Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Favourite Games/Series' #2 - Tekken (Series)

The first time I was exposed to Tekken was after purchasing the '2 Games' double pack of Soul Blade and Tekken 2 for the PS1. I remember buying this set purely for Soul Blade alone; the fact that Tekken 2 was also in the box wasn't really a factor. Soul Blade would go on to get a lot of play and enter into my list of all-time favourite fighting games but I also gave Tekken 2 a go out of interest (I had heard of the Tekken name numerous times before) and discovered another favourite! Proof that the sometimes forgotten '2 Games' budget packs for the PS1 really were smashing value. Here was a slower-paced fighter with a unique control method (each limb had it's own face button on the pad) and some captivating preset combos as well as the scope for experimentation. What really sucked me in however were the characters, the beautiful stages and that incredible arranged soundtrack.

I spent a long time discovering my favourite characters to use and unlocking all of the hidden ones even if it meant forcing my way through the arcade mode with those that I didn't enjoy using. In the end, I came to favour Paul, Nina and the mighty Kazuya but also the awesome 'Devil' and his 'Angel' counterpart. Each blow made such an impact, enhanced by the memorable sound effects and visual effects (including the staple, crackling electrical effect) and then there were the brutal holds with the snapping, crunching noises. Nina was the queen of ridiculously elaborate (and painful-looking!) hold combos but who could forget King's equally nasty grapples, Paul's explosive charge punch or Kazuya's devastating 10-hit combos and rising uppercut? This was one amazing game and the distinct themes for each character as well as the basic but attractive backdrops completed a satisfying package. If you ask me, the series has never again managed to present such a diverse and atmospheric OST and that's a real shame.

My curiosity for the rest of the series was sufficiently piqued by this point and so I picked up the original Tekken from the pre-owned racks in Game and made Tekken 3 one of my first ever ebay purchases shortly after signing up to the site. The original game was very hard to go back to after starting with the sequel but it was easy to see how appealing it would have been for the Playstation's launch line-up as well as in the arcades. It looked better than Virtua Fighter for sure but the difficulty was much higher with the CPU an expert at blocking The music didn't quite match the heady heights of Tekken 2 either though the PS1 version does include some lovely arrangements which went on to feature in the sequel as the mid-boss themes. Tekken was an important game but it is also one that I wouldn't really have a reason to return to today.
Tekken 2's PAL disc wasn't in keeping with the game!
The intro video for Tekken 2 was impressive for its time.
You don't get stages or themes like this anymore in Tekken...

Tekken 3 however was a completely different story. In many respects, it represented an enormous step up from its predecessor and certainly pushed the Playstation to the limit where replicating an arcade game in the home was concerned. Similar to Capcom's Street Fighter III, the game was moved many years into the future and the cast overhauled. Several popular characters such as Nina, Paul and Yoshimitsu were wisely retained but the roster was largely new with many characters the direct descendants or disciples of those who had been written out (for now) of the Tekken storyline. Graphically, Tekken 3 was a massive improvement over the somewhat angular and blocky Tekken 2 and the gameplay was much faster too with new moves, new combos and an increased emphasis on 'juggling' an opponent in the air with combos. My exposure to Tekken 3 began with a short demo on one of the 'Demo 1' discs (bundled with Playstation consoles and routinely revised over the years) which only granted access to Ling Xiayou and Eddy Gordo. I distinctly recall playing this a lot without really knowing what I was doing and this was well before I picked up Tekken 2. The full game didn't disappoint and aside from me missing the axed characters, I played Tekken 3 to death and would today still rank it as my second favourite in the series behind Tekken 2. The all-important music was notably grittier and more modern this time around but it was still very good despite the arcade BGM appealing to me a lot more this time than the arranged BGM for the home.

It took me a while to continue with the series after Tekken 3 as I opted for Nintendo's Gamecube over the PS2 and by the time I got hold of Sony's second console, I had already missed all three Tekken games released on it! I soon rectified this however and this time, played them in the order of release. You'll notice that the PS2 version of Tekken Tag Tournament doesn't feature in my collection photo at the start of this post and that's because I've long since swapped it for the HD remaster contained within Tekken Hybrid on the PS3. Once you've played the remaster, it's impossible to return to the horrendously slow PAL version that we were lumped with on the PS2 but of course, at the time, I knew no better and so I enjoyed Tag for what it was. The most appealing factor was that the roster was a wet dream for Tekken fans, bringing together all of the characters from the three PS1 installments. Namco were anal enough to include both versions of Law, various Jack models and the like so nobody was left out (aside from the original version of Jack) and I loved it. As much as Tekken 3 enthralled me, I had missed Devil, Kazuya and the numerous mid-game boss characters such as Bruce, Ganryu and Armour King who had all been omitted from Tekken 3. The tag gameplay worked really well and opened up a lot of new combo possibilities. My major gripe was with the music which I didn't really enjoy at first. Over time it grew on me but it doesn't hold a candle to the PS1 soundtracks. Notable high points however were Yoshimitsu's theme, the school stage theme (which has been mixed several times for newer sequels over the years) and Lei Wulong's theme. All said and done, Tekken Tag was a fitting tribute to the original trilogy before the next main game.
This cloud-topped stage in Tekken 3 was a highlight for me.
This select screen was amazing for the time. Namco knew fan service.

