We were lucky enough to spend close to an entire day with Tekken 8 at a recent Bandai Namco press event — and we walked away from the experience thoroughly impressed. We've had high hopes for the long-running series' latest instalment for quite some time — especially since we're such big fans of Tekken 7 — but going hands-on with a near-final build of Tekken 8 really solidified our belief that this bone-crunching fighter could be something very special.
All 32 characters were available in the PS5 build we played, and while a number of game modes were closed off, we could blast through the first few chapters of the dedicated story campaign, and dive into Arcade Quest — a single-player adventure that should add a lot of weight to Tekken 8's offline offerings.
For the purposes of this preview, we're going to categorise our thoughts mode by mode (and yes, we did get to enjoy the revered return of Tekken Ball).
An action-packed, cinematic story mode
Tekken 8's bombastic story mode takes place directly after the events of Tekken 7. Having finally put Heihachi down (read: tossed into an active volcano, again), Kazuya Mishima is on the brink of world domination thanks to his all-powerful devil gene — and there's only one man that can stop him. That's right, it's time for Kazuya's own son, Jin, to embrace his devil gene and go head-to-head with big bad dad.
Based on what we played, the opening chapters unfold almost exclusively from Jin's perspective, as he struggles to unlock the potential of his inherently evil powers. Our angsty protagonist is having a bit of an identity crisis, but characters like Lars, Alisa, and Lee are on hand to help him through the chaos.
In terms of structure, the story mode adopts your typical cutscene, fight, cutscene flow — but unlike in Tekken 7, you're with the core characters at all times. There's no weirdly out-of-place overarching narrator here (thank god), and it feels like everyone will get at least a few minutes in the spotlight, even though Jin is quite clearly the centre of attention.
Now look, we're not expecting some award-winning plot writing from Tekken 8, but this does feel like a genuine step forward for the series' storytelling. Yes, the character interactions are still a bit hokey, but seeing your favourite fighters put in an appearance is always going to be fun — and this is where one of the plot's central pillars gets a big thumbs up from us.
Indeed, in his attempts to weed out humanity's weaknesses, Kazuya unveils the latest King of Iron Fist Tournament. Yep, the tournament itself plays a key role in this story mode, and quite frankly, it's about damn time. The initial chapters see Jin face off against new combatant Reina and longtime rival Hwoarang, while Paul and Law smack each other senseless in pursuit of eventually kicking Kazuya's arse. The tournament could and should provide the perfect vehicle for a story that has to incorporate so many personalities.
And of course, it helps that the actual fights are really enjoyable. These brawls aren't just one-and-done rounds that are over far too quickly (we're looking at you, modern Mortal Kombat). Instead, they're stretched out over multiple rounds that are broken up by cinematic clashes and environmental transitions. Bandai Namco seems to have put a lot of effort into making each battle feel, well, epic, for lack of a better word, and when the action does kick in after a lengthy cutscene, you're all-in.
If Tekken 8's story mode can maintain this early momentum, we're looking at a much improved character-driven narrative over Tekken 7's somewhat misguided excursion.
Arcade Quest is the single-player mode Tekken needs
Arcade Quest is exactly what a game like Tekken 8 needs. As evidenced by Steet Fighter 6's shockingly robust World Tour, dedicated single-player modes are still important in fighting games — especially when appealing to a more casual crowd.
Not everyone will want to jump online as soon as they're done with Tekken 8's story campaign, and so they'll go looking for more ways to engage with the game's character roster and its crunchy gameplay mechanics. For what it's worth, your standard arcade mode is here (we couldn't actually play it in this build), but Arcade Quest is probably going to be your best option for more offline action.
Slightly creepy doll-like avatars aside, Arcade Quest appears to be a charming — and rather unique — adventure. After creating your own avatar, you're tasked with climbing through the ranks of Tekken's competitive scene, making friends and rivals along the way. We didn't get to see a whole lot of the mode's main story play out, but it's clearly gunning for that kind of rags-to-riches anime-style narrative — overly serious, edgelord antagonist included.
But it's not really about the story — it's about the gameplay structure. You move from arcade spot to arcade spot across a map, and you fight NPCs to increase your rank. Then, once you're confident enough, you compete in tournaments to unlock the next arcade location. The whole thing's got an addictive flow to it, because victories net you a bunch of cosmetic items for both your avatar and Tekken 8's character roster. We even stumbled upon tougher, optional opponents that unlocked crazy costumes for specific fighters — so we're left wondering just how deep the Arcade Quest rabbit hole goes.
