Tekken 8 has been a long time coming. Its predecessor, the unprecedentedly popular Tekken 7, launched what feels like an age ago; the original arcade release happened all the way back in 2015, before a much-updated version came to consoles in 2017. However, its shockingly long life cycle — perpetuated by an incredibly strong competitive core — has ultimately paved the way for the big-budget bombast of Tekken 8. Much like Street Fighter 6, this feels like a fighting game with backing, packed with modes and dripping with visual spectacle.
In a nutshell, Tekken 8 is the generational leap that fans have been waiting for. While the skeleton of Tekken 7 still remains — in terms of fundamental mechanics, animations, and general gameplay rhythm — considerable meat has been added to the bones, and the whole package has been fleshed out in almost every direction.
We should probably start with the fighting system itself, which is supremely satisfying. Tekken has always excelled in providing audiovisual feedback, as attacks connect with crazy hit sparks and characters are sent flying — but Tekken 8 takes it to a new level. There's a distinct bass to all of the sound effects — even when you're just blocking — and scoring a counter hit results in an eye-popping explosion of character-specific colours. Just watching is a thrill, but actually playing is a joy.
Tekken 7 was already an intense, fast-paced fighting game, but a smattering of fresh mechanics makes its successor the most over-the-top, impactful entry in Bandai Namco's franchise. The Heat system is front and centre, essentially letting you power up your character once per round. While in Heat (yes, there are already plenty of jokes), combatants gain access to enhanced attacks, some entirely new moves, and the choice of either a Heat Smash or a Heat Dash. The Smash is basically a fast-acting super attack, while the Dash can be used to extend combos or maintain your offensive pressure. Opting for either ends your temporary Heat state until the next round.
On a surface level, Heat is really just another way of letting players pull off more cool moves. It's activated with the press of just one button, and the following Heat Smash requires a tap of that same input — it's designed to be as accessible as possible. However, more advanced players will quickly realise that Heat adds another layer of tactical thinking to Tekken's usual flow. For example, saving your Heat for later in the round is a great way to eke out close-call victories, as its activation can force your opponent to block and effectively guess against your next attack. On the flipside, popping Heat early can provide serious momentum, and so the choice is always important.
Making these snap decisions is where Tekken 8 shines, and the mechanical depth that's on offer — especially as you learn the intricacies of your chosen character's move list — is engrossing. The basics of Tekken are still here and they're still as dynamic as ever, with high, mid, and low attacks all intertwining with one another, but the Heat system encourages a kind of aggression that you'd typically associate with explosive 2D fighters like Guilty Gear or BlazBlue.
That's not to say Tekken 8 can't be played at a slower pace, but there are more ways to pressure your opponent's defence than ever before. And in turn, having to stand up against such onslaughts makes the eventual read all the sweeter. A perfectly timed sidestep, low block, or parry, leading straight into your own launcher and high damage combo, feels fantastic. In some ways, there's a heavier emphasis on risk versus reward in Tekken 8, which often leads to some truly intense matches.
But what if multilayered systems and mechanics aren't necessarily a selling point? Well, the good news is that Tekken 8 is easily the series' most accessible instalment. Right off the bat, the game will ask if you want to enable 'Special Style' controls, which lets newcomers perform key moves and combos with simplified inputs. Special Style certainly isn't going to carry you all the way to competitive glory, but it provides a fairly effective route to understanding the overall rhythm of Tekken's gameplay. Even better, you can actually toggle Special Style on and off, in-game, during a fight — a great learning tool when you're trying to familiarise yourself with different characters.
Speaking of learning, Tekken 8's headline single-player modes — The Dark Awakens story campaign and Arcade Quest — are on hand to ease you into the experience. Arcade Quest in particular is a perfect introduction, as it combines a fun little storyline about rising through the arcade and tournament scene with neatly crafted tutorial sections.
