight. Christie Monteiro was the granddaughter of the legendary Capoeira master who taught Eddy Gordo and he returned the favor by teaching her. Within two years, she became an impressive fighter under Eddy’s tutelage. One day, Eddy abruptly disappeared, seeking to avenge his father’s death. Christie enters the fourth King of Iron Fist Tournament to find his missing teacher. Craig Marduk was an undefeated Vale Tudo fighter with a severe aggressive streak. After a minor scandal led him to be banned from the sport, his anger consumed him: culminating in a bar brawl in Arizona where he would claim the life of Armor King. He would be sentenced to ten years in prison for second-degree manslaughter, but would only serve two as numerous judiciaries were paid off to expedite his release at the behest of an anonymous benefactor – the masked wrestler King who seeks revenge for the death of his master.

There are also some secret characters, rounding out the complete roster to a total of 19 unique fighters. Jin Kazama returns, having forsaken the Mishima-ryu style – and inexplicably, his few Kazama-style attacks – training in a more traditional art of karate. He seeks to destroy the Mishima bloodline. After discovering that her native homeland, once covered in a lush forest, was slowly becoming a barren desert, Julia Chang joined a research group funded by G Corporation in order to research the biological mechanism of reforestation. Unfortunately, this data was stolen during Tekken Force’s raid of their facility, so Julia joins the tournament to recover it. Nina Williams, still amnesiac after her time in cryogenic stasis, has been hired to perform a hit on Steve Fox. Lei Wulong, on professional leave after being disgraced for botching an operation following a messy break-up, learns of the assassination from an informant and hopes to protect Steve to gain valuable information on the syndicate – redeeming his previous failure. Heihachi’s pet bear Kuma feels that civilized life has made him soft following his defeat at the hands of Paul Phoenix during the previous tournament. He trains in the mountains of Hokkaido, seeking to reconnect with his wild instincts. Bryan Fury’s life is nearing its end and the only person who can save him is his creator, Dr. Abel. Unfortunately, Dr. Abel is currently working as chief scientific advisor for the Mishima Zaibatsu and as such, has abandoned Bryan. Fury enters the tournament, seeking to take over the Zaibatsu so he can force Abel to not only save his life, but to make him the most powerful being in existence. The enigmatic Violet, CEO of robotics firm Violet Systems and a former fighter, seeks to enter the tournament as an excellent PR opportunity for his upcoming line of humanoid robots. His prototype Combot unit is also entered into the tournament, though its early status only allows it to mimic a single fighter’s combat style at one time. In reality, Violet is none other than Lee Chaolan, now living in exile after being dismissed from the Mishima Zaibatsu for siding with Kazuya during the second Rave War. His resentment for the Mishima clan, as well as his fighting spirit is reignited with the announcement of the fourth King of Iron Fist Tournament. Other costume swap characters include Panda for Kuma, Eddy Gordo for Christie and Miharu Hirano, a classmate of Xiaoyu’s. Of course, Heihachi is also unlockable – though he also appears as the final boss for most characters.

Tekken 4’s gameplay has perhaps the most changes when compared to both previous and future games in the series. For starters, the infinite stages of past are no more – the fighting arenas all now have walls and other obstacles, limiting the playfield. Fighters can also slam their opponents into these boundaries for extra damage and to extend combos. To further accentuate the importance of this new mechanic, traditional juggles have been made more difficult. A “position change” technique has also been added to the game, allowing players to manipulate the positioning of their opponent – swapping places with them or pushing them forward, to the left or right. This mechanic was necessary to allow players to escape being cornered by their opponents, given the newly-walled stages. Some stages even have an uneven terrain, which means that certain locations can be more advantageous than others depending on one’s character and fighting style. The game also moves at a slower, but more fluid pace. Likewise, the game puts a much greater emphasis on sidestepping than ducking and jumps. In fact, only forward jumps are possible in Tekken 4: you cannot do a neutral jump or jump backwards. For the first – and as of now, only – time, players can move their characters freely before the round starts – jumping, crouching, even sidestepping – as opposed to just maintaining a set distance from the opponent. This allows for greater pre-match strategy, attempting to get an environmental advantage on one’s opponent.

While the arcade mode from previous games returns in the PS2 version, it’s been replaced as the main single-player mode: the nigh-identical “Story Battle” mode takes center stage. After choosing a character in Story Battle mode, players are treated with a short prologue – a brief slideshow detailing their character’s backstory and motivations for fighting in the current tournament. From there, players are thrust into a mostly random arcade ladder with 8 fights. As most characters have various relationships, many of them have a predetermined opponent for their seventh fight before facing down with Heihachi in the eighth and final match. In a few cases, however, Heihachi is fought as a seventh opponent and the final boss is someone else entirely. After winning the eighth match, a short epilogue sideshow is shown, followed by the now traditional CG ending. The remaining Arcade Mode is exactly what it says: a random ladder of 7 opponents, followed by Heihachi himself. While both Story Battle and Arcade Mode unlock secret characters upon completion, only Story Battle unlocks the character’s endings.

As with everything else, Tekken 4’s graphical style is different from its predecessors. It appears to be attempting a much more advanced look than Tag Tournament, but I just find this game uglier than the Tekkens developed on System 12 for reasons I don’t entirely understand. Perhaps, Tekken 4’s artstyle was going for a more realistic look than previous games, which just didn’t translate well to the PlayStation 2’s limitations. Maybe it was the fact that it attempted to further bridge the gap between the in-game graphics and the far more beautiful CG cutscenes, resulting in something that somehow manages to fall perfectly within the uncanny valley. In fact, it almost appears that the in-game models were used in the pre-rendered cutscenes, downgrading their appearance from even earlier games in the series. Personally, I think it’s the fact that Namco attempted to step up their animation of things like hair, but managed to fall spectacularly short of anything remotely resembling real-world physics in the process. Regardless, the character models bug me. The stages themselves fare only slightly better. The various NPCs look like a hodgepodge: simultaneously straddling the line between definition and simplified window dressing, but veering too far in both directions to achieve any cohesive look. The stages themselves probably look the best out of everything, but only when the lighting is just right. Many stages have multiple settings and there are ones that clearly work out better than the others. Having said that, there are definitely some cool concepts in this game: an underground pit fight, a shopping mall, a parking lot, and the final boss stage? A freaking steel cage, like something out of pro wrestling or UFC. The game’s UI and menus also take a hit when compared to previous games – something about them just looks “cheaper” than previous titles. This even manifests in the logo itself: they’ve dropped the traditional red-centric color scheme, opting instead for silver Kanji and an orange numeral.

The music is probably my favorite aspect of this game. Unlike every other aspect of the game that I’ve covered so far, it actually represents an evolutionary step for the franchise as a whole. Each game prior went for a specific sound: the first two games sounded like video game music from the mid ‘90s, Tekken 3 had a grungy rock sound, while Tag focused on Techno. Tekken 4’s soundtrack is far more eclectic overall – with various tracks recapturing the style of these previous styles and others experimenting with some new genres – and this is a trend that would stay with the franchise to this day. Tekken 4 also made a total break from the character-oriented themes from previous games, shifting back to a focus on arenas rather than characters much like the original Tekken. Again, this would remain the case for every game in the series since. Finally, T4 only had one arrangement across both versions: due to the implementation of a DVD-ROM on the System 246, there was no need to rearrange the soundtrack for the console versions, marking the end of another musical tradition. Admittedly, I wish I had remained familiar with the music from this game – it’s better than you might expect from the black sheep of the series. My favorite tracks would have to be the Beach theme “Kitsch”; “Bit Crusher” from the Shinjuku stage; the Jungle stage’s “Didgerhythm” and “Touch and Go”, the Airport stage’s theme.

For once, I’m actually going to discuss the sound design from the game separate from the game’s music – simply because this time around, I actually have something to discuss. While the sound effects themselves are about on par with the rest of the series, Tekken 4 adds something new: actual voice acting! Not just the character grunts we’ve seen in previous games, characters actually speak full sentences this time around. Granted, King retains his growling from previous games, but everyone else has their voice acting expanded from the usual grunts. The way they have it is somewhat interesting as well – characters from Asian countries speak Japanese, while everyone else speaks English. Both Marshall Law and Lei Wulong are unique, however: their in-game grunts are generally done by their classic Japanese voice actors, but actual dialogue is performed by English actors – a fitting compromise considering Law is Chinese-American, while Lei Wulong is from Hong Kong. Unfortunately, this leads to some mixed quality in terms of the voice acting itself. The Japanese cast sounds perfect, but it seems that Namco cheaped out on some of the English cast members, particularly the women – Julia and Christie particularly sound weird, they sound almost like they’re attempting to deepen their voices, but it comes across like they’re being prepped for dental surgery. Then you’ve got the odd case of Hwoarang’s ending: despite speaking in Japanese in the main game, he’s voiced by someone entirely different in his ending, speaking in a voice that wouldn’t sound out of place in one of those martial arts movie dubs from the 1970s. To make matters even more hilarious, Jin Kazama makes an appearance in that cutscene, also speaking in English …with his standard Japanese voice actor. It’s hilarious. On the plus side, at least Namco tried – but the quality of the English voice work harkens back to the days of the original PlayStation.

As usual, the console version adds a host of new features and modes. In addition to Story Battle and Arcade Mode, Time Attack, Survival, Team Battle and Theater mode all return from the previous game, essentially unchanged. Practice Mode also returns, but it has been joined by the new “Training Mode” which challenges players to complete 20 of their chosen character’s special moves as quickly as possible. Tekken Force also returns, but it’s been completely overhauled from its previous iteration. While it resembled a Final Fight-style beat-‘em-up in Tekken 3, this new version better resembles an early PS2-era action game. Players choose a character and beat their way through four stages, each with their own seemingly endless supply of generic Tekken Force goons, culminating with a boss fight with a standard character. Personally, I preferred Tekken 3’s version, but at least this adds some more single-player value to the game itself.

I mentioned earlier that Tekken 4 is generally considered the worst game in the series. There are a few reasons for this – some justified, some petty. For starters, the more fluid motion present in this game has the unintended consequence of slowing down the action. For anyone familiar with 2D fighting games, it’s the difference between Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter. In terms of 3D fighting games, however, it’s the difference between, say, Dead or Alive or Virtua Fighter and …well, Tekken. At high level play, it was clear that the game’s engine favored quick jabs over the more complex moves that were strategically sound in previous games in the series. This had the further unintended consequence of making Jin Kazama a top-tier player, to the extent where nearly everyone who wanted to achieve any success within T4’s tournament scene was forced to use the character. The new gameplay mechanics also led to some major glitches – stages with uneven terrain were particularly susceptible to abuse. Some characters’ moves were also given some strange properties which only further exacerbated T4’s notorious balancing issues.