One of our favourite things about Arcade Quest, though? In the build we played, we gained access to a unique arcade spot where we could fight against ghosts — as in, ghost data that mimics the fighting styles of other players. We could only face off against preset ghosts that utilised Tekken developer data, but beating down customised characters who seemed to fight with fairly unique styles was fantastic fun — and earned us yet more in-game currency that we could use to unlock additional cosmetics. In the finished game, you'll be able to test your skills against ghost data from fighters all over the world — and that includes professional players.
All in all, Arcade Quest is shaping up to be a surprisingly addictive, and potentially in-depth addition to Tekken 8's suite of game modes. And to top it all off, its tutorial-like early hours are an ideal way to settle new players into the game's rhythm.
Tekken Ball is back and it's bonkers
An absolute classic series distraction, Tekken Ball returns in Tekken 8. We don't have too much to say about this, other than we've played it and it's exactly as mental as it needs to be. For the uninitiated, Tekken Ball sees two characters smack a large beach ball at one another; the more hits the ball takes, the faster it flies, and the more damage it does once it connects.
Tekken Ball can be brutal — a fully-charged shot can deal ridiculous amounts of damage — but the mode's inherent silliness makes it the perfect side activity for when you need a break from battering opponents in the game proper. There's no doubt that more casual players will find a lot to like about Tekken Ball as well — especially if you can grab a few friends for a session or two.
Tekken 8 feels incredible to actually play
Gameplay-wise, we've always loved how meaty Tekken feels. This is obviously a fast-paced and often frantic fighting game franchise, but the impact of each hit has always been near perfectly exaggerated with visual flourishes and chunky sound effects. And in Tekken 8, that sensory side of the game has been taken to a whole new level.
There's a distinct bass to Tekken 8's sound design. Even when you're just blocking incoming blows, there's a shuddering doompf — and it only gets more apparent when the hits start connecting. The feedback on each and every successful attack is immense — but not distractingly so. The game strikes an impressive balance between being an audio-visual spectacle (it's a seriously pretty game on PS5, by the way), and being readable on a moment-to-moment basis.
And all of this feeds into the core gameplay, which — inevitable character balance discussions aside — is shaping up to be a brilliant new take on the Tekken formula. The much-touted Heat system, which basically lets you enhance your character's abilities once per round, adds an enticing degree of tactical nuance. Learning when and how to utilise your temporary Heat state is going to be key in mastering Tekken 8's multi-layered approach.
But when you combine Heat with the returning Rage mechanic and each character's already long move list, newcomers are bound to feel intimidated. It's the endless struggle of hardcore fighting games, but at least Tekken 8 is taking significant steps in welcoming fresh faces.
For starters, Tekken 8 boasts what is easily the best training mode in the entire series. Not only does it feature loads of useful options for hardcore players who want to lab it up (including the ability to instantly replay any in-fight situation), it puts user-friendly information front and centre. This includes an easy-to-read shortlist of must-know moves that'll help players of all skill levels get to grips with a specific character.
What's more, the all-new 'Special Style' input system feels like a necessary step in paving the way for brand new players. More experienced Tekken fans won't get much out of Special Style — unless you're looking for an easy way to discover bread and butter combos — but newcomers can simply enable this option and mash single buttons to pull off key techniques.
Now, this is obviously a gateway mechanic — Special Style alone isn't going to hold up against someone who knows Tekken — but the fact that Special Style can be toggled in-game with the press of a button means you can make use of it while you learn the deeper ins and outs of a character. And in that sense, it could be a great tool for beginners who are just looking to get a feel for the game's back-and-forth flow.
We could prattle on about how impressed we are with Tekken 8 for hours, but we should probably save some praise for when the game actually releases in January. The bottom line here is that this is shaping up to be a remarkable fighting game, building on everything that Tekken 7 got right in terms of spectacle and gameplay flow, while also bringing important features to the table, like much improved single-player content and what seems to be a superb training mode.
From our perspective, the only potential thing standing in Tekken 8's way is the quality of its online netcode. With immediate competitors like Street Fighter 6 and Guilty Gear Strive offering up such stellar rollback functionality, Tekken 8 must live up to what is now the standard for fighting games. At the very least, it's what this utterly gripping gameplay deserves.
Are you looking forward to Tekken 8? Are you a big Tekken fan? Don't you dare drop that combo in the comments section below.