Even by the series' own standards, Tekken 7 was a massive success. It’s also been one of the ‘purest’ examples of the franchise since the early days of the esteemed franchise. The game debuted (and was tested in) Japanese arcades before its home release, and as such has its roots in competitive play – which is more than most modern 3D fighting games can boast. Even Tekken 7’s eventual release on PS4, Xbox One and PC wasn’t the end of the story – at the time of writing, Tekken 7 is over three years old and probably more popular than it’s ever been.
But it’s also unlike any Tekken game that’s come before it. With 6 million sales under its belt and four bonus Seasons worth of content to its name, the latest King of Iron Fist Tournament has made a lasting impression on the world. It’s the first meaningful game-as-a-service in Tekken chronology, and has laid the foundations for what loyal players expect from Bandai Namco on the PS4/Xbox Series S|X generation.
The developer and publisher hasn’t formally acknowledged that a new game is in development just yet, but as the tweet embedded below suggests, the flamboyant face of Tekken – Katsuhiro Harada – and his team are certainly working on something related to the arcade-flavoured fighting franchise.
But where can the series go next? It’s widely agreed that Tekken 7 has done a lot right: whether you’re looking at the motley crew of cameo characters that round out the roster, or the quietly impressive updates that Bandai Namco has been rhythmically rolling out for the game, Tekken 7 has set a new benchmark for excellence in the 1v1 3D fighter, and whatever comes next certainly has a lot to live up to.
Unlike genre stablemate Street Fighter, Tekken’s next entry is retaining its key staff; it seems very unlikely Harada is going to jump ship from the Tekken project anytime soon (even if he is keen on making another Pokemon fighting game at some point…) Aside from patricide, family in-fighting, and demonic possession, then, what do Tekken’s most loyal players want from the game in the coming installment and beyond?
Tekken 7’s announcement and subsequent reveals were all a bit messy: between a couple of leaks and some last-minute plan changes from Harada, the reveal was fairly muted back in 2014. Deciding to reveal gameplay featuring an Idol-inspired, Cosplay-centric character called Lucky Chloe would prove to be controversial and divisive, and the keffiyeh-wearing Saudi Arabian Shaheen would also attract his own detractors, too.
But, once the game finally landed on home consoles, it went down well. High review scores, fairly solid netcode and an accessible-but-deep system rewarded players that put the time in. In the grand scheme of fighting game launches on the PS4/Xbox One generation, it was a hit. Repeating the same formula – a solid launch fairly light on content – could be a good move for Tekken 8.
“I don't mind either if Tekken 8 launched sooner with less content, or appear later with a more robust launch offering,” says Hoa ‘Anakin’ Luu, one of the best Tekken 7 players in the world. “But it seems like launching as soon as possible, and then adding content, worked great for Tekken 7.”
Kana ‘Tanukana’ Tani, also known as the Xiaoyu Assassin, disagrees. “I'd like them to release a more complete version,” she notes. “If the game is released with insufficient content, I think some people will give up on it early on and quit playing fighting games altogether. Since we currently have a Season system, if Tekken 8 is to be released, we would like to play it with substantial content.”
It’s an interesting stance to take: other games in the fighting game scene are adopting the lighter launch approach, building on rosters and stages as time goes on via Season Passes and free updates. Street Fighter V, Granblue Fantasy: Versus, Mortal Kombat 11 and more besides have seen success with this model since launch, so seeing two Tekken pros torn on which method they’d like to see Bandai Namco adopt is telling. A bigger launch roster is always going to be more attractive, but the bigger the initial roster, the harder it is to supply long-term content (in theory). It’s going to be an interesting problem for the developer to solve.
Kana wants the netcode to be solid for launch, at least, though. “There was a long-awaited large-scale update to Tekken 7 in November 2020, which included various character updates and system additions,” she explains. “One of the most talked-about updates among the Japanese players was the improvement of the netcode. Not only in Japan, but also in other Asian countries, players can now compete at a competitive level, and I am learning every day how to compete with new and strong players.”
