TEKKEN 8 (Xbox Series X) Review

Feel the Heat

Tekken 8 (Xbox Series X) Review
Tekken 8 (Xbox Series X) Review
Brutalist Review Style (Version 2)

As a fan of fighting games, I’m amazed to see how TEKKEN 8 keeps pushing to set a new standard in the fighting game genre. If you consider yourself either a member of the Fighting Game Community (FGC) or even just a gamer with a casual interest in fighting games, 2023 was a glorious year for the genre, with the latest installments for two of the longest-running fighting game franchises in history, Street Fighter 6 and Mortal Kombat 1 launching to critical acclaim on consoles and PC within 6 months of each other.

But while many of us binged on the ridiculous monster factory that is the former game’s World Tour mode and relished the tongue-in-cheek ultraviolence of the latter’s fatalities, in the back of our minds, we all knew that a far more serious contender was still waiting in the wings, poised to eat both of its competitor’s lunches in a few short months.

Fast-forward to 2024, and TEKKEN 8 has finally arrived, brimming with features designed to delight veteran players, casual gamers, and beginners alike. The game boasts one of the franchise’s largest starting rosters ever, with 32 fighters—just behind TEKKEN 7‘s 37 and TEKKEN 6‘s 41. It includes two lengthy campaign modes, an arcade mode with unique CG endings for each fighter, and a comprehensive practice and replay mode, and all visuals have been completely rebuilt in Unreal Engine 5.

Tekken 8 (Xbox Series X) Review

Additionally, TEKKEN 8 features rollback netcode and numerous quality-of-life improvements that outshine its competitors. The real question isn’t whether TEKKEN 8 is worth playing but rather if its array of enticing features will be sufficient to maintain the interest of returning players like myself.

“The story is bonkers, of course; pure Tekken family drama at its finest.”

TEKKEN 8’s main campaign, “The Dark Awakens,” continues the saga of the Mishima bloodline, which following the death of family patriarch Heihachi Mishima at the hands of his son, Kazuya, now centers on the inevitable confrontation between Kazuya and his own son, Jin, in their seemingly endless battle to possess and/or control the destructive “Devil Gene” that runs through their family’s shared blood.  With Jin re-emerging from the shadows after being largely incapacitated at the conclusion of TEKKEN 6, TEKKEN 8 sets the stage for the final battle between father, son, and their respective corporate armies, Mishima Zaibatsu and G Corporation.

Predictably, as the world’s most powerful martial artist and owner of a private military corporation, Kazuya has raised the stakes by announcing a new King of Iron Fist Tournament. He has ensured maximum participation by threatening to “wipe any nation from the earth that fails to prove their might.” This declaration draws all the surviving TEKKEN series regulars back into the fray, including Jin, who is grappling with performance issues despite training hard to return to top form. The tournament also attracts intriguing newcomers, such as Azucena, the energetic, caffeine-addicted queen of a multi-million dollar Peruvian coffee conglomerate, and Reina, a graduate of Mishima Polytech who shares a more than subtle connection with the Mishima family.

Tekken 8 (Xbox Series X) Review

The story is bonkers, of course; pure TEKKEN family drama at its finest. Obviously, one should expect no less, given the game’s sizeable launch roster (with more on the way via DLC) and the complicated web of relationships that have been woven between the majority of the franchise’s characters over the course of 30 years. TEKKEN 8 is decidedly Jin’s redemption story (veteran fans may recall he was a very naughty boy in TEKKEN 6), and while players will largely be controlling him through most of the proceedings, there are also portions of the game where they will control or encounter several of the other characters in both traditional matches and other unexpected situations.

Like with most fighting game campaigns, there’s no way that TEKKEN 8 can give every character equal time in the spotlight, but in my opinion the writing team clearly did their best, and fans should hopefully be happy with the result, especially with its explosive ending. Meanwhile, all of TEKKEN 8’s other modes (Arcade Quest, VS, TEKKEN Ball, etc.) unlock the entire roster from the start, so players can simply pick any character of their choice and start playing.

The depth and variety of the launch lineup alone ensures that even the most grizzled of TEKKEN aficionados will have at least a handful of new and returning characters that they’ll want to main, while casuals and newcomers will be delightfully overwhelmed with choice.

Tekken 8 (Xbox Series X) Review

Thankfully, the changes made to TEKKEN’s fight mechanics since TEKKEN 7 are far easier to get one’s head around. Compared to its predecessor, TEKKEN 8 is heavily focused on aggression and provides new tools to empower players to relentlessly take the fight to their opponent, a stark contrast from the more cautious foot games and “Korean backdash” stand-offs that currently characterize a typical TEKKEN 7 eSports match. The first of these additions is the “Heat” system, which adds a “Heat Timer” gauge below the player’s health bar that enables players to enter a “Heat State” once per round in order to execute a variety of special moves and/or combos.

