Having spent my whole weekend playing the Closed Network Test for Tekken 8, it’s pretty easy to see Harada’s vision for the popular fighting game series, and it revolves around Heat. And it’s one not defined by Korean backdashes, but by the crowd-pleasing nature of running up to someone and punching them in the face before exploding into a cloud of white flames.
There’s been some reworks to Tekken 8 and its heat system since our last hands-on with the game, and they’re all pointing in the same direction: one that makes for a much more intense experience for both viewers and players.
So the main thing you’d notice with Tekken 8’s UI is they’ve done away with the little pips of “Heat Energy”. These were originally meant to represent options you could do while in the game’s Heat mode- doing either a Heat Dash Cancel to extend your combos or ending Heat Mode with a powerful Heat Smash.
The result though is an overwhelming focus on offense. Rather than Heat just being this overall power-up state, your opponent’s activation of it feels much more like a punishment for guessing wrong. I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve snatched a round just on this principle alone- combined with the damage boost of Rage state you can really haunt someone’s nightmares.
The best part is, using Heat Dash or Heat Smash immediately ends Heat- so rather than having a free-for-all mashing mode, you’ll still want to lab out the most effective ways to use your Heat, lest you give up a big opportunity for nothing. It’s the most Tekken thing I can think of- a huge chance to do big damage backed by hours of labbing in solitude.
If you’re low on health, don’t be surprised to have your opponent pop their heat to finish you off even faster. Admittedly not every character’s Heat bonuses feel equal- King turning into a gold-standard grappler that steals back Heat gauge every time he grabs you is a lot stronger than characters like Lili, who gain one new move for her stance.
Learning To Be Aggressive
Still, it’s reinforced by other great decisions as well- backdashing isn’t nearly as powerful as it was in Tekken 7, and many characters feel like they’ve had their kits reworked so that even the most defensive playstyles will still require you to move around and get in to make the most of them. That’s nothing compared to the characters who were already offense-focused, though- Lars straight-up doesn’t feel like he belongs in Tekken, zipping around like an Anime character with his nasty mixups while Paul has instead decided he’s playing Samurai Shodown, obliterating chunks off your health every time you make a mistake.
Admittedly this can be quite discouraging for newer players- just like many Tekken games of yore, without a playgroup of your own level you’re probably going to feel lost, being bounced off floors and walls like the community basketball. Tekken is a particularly studious fighting game, and you’ll still need a pretty strong grasp of your fundamentals if you’re going to get anywhere in Tekken 8.
The Learning Curve
Unlike Tekken 7’s more esoteric learning, 8 at least gives you a bit more of a standardized plan. Get your hits in, activate Heat, finish the job. It’s not an elegant one, but it’s enough for most players new to the series to put together before needing to learn what an Electric Wind God Fist is. I’m a firm believer of learning on-the-go- so giving you the first step by having strong mechanics like Heat will eventually lead to you being able to win rounds the good old-fashioned way: playing well enough that someone believes you’re cheating.
That being said, new player onboarding is still pretty much a nightmare when it comes to Tekken 8. There’s some great tools for sure, like recommended combos and even samples to show you how they’re supposed to look. But considering games like Street Fighter and Guilty Gear give you short primers on every character, seeing Tekken 8’s movelist as just a massive chunk of Wingdings feels a lot less welcoming.
There is one solace for the new player though- Special Style is still in the game, breaking each character down into their fundamental building blocks. This is a great way to learn characters in a match, though I do worry about the actual ability to learn what every character does. Considering how complex characters can be, utilizing all manner of mixups, stances and the like, I do wish there was more of a way to bridge the gap from “simple game plan” to “And here is my galaxy brain setup”.
Honestly, I’m really excited to see how Tekken 8 is coming along. I’ve been pretty consistent that Tekken’s formula is much better with this dash of macroaggression. Like I said earlier, Tekken 8 is still very much a Tekken game. Fears of it suddenly becoming a no-neutral mashfest are completely unfounded, since you can barely walk forward without having to lab every single option after.
On top of all that, Heat just makes Tekken 8 a thrill to watch. Seeing the 150kg Jaguar man erupt into flames before obliterating you with wrestling moves is visually cool, no matter how you try to spin it. It’s this kind of thing that makes me really excited for Tekken 8’s inevitable launch- given the popularity of the series, we could be in for some hyped out events in the future.