The other major criticism of the game was its roster. While Tekken 3 culled the roster from the previous game, it mainly removed redundant characters from the roster and had a timeskip of roughly 20 years, allowing many legacy characters the ability to simply retire. Tekken 4’s roster is even smaller than Tekken 3’s and manages some startling omissions: both Anna Williams and the Jack line of robots are completely absent from T4, despite making appearances in every single Tekken game up to that point. The latter was particularly painful for me, as Jack has been my main since the start of the series. Odder still, important characters like Lei Wulong, Nina Williams and even Jin Kazama were relegated to secret characters. Likewise, the fact that so many “additional characters” were nothing more than costume swaps did nothing to mask just how small the roster had gotten, as Tekken 4 boasts the smallest roster of any game in the series since the original. Also, compare the new additions to the roster in both games: Tekken 3 added many entirely new characters to the roster, like Xiaoyu, Hwoarang, Eddy Gordo, Jin Kazama and Bryan Fury. Out of its 19 major characters, Tekken 4 would only add three brand new characters: Steve Fox, Craig Marduk and Christie Monteiro – the latter being an exact moveset clone of the absent Eddy Gordo. While I can’t fault the game for returning Kazuya and Lee to canonical prominence, the lack of entirely new characters only served to make the already anemic roster look that much smaller, especially considering this game was a direct follow-up to the massive Tag Tournament.

Due to my unfamiliarity with Tekken 4, I spent the most time replaying the game out of the ones I’ve covered so far. Honestly, coming back to it roughly 15 years after the fact and looking back at it, older and wiser, I must confess that I don’t really hate T4 nearly as much as I did when I was young. It’s still definitely a disappointment when compared to both previous games in the series and the ones that would follow, but it’s difficult to honestly place it as the worst game in the franchise. It’s especially hard when comparing it to the original Tekken: the first game is probably by all means the worst game in the franchise, but honestly, that’s the way it should be – future entries in the series should refine and improve the elements of the original. Tekken 4, meanwhile, appears to forgo many of the elements that made previous games in the series popular and beloved by their fanbase. However, it’s difficult to blame Namco for this – after all, when Tekken Tag Tournament was released, die-hard fans complained that the series was beginning to get stagnant. Unfortunately, rather than evolving the existing gameplay mechanics, Namco chose to reinvent the wheel with T4 – resulting in a game that didn’t please many. That’s not to say that Tekken 4 didn’t have its fans, but many cite the game’s art design and mature storyline as their reasons for enjoying it. This isn’t exactly encouraging when discussing video games.

Tekken 5

Tekken 4 was clearly a failed experiment. Regardless of whether the base concept was flawed or if time constraints prevented it from reaching its full potential, this was the conclusion most people came to. I thought the game was a mistake, many Tekken fans agreed and even Namco themselves appeared to realize that. As such, the next game in the franchise – fittingly released in 2004, Tekken’s 10th anniversary – was essentially a return to form. Even more than that, it was essentially a tribute to the games that had come before it, taking elements from many of the previous games and essentially attempting to create something greater than the sum of its parts: a gestalt truly worthy of one of Namco’s premier franchises. Of the series’ “second trilogy”, I’d have to say Tekken 5 was my favorite. It didn’t quite unseat Tag Tournament as my favorite game in the franchise, but it managed to earn a place in my admittedly sparse PS2 library. That’s got to mean something, right?

The King of Iron Fist Tournament 4 went according to Heihachi’s plan – Kazuya and Jin were set to meet at Stage 7, the tournament semi-finals. However, Jin was kidnapped and abducted by Tekken Force agents. Kazuya was declared winner by default and given a bye to the final round, where he would finally come face-to-face with his despised father. Kazuya was well aware of Heihachi’s treachery and demanded to know what had happened to Jin, but Heihachi would only reveal the truth after their fight. In the end, Kazuya triumphed over his father once again and the two arrived at a sacred pagoda in Hon-Maru, where Jin was been held, wrapped in chains and unconscious. Suddenly, Kazuya’s Devil persona reemerged, taking a sadistic glee in confirming his suspicions: that half of the power that he had lost upon Kazuya’s death had entered Jin’s body. Seeking to complete his power once more, he flings Heihachi from the room and attempts to retake the Devil’s power from Jin. However, this ended in failure – the chains binding Jin were specially made to nullify the Devil Gene. Suddenly, Devil is taken aback – Kazuya reemerges, having learned the secret of reuniting his powers. He takes complete control of his body once again and with it, the remaining power of the Devil: his alter ego is no more.

He releases Jin from his chains and taunts him to get up. As he awakens, Jin is blinded with rage – he wants to kill Kazuya for the misery he has caused. The two fight, with Jin ending up victorious. Heihachi returns, laughing at Kazuya’s failure before also falling victim to an assault from Jin. Consumed by anger, Jin slowly manifests into his Devil form and nearly inflicting a fatal blow upon his grandfather. However, a brief flash and vision of his mother convinces him otherwise and he regains his senses. Jin flies away, leaving Heihachi with a message: “Thank my mother, Jun Kazama”, as she was the only thing that kept him from ending the old man’s life. Thus Tekken 4 ends.

Suddenly, a squadron of Jack-4 robots – so that’s where they were! – assault the pagoda, seeking to eliminate both Mishimas. Kazuya and Heihachi, having recovered from their battles with Jin, join forces as father and son and tear into the robotic onslaught. At first, it appears that the two are turning the tide in the fight, until Kazuya sees an opportunity to escape. He tosses his father into the Jack-4s and manifests his Devil powers to escape the burning pagoda. The Jack-4s quickly dogpile the elder Mishima, and one opens its head to reveal a countdown – resulting in an explosion that levels Hon-Maru. A mysterious figure watches these events transpire, sending a message to an unknown handler: “Heihachi Mishima is dead.” The next day, this news spreads rapidly across the globe. Many expected that Heihachi’s death would bring about the end of the Mishima Zaibatsu itself, but somehow it continues: someone has taken control of the corporation and business goes on as usual. One month later, the Mishima Zaibatsu announced the King of Iron Fist Tournament 5 – once again offering control of the conglomerate as the grand prize.

Tekken 5’s roster is a complete reversal compared to the previous game. For the first time since Tekken 2, the base roster has increased – doubling from the standard 10 to a massive 20. That’s right: T5 has a larger roster on start-up than T4 does overall. The flipside to this is that I’ve got a lot more to discuss this time around. Jin is slowly losing control of his Devil gene and enters the tournament to determine who is responsible for his increasing madness. Kazuya enters to figure out who in G Corporation sent the Jack-4s to kill him and get revenge for the failed assassination attempt. Xiaoyu seeks to save the Mishima family – believing the key to all of their misfortunes being Kazuya’s cruel upbringing at the hands of Heihachi. She’s saddened to hear of Heihachi’s death, wishing she could turn back time and prevent these events from transpiring. A brilliant scientist claims he can build a time machine with the proper funding, so Xiaoyu enters the tournament to raise the necessary money. Hwoarang was taken into custody by the South Korean army after ditching them to enter the previous tournament. Upon being pardoned and discharged, he seeks to finally get a rematch with Jin Kazama. Christie’s grandfrather is finally released from prison, but finds that he’s been diagnosed with a terminal illness: he has less than six months to live. Realizing that the Mishima Zaibatsu may have the resources to find a cure, both she and Eddy enter the tournament – Eddy appears as an unlockable alternate skin for Christie as he did in T4. Julie Chang still seeks to regain the missing forest rejuvenation data stolen during the fourth tournament. Lei Wulong is back on duty with Interpol, having redeemed himself by taking out several members of the Syndicate at the close of the previous tournament. This time, he is investigating a round of serial assaults at dojos across China – he believes that the culprit will resurface during The King of Iron Fist Tournament 5. Lee failed to take over the Zaibatsu, losing to Kazuya in the previous tournament – he decides to even the score in the fifth tournament, this time under his true identity.

King avenged the death of his master at the hands of Craig Marduk in the last tournament. However, Marduk later appeared on television to challenge King to a rematch – this time, donning a black jaguar mask to mock the memory of Armor King. King, filled with rage, accepts the challenge at the King of Iron Fist Tournament 5. After losing the previous tournament, Marshall Law stayed in Japan to make money as a dishwasher. A month later, he receives more bad news from his wife: his son Forest had been in an accident involving Paul Phoenix’s bike. The elder Law enters the fifth tournament to pay for his son’s medical bills. Paul Phoenix also lost the previous tournament – suffering a humiliating defeat at the hands …er, paws of Kuma. After spending the next two months training, he enters the tournament to prove once again that he is truly the greatest fighter in the universe. While attempting to steal the Mishima Zaibatsu’s vast fortune to help the poor, Yoshimitsu instead finds an injured Bryan Fury. Bryan entrusts his life to Dr. Bosconovitch, who sought to give him a new body in exchange for allowing him to study his old one. Unfortunately, his body turned out to be too complex to study – so the good doctor installed a perpetual power generator instead, allowing him to survive indefinitely. As thanks, Fury assaults Bosconovitch and murders several members of the Manji Clan. He decides to enter the upcoming tournament to test his strength. Yoshimitsu, however, enters to seek revenge on the psychotic cyborg. At the end of the fourth tournament, it was revealed that Nina Williams was Steve Fox’s biological mother – she was impregnated via in vitro fertilization during her cryogenic sleep. Being a cold-blooded assassin, she felt nothing at this revelation. Soon after, she decided to meet with her sister Anna to uncover her past, but soon, her memories rushed back to her. The femme fatales decide to settle their score at the fifth tournament. Meanwhile, Steve seeks to take over the Mishima Zaibatsu so that they can never make another monster like him.

There are also four new competitors in this tournament. Asuka Kazama is a “relative” of Jun and Jin’s, a tomboy who has studied her family unique style of martial arts since childhood. Born with a strong sense of justice, she acts as a mediator for various gangs, breaking up fights all over her neighborhood. One day, she returned home to find her father’s pupils roughed up. An unknown Chinese man showed up at the dojo, beat them up and hospitalized her father. Days later, Lei Wulong investigated the incident, mentioning that the suspect was most likely planning to enter the King of Iron Fist Tournament 5. Asuka decides to join so she can find the man and settle the score, avenging her father and dojo. The man sought by both Lei and Asuka is Feng Wei: a young man raised by a skilled Kempo master, known simply as “Shinken” (God Fist). By age 20, he was the best student the school had ever seen, to the extent where he began fighting outside the dojo. His master scolded him for these actions and in retaliation, Feng Wei murdered him. Now Feng seeks the secrets of the God Fist scrolls, which were stolen by the Mishima family. He enters the fifth King of Iron Fist Tournament to achieve these goals, but also attacked various dojos with even loose affiliations to the Mishimas to search for the scrolls. The mysterious man who both witnessed and reported the death of Heihachi Mishima is an international intelligence agent, codenamed Raven. The man’s identity, age, nationality and other details are all unknown – his only distinguishing feature is an X-shaped scar on his face. He only enters the tournament to discover who is organizing it. Finally, the Jack line returns in the form of Jack-5. After Gun Jack was destroyed by an assault from the Tekken Force, Jane was rescued by G Corporation and put to work building new units in the Jack line. Jack-5 was built as an improvement to the Jack-4 line, entering him into the fifth tournament as a test of its abilities. The android has a secret secondary mission: providing Jane with a distraction so she can regain Gun Jack’s memories from the Mishima Zaibatsu’s files, restoring her beloved protector once more.