“This installment is hands-down the most welcoming and inclusive TEKKEN game for lapsed players and beginners.”

Once activated by pressing (Right Punch + Left Kick), the Heat Timer lasts for around 10 seconds and then disappears until the next round. The simple act of entering Heat State (a.k.a. Heat Burst) doubles as a special move in itself that not only can be combo-strung or cancelled into or out of, but can also damage a vulnerable opponent within range and kickstart a number of powerful, Heat State-specific combos unique to that character. Even if not performing one of these bespoke combos, characters in Heat State will glow with a purple aura, deal more damage, and gain a slight frame advantage over their opponent for the timer’s duration.

Then there are Heat Engagers, which are special moves specific to each character that will automatically put the character in Heat State, knock away any opponent it connects with and initiate a player dash towards the opponent, encouraging attackers to keep up the pressure.

Tekken 8 (Xbox Series X) Review

But there’s much more:  When in Heat State, a character’s Heat Timer will freeze whenever a player manages to string together a series of attacks into a combo (or conversely receives combo damage from an opponent in Heat State), potentially extending the timer well beyond the 12-second standard. Players can also execute a “Heat Smash” while in Heat State that will unleash a powerful, character-specific auto-combo that will deal significant damage but immediately consumes the Heat Timer in exchange. Thus, the Heat Smash can be used as a low-risk, moderate-reward one-shot attack but may not grant as much damage as a riskier Heat State combo would offer.

On a related note, it bears mentioning that normal heavy attacks and Heat State attacks now deal chip damage even if successfully blocked or not, and the damage sustained from such attacks qualify for health regeneration, meaning that players can regain that siphoned energy by successfully landing attacks against their aggressor within a limited time window. As a consequence, a player who is constantly hunkered down on defence can only afford to turtle for so long against a persistent attacker. Conversely, a player on the brink of death now has much better odds of mounting an offence, battling back, and winning against a much healthier opponent if they know how to put a few combos together in Heat State.

Finally, there is the Rage Art, a flashy, ultimate finisher unique to each fighter that becomes available once per round when a player’s health drops below 25 percent, and their health bar becomes engulfed in red flames. Activated via a single button press, Rage Arts can be dodged or blocked just like any other special move, but if they connect, they can wipe out up to an entire quarter of an opponent’s health bar, making the them the ideal showstopper (or desperation move) against an opponent that’s low on health, or the much-needed equalizer to get a player back in the game. Just be sure not to whiff it!

Tekken 8 (Xbox Series X) Review

While all of the above gameplay mechanics may seem intimidating, what’s most exciting and encouraging to me about TEKKEN 8 is that this installment is hands-down the most welcoming and inclusive Tekken game that Bandai Namco has ever created, both for lapsed players like myself as well as complete beginners. This is in large part thanks to the game’s other campaign mode: Arcade Quest.

In this deliberately chibi-style adventure mode, players assume the role of a TEKKEN 8 coin-op-obsessed youth who befriends a group of like-minded kids at Gong, the local arcade. Together they embark on a quest to dominate the upcoming Tekken World Tour competition, visiting each arcade in the region and overcoming anyone that stands in their way.

Your closest friend, Max, is an expert on all things TEKKEN 8, and he enthusiastically coaches you through helpful tutorials that teach players step by-step all the basics that they need to know, from basic button layout and character movement to all of TEKKEN 8’s new systems, such Heat and Rage Arts. His explanations are very well scripted and get the point across without confusing players with excessive FGC vocabulary and concepts. The pacing and presentation is excellent; it’s almost like having a guide take you on a stroll through the command list but then actually explain what the moves are and how you should use them.

Tekken 8 (Xbox Series X) Review

Best of all, since Arcade Quest is meant to be an adventure, it wisely breaks up the tutorials into bite-sized chunks that players can easily digest, and then, in between lessons, it cuts them loose in the arcade to freely practice what they’ve learned. While in-match, Max is your wingman, complimenting you when you perform well, telling you not to worry when you lose, and at times providing helpful tips or reminders to help improve your performance.

Of course, if you prefer that Max doesn’t make comments during battles, you can toggle those off, but you can also toggle on helpful aids like a Recommended Moves list or “Special Style” if you prefer to use the game’s control scheme made for beginners, similar to Street Fighter 6’s Modern Controls.

Experienced players who wish to forgo the niceties of Arcade Quest and dive straight into TEKKEN 8’s deep end, however, will be pleased to know that just about every mode, gameplay tweak and customization option geared towards improving their skills and making the TEKKEN 8 experience their own is all there at one’s fingertips, just beneath the surface.

Tekken 8 (Xbox Series X) Review

For instance, players can view replays from their recent battles, and if enabled the computer will freeze gameplay and provide pointers at the exact moment they are needed, such as “This attack can be countered with combo “X,” or “You should punish this missed attack with “Y.” The option to practice said moves immediately are also provided, allowing the player to instantly switch over to Practice Mode to learn the move, and then leap right back into Replay Mode to continue watching more replays when done.