Tekken 4 is an odd game because it was by no means a bad sequel and yet it is probably one of the least memorable games in the series, certainly one that I personally rarely return to. The character roster picks-up where Tekken 3 left off but a few familiar faces made a welcome return including Kazuya Mishima and Lee Chaolan (under the guise of 'Violet'). Everything was a huge step-up from Tag and the game certainly didn't disappoint but with older installments offering greater nostalgia value and Tekken 5 being superior in every way, Tekken 4 finds itself in limbo. That's my personal opinion anyway. The OST was - again - weaker but included some notable tracks that would become some of my favourites such as the airport stage and the misty science lab stage.

Tekken 5 however was the game that would lay out the blueprint for all subsequent Tekken games. Graphically it was incredible and the game shifted along at a very fast pace with more emphasis on big combos and juggling than ever before. Play any Tekken after this one and you can see that Tekken 5 was where the modern Tekken really started. Again, the OST didn't interest me too much but there were enough standout tracks that I still listen to today. The roster for the home version was particularly impressive because Namco brought back a lot of characters who had been absent since Tekken 3 (Tag not withstanding) and they did of course have a lot of new moves and nuances for veterans to learn. This was also the point in time at which some people would accuse Namco of over-bloating the select screen, something which only filled up and filled up some more with subsequent releases. Personally I prefer to have all the familiar faces there even if I don't use them all but I can see the appeal of a smaller Tekken 3-style roster. All in all, Tekken 5 was the best game in the series' in a long time, certainly boasting some of the finest fighting action of the era and its quality is proven by how easy and enjoyable it is to return to even today after experiencing flashier and faster sequels. Is it one of my favourites? No but it is a high point for sure and I hammered the game for months. The intro movie is also really special and hasn't been topped by later games.

The cast had never looked better than in Tekken 5.

What followed the superb Tekken 5 was - for me at least - a bit of a mixed bag. First I played the Gameboy Advance version, simply titled Tekken Advance. Now, nobody should have been expecting much from this given the host hardware's abilities (or lack of) but it was actually a really good game based on Tekken 3. The combos were still all there, the game played well (even if it felt more 2D than 3D) and they even had some of Tekken 3's music squeezed in there which I personally considered to be witchcraft of the positive variety. It was a good game for what it was and while I probably wouldn't be in a rush to return to it now, it was worth seeing.

The next game in the series I played was Tekken: Dark Resurrection on the PSP. Essentially a remixed and expanded version of Tekken 5, this quickly became one of my favourites within the series. Between this and Soul Calibur Broken Destiny, Namco made a name for itself on the PSP with beautiful 3D fighters that were so close to their PS2 bigger brothers. Stages were revamped (some night stages becoming daytime ones and vice versa), a new version of the OST was introduced and two new characters made their debut: the cold, taciturn Russian, Dragunov and the leggy blonde, Lili. Armour King also made his return in Dark Resurrection which was much appreciated. It was a superb game, a fantastic handheld achievement and could only have been improved by being on the big screen. Eventually it made to the PS3 as a digital download with online play.

By this point, the teaser trailers and information drip-feed for Tekken 6 had fans chomping at the bit for the first HD installment on the (then) latest consoles. Once again, I was late to the party but when I finally got to play Tekken 6, I had never been so disappointed in a Tekken game. The fighting and graphics were undoubtedly the best yet but everything else packaged around the core was underwhelming. Stages and music were forgettable, the plot had become ridiculous, loading times were intrusive and the bosses were the worst yet, putting Tekken 5's Jinpachi to shame. Customisation returned but items from the in-game shop were simply too expensive and took far too long to earn. Tekken 6 was the first Tekken that had me worried for the state of the series and I ended up selling it not long after playing it, something I traditionally never did with Tekken games. It reviewed well at the time and the arcade release went on to be played for many years in tournaments but for me, there was nothing interesting about the sixth numbered installment and even now as I type this, I struggle to remember anything positive or endearing about the game. I bought the more expensive arcade stick bundle as well which rubbed extra salt into an unwelcome wound!

Fortunately, Tekken Tag Tournament 2 came along and absolutely blew me away. Never did I expect a modern Tekken to be so good and instantly earn itself a place at the top table next to my other favourites - Tekken 2, Tekken 3 and Tekken Dark Resurrection. This was a love letter to fans of  the series, an immense celebration of the entire series up to this point and nowhere else was this more evident than on the character select screen where practically everybody (aside from the first few Jack's, Tetsujin and Devil) was present. Namco went to great lengths to include such characters as Tiger Jackson, Dr. B, Angel, the two Ogres, Violet, Unknown and Miharu. They brought back Jun Kazama, Michelle Chang, Forest Law and Combot amongst others. There were numerous special touches too such as several batches of free DLC, Kazuya's ability to morph into 'Devil' and 'Tekken Tunes', a mode that allows the player to download the older OST's and customise Tag 2's stages with music from the past. Customisation was better than ever, online worked well and the whole package must surely rank as one of the best examples of successful fan service ever produced for a videogame. I played this game for so, so, so long and can't recommend it enough to people who have followed Tekken from the beginning.

Select screens really don't come much more exhaustive (and epic) than this!

So what next? Well Tekken 7 is shaping up to be a very good game and after the brilliance of Tag 2, I'm willing to trust Namco again. Will it be as good as Tag 2? I don't think so, purely because the character roster simply won't be as expansive so on that front, it won't be able to compete. Tekken moves on however and we will always have Tag 2 and the older games to go back to when we fancy a return to the 'good old days'. Then there is mysterious Tekken X Street Fighter which promises to be Namco's version of the crossover featuring Capcom's finest fighting within a Tekken-styled game. I'm absolutely drooling for this one and I can't wait to see what Ryu and co. will look like let alone play like. How will Namco work projectiles into the Tekken system? What new moves will the Capcom characters have? All questions that will surely be answered in time...

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