Many other characters also return as secret characters. Kuma is happy to have finally defeated Paul Phoenix in the previous tournament, but is also dismayed to hear of the death of his beloved owner Heihachi. He enters the tournament to take control of the Zaibatsu, saving it from any interlopers. Likewise, Xiaoyu’s pet Panda accompanies her to the tournament to cheer her up and help her find Jin Kazama. Anna Williams had been living an uneventful life, but after her sister’s memories returned, the two decided to reignite their rivalry at the next tournament. Thought dead, Baek Doo San was left comatose after his encounter with Ogre. He awoke a year later, after Hwoarang participated in the third tournament. Baek was then enlisted to teach Taekwondo in the South Korean military. He enters the tournament to check the progress of his student’s training. Bruce Irvin was thought to have died during the conclusion of the second tournament, but instead went into hiding after Kazuya was thought to be dead. Upon hearing of Kazuya’s survival during the King of Iron Fist Tournament 4, Bruce Irvin decides that his quiet life could use some excitement, joining the fifth tournament. Ganryu, left heartbroken after being rejected by Michelle Chang, decided to focus on managing his own sumo dojo in Hawaii. While watching coverage of the King of Iron Fist Tournament 4, Ganryu is enamored by a mysterious woman who resembles his beloved Michelle – her daughter Julia. He discovers that she’s seeking the reforestation data, so Ganryu enters the tournament, seeking to gain both the data and the heart of his beloved. Wang Jinrei, at the ripe old age of 105, receives an invitation for the King of Iron Fist Tournament 5. Strangely, it’s accompanied by a message: “I need your help, old friend. Seek me out, Wang Jinrei”. The letter was signed “Jinpachi Mishima” – Wang’s old friend and Heihachi’s father who died roughly 30 years prior. Mystified, Wang enters the tournament to determine whether his old friend was truly still alive. Roger Jr., the son of the genetically modified kangaroo, enters the tournament – riding in his mother’s pouch – in search of his missing father. Mokujin also manages to return to life for mysterious reasons, entering the tournament again. Finally, it seems that Heihachi Mishima may not be as dead as once believed – he’s an unlockable character. The final unlockable character is Devil Jin – playable for the first time, and acting as the game’s sub-boss. Then there’s the game’s final boss and the organizer of the event: Jinpachi Mishima. Thought dead, the original founder of the Mishima Zaibatsu appears to have been possessed by a demonic energy, twisting him into a vile yet powerful being. Jinpachi is unique in the sense that he’s the first final boss to be unplayable in the series, even in the home version.

Tekken 5’s base gameplay reverts to that of Tekken 3 – and by extension, Tag Tournament – for the most part, essentially undoing many of the changes applied in Tekken 4. The game’s pace is faster overall; jumps, backdashes and crouches are expanded once more at the expense of sidestep mobility and characters remain static at the beginning of each round. Having said that, the game doesn’t ditch every single mechanic from T4: walls return, but only on specific stages. Other stages maintain the traditional infinite plane format from earlier games in the franchise. As such, wall juggling is possible in stages with walls, but the standard juggling seems to be improved even further from T3 and Tag, allowing for even more varied combos. There’s also the addition of the new crush system: which allows specific types of attacks to connect every time it connects with another attack of a specific type. For example, a jumping attack will be invulnerable to low attacks for most of its animation. Throw escapes have also changed, they now have specific animations, which can leave players at either an advantage or a disadvantage. Namco also implemented “long throws”, which allow characters to do a short dash before a throw, putting more defensive players at a disadvantage.

Of course, these weren’t the only changes to Tekken 5 – just the ones that have a direct impact on the base gameplay. Tekken 5 adds a brand new system that has had a profound impact on all future titles in the series: the ability to customize characters’ appearances. Players can earn in-game currency by winning matches (among other things) and this currency can be used to buy various outfit pieces for characters. They can also be used to buy alternate colors for the default costume parts. These can be used to customize the look of each character, which is saved to the player’s profile. These profiles also allow players to rank up specific characters – achieved by winning various matches. This allowed for a greater amount of competition, even within the arcade version: Namco sold cards that allowed players to save their profiles, customizations and win records, allowing them to maintain them between arcade machines. The home console version, of course, utilized the PS2’s memory cards to achieve the same effect. As an interesting bit of a crossover, the arcade cabinet also included controller ports for the PS2, allowing players to bring their controllers from home if they felt more comfortable playing on pad. Profiles would also become a pretty important part of future Tekken entries.

In Tekken 4, there was a very small difference between Arcade Mode and Story Battle. In Tekken 5, the classic “Arcade Mode” has been retired, replaced with “Arcade Battle”, which essentially is an endless battle that allows players to face off with CPU opponents, each with their own customized characters, unique profile names and ranks. After defeating each opponent, players are given a choice of 3 new opponents – listing their characters and ranks – or the ability to quit. Likewise, Story Battle is fairly similar to Tekken 4’s iteration – a traditional arcade ladder, starting with a slideshow prologue and ending with a cinematic ending. This time, there are 9 matches, with the last two pitting players against Devil Jin and Jinpachi respectively. A nice addition to this iteration, however, would be the addition of Rival Battles. During Story Battle, characters generally face off with at least one of their rivals about halfway through the ladder, generally preceded by a quick in-game cutscene depicting their encounter. If the player wins, it’s generally followed with a quick vignette depicting the aftermath of the fight. All characters have at least one rival, but some have multiple.

The graphical style has changed slightly from Tekken 4, opting for a style more reminiscent of the CG artwork from earlier games in the series. That odd attempt at photorealism from previous games has been removed from every aspect of the game’s art direction, resulting in a much more cohesive bond between the characters and the various in-game settings. If Tekken 4 attempted to create a more detailed atmosphere within gameplay, Tekken 5 definitely focused on a more stylized appearance – a choice that I feel works to the advantage of the game’s art direction, as well as creating a timeless look that would age more gracefully than the choices made in the previous game. Likewise, this choice has influenced the game’s setting. While environments in T4 and earlier games in the franchise were strictly based on real-world locations – be they various world landmarks or simply a more in-depth look at a Japanese setting – Tekken 5 tends toward more fantastic settings. That’s not to say that there aren’t any realistic settings: various cityscapes, an overcast walled garden, an arctic glacier and even a stage similar to the pit fight from the fourth game all make appearances. However, you’ve also got the choice of more offbeat locales – a pool party, a downright eerie dilapidated Buddhist temple, a pirate cove filled with doubloons and even a space station. Devil Jin’s stage is a cathedral that looks like it was taken straight out of Mortal Kombat 3. In fact, this was a major criticism among long-time fans: somehow a game that involved fully-cognitive androids, cyborgs, resurrections and a family cursed with the power of the Devil had become …unrealistic. Personally, I kind of liked both approaches to settings, so this new shift to wackier motifs didn’t really bother me. Likewise, the CG cinematics have been significantly improved over Tekken 4’s attempts: they’ve decided to once again use a separate set of models for their pre-rendered work and the in-game graphics – not unlike the method used in earlier games in the franchise, with the same disparity in quality: the CG cutscenes far outstrip the gameplay’s graphics, but are even more advanced when compared to the cinematics in previous titles.

The music maintains the broad spectrum of sounds from Tekken 4, effectively choosing a variety of music styles to compose its soundtrack. This time around, however, I’d say that more of the game’s tracks fit with their respective environments, adding more to the theming of the various arenas, while at the same time creating memorable melodies. For example, the aforementioned Buddhist temple, cast in an eerie green glow is accompanied by “Ka-En-No-Mai”, a steady Asian beat which embodies both the conflict of the fighting and the otherworldly appearance of the stage. Conversely, the Pool Party stage’s theme is a light electronic dance track, appropriately titled “Poolside”. Tekken 5 is also unique among other games in the series, as one of the songs that plays during its intro is a song with full English vocals. “SPARKING” may be my favorite intro theme in the entire Tekken series. My other personal favorite songs from this game would have to be “Ground Zero Funk” from Ground Zero, both iterations of “Streets” from Acid Rain, the final boss theme “The Finalizer” and of course, “Moonlit Wilderness” from the stage of the same name. Tekken 5 also maintains the full voice acting from the previous game, though it seems that this time around, Namco hired more talented actors on the English side of things. However, as a sign of things to come, Hwoarang and Baek – the two characters hailing from South Korea – now have Korean voice actors to add to their authenticity. Likewise, Wang Jinrei speaks Mandarin. Feng Wei follows suit in cutscenes, though his in-game grunts are provided by a Japanese actor. Therefore, the game boasts four different languages, as opposed to Tekken 4’s bilingual voice cast.

The PlayStation 2 release of Tekken 5 offers quite a few bonus features that no other game in the series can compare to. At the same time, it truly makes the game feel even more like a true celebration of Tekken’s 10th anniversary than even the base game itself. For starters, Namco has revived the mini-game when the game initially loads – this time swapping the bonus round from the 80s classic Galaga for a stage from the more contemporary Star Blade, which plays and looks a fair amount like the classic Star Fox for SNES. In addition to the aforementioned Arcade Mode and Story Battle, Tekken 5 offers many of the modes that long-time fans of the series should be familiar with now: Versus Battle, Time Attack, Survival and Team Battle all return, alongside Theater Mode. Tekken Force has been replaced by “The Devil Within”: a true 3D action game that thrusts players into the role of Jin Kazama as he searches for a way to overcome the Devil gene and investigates rumors that his mother may still be alive. The game plays completely differently from T4’s Tekken Force mode, opting for completely different controls. Honestly, I’d say that the results are mixed – everything feels a little more cohesive given that it was strictly designed for this mode, but it takes a little while to get used to the new controls. However, the game’s pièce de résistance would have to be its Arcade History mode. You see, Tekken 5 is – in reality – four Tekken games in one. From the start, arcade-perfect ports of Tekkens 1 through 3 are available to you, with any and all secret characters unlocked from the start. Of course, this means you miss out on any special features that were added to the home ports, but it’s still an impressive achievement. You can also unlock Star Blade in its entirety by completing certain conditions, making a total of 4 classic Namco arcade hits in addition to the base game.

I’d have to say that Tekken 5 was truly a return to form for the series, though it didn’t manage to unseat Tekken Tag Tournament as my favorite game in the series. I would have had to have put it at a close second, beating out even my nostalgic love of Tekken 2. Of course, it’s likely that a lot of that had to do with the fact that the game managed to blend many of my favorite characters from Tekken 2 with the hectic gameplay of Tekken 3, effectively paying homage to both of the most popular games in the entire series. Tekken 5 managed to offer a more complete package than its predecessor, but also managed to draw inspiration from it. Standing alone, T5 was a complete package. However, Namco wasn’t done with the game just yet.

