The arcade version of Tekken 7 has been out for a while now, but most people will be waiting for the ports to console and PC. With a little over a month until release, the home version is nearing completion, and I had a chance to spend a few hours with it and pick the brain of Katsuhiro Harada, producer of Tekken 7 and the creator of the series. The most important thing to say is that it’s looking damn good. It’s the Tekken you know and love, but with enough new additions – even just in the jump from arcade to console/PC – to feel like a big step forward.
The most significant of these additions is the Story Mode, which is a very different affair to previous games. Basically, it’s a long series of cutscenes broken up by fights. You don’t choose one character and play through the whole story, but rather, play with a different character as each chapter requires. In the flashback prologue, you’re a young Jin Kazama learning to fight by getting kicked around by Heihachi. A chapter later, you’re the present-day Heihachi fighting his way back to his family’s company. Then you’re Lars, gunning down assailants in the Middle East, and not long after that, you’re Lee Chaolan fighting against a rogue Alisa.
I know that my vague descriptions make these different scenarios seem disjointed, but the reality is that they’re all closely intertwined, and Tekken 7’s Story Mode is all about telling the tale of how these different pieces fit together. The new format allows a more linear, cinematic approach, and I’m not kidding when I say that you’ll spend more time watching cutscenes than pushing buttons. It works, though, because with so many moving parts, there’s non-stop excitement. That said, it does seem rather convoluted, and not as deep and emotional as it tries to be.
It’s also a great way to get familiar with the different characters and their moves in the game in an organic way. Simply playing a match or two with each different character gives you a feel for their style, but you can also use the Story Assist function to do tricky special moves and combos with the press of a button. This lets you see a “preview” of sorts of what that character is capable of at a higher level of skill, which can be great for deciding who you want to play in the other modes. It also means that Story Mode can be relatively easy, so that even newcomers can experience the whole thing without too much trouble.
As well as the main story, there are a handful of short character stories that take the form of short vignettes. The few I played were each a single fight book-ended by cutscenes, serving as an introduction to that character; I’d imagine this is the case for all of them. I suspect – though this is just a hunch, and not confirmed, as far as I know – that these shorts are a way of including characters who don’t feature in the main Story Mode. Tekken 7 has a pretty big roster, so trying to fit every last fighter into one coherent plot would get very, very messy.
On the topic of characters, Tekken 7 has a huge roster with a lot of new fighters, including Akuma from Street Fighter. When this was announced, I was skeptical about how well it would work, given how different Tekken and Street Fighter’s fighting systems are. Having played a fair chunk with Akuma, those concerns are mostly laid to rest: he feels more or less like his Street Fighter incarnation, complete with floaty jumps, a Super meter, EX special moves, and Street Fighter-style commands.
“It’s on hold at the moment, but previously Tekken X Street Fighter was a game that was being developed. Although Akuma wasn’t being developed – it was Ryu at the time – there was a lot of research and trial and error that went into trying to make him feel like a Tekken character,” Harada told me through an interpreter.
“Just animating him like a Tekken one didn’t feel natural, so the idea came to incorporate 2D-like elements, such as the stop-hit effect in the animations. When the time came to implement Akuma into Tekken 7, this knowledge base was already there, and it really made the process a lot smoother.”
My other favourite among the new fighters is Shaheen. Hailing from Saudi Arabia, he fights with a “Military Fighting Style” involving a lot of acrobatic moves, rocks a shemagh, and is just too handsome for his own good. I don’t think I’ll ever stray too far from my ever-reliable Lili main, but Shaheen’s definitely going to be a character I spend a lot of time with.
According to Harada-san, the original inspiration for Shaheen came from the Tekken community in Dubai, and the team worked closely with the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Japan to ensure he was as authentic as possible.
“At the same time, there was a news article that was quite popular in Japan about a Middle Eastern man who was so good-looking he got denied entry into Saudi Arabia,” he added. “So it was kind of perfect timing to get that image and concept down for the character.”
One question remains: is Shaheen so good-looking that Tekken 7 won’t be allowed into Saudi Arabia? We’ll find out when the game launches in June .
Matt travelled to a Tekken 7 press event in Sydney, courtesy of Bandai Namco