Let’s not mince words- Tekken 8 is a coked out roller coaster when compared to the 7th game. When Tekken series producer Katsuhiro Harada announced that the keyword would be “aggressive”, he really meant it- this is a game shoving you to get in there and get your hands dirty.
And yet, despite being an all in showdown, Tekken 8 still manages to interpret it in a way that can only be described as “so typically Tekken it’s charming”. Yes, it’s a game that encourages stealing your health back from your opponent forcefully, but still retains so many defensive mechanisms from 7 that you’d have to do so in a calculated way.
We got invited to try out Tekken 8 and see the next step of the game for ourselves- as well as chat to Both Harada and Tekken 8 producer Michael Murray about our time with the game.
All In On Heat
The star of our hands on was the Heat system. For the uninitiated, the Heat System unlocks new features for each character. It’s more than just a simple damage-up kind of situation- imagine if every character suddenly became an overtuned version of themselves while Heat was on: that’s what Heat does to a Tekken fighter.
You get two options- a Heat Burst that just activates and puts you in Heat with only one pip to spend on special moves, or the Heat Engager, which gives you two by following off of key moves. Aside from the number of pips you get, both get you the ultimate goal: being in Heat Mode.
A lot of characters Heat modes were fairly straightforward- Jin and Kazuya got new Devil moves, while other characters usually had one type of move enhanced, such as Nina’s newfound love of using firearms in a martial arts tournament. It kind of reminds me of Overdrive in Blazblue- as a character loyalist you’re sure to spend a lot of time studying the new properties in Heat, since they’re gonna be such a big part of your game plan and the once-a-round limit means you have to be very decisive in when you want to pop off.
I should mention that the Tekken team found one way around the pesky OCD of not wanting to spend your once-a-round Heat: Heat Engage triggers Heat state for longer, and is triggered by doing key moves in your character’s arsenal. Basically, if you’re playing your characters right, you’re going to be in Heat regardless of your opinions on spending resources.
Some characters’ Heat states are definitely terrifying- Jun does all her special moves without consuming her health, and King gains armor on his Jaguar Dash, effectively turning him into Potemkin from Guilty Gear. Heat State just raises the stakes dramatically, since as the defending player your best bet of getting your opponent out of Heat State is to pop your own.
Worse still, all players can hold forward entering Heat to basically launch their characters forwards after activating Heat Engage. If you thought the Jaguar luchador lighting himself on fire 10 feet away was scary, you’re not prepared for him lunging towards you.
It’s really in these moments that you see just how much the Tekken team want you to get in there- running out the clock is absolutely discouraged, since Heat will stop draining if you decide to stall getting up after a knockdown, or during long grab animations. On top of that, players in Heat have so many options to help in their offense- Heat Dash is a technical tool to help extend your pressure, closing the gap once players get pushed too far away. Heat Smash replaces the Rage Drive of yore, consuming the entirety of your Heat gauge on a big special move.
Dealing With The Heat
So there you are. The Jaguar man is now on fire, he’s already been wailing on you and he’s got heat to spare. What can you do about it if laming it out’s not a solution?
In the most Tekken way possible, that answer is simply get in there and outplay them. While popping your own Heat is absolutely recommended, it’s not necessary- Tekken 8 has a lot of defensive mechanics from 7, including things like Low Parries and moves like Power Crushes. Rather than hop in smashing every button like a concert pianist discovering jazz, it’s up to you to knowledge check your opponent if you want to get them out of Heat.
In my own time with the game it was fairly straight forward- since we were all new to Tekken 8 it’s pretty easy to guess that people are going to go for strikes, so the Power Crush becomes a great tool for interrupting pressure and making them waste their Heat. Once people realize that, though, it gets messy. That’s where the mindgames start.
It works especially well on already aggressive characters- Jack-8’s kit is already built to be infuriatingly pressing, and the idea that he can Heat Engage after calling you out with his counter fills with you with the same kind of dread as the words “Credit Card statement”.
Of course, Heat isn’t entirely just a license to Bunga either- Heat Engagers can’t be done mid-juggle, meaning that if you want access to a bigger Heat bar you’re going to have to commit to it. I like that the punishment for guessing wrong isn’t losing your heat- but potentially giving your opponent a window to Heat Engage means you have to be prepared for whatever King has cooking, and the reality that it might cost you the round.
It’s not all about Heat, though. The Rage system is also back, triggering when you’re low on health. I mean, it’s nothing too grand- I’ve always felt it’s something Tekken needs to give you a fighting chance, rather than some sort of extension of the game’s ethos. If you walk away from a losing guess with a bit of your health left, you should be rewarded with a damage buff to get your runback.
I gotta praise the team on the new Rage Arts though, they’re an absolute spectacle. Kazuya’s in particular screams the most anime, having the Astral Finish-style fade to white so you fully comprehend how badly you messed up against a man with severe daddy issues. In general everyone just looks so much better, with little flourishes on their animation that make the cast feel so much more expressive.
There’s also the game’s Special Style- this is an easy-to-use control mode, meant to both help new players compete and learning players figure out new characters. By splitting Tekken into its 4 main components- special moves, juggles, lows and a power crush, you basically leave it to the player to think out how to best use them.
I should note one funny quirk of the Special Style- it’s actually toggled mid-game, so a truly scummy player could hypothetically swap between them for fast special moves if they so desired. That being said, if you’re the type who can do that mid-combo, you’re probably good enough at the game that features like a 1-button Electric probably won’t mean all that much to you.
Get Ready For The Next Battle
As someone who was always wary of Tekken 7’s overly defensive play Tekken 8 couldn’t have had a stronger showing. It’s got pomp and circumstance, and the aggression-based combat only adds to the overall fun. It’s not like 8 has completely abandoned the Tekken identity- every measure to make it more aggressive is done in a way that fits the series’ ethos of precision and commitment.
It’s a totally different beast to 7, but in a way that feels refreshing rather than alienating- and the fact that it looks so good on the new engine means it’s sure to grab a lot of eyes when it eventually launches. Admittedly, there might be the threat of over-aggression- a button mashing Jack-8 is more likely to win rounds than a new Nina still feeling out the character by playing cautiously. But I feel like that’s always been every fighting game’s launch, and it’ll always even out as players develop their own styles.
Maybe it’s just my own love of hyper/anime fighters, but Tekken 8 looks absolutely enthralling- I can’t wait for even more dramatic announcer calls and flashy trailers.
Hands-on access provided by Bandai Namco Entertainment SEA