Dark Resurrection

Tekken 5: Dark Resurrection was a unique release – not within the fighting game genre in general, but in the Tekken series. Revisions were quite common with the arcade Tekkens, generally offering bugfixes and character rebalancing, but full expansions with new characters? This had never happened before, and yet – from this point on – every single arcade release of Tekken has had one. Then why only discuss Dark Resurrection and not Tekken 6: Bloodline Rebellion or Tekken Tag Tournament 2 Unlimited? Simply put, Tekken 5 was the only game in the franchise to have two completely different console releases – the original version of Tekken 5 being released exclusively on the PS2, while Dark Resurrection saw release on both the PlayStation Portable and eventually the PlayStation 3. Meanwhile, future home releases in the Tekken franchise would be based upon the expansions, as opposed to the original arcade release, often adding additional content exclusive to the home versions and creating a truly definitive version of the game.

If you haven’t guessed it by now, Heihachi Mishima is not, in fact, dead. He was merely blasted clear of Hon-Maru, left buried in rubble, but otherwise no worse for wear. The explosion that was considered his end, however, managed to revive Heihachi’s father, Jinpachi Mishima, the original founder of the Mishima Zaibatsu during its humbler beginnings. Buried under the Temple in Hon-Maru, chained beneath a colossal stone 50 years ago, Jinpachi had died of starvation but was overtaken by a mysterious entity with malicious intent. Once freed, Jinpachi takes control of the Zaibatsu and sets up the fifth King of Iron Fist Tournament, hoping that someone could come forward and defeat him before the being that possesses him takes complete control. Aside from this newly gleamed information, the storyline of Tekken 5 otherwise continues unchanged …for the most part.

The game’s base roster includes the entire playable roster from Tekken 5 with every secret character unlocked from the start. However, there are also 3 new characters added – an act befitting a true expansion. First, there’s Emilie De Rochefort, better known by her nickname “Lili”. Hailing from Monaco as the only child of a wealthy magnate, Lili is bored with her pampered lifestyle. After freeing herself from a kidnapping attempt, Lili found herself hungering for battle. However, her father is a pacifist – he abhors fighting. Leaving for the King of Iron Fist Tournament 5 under the guise of a simple vacation, she enters to destroy the Mishima Zaibatsu, the main source of her father’s financial problems. During the tournament, she finds a rival in the form of Asuka Kazama – a relationship that has led many to compare the duo to Karin Kanzuki and Sakura Kasugano from the Street Fighter series. Sergei Dragunov is a member of the Spetsnaz, a group of Russian Special Operatives. He is cold, calculating and apathetic while fighting. He rarely speaks, leaving him shrouded in mystery. His mission is to capture the “Devil” organism and he enters the fifth King of Iron Fist Tournament to achieve this end. Finally, Armor King, thought dead, returns to combat. The identity of this masked fighter, whether it is the original Armor King or an impostor, is unknown. He seeks revenge on Craig Marduk, the man who murdered him.

The base gameplay mechanics are essentially unchanged from the previous game. However, most of the returning characters have been granted a new set of default colors for their various costumes – these alterations are also represented in the CG artwork, but nowhere else. Thanks to the customize option, these can be reverted to their original versions. Speaking of which, new items have also been added to the customize menu, allowing players to create even more varied outfits. Elsewhere, the stages have been redesigned for the most part as well, with some of the variants barely resembling their original forms. For example, the Burning Temple has been replaced with one on a calm autumn’s day; the Cathedral has been replaced with a Winter Palace; the Glacier stage now takes place at night, with a beautiful aurora in the background and Poolside now takes place in a club environment. Most of these new variants also contain brand new pieces of music, further setting them apart from their precursors. There are also some new stages, including a forest scene surrounded by wolves, a military base and a girl’s playroom in a mansion. The newly-rechristened Bandai Namco Games definitely went above and beyond when it came to this game, achieving a level of new material that previous revisions of their arcade games could only dream of.

The arcade version essentially looks identical to the previous Tekken 5: after all, it was built using the same hardware and was even available as an upgrade kit for the previous release. As such, the arcade version maintains the compatibility with the PS2 controller and the cards, though using the cards on Dark Resurrection requires clearing the data from the original Tekken 5. Ultimately, I would have to consider the arcade version to be the “purest” version of this expansion, simply due to the fact that it best resembles the base game. An odd qualifier, I know, but it just feels right regardless. Dark Resurrection would be the last game in the Tekken series to receive an official arcade release outside of Asia – admittedly, a sad milestone for both the franchise and the state of the Western arcade market.

The PlayStation Portable release – simply titled “Tekken: Dark Resurrection”, dropping the numeral – is the version of the game I am the most familiar with. The graphics have been downgraded compared to the other versions: for some reason, it reminds me of the various Netherrealm fighting game spin-offs on smartphones. What it lacks in power, it more than makes up for in extras. In addition to bringing back story battle (boasting new stories for the additional characters), arcade mode (rechristened “arcade battle”), time attack, survival, practice, Team Battle and Theater Mode all return from the PS2 version. However, several new modes were added in the process: “VS CPU” allows players to fight against a CPU-controlled opponent of the player’s choice, Gold Rush rewards players with fight money based on how much damage they perform on an unending gauntlet of AI opponents (with payouts awarded if you manage to defeat your current opponent), Command Attack is essentially the same thing as T4’s Practice Mode and Tekken Bowl returns from Tag Tournament, albeit without the tag mechanic. There are also a variety of additional Practice modes in addition to the standard, now known as “Freestyle”: “VS CPU Training” is exactly what it sounds like; “Defensive Training” allows you to select certain moves from a character’s arsenal to practice defending against; “Tutorial” provides a basic primer for those new to the series and “Command Training” allows players to practice all of the moves in a character’s moveset, one by one. Perhaps the most important mode added to the PSP version would be “Tekken Dojo”. Tekken Dojo focuses around a total of 6 dojos, each of which acting as a small league setting. The player starts at the bottom, but can gain rank by either winning matches in “League Match”, which pits players against 5 opponents generally higher in rank than you. These ranks are then shuffled, with the participant with the most wins gaining the highest rank and so on. Once a specific rank is achieved, players can participate in a Ranking Tournament – pitting all of the highest ranked fighters against one another in a traditional tournament setting. Only local multiplayer is possible, though “Ghost Data” can be downloaded from the internet – allowing players to fight against CPU fighters with AIs based on the fighting styles of other players.

Finally, there’s the PS3 release, currently known as “Tekken 5: Dark Resurrection Online”. This release is literally the opposite of the PSP release. Boasting a 1080p resolution and running at 60 fps, this is by far the best-looking version of Tekken 5 available. As the title suggests, this version is also capable of online multiplayer – a feature not available at launch, but added in a later patch alongside Survival and Practice mode as paid DLC. Players can choose to join a game at random, be paired up with someone of similar rank, choose an opponent based on specific criteria or even host their own rooms. Each room can handle between 2 and 6 players – keeping to a “winner stays on” basis – and there’s the option to enable or disable voice chat via headset. The other included modes are Arcade, which plays like a cross between the Arcade and Story Battle modes from the PSP version – going through the Story Battle’s ladder without any of the story cutscenes, but fighting against customized profiles from Arcade Battle – Ghost Battle, Versus Mode and a Gallery. However, there are some additional bonuses not present in any other version: Jinpachi is an unlockable character and the stages from the original version of Tekken 5 can be unlocked.

The jury’s out on which of the home ports is the best – I personally preferred the PSP version. It’s just a shame that a version that didn’t include all of the best features of both the PSP and PS3 versions wasn’t released, either as an update to the PS3 version or a separate iteration. Both home versions have their advantages and flaws, so the lack of a definitive version is a little disappointing – especially when compared to how well the PS2 version of the original Tekken 5 was made. Regardless, Dark Resurrection was objectively an improvement on its predecessor – simply because it’s the same exact game with additional features, without technically removing anything. While both home versions feel incomplete when compared to one another, it is still an impressive feat that this was able to get releases outside of the arcade, especially given the fact that Tekken 5 already had a home release. Clearly, this shift in strategy led to later home ports down the line – a shame due to the lack of legitimate arcade releases outside of Asia – but it’s good to see that this particular step in Tekken’s evolution was not exclusive to arcades, unlike Soul Calibur III’s revision.

Tekken 6

Have any of you ever had that feeling, where you just hate something without a legitimate cause? When, for some unknown reason, something just rubs you the wrong way? When anything that you should, logically, either like or at worst, feel completely neutral on, just manages to elicit a strange sense of distaste, the reasons for which you can’t even perceive, let alone articulate? That’s how I feel about Tekken 6. I wish I could explain why I feel this way, but for once, I’m at a loss for words. On the surface, T6 is exactly what I would have wanted in a sequel to Tekken 5: more of the same – Bandai Namco had learned their lesson from Tekken 4 and decided not to mess with success. Yet, somehow, I’ve always considered it something of a “meh” game – even when it was first released, I’d rather be playing older games in the series. As such, aside from Tekken 4, this is probably the game in the series I’m the least familiar with. Ironically, I think most of what I can remember of Tekken 6 comes from its sister title: the severely underrated Street Fighter x Tekken, which would have taken place around the same point in the timeline, were it not a non-canon crossover.

As I mentioned earlier, the King of Iron Fist Tournament 5 was held by a mysterious benefactor who had taken control of the Mishima Zaibatsu after Heihachi was presumed dead. This would turn out to be Jinpachi Mishima, Heihachi’s father and the company’s original founder who was thought to be long deceased. Overtaken by a malevolent spirit, Jinpachi held the tournament in the hopes that a strong warrior could defeat him before he succumbed to madness. As it would turn out, his great-grandson Jin Kazama was the one who made it to the finals and defeated Jinpachi, who quickly disintegrated into a pile of dust. As such, Jin was named president of the Mishima Zaibatsu. With the brooding dark hero in charge of the conglomerate, one might expect that peace would be assured.

One would be wrong. Shortly after taking power, Jin began various new programs within the company. In the process, he converted the Tekken Force from an independent militia into an espionage organization. In the end, people speculated that Jin succumbed to the very same maliciousness that had tainted his father and grandfather before him. Eventually, the Zaibatsu had become a world power in its own right. After achieving this level of power, Jin breaks the Zaibatsu’s ties and every single treaty it held with nations all over the world and declared an all-out world war. Meanwhile, Kazuya Mishima sought revenge on those within G Corporation who had ordered his assassination at the end of the fourth tournament. Following a literally bloody coup, Kazuya has taken control of the entire company. Irritated by Jin’s newfound megalomania, Kazuya utilizes the resource of G Corporation to finance an army of his own. Eventually, G Corporation stands the only true obstacle to the Zaibatsu’s plan for world domination and is heralded as a force for good. Emboldened by his military victories over the Zaibatsu, Kazuya then declares that Jin is the root cause of the war and offers a significant bounty to anyone who brings him the president of the Mishima Zaibatsu alive. In response, the Mishima Zaibatsu announces a sixth King of Iron Fist Tournament.

