Back in the good old days of Pokemon, Smells Like Teen Spirit, and Lay’s Salt and Vinegar chips, fighting games were the kings of the arcade. From every corner of my neighbourhood, children gathered at the nearest arcade to take part in various small-scale tournaments (where the stakes typically involved bragging rights and Smarties). Of the various fighting games that lined the back of the arcade, Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter, and Virtua Fighter demanded our attention – until the introduction of the new kid on the block, Tekken. Little did I know how much this series would evolve to become one of the most celebrated fighting game franchises of all time several years down the line.
Rumblings of an Iron Fist
Before Bandai Namco, there was simply Namco, a Japanese developer who would spearhead a few major fighting game franchises in the 90s. Of the two that rose to popularity in a short amount of time, Tekken and Soul Blade (later to be Soul Calibur) persevered throughout the decades. Tekken, in particular, attracted players with something simple, yet effective: character. Yes, it’s true that Mortal Kombat‘s crazy blood-soaked ninja antics were enough to sway the mind of a wee lad, but Tekken came along with an enticing list of cool, stylishly designed characters and stories that piqued our interests.
Over the years, Tekken evolved into becoming a household name on the original PlayStation, particularly Tekken 3 which is still held in high regards as one of the greatest fighting games of all time. The age of the violent, bloodlust ninja was slowly coming to an end (or at least crawling before it could walk), so the market boomed with competitors looking to dethrone Mortal Kombat. The fact that Mortal Kombat attracted the wrong kinds of attention due to its affinity for controversial violence did stump its chances of being more widely accepted, but Tekken slid in with the perfect opportunity to capitalize on a market looking for a more accessible, “family friendly” fighter.
A Game of Generations
While Mortal Kombat was all about bringing a group of Earth Realm’s greatest fighters together for a bit of fisticuffs with the legions of a totalitarian realm, Tekken took a surprisingly different approach with its narrative. Centering on the Mishima family and, notably, Kazuya Mishima who inherits the supernatural abilities of the Devil Gene, it birthed a story of heated rivalries between family, friends, foes, and factions. Yes, the crux of it did ultimately end up being yet another tournament (say it with me, Mr. Tekken Announcer, “The King of Iron Fist Tournament”!), but what made it special was the various motivations of its fighters for competing. Whether it was Kazuya’s journey of vengeance against his father, Heihachi; Hwoarang’s brooding rivalry with Jin Kazama; or Yoshimitsu’s search for his purpose in life, all stories converged in a burst of spectacular fights that made each mix-and-match confrontation quite enjoyable.
The rule of cool that Mortal Kombat thrived on was replaced with a more character-focused narrative – a bit alien for a fighting game involving cyborg samurai’s and martial arts bears, but I digress. Tekken 2 and 3‘s booming success on the PlayStation pushed the series into mainstream popularity as word got out of a fighter that was just as cool as Mortal Kombat, but was far smoother mechanically; pushed the envelope of 3D fighters like Virtua Fighter, but was a lot more refined; and appealed to an enormous base of fighting game fans like Street Fighter, but embraced the capabilities of new hardware. It was a recipe for success.
Dance of Combos
Tekken is not a complicated game to learn, but it is one that takes a bit of time to master. In fact, we all know of at least one person who constantly chose Eddy Gordo and spammed every button on the controller before declaring themselves “good” at the game. The easy accessibility of Tekken through its brilliant and varied characters and stories, coupled with its more intricate mechanics of wildly diverse combos and movesets, made it a highly appealing fighter on the market. Unlike many other fighting games, though, Tekken didn’t funnel you into learning a list of combos in order to make the most out of the game. It prided itself on being immensely flexible with its gameplay.
It didn’t take me long to realize that Tekken‘s greatest strength was how a player could simply pick up and memorize a couple of combos, and still string them together in incredibly unique and varied ways thanks to the smooth flow of combat and its animations. Trading blows became a matter of studying your opponent, seeking out those precious few gaps where combos ended, and timing your counterattack as a result of being patient. In that regard, Tekken become less of a traditional fighting game and more of a rhythm game. Tekken‘s fights boiled down to an elaborate dance of moves, counters, parries, and combos that were spurred on as a direct result of their opponent’s moves. There was a flow to each fight that made it supremely addictive, even when you knew little about the actual mechanics.
Tekken still remains near the top of the list of the best fighting game franchises on the market today. Sure, Mortal Kombat made its eventual comeback in full force, but Tekken‘s marketability kept it afloat after all these years. Tekken‘s first footprints arrived in arcades before finding breakthrough success on the PlayStation with Tekken 2 and 3, then continuing its rise to prominence with Tekken 4, 5 and Tekken Tag Tournament on the PlayStation 2. A sequel to Tag Tournament would follow, with Tekken: Dark Resurrection finding success on the PlayStation Portable before moving onto Tekken 6 last generation. Finally, Tekken 7 solidified itself in this generation’s consoles, not to mention maintaining a strong winning streak at major fighting game tournaments like EVO and several other world events.
So what’s Tekken‘s appeal? I can’t pin it down to one singular thing. Personally, I find joy in believing that, unlike every other fighter on the market, I’m half-decent at it. The characters have also become embedded so deeply in gaming culture, that’s hard not to instantly recognize Jin Kazama, King, or Heihachi Mishima. We’re certain that Tekken‘s success will continue strong into the next generation as well, with Tekken 8 and (hopefully) another Tag Tournament.
What’s your favourite memories of Tekken? Let us know in the comments below!