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Opinion: Tekken 8 Breaks Too Many Tekken Rules

Patrick Bonifacio

Bae “Knee” Jae-min, perhaps the greatest Tekken player of all time, recently tweeted out his feelings on Tekken 8. The post has garnered more than 1.5 million views at the time of writing, and has stirred a huge wave of discussion in the Tekken community about the game’s overall design.

Tekken 8 Key Art

via Bandai Namco

In the tweet itself, Knee called the aggressive, mixup-heavy focus of Tekken 8 “an absurdity” [sic], alluding to the design being geared more towards putting your opponent in 50/50 situations. Nothing encapsulates this design philosophy more than the Heat system, which is loaded with plus-on-block options that force people to guess for their lives.

Naturally, as someone that has been playing Tekken games since the first one in 1994, Knee is an old head — one who made his career as a professional player on old fashioned Tekken fundamentals. Movement, spacing, whiff punishment, and overall defensive play were the hallmarks of past Tekken games, so it’s understandable that Knee doesn’t appreciate the aggressive nature of Tekken 8.

Indeed, the community at large has pointed to the Heat system as the biggest culprit here. But honestly, I don’t think the canned 50/50s from Heat tell the whole story of why some pros and older Tekken players aren’t too happy with the way Tekken 8 plays. In fact, I think we’re missing the bigger picture by looking solely at Heat in this regard.

In actuality, Tekken 8 just breaks too many of the “rules” of Tekken — even when you set aside and ignore Heat entirely.

The Rules of Tekken

Like with any competitive video game, Tekken as a franchise has always played by a set of unwritten “rules” that govern what players can and can’t do with their characters and their respective movesets. These rules, although not explicitly stated by the game in any sort of tutorial or manual, keep the playing field even despite the asymmetrical balance that naturally comes with making fighting games.

Practically every modern Tekken title, those being any mainline game released after Tekken 3, except for Tekken 4 which was a very experimental title that didn’t see much competitive play, follows these rules. These dictate the balance of risk versus reward in Tekken, and have done so for 25 years now.

These rules include, but aren’t limited to, the following:

  • Nearly all moves in the game should be 10 frames at best, with massive weaknesses tied to anything faster than this (e.g. Yoshimitsu’s Flash having a tiny hitbox)
  • Armored moves (power crushes) should be at least -12 on block, unless they’re highs
  • Heavily plus-on-block mids, such as Azucena’s WR 3,2 or Dragunov’s WR 2, should generally be avoidable by sidestepping
  • The above should also apply to safe mids with a lot of pushback on block (e.g. Jin’s Demon Paw)
  • Mid attacks with lateral tracking should not be plus on block, forcing the user to give up their turn when blocked
  • Low pokes should be at least -11 on block
  • Low launchers/knockdown lows that are too fast for the average human reaction time should be launch punishable on block (e.g. Devil Jin’s Hell Sweep)
  • Throws should not have any lateral tracking

The core gameplay of the entire franchise revolves around these tenets. Fighting games in general are all about risk and reward, but few games out there need this balance to be almost ironclad more than Tekken. Given that there are several different offensive options in the game, which aren’t covered by a common defensive option (e.g. crouch blocking in 2D fighting games), there needs to be an element of risk in just about anything players do.

And if not, the corresponding reward should at the very least match the risk involved.

Egregious Violations

Unfortunately, Tekken 8 in particular is very guilty of breaking these fundamental rules. We mentioned Azucena’s WR 3,2 in the list of rules Tekken plays by, but the dev team is still wrestling with how to make it follow the third rule stated above. Before any nerfs were applied to it, it was just extremely oppressive, locking down even the best players in the world on a good day.

Worse still, it was entirely risk-free prior to the nerfs in the two most recent patches. There just wasn’t any reason to not throw it out in neutral situations, because it was just that good. It’s been toned down ever since, but the point is that this isn’t the only thing that violates the usual bylaws.