Pretty much every playable character from Tekken 5: Dark Resurrection returns in Tekken 6 – with the exception of Jack-5. Eddy Gordo and Nina Williams are working as Mishima Zaibatsu operatives, while Bruce Irvin and Anna Williams are working for Kazuya. Heihachi managed to recover from his near-death experience, but only managed to regain consciousness after the conclusion of the fifth tournament. He seeks to regain control of the Zaibatsu. Once Jin Kazama took over the Zaibatsu, he was abandoned in the Hokkaido wilderness. He trains for the next tournament, seeking both retribution and control of the corporation. Asuka Kazama failed to find the man who injured her father, but decided to return to her normal peaceful life but the war put an end to that. She decided to face off with Jin Kazama to bring an end to the conflict. Meanwhile, her rival Lili seeks to avenge her loss during the previous tournament, not to mention regain control of her father’s oil fields which were seized by the Zaibatsu. Of course, her father has forbidden her from participating in fighting tournaments, so she enters in secret. Marshall Law and Paul Phoenix are both buried in debt, so they enter the tournament as a team, but deciding that 3 heads are better than 2, they convince Steve Fox to join them as well. Ling Xiaoyu enters the tournament to save Jin Kazama’s soul from evil, accompanied by Panda. Meanwhile, Ling’s grandfather Wang Jinrei enters to rectify his failure to stop the curse of the Mishima bloodline in the previous tournament. During the course of the King of Iron Fist Tournament 5, King and Craig Marduk had their rematch: King was victorious again, but the two learned to respect one another, becoming friends in the process. However, Marduk was attacked by a mysterious figure dressed as Armor King, the man he’d killed. Both King and Marduk decide to investigate the true identity of this enigmatic luchador.

Julie Chang managed to reobtain the reforestation data from the Mishima Zaibatsu, with the help of Ganryu. Unfortunately, she departed before he could profess his love for her. Heartbroken, he founded a chanko restaurant in Hawaii, entering the new tournament to promote his new business. Meanwhile, Julie returned to her home and started work restoring it to its former glory, when a wealthy landowner gave her a strange premonition: “Jin Kazama and Kazuya Mishima must not meet.” Armed with this knowledge, she enters the sixth tournament to prevent father and son from encountering one another. Christie Monteiro returned home, only to find both Eddy and her grandfather have gone missing – she enters the King of Iron Fist Tournament 6 to find both of them. Hwoarang was so horribly injured by Jin in the previous tournament, he was left in a coma for several days. Upon awakening, he begs his master Baek to train him to the best of his abilities and the two enter the tournament together. Lee Chaolan lost interest in the fifth tournament once he found out that Kazuya wasn’t behind it, but as a significant investor in G Corporation, he was shocked to hear of Kazuya’s hostile takeover. He enters the sixth tournament to exact his revenge upon his adoptive brother. Feng Wei managed to find the “God Fist” scroll he sought, but was baffled by its contents. He enters the new tournament, seeking answers. Meanwhile, Lei Wulong has failed in his efforts to arrest the berserk martial artist, but is recalled to China to help deal with the utter chaos. Knowing that the Mishima Zaibatsu are behind the various riots, Lei enters the tournament in an effort to arrest Jin Kazama.

Yoshimitsu failed to avenge his fallen clan members, but in the process discovered that his legendary self-titled sword was losing its power: it required a steady sacrifice of evil souls or else the user would suffer bouts of insanity. Boasting the Fumaken, a second sword capable of sealing the Yoshimitsu’s ill effects, Yoshimitsu continues his search at the King of Iron Fist Tournament 6. Meanwhile, Bryan Fury has become enraged as Yoshimitsu’s interference has prevented him from discovering the true power of his body’s new perpetual energy generator. Growing bored of fighting on the various battlefields of the war started by the Mishima Zaibatsu, Bryan hears word of the sixth tournament and decides to enter for a real challenge. After the end of the fifth tournament, the man simply known as Raven encountered Heihachi Mishima and the two began to fight. However, before a victor could be set, Raven was ordered to withdraw back to headquarters. As the war between the Mishima Zaibatsu and G Corporation flares up, Raven is sent to investigate the former once again. Sergei Dragunov was also order to withdraw from his mission to find the Devil organism. As the Zaibatsu has been attacking the sovereignty of his home country, Dragunov is entered into the tournament to destroy the organization. Roger Jr. enters the tournament for far simpler reasons: after his father’s disappearance, life became hard for the mother and her joey. The two enter the upcoming tournament for the sake of financial security. Finally, the mystical training dummy Mokujin reawakens once again, for unknown reasons.

There are also new faces entering the tournament as well. Zafina is a descendant of a group of spiritual warriors from the Middle East, who was raised since childhood to protect an imperial tomb. Acting as an astrologist in her public life, recently she can only see evil omens and her visions grow more intense by the day. Seeking advice from her guru, he informs her of an ancient prophecy passed down from generation to generation: when two evil stars come into contact, the seal of the tomb will be broken. The one captive will come out and the world will come to an end. Zafina, believing the two stars to be Kazuya and Jin enters the tournament, intent on destroying both of them. Robert Richards, better known as “Bob” was a martial arts prodigy from a young age, but had one shortcoming: he was unable to defeat opponents larger than he. After several years in seclusion, he returns, sporting a much heavier look. In spite of his critics, he enters the sixth King of Iron Fist Tournament to show the world how well his training has paid off. Leo Kliesen was the child of a world-famous spelunker and an executive of the G Corporation. While Leo’s father disappeared when Leo was a child, Leo wanted to follow in the family tradition and become a spelunker as well. Life was pleasant for Leo, until one day Leo’s mother was killed by an unknown assailant. After the police called off their investigation in a suspiciously quick and unexplained fashion, Leo began to investigate the crime. Determining Kazuya Mishima as a person of interest, Leo enters the King of Iron Fist Tournament 6 to find answers. Miguel Caballero Rojo was a Spanish man with a hot temper who was the black sheep of his conservative family, with the sole exception of his sister, who he loved more than anything in the world. However, on the day she was set to be married, a Mishima Zaibatsu air raid bombed the church where the wedding was going to be held. Finding his sister dead, her wedding dress soaked in blood, he swore revenge on the Zaibatsu’s leader, Jin Kazama. Finally, after recovering Jack-5’s memories, Jane was informed that the Mishima Zaibatsu decided to build their own Jack model, the NANCY-MI847J, built to be ten times as strong as Jack-5. The G Corporation’s new leader Kazuya Mashima demanded a new Jack model, culminating in Jack-6. This new unit is entered into the sixth tournament to destroy both the Zaibatsu and their new robot.

As I mentioned previously, the arcade version of Tekken 6 had an additional revision: Bloodline Rebellion. In addition to the current roster, it boasted two new characters. Lars Alexandersson is an amnesiac ex-Tekken Force operative who eventually ends up leading a coup d’état on the Mishima Zaibatsu. However, he eventually remembers his true origins as the illegitimate son of Heihachi Mishima – a fact even Heihachi himself is ignorant of. Lars is joined by Alisa Bosconovitch, a highly advanced gynoid built by the doctor of the same name. Built in the likeness of his beloved late daughter and named after her, Alisa possesses an advanced enough AI to produce emotions and acts more like a human than most robots. She is also equipped with highly advanced weapon systems, boasting a jet pack, a retractable chainsaw on each arm and even the ability to remove her head and use it as an explosive. In spite of these abilities, her programming is so advanced, that only a few individuals even realize that she’s a robot. Ironically, while these two originate in the second arcade revision, both are considered major characters in Tekken 6’s overall storyline.

Tekken 5’s gameplay mechanics are retained for the most part in this sequel, but there are obviously some tweaks made as well. For starters, while both “infinite plane” and walled stages return, some stages have a brand new layer of interactivity in the form of “stage transitions”. By either slamming one’s opponent into a wall or the floor enough times, this barrier can break, opening a new area in the arena or changing the setting entirely. Part of me thinks that this feature was at least inspired by the Dead or Alive series, though these transitions are far less ornate and animated, putting a greater emphasis on maintaining the flow of gameplay rather than creating a spectacle. There’s also the addition of the “Bound” system: every character has various moves that, when used while juggling an opponent in mid-air, slams them into the ground. This causes them to bounce off the floor in a stunned state, allowing the striking character to either extend their combo or perform an additional attack. Later revisions would also allow successful parries of low attacks to cause a bound state as well. Finally, there’s the rage system, effectively a new version of Tag Tournament’s “Netsu Power” mechanic, rebalanced for the 1-on-1 gameplay present in Tekken 6. Once a character is reduced to a certain amount of life, a reddish aura surrounds them and their health bar begins flashing red. At this point, characters do more damage per hit until they are knocked out: yes, this is essentially a comeback mechanic, but it’s unobtrusive and available to every character in the game. Besides, it’s not even guaranteed to have an effect – I’ve seen cases where a character has been damaged into their Rage state and defeated in the same combo.

The customization options from both versions of Tekken 5 also return with even more options than ever. In addition to changing out existing costume pieces and topping them with accessories, players can also create unique hairstyles out of various pieces for their characters. As an added benefit, this time around, colors for default items don’t need to be purchased separately – so if you just wanted to change the color palette of the existing outfits, it can be done from the start without spending any fight money. On the other hand, certain equippable items offer character access to “item moves”: special techniques related to the items in question. While some of these moves can do damage, it is a small amount and both the start-up and recovery time involve makes them more of a hindrance than an asset, they almost come across like taunts. Other item moves are just literally taunts or alter existing attacks, particularly throws.

Arcade Battle returns to prominence in this game, as “Story Battle” from the previous two games has essentially been retired for this entry – more on that later. The game’s arcade ladder in the home version works slightly differently from previous iterations of the series. The first two opponents are standard fare, default outfits and no profile names. From there, the next 4 opponents are given custom profiles, much like those found in Tekken 5’s arcade battle. After defeating those first six opponents, a bonus boss appears: the aforementioned NANCY-MI847J. A massive mechanized monstrosity, NANCY’s fight is a single round and there’s only one chance to beat it. It boasts 10 times the health of a standard Tekken fighter, can fire off various projectiles and can even destroy the floor for an automatic victory. Defeating NANCY grants the player a bonus, but losing just proceeds to the next fight – though this counts as a loss in the character’s win/loss record. After that fight, players face off with the tournament’s organizer and the game’s sub-boss. After defeating Jin, players face off with the game’s final boss, Azazel.

