For Tekken 8, Bandai Namco’s core message is simply “aggression.” That concept is what the gameplay is designed around, what the systems lend themselves to, and where all the new visual elements truly stand out.
Compared to Tekken 7’s somewhat more composed and defensive style, T8 gives players more ways to go on the offensive in a way that can be rewarding or devastatingly punishing, depending on how you approach a situation. There are so many new features and tools the developers have integrated into the very core of Tekken that change so much but keep everything fans have come to love about the franchise over the years.
During our hands-on sessions, which took place at a preview event with travel expenses provided by Bandai Namco, many fights had that signature defensive and paced movement in the middle of matches. But, often, rounds would start and end with an explosive exchange as players tried to remain on the front foot of an interaction. More so than ever, one wrong move can lead to a decisive defeat in a matter of seconds, and the mental games you can play with your opponent using things like the new Heat System only enhance that element.
These new factors give Tekken 8 a unique feel that looks to carry the franchise’s tried and true elements beyond the arcade and onto a new generation of consoles.
Adam Newell: A visual beatdown
As a sweaty casual tryhard, what stood out to me was the new controller system known as “Special Style” and just how poor it is against seasoned veterans. While being able to press a button to make a quick combo seems enjoyable, it’ll always be the same combo repeatedly that can easily be dodged and gets boring quickly. In fact, I found the style so underwhelming that I immediately switched to button-mashing my first few matches away, which had a better effect.
From button mashing as well, I slowly began to learn moves and combos by osmosis. When I mashed a certain button combo, and it did a cool move, my body instinctively remembered that, and I would use it on purpose, without the mash, to deal far more punishing damage than the Special Style controller style ever could.
Outside of playing the game, watching and observing matches was just chaotic beauty. The viewing experience has gone up a notch, and it really is just fun to watch and could be a game-changer at places like Evo or bigger tournaments when these matches are displayed on the big screen.
This visual component is also highlighted by small in-game aspects players and viewers might not even notice unless they look closer. For instance, any damage made to the arena throughout the match stays there until the very end. If a character were to drop down into the mud, their clothes and suit remain roughed up instead of magically clean until the end of the match. And any damage done to the character—like ripped-up clothes, for instance—shows the battle-worn fighters through and through until the final round.
Bandai has also given characters special entrances depending on their relationship with one another, a first for the series. Jin and Kazuya, for example, lock fists at the very beginning creating a shockwave, while Jin and Lars will exchange a small fist bump, saying to each other that it’s “nothing personal.” All this really showcases the level of detail Bandai has put into the title to give back to Tekken fans that have invested in the series these past three decades.
Cale Michael: Accessible, aggressive, and absolutely addictive
In the opposite view to Adam, my hands-on experience with the Special Style control scheme was much more positive.
Yes, it might not be the optimal way to play at all times considering it’s a clearly choreographed and available list of options to your opponent and can end up being predictable. But for someone who hasn’t played a lot of Tekken, or in my case is out of practice, it allowed me to consistently perform juggles or access specific Heat Engager moves to really pressure my opponents. It was also a great way to get a feel for all of the playable characters quickly and learn which playstyles I liked the most—along with being able to see some of their better moves without spending a chunk of time reading the move list.
That is honestly the highest praise I can give to Tekken 8 in regard to this build of the game. Going into this session, I felt very insecure about how I might perform against more seasoned players. But within a few sessions, I was able to put my fundamentals to work alongside some of these new tools in a way that allowed me to feel comfortable and have a great time simply playing the game.
As for the new systems, Heat feels like a fun take on something like Guilty Gear’s Burst and Dragon Ball FighterZ’s Sparking, while not going as far as Street Fighter 6’s Drive System. It gives you a lot of options to apply offensive pressure or quickly turn the momentum in your favor when timed properly, all without feeling like a defensive crutch.
Its inherently dynamic nature also adds a real management aspect to when you want to use it each round since your character will gain access to special actions and can perform enhanced actions—such as a powerful Heat Smash. Successfully pulling off a Heat Engager into a combo string into either a Heat Smash or Rage Art feels so good.
I got to sit down and play the game for roughly four hours, and at no point during that time was I ever struggling to grasp how the game functioned or wanting to take a break from quickly hopping back into the action with my opponent. The limited roster in this build didn’t hinder the replayability at all, and the load times made rematching snappy—with just enough room for some good-natured banter between sets.
It can’t be overstated just how good this game looks too. Tekken 7 was developed for arcades first and came to consoles well past its initial release, making it slightly dated as it was. T8 looks stunning, and it’s clear Bandai took recreating its character models and animations very seriously, making the most out of Unreal Engine 5. All you need to do is look at the characters’ expressions during their moves, and you can see a night and day difference compared to T7.
That applies to the ability to follow a match as a spectator too. Some of the small visual elements that have been added to characters’ health bars and the way moves come out at different intensities and speeds will translate well to a tournament stage.
Overall, while Bandai still has some important questions to answer about some features like online play, I have no doubt that the gameplay of Tekken 8 will continue to shine.