Tekken 89 Impressions: Mind Over Matter

Brain power.
Edited by Kristi Jimenez

It was the last few seconds of a tense Tekken 89 match, and I could feel my concentration wavering. My opponent played series mainstay Yoshimitsu, with tricky conceptual mix-ups and difficult to evade moral dilemmas. I was newcomer Frenda, wielding easier-to-grasp mental techniques.

Finally, I saw my opening. Yoshimitsu attempted a Crushing Mortality, but my Frenda easily sidestepped. I countered with Unwanted Notification, draining the last sliver of my opponent’s health.

[Universal Governance has approved this linked article for historical, pre-Universal context under UG 2085.11 bylaws: Tekken 8 review: tough love]

Tekken 89’s devs are listening. The community weathered huge changes from Tekken 86 to 88, but now Square-Bandai has found their groove. The breathing room since those entries turns Tekken 89 from calculated iteration to almost total reinvention. Concept-based matches feel new and refreshing compared to Tekken 86’s steep learning curve. The shift from fighting fists to fighting words was rocky, but it has finally paid off.

Metaphysical Fists

Tekken 89 impressions, Frenda and Yoshimitsu clash in space.
Image via Taylor Hicklen.

Confused? It certainly feels like the last three Tekken entries went by in a flash. And in some ways, that was intentional. After Square’s final acquisition of Bandai, they were quick to capitalize on the Tekken IP.

Developers and players balked against the twice-a-year release schedule, criticizing the wild jumps in narrative and lack of polish. Tekken 88’s reviews dipped below their usual Universal Assessment levels, falling from “Exceeds Expectations” to “Below Expectations.”

In Universal Calendar 2087, the Tekken team went quiet. Fans worried that the radio silence on their dedicated Mindr feed meant that the series was gone for good, another casualty of the messy Square-Bandai merger. Square-Bandai released a carefully composed audio statement in UC 2087.6, saying that the development team was taking time to rest and brainstorm before Tekken 89 development resumed.

The Tekken team struggled to shift their focus in the face of new media legislation from Universal Governance. Series conflicts were historically based in physicality—kicks, punches, throws. The 2085.11 bylaws mandated that all depictions of what Governance called body-based conflict be removed in favor of more realistic “mental sparring.” Despite Square-Bandai’s lobbying, Universal Governance remained firm: non-educational depictions of violence were not permitted under the new code.

Enter the Mind Palace

Tekken 89 impressions, Frenda and Yoshimitsu spar in a forest.
Image via Taylor Hicklen.

Tekken 89’s saving grace comes from an unlikely source of inspiration: an early-aughts Pre-Universal show from the former United Kingdom. “My great-grandmother would post these bizarre Sherlock episodes in her Mindr feed,” development lead Michelle Harada-Reed said in an interview with HyperGame. “At first I dismissed them as sentimental and kind of silly, but then I saw Sherlock enter his mind palace. Something immediately clicked.”

Tekken 89 smartly updates Sherlock’s goofy pre-aughts amateurism, shifting fights from navigating a confusing cloud of disconnected verbs to ping-ponging between strands of a keyword web. Tekken 88 felt like wading through word sludge, struggling to connect one idea to the next. There was no visual indicator of matching pairs, so often players would have to rely on instinct, hoping that Jack-88’s “World Peace” would somehow connect into “Critical Acclaim.”

Smartly Matched

Tekken 89 impressions, Frenda and Yoshimitsu spar in front of a food truck,
Image via Taylor Hicklen.

The Mindr preview event only had Yoshimitsu and Frenda unlocked, so I spent most of my time with Frenda. Over three matches, I felt myself grasping the full structure of her thought patterns. Unlike Tekken 88, players can see faint strands between the ideas hovering above the stage and react in real time.

Frenda is a smartly dressed office worker, so her thoughts center on productivity and workplace inconveniences. Her “Tabulated Data” can chain into “Accidental Row Deletion” for massive damage, but her options for further combos will be limited. I discovered an unlikely but satisfying workaround in match two: Frenda could follow up “Accidental Row Deletion” with “Prepackaged Lunch,” replenishing enough meter to access “Edit History” and shift back into her base stance.

Yoshimitsu’s controversial new redesign even makes sense in context. I initially hated his new look—a wispy ball of light that ebbs and pulses in time with his mental gymnastics—but Yoshimitsu’s character abstraction suits his headier, more philosophical playstyle.

His techniques are harder to grasp, but reward dedicated players with enormous mental damage to their opponents. My sparring partner quickly found that I was vulnerable to Yoshimitsu’s “Trolley Problem” combo starter, racking up easy damage by sliding into “Butterfly Effect.”

Can’t Get You Out of My Head

Tekken 89 impressions, Frenda and Yoshimitsu clash in a castle.
Image via Taylor Hicklen.

Tekken 89’s preview event left me feeling hopeful for the future. It isn’t the punch-based conflict of my distant youth, but this small sliver of gameplay proved that even abstract matches can feel fresh and exciting. I can’t wait to broaden my scope of mental techniques in UC 2090.3. For character roster and release date updates, stay tuned to Press SPACE to Jump!

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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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