Tekken 7’s netcode has been erratic in nature since launch, but it’s largely agreed upon within the FGC (fighting games community) that the Season 4 update has sorted the major problems out. Here’s hoping Bandai Namco can use some of this networking magic for Tekken 8’s launch, since Kana believes it’s essential to the casual and competitive experience.
“I think that if Tekken 8 is released, there will be more and more demand for online fighting games,” she continues. “In the future, it would be great to be able to play with other countries even farther away. It may sound like a dream, but the Season 4 update has been far better than most players could have imagined. I think it would be great if it became a reality [in future games].”
Controversial newbies aside, Tekken 7 has a pretty expansive roster. Ranging from Tekken veterans that have appeared in all seven mainline games (and all the spin-offs) to Street Fighter bosses, robots designed specifically for hand-to-hand combat to Italian magicians, Tekken’s character artists and designers certainly have an eclectic taste when it comes to character design. Harada and the team at Bandai Namco have gotten quite proficient at bringing in fighters from all walks of life and from nations all over the world (though there have been some missteps, for sure). Would the pros like to see the development studio continue on this path and keep bringing more fighters from more international domains into the game?
“Absolutely,” says Hoa. ”The developers are always good at representing lots of different fighting styles and cultures. As someone who's played for a very long time, I get more excited to see new faces added.”
Hoa goes on to explain what he thinks makes a new addition to the roster worthwhile: “With so many characters and so many moves in the game, it's impossible to not make ‘duplicates’ or similar shared moves among characters,” he explains. “How the moves operate and get paired with other moves is what makes all the difference. So if you can give a new character a completely different feel – despite sharing similar moves with others – I consider that doing a new character properly.”
“I personally would like to see Tekken's original characters released, as I really like their designs,” adds Kana. “In particular, I think the character designs of the recently added Leroy Smith and Fahkumram are excellent.” It says a lot about the success of Tekken 7’s Season Passes that characters introduced later on in the game’s life attract more praise than those revealed for launch. It certainly shows that Bandai Namco has been careful to listen to fan feedback.
Guest characters are nothing new to Tekken; way back in the 90s we had Gon filling the void in Tekken 3, but Tekken 7 has taken it to another level with cameos from Street Fighter, Final Fantasy XV, The Walking Dead, and Fatal Fury. Though they’re typically popular choices for casual players, competitive athletes tend not to gravitate towards these fighters, though.
“I'm very happy with the guest characters in the game,” says Hoa. “At first I questioned how they would be incorporated, but everything exceeded my expectations. I wouldn't mind it either way if guest characters were in the next game. The competitive scene likes to rank the characters in order so they can take advantage of the best characters in the game. Since these characters don't rank as high, they're not used as much. But I've always thought that underused characters are especially dangerous in tournaments, so there's a benefit to being a lower-tier character.”
Kana wants to see Bandai Namco extend this cameo-friendly approach to whatever comes next in the Tekken series. “I think guest characters are great because they get attention not only from the Tekken community, but also from users of other games or even hobbies,” she says, noting that they’re good for on-boarding more casual players into the series.
Aside from that, Hoa would very much like to see the kung-fu kangaroo Roger and possessed training dummy Mokujin make a return for the next title.
Tekken, for the most part, is all about the 1v1 combat. To liven the fights up over the years, the developers have injected a wealth of mechanics into the game that makes it stand out from the (admittedly small) 3D fighting game crowd. Though we’ve seen combo-extending elements like Bound in previous Tekken games, Tekken 7 introduced the new Rage Art and Rage Drive mechanics (which can only be activated once you’re reduced to about 20% of your full health). This sacrifices your Rage, which allows you to deal bonus damage as long as you’re glowing red in critical health.
The introduction of the revenge mechanic back in Tekken 6 has changed the game quite a lot; Tekken fights are (typically) less one-sided now, and high-level Tekken gameplay is more engaging to watch thanks to the more tidal pacing of the fights. It’s hard to gauge, but changes like these are most likely why Tekken’s popularity has exploded over the past generation. Pro fighters are hungry for more iterations like this in future titles.