Arcade Quest isn't quite the single-player time sink that we were hoping it would be, however. The mode's enjoyable while it lasts, as your custom avatar travels between arcades, taking on increasingly challenging opponents in search of unique customisation items and in-game rewards — but the adventure's only a few hours long. Once you've shown your comically stern rival who's boss, there's little left to do outside of rematching previous opponents.
Thankfully, Arcade Quest is also your gateway to Super Ghost Battle, which is the real star of the game's single-player suite. In this mode, you can take on 'ghosts' — AI-driven fighters that are based on real player data. In essence, you're kind of playing against other people, but offline, and beating ghosts nets you in-game currency and ranking points for your current character. If you're not quite ready to jump online, Super Ghost Battle is the place to be, and you can easily lose hours to the grind.
Initially, Super Ghost Battle offers up a huge roster of ghosts based on developer data, but you can also fight against your own ghost, or download ghosts of other Tekken players — including friends, randoms, and seasoned pros. Now, it's important to note that ghosts aren't one-to-one copies of their originators, but at times, they come impressively close. Even just taking your own ghost for a spin, you'll immediately spot similarities in movement, attack patterns, and combos. Supposedly, the AI will only get better as players sink more time into the game — and that's quite exciting, given how reactive it already seems to be.
So what about Tekken 8's much-touted story mode? Well, we can safely say it's far better than Tekken 7's attempt, as the series' most absurd elements are dialled up to eleven. The plot hinges heavily on troubled protagonist Jin Kazama and his apparent inability to control his dark powers — all while his tyrannical father Kazuya plunges the world into chaos. It's one of those fighting game storylines that relies on prior knowledge of the franchise, but honestly, even if you're completely new to Tekken, you could just sit back and have fun watching the ridiculous action unfold.
The storytelling's cliche and often unapologetically stupid, but that's sort of what we want from Tekken anyway. The plot points are so over-the-top that trying to play things straight is how we ended up with Tekken 7's awkward campaign. What we have here is around five hours of devil-on-devil madness, complete with some shockingly hype cinematics and beyond flashy boss battles. If we're going to rate Tekken story modes based on moments of pure fan service and awesome action, Tekken 8's offering wins by a country mile.
Oh, and we have to quickly mention the Character Stories, which mark another big improvement over Tekken 7. Here, each of the game's 32 characters get their own mini arcade mode (a proper Arcade Mode also exists), capped off with a unique CG movie at the end. Some are played for laughs — as you'd expect — while others offer a bit of insight into the fighters themselves. They're fun to unlock, and they harken back to the good old days of collecting all of the arcade endings.
Of course, when you've had your fill of battering the CPU, it's time to jump online. For the first time in series history, Tekken 8 features an online lobby, where avatars fight at arcade machines, send messages, download ghost data, and play a few rounds of Tekken Ball (which is back and somehow even more brutal). You can queue for casual matches or show your skills in ranked duels — or you can just set up your own avatar-less lobby for quick battles against friends or otherwise. Aside from a few pre-launch connection issues, it all works great, and in terms of online options, it's much more robust than anything Tekken's done before.
But online modes are nothing without solid netcode, and so we're happy to report that, based on our testing, Tekken 8's rollback functionality is rock solid. Playing against others here in the UK, we barely dropped a frame, while taking the fight to Europe resulted in mostly seamless matches. It didn't really have much of a choice, but Bandai Namco appears to have delivered a high quality online experience — and that's a huge deal after years of dodgy Tekken 7 connections. We'll obviously have to wait and see how things hold up post-launch, but right now, it's looking very promising.
Tekken 8 is a modern fighting game masterclass. It doesn't skimp on single-player modes, its online offering is robust, and it's a serious visual spectacle. But most importantly, the battles are brilliant; accessible yet deeply technical, and supremely satisfying to be a part of — perhaps more so than ever before. There's no fighting game series quite like Tekken, and Tekken 8 is the franchise at its bombastic best.