‘We’ve changed the game quite a bit this time,’ says Michael Murray, producer on Tekken 8.
Before I actually played Tekken 8 for myself, I probably wouldn’t have believed him just from watching the trailers. But after two hours with the upcoming 3D fighting game, I know he’s right. Tekken 8 is Tekken rebuilt from the ground up. It’s faster and more explosive – even compared to other Tekken games, and a lot of fun to watch in motion.
As a fighting game enthusiast, Tekken 7 is still very much fresh in my mind. In fact, it’s fresh in the minds of the whole fighting game community. First released in 2015 for arcades, Tekken 7 has outlasted and endured for longer than anyone could have anticipated. It’s still a great game, and it’s due to be one of the main games at the Evolution Championship Series (Evo) tournament in 2023 – one of the oldest games on the roster.
But I don’t know if I can go back to it after playing Tekken 8.
When the Tekken 8 character trailer for Paul Phoenix was released, I was inspired to spend the night handing out death fists to people online in Tekken 7. A few days later, I was doing the same thing in Tekken 8. And let me tell you, death fists feel a lot more satisfying in Tekken 8.
Unreal blood, sweat, and tears
Part of that is due to just how good Tekken 8 looks. There’s at least a six-year technology gap between titles, and Tekken 8 being built in Unreal Engine 5 – the first fighting game to use the new, future-facing tech – with all characters being reconstructed from scratch.
As a result, the animations have a wonderful smoothness and flow to them as you transition between different strikes, movements, and attacks. The details on each character model, as well as the environments and how each fight affects them, is fantastic.
The sweat, pores and veins that protrude from the fighters are uncomfortably detailed – as you’d expect from looking at new-generation visual rendering. The ambient lighting makes everything feel cinematic when things are still, and dynamic lighting from Tekken’s signature hit effects light up the stage like fireworks. Even the particles of dust that fly off a character when they block an attack look impressive – and truth be told, I didn’t realise it was even supposed to be dust until now.
‘You don’t notice until you take a step back, but games have evolved so much in such a short time,’ said Katsuhiro Harada, Tekken series director, as translated by Murray. ‘As such, the cost of creating them has increased exponentially,’ he lamented, speaking to some of the challenges in developing Tekken 8.
The team’s biggest hurdle was the budget required to push the new game forward enough to have it meaningfully feel like it deserved becoming the next numbered entry in the series, rather than a half-step, as the team has done in the past.
And a lot of that involved convincing the higher-ups at Bandai Namco Entertainment. Harada spoke about the fact that the company deals in several entertainment areas like toys and anime – not just video games – and was not always completely on the same page as developers when it came to the demanding pace of the advancements and expectations in game development.
‘Considering Tekken 7 sold 10 million copies… you’d think that would get some goodwill,’ Harada pondered. ‘But it’s still, you know, “Why does this cost so much? If you already made 7, it should cost half that much, because you can just take build on top of it!’
But seeing Tekken 8 in motion at this stage of development suggests that the team managed to get there in the end. Even though the soul of the game feels nice and familiar, the game’s presentation looks sharper and fresher and it feels like the huge generational leap forward that this series deserves.
The other reason why Paul’s death fist feels so good is that Tekken 8’s primary design philosophy is one focused on rewarding aggression. Which is great for me, a Paul and Law main.
In Tekken, when you land a miraculous death fist with Paul, you know that it’s your chance to follow up with some big damage while your opponent is incapacitated. In Tekken 8, landing that big, clean hit is more advantageous than ever, due to the new Heat System.
Each character in Tekken 8 has certain signature fighting moves that, when they connect, will send them into a Heat State, with white-hot flames shooting out of them. Heat can also be manually activated with the press of a button, which causes a momentary pause to occur, right before your character comes out with a basic overhead attack to kick things off.
Essentially, the Heat State gives the attacker a huge offensive advantage, similar to ‘heightened’ states in other fighting games.
The most immediate advantage is a free follow-up – your character will close the gap quickly and allow you to instantly start an assault, with the ability to access another Heat Dash while the effect lasts. The Heat State also gives your character’s moveset new properties – enhancing their traits in some instances, allowing certain attacks to combo together where they couldn’t before, and the ability to deal damage to the opponent’s health bar even if they’re blocking (chip damage).
You can’t lose a round to chip damage, however, and a portion of your health is recoverable in Tekken 8, so it doesn’t feel like the game is suddenly penalising more defensive players. If you manage to bide your time well enough, you can turn the tide, and land a few hits of your own, bringing yourself back to a safer state. By then, hopefully you’ll be in a place to dictate the flow of the match, perhaps with your own Heat assault.
Finally, the Heat State also gives access to a Heat Smash – essentially a flashy, high-damage ability unique to each character that also ends the state. It’s Tekken 8’s version of a super ability, common in other fighting games, and some of them are absolutely devastating – King’s Heat Smash is unblockable, for instance.
