Tekken 8 Review: Tough Love

Reina of terror.

Edited by Kristi Jimenez and Ezra Holt.

After more than two decades of Tekken matches, I did the unthinkable: I switched characters. I had to know what Reina’s deal was. She was one of three newcomers to Tekken 8 and by far the most intriguing—casually menacing Jin and Kazuya, mugging for the camera, and throwing out lighting moves that sent opponents flying.

My excitement rarely wavered after chewing through her dedicated character episode, arcade matches, and even the main story. But underneath the new game smell, storm clouds were building on the horizon.

Related: Tekken 8 Newcomer? Here’s A Character Vibes Check

Tekken 8 review; Leroy tells his dog, "It's an impressive lineup of fighters. We'll be looking forward to seeing them in action."
Screenshot via Taylor Hicklen.

Old Dojo, New Tricks

The true joy of Tekken is getting a sense of each character – not just their moves, but their interactions with each other, the sometimes serious, sometimes silly character episode endings, and the sweeping story mode. Some characters on the roster have more of an impression on us than others, but every member eventually gets time to shine.

Tekken 8 is a tantalizing proposition: out with some of the old, in with the new. As of this writing, series patriarch Heihachi, chief antagonist since the first Tekken game, is dead. Reina, Jin, and others in the supporting cast must face the inevitable question—what happens next?

Tekken 8’s structural flaws and a few less-than-stellar game modes don’t live up to that promise. Bandai Namco’s double-dipping approach to paid DLC sours the overall experience. For every two steps forward, there’s an infuriating step back.

Tekken 8 review; Marshall Law takes a heavy hit from Feng Wei's knee
Image via Bandai Namco.

“Tekken” A Different Approach

Tekken’s contemporaries approached an evolving player base in their own way. Street Fighter 6 introduced a single-player mode to familiarize newcomers with controls and experiment with different move sets. Guilty Gear Strive reinvigorated core character concepts and honed its poppy art style to appear to a wider audience. Even Dead or Alive 6 took a small step back from its usual, jiggly bombast to focus on making fights feel more grounded and impactful.

2002’s experimental and poorly received Tekken 4 was the first attempt at Tekken 8’s spectacle. Moody locales, enclosed stages (then a series first), destructible environments, and one of the most ferocious soundtracks to grace pre-Bandai Namco. Character designs leaped forward for a second time. 2000’s Tekken Tag Tournament added a high-polygon gloss over the Tekken 3 framework, but Tekken 4 included motion and facial expressions for the less-blocky roster. The cast had new looks and in some cases, new fighting styles.

Tekken 8 revisits its predecessor’s core ideas with a bit more budget and corporate structure in the tank. The core mechanics remain sound, but the introductions to them—Arcade Quest and a streamlined Special Style—sand the distinguishing features of Tekken 8’s intricate systems down to sawdust.

Tekken 8; Leo punches Paul in front of a comical hot dog stand.
Screenshot via Taylor Hicklen.

Pressing Strategies

Before assessing Tekken 8’s new Special Style, a primer for the uninitiated. Tekken’s classic controls assign a button to each of your character’s limbs. There are no designated light, medium, or heavy buttons like Street Fighter.

On my Series X, the A and B buttons are left and right kick, while X and Y are left and right punch. Each character’s extensive move list uses these four buttons, along with directional inputs. Direction presses denote how your move will be performed. Down attacks usually hit low or crouch, Up attacks jump, and pointing towards or away from your opponent for your attacks yields wildly different results. Press nothing and your character blocks. Press an adjacent punch and kick button together to perform a throw.

Tekken matches occur in three-dimensional space, not back and forth on a flat plane. Tapping up or down to sidestep and learning your character’s movement options can save you from an opponent’s fury. Characters can also be juggled—launched into the air by a strong blow, then temporarily kept there by successive blows. Characters collide with walls and floors, and if hit hard enough, can take damage from impact. Walls and floors can break with enough force, altering the playing field.

Tekken 8 review; a tip to punish or crouch under an opponent's move is displayed during a replay.
Screenshot via Taylor Hicklen.

Added Impact

The new Heat system adds more reactive moves to fights. Through specific commands or pressing your controller’s bumper, your character can access the blue Heat gauge below their health bar once per match. Once in Heat, you can access that character’s Heat Drive. This moves them closer to a distant opponent, or they can use a Heat Smash to deliver a powerful attack or extend an in-progress combo. Individual characters have different advantages in Heat. Some gain temporary additional moves while others get flat buffs for how they move or deal damage.

Feeling a little overwhelmed? Tekken 8 has Replay Takeover, first introduced in Guilty Gear XX Accent Core Plus R. After saving an offline or online replay, you can take over your character at a specific moment with a button press in “My Replays” in “Tips”. Wish a match would have gone differently? Now you can experiment.

Replay Takeover isn’t limited to just your fights. Download someone else’s replay from Tekken’s Online mode and you can assume control of either character mid-match for ten-second segments. Tips will be displayed onscreen during key moments, a useful tool for honing your skills.

Tekken 8 review; Lili says to Asuka, "I can sense your displeasure. And after I brought you all the way to Rome to observe my majesty in the flesh."
Screenshot via Taylor Hicklen.