Seeking Azazel was Jin Kazama’s true goal when he started the war. The supposed progenitor of the Devil Gene, Jin sought Azazel to destroy him and take his cursed bloodline down with it, a final act of redemption. Likewise, Azazel was also the entity Zafina was guarding and actively sought to prevent its awakening. Claiming to be the “Rectifier of All Things”, Azazel was created as a result of the sins of humanity as a whole and sought to destroy it so they could atone for their actions. Azazel takes on the form of a giant bird-dragon with an Egyptian aesthetic, composed of a crystalline material. His appearance varies slightly between the arcade and console versions: in the arcade version, he’s mostly black with glowing purple accents on his various parts of his body, while in the console version, the purple coloring takes a far greater prominence on his design, accompanied by very strong bloom effects. As he takes damage during the fight, his purple features shift to a more aggressive red. There’s also a random chance of a Gold Azazel appearing – more powerful than the standard version, but offering a high fight money reward if he’s defeated.

Upon retrospective, Azazel was a major reason I hated Tekken 6. While some argue that Jinpachi was a far cheaper boss than those found in previous Tekken games, I liken him to Tengu from Dead or Alive 2: perhaps the higher echelon of what’s acceptable in a final boss for a 3D fighting game, possessing unique and powerful abilities that manage to test the player’s knowledge of the game’s mechanics. Conversely, I’d liken Azazel to the bosses of Dead or Alive 3 and 4 – a game-breaking abomination that literally treats the game’s mechanics like its own plaything, forcing players to essentially learn some bad habits in order to topple it, rather than acting as the final examination of their abilities. If you understand the term “SNK boss”, then you know exactly what to expect from Azazel. For starters, he is consistently blocking throughout the match. Actually, that’s a bit of a misnomer, he’s not actually blocking – he’s just completely impervious to attack unless he’s attacking his opponent, and sometimes even then. Azazel boasts several long-range attacks: capable of summoning crystal boulders from the ground, summoning several scarabs to attack enemies and even producing the traditional devil beam. He also possesses a stun attack taken directly from Jinpachi, a tail whip technique that hits far lower than it appears, a rolling attack which uses Azazel’s long tail to extend its range and a two-step stomp attack which Azazel can chain together twice, effective performing a guaranteed four-hit combo on downed opponents. To make matters worse, Azazel also occasionally recovers from being knocked down by teleporting high into the air and performing a devastating stomp attack. The best strategy to fight Azazel is to properly time your attacks and juggle his prone body for as long as possible. However, also know that his attacks have top priority over anything else. Fortunately, both NANCY-MI847J and Azazel are unplayable characters, so you really only have to worry about them in single-player modes.

The arcade version of the game was the premier game to be developed on the System 357 arcade board, itself based upon the PlayStation 3’s architecture. As such, the game was capable of higher quality graphics than previous arcade versions, even outperforming the PS3 version of Dark Resurrection, due mainly to the fact that this game was designed for the architecture from the ground-up, as opposed to being an enhanced port. As with everything else, the game attempts to maintain the artstyle present in Tekken 5, with the only major differences essentially being an attempt as better emulating the visuals seen in cutscenes. One might expect the fact that the game’s storyline centers around a world war would bring some of the stage locales back down to Earth. This is only half-true: some stages include locales like a war-torn city, a helipad atop a G Corporation facility, a flooded tunnel surrounded by enflamed vehicles and the burned remnants of a large building. On the other hand, other stages include a casino surrounded by giant slot machines, a decorative fountain outside a fancy hotel, a Spanish town celebrating a tomato festival and a hill filled with sheep and yodeling in the background. To tell you the truth, I tended to prefer the latter style of stages over the more serious fare, but Tekken 6 offers a healthy mix of both.

Once again, the musical score and sound design decisions made in Tekken 5 continue into Tekken 6. The game’s music once again focuses on matching their corresponding stages’ themes. For example, the aptly titled “Cemetery” clearly evokes a spine-tingling sound, with some heavy metal undertones. Likewise, “G” takes place in the Fallen Colony stage – one that consists of the broken remnants of classical architecture surrounded by fighter jets – and it manages to blend both classical and hard rock sounds, which fits that unique setting. My favorite songs from this soundtrack would have to be the aforementioned “G”, “Splashing casino”, “Midtown roars”, “Karma” and most of all, “Yodeling in meadow hill”. The ironic part about all of these songs is that I’ve mentioned the stages they originate from in the previous paragraph: try to guess which is which! Aside from replacing a few voice actors, the voice acting maintains its quality – maintaining the four languages we heard in the previous game. Oddly enough, both Lars and Alisa boast Japanese voice acting. An interesting choice for both a young man raised in Sweden and a robot designed by a Russian scientist, but what do I know? One sad note I feel is worth mentioning: this is the last game where Daisuke Gori, the man who had been playing Heihachi Mishima since Tekken 3, would continue the role as he died back in 2010. Somewhat unfortunate, as Tekken 6 is probably the game where Heihachi plays the smallest role.

Tekken 6 marks a series first for Tekken: it’s the first time a mainline game in the series appeared on a non-Sony platform. Tekken 6’s major home port was released simultaneously on both the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360 – with essentially identical features. In addition to Arcade Battle, several modes return from previous home versions: Ghost Battle, Team Battle, Versus Mode, Time Attack, Survival, Training Mode and the Theater all return. The game also boasts a fairly standard online mode as well, at least when compared to Dark Resurrection’s PS3 version. Players have the option to either play Ranked Matches – which relates to the in-game ranking system – or Player Matches, which are far more casual affairs. Players can also invite friends from their friends list to play in private sessions. Players could also watch replays of older matches, a feature that was impressive at the time, but would eventually become ubiquitous with online fighting games in general. Unfortunately, Tekken 6’s netcode wasn’t much of an improvement on Dark Resurrection’s – though a later patch attempted to rectify various issues. Of course, this game was released when fighting games on console had shoddy online play in general, so it’s somewhat understandable.

The console version’s main attraction, however, was its Scenario Campaign. Built in the same vein as Tekken Force and The Devil Within from Tekkens 4 and 5 respectively, effectively placing Tekken characters into a 3D action game. The difference here is that, as opposed to just being a simple mini-game like its predecessors, the Scenario Campaign is the game’s main story mode. Fortunately, the game boasts roughly 40 stages, effectively dwarfing both previous modes combined. The game starts you off with the ability to choose between Lars Alexandersson and Alisa Bosconovitch, but other characters can be unlocked by defeating them as bosses in their respective stages. Truth be told, this is another sore point for me when it comes to Tekken 6. As with the previous side-games in the series, Tekken’s gameplay engine has never worked particularly well when transposed into the formula of an action game. This is especially damning since Tekken 6 game was released in 2009 – yet the gameplay mechanics feel roughly the same as T4’s Tekken Force mode, which came out in 2002. Given how far the modern 3D action game had evolved in that 7-year period, well, Scenario Campaign just feels archaic. Meanwhile, The Devil Within deviated from the standard Tekken engine, which worked to its advantage.

Scenario Campaign also includes the Arena, which effective acts as a replacement for Tekken 4 and 5’s Story Battle Mode. Players can choose from any character they’ve unlocked in the main campaign – aside from Lars and Alisa – and play through a short arcade ladder, generally consisting of two rival battles, Jin Kazama and Azazel. This mode contains both the slideshow prologues and cinematic endings, which can be replayed in Theater Mode after being unlocked. Frankly, if they had just increased the amount of fights in this mode, I probably would’ve been fine with it. In the end, I’m glad that Tekken 7 appears to be taking greater inspiration from the story modes in Netherrealm Studios’ fighting games, but hopefully, “Story Battle” manages to resurface in T7 as well.

Surprisingly, Tekken 6 also saw a port on the PlayStation Portable, debuting shortly after the console versions. Of course, this version was substantially pared down from the other versions, though I’m personally impressed at the graphical quality they managed to achieve with this version: the game almost looks like it belonged on the PS2, quite a step up from Dark Resurrection. Tekken 6 on PSP misses out on the Scenario Campaign mode, but manages to keep the Arena – now rebranded as “Story Battle”, which just feels like a twist of the knife on my end. I wish they had decided to overhaul it into a true “Story Battle” mode – with a larger set of opponents, to compensate for the loss of the actual story mode. On the plus side, Lars and Alisa are playable now – but their endings are both just random cinematics taken from Scenario Campaign, which is kind of disappointing. This version also misses out on Online Mode, which was to be expected, and its customization options are limited compared to the other versions. However, Gold Rush mode returns from Tekken: Dark Resurrection. Likewise, the game’s load times are significantly faster on the PSP version for some reason.

Considering that this is the last canonical game that’s been released both in North America and on consoles at this point, it only seems fair to reveal what we know about the game’s conclusion so far, without taking into account any new information revealed in Tekken 7. As I mentioned earlier, Jin Kazama’s actions after taking control of the Mishima Zaibatsu were merely an attempt to find and destroy Azazel, the progenitor of the Devil Gene. In the end, Jin attempts to sacrifice his own life in order to destroy Azazel, sending the two of them plummeting to their deaths. Once the dust settles, however, Raven and his colleagues find Jin’s body, half-buried in the desert. His fate is left ambiguous, but the Devil tattoo is still visible on his arm – implying that Azazel’s death alone would not purge the Mishimas of their Devil gene. Oh, and it turns out that the new Armor King is the original one’s brother – angry at Marduk for killing his brother and King for giving up on taking revenge. Crazy stuff, right?

Upon retrospect, Tekken 6 wasn’t quite as bad as I had remembered it being. The basic gameplay is solid and I’m a fan of some of the new features the game added, particularly the expansion to the customization system. Unfortunately, the game also has more than its fair share of bad decisions, particularly when it came to the home version. Focusing as many resources to Scenario Campaign as Bandai Namco did probably hurt the game in the long run, especially given the lackluster quality of the online mode, a feature that was steadily becoming indispensable with regards to modern fighting game releases. Of course, I’m also aware that I was probably being hard on the game for these admittedly minor mistakes and robbed myself of enjoying Tekken 6 to the fullest. I’d still have to say that I prefer Tekken 5: Dark Resurrection, but T6 isn’t quite as bad as I remember it. At this point, I’d even say that I’ve managed to find a new appreciation for it, especially given the impact it had on what came next.

Tekken Tag Tournament 2

I always feel awkward whenever I consider the latest game in a long-running franchise to be my favorite of the entire series, especially when I’ve been following the series for a long time. I get this odd sense of peer pressure, like that I’m a bit of a poser – that I’m not familiar with the history and instead happened upon the series only recently, choosing the latest game as my favorite because it’s the only one I’ve ever played. There’s also the fact that it may seem entirely unfair to other games in the series: after all, if the series has continued to improve from previous releases, then the latest game in the franchise benefits from lessons learned from these earlier games and therefore, the older titles are far worthier of respect compared to the newest and most refined release. Still, even when taking all of these anxieties into consideration, I can only come to a single conclusion: Tekken Tag Tournament 2 is currently my favorite game of the entire franchise. This really shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone – the original Tag Tournament was my previous favorite Tekken game due to the inclusion of tag-team mechanics, I enjoyed many of the improvements made to the series in both Tekken 5 and 6 and I’ve kind of got a thing for gigantic rosters, which TTT2 delivers in spades. Not to mention the fact that back when I wrote my first PC ports wishlist article, this was the game that represented Bandai Namco and to this day, I’m still hoping Harada considers bringing it to Steam, regardless of the impending release of Tekken 7 on the platform.