The Rage system still exists in Tekken 8, however, providing you with increased attack power when your health is at a critical level, and giving you access to a game-changing Rage Art – another flashy, higher damage ability that remains separate from the Heat Smash.
The best moments in watching a match of Tekken being played is the big comeback, the turnabout. Clawing a round back from critical health, and earning that ‘GREAT!’ shoutout when you grab victory.
Tekken 8 is all about that turnabout.
You can see it in the mechanics, and in the way Heat lets you very easily punish a whiffed attack from an opponent with a single button press, completely opening them up for a world of hurt.
You can also see it in the presentation of the game, where every time someone manually activates Heat or pulls off a Heat-engaging move, the screen goes dark, the camera does something dramatic, and the sound effects blow out the bass on your headphones.
In the same way Tekken 7 wanted to draw attention toward too-close-to-call, round-winning moves with slow-motion close-ups, Tekken 8 wants to draw attention to every time the flow of battle is about to dramatically change – which is usually when the Heat States come out, and you know something is about to go down – or go down in flames
Harada explains via Murray: ‘If you look at real sports, like boxing or MMA… maybe at first you see people circling each other, and then there’s some kind of instant where it changes dramatically, maybe a counter punch lands and then the match goes in a totally different direction.’
‘Creating instances where it’s easy for stuff like that to happen and designing it intentionally, we’re hoping that it’s more exciting for the players, but also obviously for the people who are spectating the game as well.’
‘Special’ style, not beginner style
What I didn’t expect to be impressed by in Tekken 8 was its take on approachable controls. And I certainly didn’t expect to find myself enjoying them a lot.
Tekken 8’s ‘Special’ controller style mixes a lot of beginner-friendly approaches from previous fighting games, to create something very accessible, very enjoyable to use, but still encourages you to be in the attentive headspace needed to win in fighting games.
Special Style essentially makes Tekken 8 play like a character action game, ala Devil May Cry. Typically, each character has a couple of automatic attack strings assigned to a button or two, which always begin the same way. Land the first hit and keep pressing the button, and your character will continue with a preset ground or aerial combo with all the trimmings. It’s flashy, solid, and effective.
The other two buttons are typically relegated to Tekken‘s equivalent of ‘special’ moves, meaning important disrupting tools like low attacks or sweeps, or Power Crush moves that will continue to follow through, even if you get hit during it.
Some of these commands will change, depending on the context your character finds themselves in, but an on-screen legend of what each button does is always visible. And it’s not a ‘mash and win’ system by any means – you still need to learn when to let go and block, and you need to be aware of how each Special Style attack string begins, lest you find yourself kicking air and eating dirt.
And, any player can instantly toggle Special Style on or off, while a match is in progress, with the press of a button.
From the sounds of things, Special Style is not intended as just a tool for beginners.
‘If you’re online and you’re losing to a certain character over and over, often you’ll pick up that character to learn what their weaknesses are by using them yourself,’ Harada said. ‘So in that instance, it’s very easy to use Special Style because you have access to what’s probably the character’s main moves, and it fosters you to play and how that character is envisioned. It cuts down on the learning time, I think, for trying to pick up new characters as well.’
As the kind of fighting game player who only ever really focuses on one or two characters, Special Style feels like it’ll be a very useful tool not only in the way that Harada described, but also for, say, playing through Tekken 8’s hypothetical but probable story campaign, and not feeling like I’m floundering when I’m forced to play as characters I have no familiarity with.
In my time with the preview build of the game, I particularly had a lot of fun actually utilising Special Style with King – notorious for the complex commands with strict timing needed to pull off his wrestling moves. And once I knew that King’s Heat Smash was unblockable. it was all over for the person I was playing with.
One last thing – Paul’s hair in Tekken 8
Despite how much joy I was experiencing with the more aggressive nature of Tekken 7, and from picking up new characters I never play and succeeding with Special Style, I couldn’t leave without asking Harada and Murray about another style: Paul’s new, relaxed hairstyle.
‘It was just a different way to make him feel like an evolution of the character. He had a different hairstyle for [Tekken] 4 as well, if you recall, so it’s not like he’s going through a midlife crisis or anything.’
Harada continued: ‘There’s also this unwritten rule that in every instance of 4, his hair is down. In Tekken 4, his hair is down. In Tekken 8, his hair is down. Probably in Tekken 12, his hair will be down. Maybe some people love the old hairstyle… they can do that in customisation.’
Tekken 8 will be released on PC, PlayStation 5, and Xbox Series X/S.
No release date has been announced at the time of writing. Tekken 12 has also not been officially confirmed at the time of writing.
Bandai Namco provided flights and accommodation to GamesHub for the purposes of playing Tekken 8 and speaking to its developers. Bandai Namco did not have oversight of this article.