Adjacent to this is the number of safe power crush moves in Tekken 8. Some of them are even Heat Engagers, which is about the worst offender of the risk/reward balance I’ve ever seen in my nearly 20 years of playing Tekken games. It doesn’t seem to be enough that these moves blow through an opponent’s offense, but they also have to be safe and return the health you lose in the trade when they land.

Power crushes used to be balanced by the fact that they were either punishable on block or cost health when you armor through moves, so what gives?

Finally, tracking being this good overall is probably the biggest problem. What even is the point of allowing three dimensional movement in a fighting game if so many moves will just hit you regardless? Combine this with the fact that most Heat Smashes that are advantageous on block also contain tracking, and you’ve got nigh inescapable 50/50 situations.

Improving the lateral movement from Tekken 7 isn’t going to do much if the tracking is this busted in Tekken 8. Tracking as a whole really needs to get looked at in order to allow movement to shine through — as it should in a 3D fighting game!

Preserving the Legacy

Now, I will admit that this is not the first time that a Tekken game has broken its own rules. Akuma’s time as a guest character on Tekken 7 was a huge transgression in this regard. The fact that he could approach from the air (as Street Fighter characters tend to do) in a game without dedicated anti-air moves was bad enough, but there was also his ability to launch the entire cast with a 10-frame jab.

Tekken 5: Dark Resurrection, one of the most beloved and revered entries in the series, allowed characters like Bryan to have 8-frame jabs, two frames faster than what would otherwise be acceptable today. Overall, it’s clear that the devs have never been afraid to sneak in a few oddities here and there — but they’ve also only done this sparingly over the years.

Tekken 8 is a different story. There are just far too many things that favor the attacking player right now, even without taking the Heat system into account. Sure, Tekken 8 was never meant to just be Tekken 7.5, but the series has always prided itself in preserving its legacy mechanics and old tendencies.

Making an effort to tip the game towards faster paced gameplay is all well and good — but if it comes at the cost of breaking too many established rules at once, Tekken 8 may as well be from a different franchise entirely. The dev team seems to have forgotten the basic statutes of their own game, which has led to the pros and a portion of the community not liking what they’re seeing.

Hope is Not Yet Lost

It’s not like it’s impossible to strike a balance between new, engaging mechanics, and maintaining the usual Tekken gameplay. I for one think that Heat is actually really fun to play with, and adds a welcome dimension to the game that has the potential to become memorable for years to come. But right now, both Heat and the other aspects we’ve mentioned above encourage too many coinflips that favor the attacking player far too much.

And with Evo Japan coming up on April 27th, it’s almost crazy to think that the game will be played for cash prizes in its current state in just a week’s time.

It’s not enough to just make the game fun to watch; it has to also be not overly frustrating to play as it is now. The spectacle of Tekken 8 will only last for so long, but the game needs to not alienate its fans if it wants to maintain its playerbase for years to come.

Fortunately, there’s still some time for the dev team to reevaluate their design philosophy and really decide whether or not it’s good for the game’s long term health. After all, Tekken as a franchise has always had teething problems with the first release of a new game, so the developers will at least be familiar with this situation. Just look at Tekken 7’s first iteration; it was horrifically broken in many places. The Fated Retribution update fixed a lot of what was wrong with the initial version, and continued to see balance patches after the console release.

Thus, it’s not out of the cards for them to eventually figure out the sweet spot for Tekken 8’s game design and balance. As someone that lived through the era of standalone updates for Tekken titles, I’m willing to give Harada and the rest of the crew the benefit of the doubt and the time necessary for them to fix the game’s many problems.

The good news is that a lot of the issues can be fixed simply by adhering to what makes sense. The game can keep Heat; just fix the crazy tracking, tone down the frame advantage of Heat Smashes, Heat Dashes, and Heat Bursts, and for the love of Jun Kazama, don’t allow characters to have safe Heat Engagers with armor.

I’m not saying we need to go back to the Korean Backdash festivals of Tekken 7 in its twilight years. Even I didn’t like seeing pros just running away forever as soon as they have a good life lead. All I (as well as the playerbase as a whole) ask is for Tekken 8 to be more like Tekken.