“3D games have historically struggled compared to 2D games,” observes Hoa. “Tekken 7, I feel, has been the first one to really take off and gain a lot of attention. With a 3D playing field, games like Tekken usually feel more difficult to learn compared to 2D games, but Tekken 7 did a really good job of making certain aspects easier to learn for beginners. That was one of the things that really helped 3D games grow.”
Developers like Arc System Works and NetherRealm have really upped their game when it comes to tutorial systems over the past few years, and it seems the pros would like Bandai Namco to take note of that, going forward. That said, Hoa did praise the “robust Practice Mode” we got in Tekken 7 – but Kana thought “an online training function” wouldn’t be amiss in a sequel.
“I think Tekken has improved a historic game system to create a profound yet simple 3D fighting game,” says Kana. “It's not a simple 50%-50% game system because the player's skill and effort can change the system, and the sense of accomplishment is something special to Tekken.” Communicating that more effectively to new players with a better, more integrated training suite would no doubt help new players.
It’s fairly telling, though, that neither of the pros wanted anything specific added or taken away from the game when it comes to mechanics – it’s a good indication that Tekken is in a very, very healthy place.
“A game dies faster without community support from the developers,” says Hoa when we ask him what he wants to see most from the next Tekken game as a competitive player. “[Bandai Namco] really needs to put more attention into this part, I think. The other genre esports do a lot more to promote their games in that way. I would like to see if they could integrate more ads or promotions for the competitive scene in the game menu, similar to how other major esports titles do it. It could help the competitive community grow even more.”
That isn’t to say he isn’t pleased with how Bandai Namco has supported the game up to this point. In fact, Hoa believes the support we’ve seen for Tekken 7 should be a template for whatever comes next, and has revitalised the game’s competitive scene somewhat. “I think the developers have done a great job with the actual in-game changes made,” he explains. ”A lot of mechanical changes were made in Tekken 7 that we got to experience for the first time. And Tekken 8 could definitely expand upon that, reworking things according to people's opinions. The biggest challenge competitively for me has simply been how much more competitive the scene has been over the course of Tekken 7's lifespan.
“The game is easily 10 times more popular than ever before, and with that brings a ton of new high level/dangerous players in tournaments. Before, it was a lot easier to manage against the field, but I'm still surprised I've been able to maintain my standing for this long with how hard it is to win these days.”
This is a direct result of Bandai Namco’s insistence of giving Tekken 8 a long tail and supporting the game with patches and Seasonal updates, and Kana agrees that the developer’s approach to keeping the game alive has been stellar. “I believe that the Season system will increase the number of players who have the ultimate level of skill in a single game, which makes Tekken truly a sport,” she says. “However, on the flip side, there is a lack of novelty, so I hope that when there is a major update, there will be more fresh new systems, such as Rage Drive and the use of stage gimmicks.”
So, to boil it down, it looks like the pros want to see more-or-less the same level of support, with some bonus esports focus, and the introduction of some new light mechanics here and there as Tekken 8 evolves and grows. Tekken 7 laid the foundations, and Tekken 8 doesn’t need to do an awful lot in order to build on that.
“I'm also interested in the story of the characters,” concludes Kana, “and I believe that Tekken's movie-like story is a factor that will be supported not only by core gamers but also by more light users.”
It’s safe to say that Tekken is probably in the healthiest place it’s been in years: casual players are picking the game up in numbers never seen before, and pro players are responsible for a teeming competitive scene that shows no signs of dying out. Mainstream players may be eager to play through another labyrinthine anime soap opera that's as compelling as it is ludicrous with more single-player content, but the competitive heart of Tekken has never been more invested in what comes next regarding mechanics and gimmicks.
Will we see more 2D-inspired mechanics, introduced to Tekken by Akuma, in the next entry? Or will we see Bandai Namco double down on Rage and Bound – making Tekken stand from the pack more than ever before in the future? It’s not yet clear, but at least we know the series is in a healthy place. It may be set in a dystopia, but the future’s bright for the King of Iron Fist Tournament.