Players can also challenge AI Ghost versions of actual players as well as their own. Namco Bandai boasts that these are the most advanced AI Ghosts to appear in a fighting game to date, and they are constantly learning and adapting in order to mimic the fighting style of their human counterparts as accurately as possible. As a player’s skill and routines improve, so will one’s Ghost, and players will have one individual Ghost for each character that they play.

While players can challenge Ghosts offline in Super Ghost Mode and Arcade Battle Mode, in Online Mode players who don’t necessarily want the sweaty competition of facing a live opponent directly can walk up to any player online and challenge their Ghost instead.

Tekken 8 (Xbox Series X) Review

Facts: During the limited online session that I participated in, I had the pleasure of stumbling across the Avatar of a very popular fighting game YouTuber who was seated at one of the virtual cabinets in the Arcade Lounge already engaged in a match (his name ends in “DOOD”). I managed to narrowly defeat his Ghost in the same way, though, to be fair, I chose to face off against his weakest Ghost to better my chances. Still, it was a truly cool and surreal experience.

“TEKKEN 8 is by far the best TEKKEN I’ve played, filled with characters, spectacle, content, and QOL features.”

I could write a whole other review about how good TEKKEN 8 looks, sounds, and feels to play, but since that’s not an option, I’ll keep it short. First off, the music absolutely slaps, with the best mix of orchestral, electronic, and modern Japanese butt-rock I’ve had the privilege of enjoying since the likes of TEKKEN 3, 4 and 5.

There are some stinkers in there, like Azucena’s and Lee Chaolan’s stage music, but they are more than compensated for by the game’s built-in Jukebox, which literally contains almost EVERY SONG FROM EVERY TEKKEN GAME EVER MADE. Players can thus create their own playlists and swap out the original songs for any other song in the Jukebox. This includes stage music, stage climax music, character select screens, etc.

Tekken 8 (Xbox Series X) Review

At first glance, TEKKEN 8’s Unreal 5 visuals don’t initially appear to be vastly different than its predecessor because, like the pairing of TEKKEN 7 and Unreal Engine 4 before it, the underlying gameplay mechanics are still based on Bandai Namco’s proprietary code and scripting and share many of the same animation routines. But take a closer look, and you’ll notice countless improvements: realistic lighting, smoother animation, detailed facial expressions, fine texture details on the skin, improved muscle definition, dazzling particle effects from fire and explosions, mud splatter, and convincing water that beads on the surface of the skin while soaking into one’s clothes. Once you’ve noticed these differences, there’s no going back to Tekken 7.

“TEKKEN 8 set a new standard in the fighting game genre.”

Character customization in TEKKEN 8 is a longtime series mainstay, and the variety of items you can unlock and dress up your characters with are off the hook, as always. I’m currently mining Raven but dressed as Marvel’s Blade with a crow companion. It’s “fire,” as the kids say.

Finally, TEKKEN 8 plays like a dream on a dedicated fighting stick once getting accustomed to the feel, but I’ve also played the game on a fightpad as well as the standard Xbox Series controller and found those to be just as effective in their own ways. Regardless of which input method you choose, putting in a reasonable amount of time in Arcade Quest and/or Practice will be invaluable in getting a feel for the game and inputting precise commands.

Tekken 8 (Xbox Series X) Review

As for online, TEKKEN 8’s rollback netcode for online play isn’t perfect, but I never encountered a crash, and any hiccups or slowdown that occurred was brief and wasn’t detrimental to match outcomes. The online session was but a taste; and I’m eagerly looking forward to when the full servers go live.

In summing up how I feel about TEKKEN 8, I’m reminded of my first evening of playing Arcade Quest, where you meet up with Max and are introduced to the rest of the

Gong crew. Each character loves playing TEKKEN for a different reason. Max enjoys sharing techniques and tips. Beat likes pulling off fancy moves, win or lose. Prim likes switching up her character’s look with the customization feature and won’t stop talking about it. Nick only cares about building his rank. Shortly after that, in response to a hater, Max declares, “TEKKEN is about playing however you want!” Yes, it’s a blatant commercial preaching to the converted, but Tekken 8 is filled with so many characters, spectacle, content and QOL features that I can’t disagree.

TEKKEN 8 is by far the best TEKKEN I’ve played, and with all the game has to offer I don’t plan on bailing on it anytime soon. I happily recommend it to anyone.

Final Thoughts

Khari Taylor
Khari Taylor

This post may contain affiliate links. If you use these links to buy something, CGMagazine may earn a commission. However, please know this does not impact our reviews or opinions in any way. See our ethics statement.

<div data-conversation-spotlight></div>