There’s very little to discuss in the way of storyline, because just like the original Tag Tournament, TTT2 is non-canon – nothing more than an excuse to create the ultimate Tekken dream match, which is perfectly fine with me. Having said that, there are a few quirky bits to the game’s setting that are definitely worth mentioning. For starters, this game includes a “new” character in the form of JayCee, a masked luchadora. In reality, she’s Julia Chang acting as a replacement for the actual JayCee, who was unable to compete due to injury. To differentiate herself from her true identity, she utilizes some new lucha libre attacks in addition to Julia’s standard fighting style. Likewise, Heihachi Mishima has exposed himself to a rejuvenation formula, which has made him look even younger than he did in the original Tekken. Rumor has it that this decision was made in order to bridge the gap with regards to Heihachi’s new voice actor – explaining the vocal discrepancy being as a result of his youth, while also making sure that this new actor was an acceptable replacement for use in future titles. Tag 2 also revealed Leo’s gender: while Tekken 6 kept it secret, TTT2 revealed that Leo was female – her full first name was Eleonor. Unknown also reappears as the final boss of Arcade Mode, this time confirmed as Jun Kazama’s alter ego – which was honestly what I had always believed since the original TTT anyway.

This game’s main attraction would have to be its roster, dwarfing all others in the series – even the upcoming Tekken 7 has less characters. Of course, this was to be expected: Tekken Tag Tournament far outstripped its predecessors and the mainline series’ had even managed to overtake that. Of course, I’ve already mentioned JayCee, Leo and Heihachi who are playable characters, while Unknown was unplayable in the arcade versions. Kazuya Mishima returns, boasting his Devil persona as a transformation via special move. Both Jin Kazama and Devil Jin return. In fact, every playable character from the console version of Tekken 6 returns – Panda is even given a unique playable spot separate from Kuma, as opposed to being his alternate outfit. Other returning characters include Jinpachi Mishima in his human form and True Ogre (now referred to simply as “Ogre”), who both appear as bosses in the arcade mode. Of course, the most anticipated return would have to be Jun Kazama, who also appeared as Unknown’s first form in the final boss fight.

Of course, the console version managed to surpass this roster significantly, adding several characters from previous games who had been left out of the Arcade version. The base console release included Alex, Forest Law, Prototype Jack, Tiger Jackson and Combot. However, Namco also released a string of free, “time-unlocked” characters that further augmented the roster: Angel, Ancient Ogre (his first form from Tekken 3), Dr. Bosconovitch, Michelle Chang, Miharu Hirano, Violet and my most anticipated character, the mysterious kunoichi Kunimitsu. The DLC also added two entirely new characters – Slim Bob, based on Bob’s svelte appearance from his ending in Tekken 6 and Sebastian, Lili’s trusty butler who fights using her fighting style. Finally, Unknown was made a playable character via DLC as well. Every character in the game manages to occupy their own character slot and even characters that could easily be dismissed as clones contain their own unique variants to existing movesets.

Tekken Tag Tournament 2 plays effectively as one might expect: borrowing the majority of its gameplay mechanics from the original Tag Tournament and Tekken 6, in order to create a more advanced version. For example, the Rage mechanic returns from Tekken 6, but it activates under the same situations it would in Tag. Of course, due to all the new mechanics added since TTT and the lack of tag mechanics present in Tekken 6, this means that there are also a few new elements added to the gameplay as well. Perhaps the most important of these changes was the addition of Tag Combos, allowing player to switch out characters in the middle of a combo while offering them the ability to continue it with the new character. The most common way to trigger this is to use a launcher, quickly tag in the partner and continue the combo from there. Tag combos are highly beneficial as they remove red health from the opponent’s health bar, leaving them at a significant disadvantage. There is also the Tag Assault: when the point character uses an attack that leaves their opponent in a bound state, they can call in their partner temporarily – not unlike an assist from various Capcom tag games – to extend the combo. With enough practice, players can even control the summoned character to choose the most beneficial attack at any given moment. Unfortunately, this comes at the cost of the partner’s red health and activates Rage in the opponent.

As with the previous two games in the series, Tekken Tag Tournament 2 had an arcade revision. Dubbed “Tekken Tag Tournament 2 Unlimited”, it was unique in the sense that it didn’t add any new characters. Instead, this version provided most balance changes, but also some new ways to fight. In addition to bringing back the 1-on-1 and Pair Play modes from the previous Tag Tournament game, Unlimited also adds a brand new 2-on-1 mode, allowing players to have handicap matches between a single character and a pair of them – an option that somehow feels like a missing piece from the previous TTT only in retrospect. Each character ratio was properly balanced, allowing for enjoyment in every mode – in 2-on-1 mode, the solo character does a higher amount of damage and can recover red health at any point. Some UI aspects were also redesigned.

The arcade ladder is once again the game’s major single player mode. Regardless of whether the player decides to use a team or go with a solo character, it remains otherwise unchanged. First, the player must fight through 6 random teams of characters, utilizing custom profiles and designs. The seventh stage consists of a team battle against Jinpachi and Heihachi, boasting their standard designs. This is followed by Ogre, who acts as the game’s sub-boss. Finally, you come face-to-face with Jun Kazama. Defeat her in the first round and she transforms into Unknown, the true final boss. The reward for defeating her is a quick cinematic of Unknown’s demise.

In the console version, this is followed by the point character’s cinematic ending. The endings are particularly unique in TTT2 compared to previous games in the series. While the majority of these cutscenes would attempt to maintain some kind of a cohesive theme throughout – with few exceptions – each ending in Tag 2 is unique in its own way, particularly in the way they’re animated. It’s really hard to describe the sheer variety in visuals. Forest Law’s ending uses stop-motion with cutouts, Combot’s uses what appears to be hand-drawn 2D animation and both Bob and Slim Bob’s endings look like motion comics. Even the endings that are clearly using 3D visuals have a variety of styles: Sebastian’s is in black and white, almost resembling something like Sin City; Raven and Kunimitsu’s endings both take on a more sepia-toned appearance and Paul’s ending evokes the look of a watercolor painting. Even the tones of the endings shift significantly – Lars has a nightmare about a dinner with family; Baek has a traumatic episode while remembering his father; Yoshimitsu and Bryan Fury have a climactic showdown in their endings and Mokujin finds love while touring Bandai Namco headquarters.  Perhaps the most unique set of endings would belong to Xiaoyu, Alisa, Miharu, Panda and Kuma – they’re all connected, telling the story of a fun trip to an amusement park.

The customization feature has been even further expanded from the previous game. The customization options from Tekken 6 all return, including item moves. However, Tag Tournament 2 also adds a few new options. For example, you can change the character art visible on the versus screen, the default being a 3D render, but there are also 2D images from a variety of artists. Likewise, you can also choose a custom background for the character’s intro out of a selection of patterns, adding a further unique touch. Perhaps the most important change to how customizations work is how they’ve been implemented in general. This time around, characters are given special slots for custom outfits, as opposed to overwriting the default game’s costumes like in previous entries. This allows for more freedom when it comes to costume creation, as creating a custom look for characters no longer comes at the cost of the default outfits. Perhaps praising this decision comes off as a bit overzealous, but frankly, I’ve been a fan of creating custom outfits since Tekken 5, so I’m happy to see it expand in meaningful ways.

Both arcade versions of Tekken Tag Tournament 2 were both released on the Namco System 369, an upgraded version of the System 357 which was based upon the PS3 Slim model’s hardware, as opposed to the original model. As such, the only real advantage was that it boasted a smaller chassis which was less susceptible to heat. As such, the graphics didn’t particularly improve all that much over Tekken 6, as the hardware was essentially identical. One impressive feat that the game manages is the ability to display up to four characters on-screen at a time: impossible in the original TTT. Characters are also affected by their environments in this game – for example, if the ground in a stage is muddy, characters can get covered with mud or dirt as they get knocked down. These graphical touches tend to stay in effect for most of the match, and while they have no direct impact on the gameplay, they are an impressive visual touch that differentiates it slightly from T6. Due to the more light-hearted setting of the game, many of the environments are much more vibrant and beautiful in design than those found in T6. A few stages from previous games – like the Arena from Tekken 4, Moonlit Wilderness from Tekken 5, the School stage from Tag 1 and the Winter Palace from Dark Resurrection – were remade for TTT2. There are also several new stages, including a rooftop adjacent to a parade, a Christmas-themed festival, a beach-side resort, a fishing barge, an ornate theater for a magic show and a desert. There was even a stage in the console version dedicated to Snoop Dogg, who helped advertise the game’s home release. Of course, perhaps the most impressive stage in the game would have to be the Heavenly Garden, where you fight Jun Kazama in Arcade Mode. Essentially taking place in a peaceful shallow pond that looks like it was designed by Lisa Frank, surrounded by water lilies, a cherry blossom tree and rainbows. Once you defeat Jun and she changes into Unknown, the stage changes into the Fallen Garden: the water turns into thick, purple slime which can coat the players but not Unknown; the plants wilt and the sky turns dark and foreboding. It’s probably the most effective use of a setting I’ve ever seen in a Tekken game thus far, signifying the duality of Jun Kazama as a peaceful, maternal figure and Unknown as a creature motivated by pure malice.

The music maintains the same style of sound found in the most recent games in the series, though I’d argue the soundtrack sounds just a little more charismatic, to match the shift in the game’s setting. The tone of Tag 2’s compositions is significantly more over the top than Tekken 6 and I feel that this works to the game’s advantage, creating what I’d consider one of the most memorable Tekken soundtracks of all time. TTT2 even pays homage to earlier games in the series through its music. As with the stages, quite a few songs from previous games have been remixed in this version: Snow Castle, Arena, School and Moonlit Wilderness all receive remixes of their classic themes, while the Fiji theme from Tekken 1 and Jin Kazama’s theme from Tekken 3 get revamped for entirely new stages that pay homage to their origins. The game’s credits even use a remix of Tekken 2’s credits theme. Likewise, the Snoop Dogg-themed stage contains an original song performed by the rapper himself. That’s not to say that the original music isn’t also good – in fact, I’d argue that some of my songs in the entire game were original compositions. These include “Sadistic Xmas”, “Tekstep Fountain”, “Fantastic Theater”, “Plucking Tulips” and “Highschool love!”.