Not So Special

In sharp contrast, Tekken 8’s Special Style poorly introduces novices to Tekken. It’s meant to be a simplified approach to Tekken’s commands, but the persistent onscreen button prompts are completely disconnected from how move lists work. Instead of assigning buttons to each limb, Special Style adopts the modern Action RPG context menu approach, assigning full maneuvers to single button presses.

You can toggle between Classic and Special mid-battle, but that switch underlines the stark difference between the two options. Special Style is a serviceable assistive touch when puzzling out unfamiliar characters or situations, but little of that knowledge transfers to the Classic control scheme. Special Style’s simplified move set is too vague to be useful in Classic.

Tekken 8 review; a customized avatar looks into the middle distance, raising one hand for a fist bump.
Image via Bandai Namco.

Quest-ionable Results

Arcade Quest mode feels like biting into a Kinder egg, only to taste refined dark chocolate: what’s inside is rich and detailed, but the cutesy packaging is confusing. You pilot a lifeless cartoony avatar through a series of Tekken-centric venues, an Anime 101-level plot unfurling between the genuinely helpful, granular tutorials. Characters move in fits and starts, waxing poetic about play styles and strategies, but the joy never reaches their eyes. There’s no real friction to them.

Cracking open Arcade Quest’s outer shell has small payoffs. Helpful NPC Max teaches you the ins and outs before revealing the true prize: amped-up NPC Ghost Battles and (allegedly) an AI that learns from your play style. NPCs with a treasure chest over their heads rewarded me with cosmetics, while others hung out in their chosen arcade, waiting for a match. Some names I grew to recognize through Arcade Quest.

Fighting my own player ghost was a swift and humbling self-diagnosis. I could see my repeated habits, predictable feints, and moments of button-mashing panic reflected back at me. My ghost Reina was quick to burn through resources, reliant on a few choice moves, and occasionally fumbled button presses.

Tekken 8 review; The inside of the Tekken Fight Lounge's customization shop.
Image via Bandai Namco.

Chump Change

Arcade Mode’s forced nostalgia comes from a Tekken installment that has two layers of purchasable content: the now-standard season pass, which doles out a predetermined number of characters and cosmetics for a one-time additional fee, and Tekken Coins, an additional (and proprietary) barrier to looking cute added post-launch.

Endless arguments about transactions aside, patching a secondary store with an additional paid currency more than a month after the first release leaves a bad taste in my mouth. The initial lineup features classic character costumes, Arcade Mode avatar customizations, and party effects and emotes for the online Tekken Lounge (a public battle hub). Everything but the basic party effects cost 400 Tekken Coins each. Naturally, there aren’t any 400-coin increment packs to purchase. It starts at 500 coins for $4.99 USD and scales up to 5,500 coins for a whopping $49.99.

Tekken 8 review; an empty beach area of the Tekken Fight Lounge.
Image via Bandai Namco.

Money Talks

Season passes and paid cosmetics are Bandai Namco’s new quarter munchers. Its digital entertainment brought in over 353 billion yen in the third quarter of 2023, compared to the amusement division’s 108.5. Bandai Namco had an overall operating profit of around 116.5 million yen for 2023, after its massive expenses across multiple sectors.

They’re not hurting for cash. This is about shareholder value, and like the prior industry cycles, it will most likely end at great personal cost for the day-to-day staff at Bandai Namco. The number keeps going up, so everything must be working as intended. Right? Right???

I’m reluctant to frame Tekken 8’s doubling down on microtransactions as “supporting developers” or “just the realities of doing business.” Most of what you can buy from the Tekken Shop are costumes from past titles, things that would usually be tucked away as rewards in past Treasure Battle modes or earned from fights with customization currency. So why are they paywalled cosmetics now?

Tekken 8 review; Jun talks with her son in the middle of a field of flowers. "You're a kind boy. Always putting yourself second, I'd imagine."
Screenshot via Taylor Hicklen.

Verdict: Dueling Priorities Mean Mixed Success

Polygon’s Patrick Gill expertly notes that the Tekken series is the last bastion of the mythical mixed martial arts melting pot. But my Tekken isn’t the one new players will have to contend with. Arcade Mode’s puzzling presentation, Special Style meaningless abstraction of Tekken’s core systems, and the double layer of paid transactions will chafe. Generous character episodes and training options dazzle, but the rest of Tekken 8 lacks the backbone to properly champion these moments. Tekken 8 is too risk-averse to compete with Street Fighter 6’s near-complete overhaul.

Here’s what it felt like at Tekken 8’s best: relatively smooth online play dissolved the bicoastal time difference and immersed me in a flashy and silly fighting sandbox. Boxers and martial artists clashed in fast-paced, bombastic matchups. My collected knowledge and frantic improvisation sent me into a flow state, laughing at each win or loss. Ultimately that feeling, not shareholder-induced rot, keeps me coming back. Tekken 8 can be tough to love, but for better or worse, I do anyway.

Press SPACE to jump review 8

Great

ProsCons
Fast and strategic fights.Baffling Arcade Quest presentation choices.
Generous base roster and single player modes.Special Style not helpful for newcomers.
Reliable cross-platform netcode (A series first!).Cynical microtransactions.
A tentative narrative step forward for the series.Paywalled content that was included in prior entries.

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Taylor Hicklen
Taylor Hicklen

Taylor is Press SPACE to Jump's community lead. He likes midrange JRPGs, fighting games, and Dicey Dungeons. Bonus points if there are good fonts. To contact him about your game or other professional inquiries, you can email him at pstjtaylor@proton.me.

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