Of course, the voice acting has gone through another stage of evolution as well. Taking cues from Virtua Fighter, the majority of characters actually speak the native language from their country of origin. For example, Eddy Gordo and Christie Monteiro speak Portuguese, Miguel speaks Spanish, Leo speaks German, Wang and Feng Wei speak Mandarin and the Monegasque Lili and Sebastian speak French. The only exceptions are Lars, Alisa and Xiaoyu – all of whom still speak Japanese – and Lei Wulong, who retains his English voice, likely to maintain continuity. It seems that Bandai Namco will also be keeping these changes moving forward, as Tekken 7 also takes this approach to voice acting. Of course, this is made even more interesting by the inclusion of both Lee Chaolan and his alter ego Violet: Lee Chaolan still speaks Japanese, while Violet speaks perfect American English. So, the two characters have completely different voice actors, despite being the same person. Ironically, as both Lee and Violet will occupy the same character slot in Tekken 7, they decided to go with the Japanese actor for both, instead of maintaining this weird disconnect that’s been present since Violet first appeared in Tekken 4. Still, it was nice to see a little homage to this oddity one last time.

Prior to the game’s full release on consoles, a demo was included in the Tekken Hybrid Blu-Ray package, exclusive to the PS3. Titled “Tekken Tag Tournament 2 Prologue”, this release was unique in the sense that it was essentially themed after the move that accompanied it, Tekken: Blood Vengeance. This demo contains four characters: Ling Xiaoyu, Alisa Bosconovitch, Devil Jin and “Devil Kazuya”, a special variant of Kazuya Mishima who is permanently using his Devil transformation. These four characters are given unique costumes inspired by Blood Vengeance – Xiaoyu and Alisa are wearing schoolgirl uniforms, while Devil Kazuya and Jin both have some substantially more complex and demonic looks that for some reason, remind me of a gritty reboot of Devilman. Their default outfits from TTT2 are only accessible in mirror matches. The game also contains four stages: the Fontana Di Trevi, Sakura Schoolyard, Condor Canyon and Winter Palace – all taken from Tag 2, but also representing various settings from Blood Vengeance as well. The game’s single player mode is simple enough: choose a team of 2 from the 4 characters and fight a four-match arcade ladder. Your reward for success is a screencap from the movie with “Congratulations!” written on it. Of course, given the fact that this was a part of a much larger package, it’s hard to judge Prologue for its limited scope and the unique content it offered was also interesting, especially considering that they don’t appear in any other version of the game.

Tekken Tag Tournament 2 first appeared on both the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 on September 11, 2012 in North America, with releases in the other regions within the same week. Tekken’s home version staples like Arcade Battle, Ghost Battle, Versus Battle, Team Battle, Time Attack, Survival and Practice Mode all return. There’s also a special offline mode for Pair Play between friends on the same console. Customization has been improved significantly: most characters have 2 default outfits and 10 slots for custom outfits, compared to the arcade versions’ single default outfit and two customization slots. There’s also the brand-new addition of Tekken Tunes, which allows players to set the music to various stages in the game to whatever they wanted. Both the PS3 and 360 versions even managed to exploit their systems’ ability to store music on their hard drive and even let players set entirely custom tracks not from the game’s soundtrack, a feature I exploited heavily. Of course, for those who didn’t have any music on their consoles but still wanted some level of customization, Bandai Namco sold DLC packs containing the soundtracks from every previous Tekken game. The Theater mode also returns, now rechristened “Gallery”. This mode exists solely to allow players to replay various cinematics from the game, either available from the start or unlocked through gameplay. Bandai Namco also offered paid DLC for this mode – allowing people to add the endings from the previous Tekken home versions to these offerings.

Perhaps the most important addition to the console version of Tekken Tag 2 would be Fight Lab. Fight Lab effectively puts players in the role of the latest iteration of Violet Systems’ Combot, as it goes through a variety of combat simulations, training it as a fighter. This doubles as a tutorial, effectively teaching those completely new to the series the various mechanics of the series, as well as teaching series veterans some of the new mechanics exclusive to the game. There are multiple stages in this tutorial mode and each lesson is followed by a series of specialized fights, built almost like minigames to bring together everything the preceding tutorial teaches players. However, the real fun with Fight Lab really begins once it’s been completed. In its previous appearance in Tekken 4, Combot was devised as a replacement for Mokujin. However, as Mokujin also appears in Tag 2, Combot seemingly lacks a purpose. Fortunately, Fight Lab has the solution – by completing the stages in Fight Lab, players not only earn Fight Money but also special points which can only be used to buy attacks for Combot, most of which come from the rest of the game’s cast. That’s right, Combot’s moveset is essentially determined by the player – making it the first true custom character in the Tekken franchise. Considering the fact that this is what I wanted from Soul Calibur since they first implemented the “Create-A-Soul” mode all the way back in Soul Calibur III, this was huge. The only real shortcoming is that Combot is banned in Ranked Online Matches, which makes sense given the indefinite nature of the character.

The game’s online mode also returns with a significantly improved netcode over the previous release – the sheer improvement in online play between Tekken 6 and Tag 2 is amazing. Apparently, TTT2 uses a modified version of Soul Calibur V’s netcode. Ranked and Player Matches return from T6, but there are also a host of new options. For starters, there’s the World Arena – essentially a set of macro-lobbies that represent various world regions, allowing players to opponents from all over the world. There was also the World Tekken Federation – cleverly abbreviated as “WTF” – a community website, similar to the Arcade version’s that allows for complex statistic tracking. Players could also use this site to form in-game clans (referred to as “Teams”). Unfortunately, due to the costs associated with maintaining this site and a lack of sales, WTF went down after roughly a year of service. Finally, the Replay functionality has been improved into the “Tekken Channel” – allowing players to not only review their own replays, but also watch them online alongside friends, not unlike the Replay Channel found in Super Street Fighter IV.

Tekken Tag Tournament 2 also marked a first for the Tekken series: it was the first major Tekken release on a Nintendo console. Previously, the only Tekken games to appear on Nintendo platforms were Tekken Advance, a scaled-down version of Tekken 3 on the Game Boy Advance and Tekken 3D: Prime Edition, an odd title for the 3DS consisting mostly of assets from Tekken 6 – aside from the reinvigorated Heihachi from Tag 2 – as well as a 3D version of Blood Vengeance. Tekken Tag 2 was a launch title for the Wii U, and as such, launched with all of the free DLC available from the start, except for Unknown who is unlocked after completing Arcade Mode. The Wii U version has some minor differences from the PS3 and 360 versions of the game. For starters, while Tekken Tunes returns, it lacks the ability to assign custom music – as the Wii U lacked the ability to store music on its hard drive – and doesn’t include the legacy music DLC in any form. The same goes for the Gallery Mode’s DLC. This lack of storage also affected the customization feature – the Wii U version only allows 5 custom costume slots per character. Also, Online Mode has been simplified: the only modes available are Ranked Match, “Friendly Match” which is just a renamed Casual Match and the Tekken Channel. Having said that, the netcode maintains its quality from the other home versions. This is a surprisingly important achievement – as I mentioned earlier, this was a launch game and Nintendo had a reputation for shoddy online play on their previous platforms.

Of course, the Wii U version makes up for these few shortcomings by heaping on its own unique extras. For starters, the entire cast gets exclusive costumes, themed around various Nintendo characters. You’ve got the sumo wrestler Ganryu decked out like Bowser, final boss Unknown dressed like Zero Suit Samus, perpetual tomboy Asuka Kazama cosplaying as Princess Zelda, ancient scientist Dr. Bosconovitch wearing a Fox McCloud costume and cyborg sociopath Bryan Fury taking on Captain Falcon’s look, to name a few. The Wii U version also added a few bonus modes. For starters, Tekken Ball Mode makes its long-awaited return from Tekken 3. Tekken Ball includes the option to fight using a tag team or a solo character as well as a different variety of balls, each with their own attributes. Players are also given the option to set up a ball with customized attributes, leading to some insane matches. There’s also Mushroom Battle, which is essentially a 1-on-1 mode in various stages, with the music replaced by rearrangements of classic Mario music. These stages are filled with a variety of Mario power-ups: mushrooms that make characters larger, Poison Mushrooms that make them smaller, Mega Mushrooms which max out their size and Starmans that leave any player who touches them completely invincible for a short period. Both of these modes are limited to offline play, but still add value to the final product. I don’t know if I’d recommend the Wii U release as the definitive home version of the game, but it’s a suitable replacement for the PS3 and 360 versions – the new additions definitely make up for what little content was left out.

For some reason, Tekken Tag Tournament 2 just feels like a Tekken game that was explicitly designed with the sole purpose of making me happy. Combining the tag team mechanics from the original with the far more intense pace and combat of later games in the series and boasting an unprecedented roster of nearly 60 characters – including many that I expected I would never see again – it’s everything I ever would have wanted from a game with that title, living up to both the legacy of the original Tag Tournament and the Tekken series in general. Even with Tekken 7 confirmed for the PC, I still hope that Katsuhiro Harada and Bandai Namco consider bringing this old game to PC as well down the line, particularly if T7 performs as well as I hope it does. After all, I’ve already bought it twice – what’s one more time, especially on a platform that I will have access to in perpetuity?

For quite some time, fans have been told that the Mishima clan’s storyline will be ending in Tekken 7, which makes me wonder: what could be next for the franchise? Given the fact that more than enough time has passed since Street Fighter x Tekken’s bungled launch, it may be the perfect opportunity to finally release its sister title – Harada claims that the game was never cancelled – especially given the hype that the inclusion of guest character Akuma generated. The thing is, that’s only a temporary solution. What’s next for Tekken as a whole: for Tekken 8 specifically and beyond? The bloody feud of the Mishimas, effectively a Shakespearean tale of family betrayal told through the lens of a Japanese fighting game, has been the very epicenter of the franchise since it began more than 20 years ago. While many have argued that the extreme focus on the Mishimas in general has acted to the detriment of the series’ storyline in more recent entries – myself included – ending their particular part in the game’s story almost makes the concept of a continuation is bewildering, at least for me. Much like how Street Fighter 3 was originally intended to lack Ryu and Ken, the Tekken series seems like it would lose a core aspect of its identity without the presence of Heihachi, Kazuya and Jin.

Would future games in the series act as a reboot, telling an entirely new story in an entirely new world? Are we looking at the end of the Tekken series in general? I can’t answer these questions – I’m not even sure Harada or Bandai Namco Games in general could answer this question at this point in time – but it’s still worth wondering. I’ve seen many video game series I’ve loved in the past either go down in flames or simply disappear – could Tekken end up as one of those rare media franchises that goes out on top? Obviously, I hope the series continues well into the future, but there’s a small part of me that would be fine with that – simply because of all the good memories I have. Whether it was learning not to leave consoles on the carpet because static electricity froze my game after I’d unlocked so many characters the first time I played Tekken 2 on a rental console, staying up all-night trying to get the high score in Tekken Bowl or beating the crap out of a friend in New York from the comfort of my home in Chicago in Tag 2, Tekken has had a profound impact on how I view video games. It taught me to love 3D games when they first emerged and even when 2D fighting games went into hibernation for an extended period of time, I still had Tekken. No matter what the future holds for the series, I will always have Tekken.

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