Tekken 8 review: Delightfully devilish, Kazuya

Between the Heat System, Special Style controls, a healthy roster and more, Tekken 8 has set the stage for a glorious new era of the fighting franchise.

Image via Bandai Namco

What a road it has been to Tekken 8. With each of the preview events and the online playtests Bandai Namco has hosted, I could have told you long ago that this game was shaping up to be one of the best fighters I’ve ever played. Now that the full game is upon us, I can confirm that with absolute confidence. Tekken 8 isn’t just a solid new entry in the franchise. Top to bottom, it’s one of the most richly featured and high-quality offerings to the fighting game genre I’ve ever had the pleasure of getting my mitts on.

Cue the family volcano

Tekken 8 has the distinction of being a definitive chapter of one of the longest-running fighting game stories of all time. For those who haven’t stayed up on the story to this point, the game has a wealth of videos that give players a synopsis of what previously happened and can catch you up to current events in no time.

This game’s main story mode acts as both a closing chapter on the current arc of stories that have been going on for years in the franchise and the build up to something altogether new. Newcomer characters Reina, Azucena, and Victor all have moments to shine in their debut appearances, and Reina in particular sets up some plot points that make for a very interesting future in Tekken. Unfortunately, Heihachi doesn't seem to figure in to that future. He might really be dead for good this time.

Kazuya Mishima in a destroyed city in Tekken 8's story mode.
Source: Bandai Namco

You play as Jin Kazama for most of the story, but there are a ton of segments that also have you playing other characters and even engaging in a light beat-‘em-up experience that’s quite an interesting breakaway from the norm. The game also looks gorgeous, built from the ground up in Unreal Engine 5. Every character looks incredible, as do the environments they fight in. The only issue I saw during my playthrough is a bit of frame stutter during some of the busiest cutscenes. That said, there’s also a player avatar-driven story mode where you can learn how to play better, and also engage in a narrative of locals-to-major tournament play with your favorite characters.

If you want a more typical Tekken arcade experience, Character Episodes are there for you. They let you play the King of Iron Fists Tournament as any character in the game, complete with an entry to their reasons for entering the tournament and a cinematic ending once you complete the playthrough. Some of the endings are absolutely bonkers and most of them are good-spirited, but almost all of them have fun Easter eggs or zany antics in them. It’s a spread of content that any fan of classic Tekken arcade endings should be happy to explore with their favorite characters.

Get ready for the next battle

Marshall Law hitting Paul Phoenix with nunchucks in Tekken 8

Tekken 8 is one of the most fully featured and fleshed out fighters when it comes to combat and the ways you can play it. First off, this is a heck of a starting roster. Bandai Namco assembled 32 characters for release day, and every one of them looks great in UE5. The outfits look gloriously detailed, their muscles and body textures are incredibly well-formed, and they all play in familiar, yet somewhat tweaked ways that make even long-time characters fun to re-explore. Character customization modes also return, and you can dress up anyone in the roster to your heart’s content with plenty of unlockable options that will likely expand over time.

At the core of Tekken 8’s combat is the new Heat System. I’ve raved about this system in previews of the game, but it’s easily one of the most ambitious features in Tekken so far. With either the press of a button, or by successfully hitting one of your character’s unique “Heat Engager” attacks, you’ll go into a powered-up state that lets you regain some health and gives your character unique attributes and attacks. For instance, when Kuma is in Heat State, his heavy-handed (pawed?) charging attacks come out much faster, any attack with his claws does chip damage, and his Roll stance has attack frames if he rolls into an opponent with it. Heat State ends when the meter runs out or when you use a powerful “Heat Burst” attack that will also close out the state.

Jin striking Kazuya with a punch in Tekken 8
Source: Bandai Namco

There is a ton of strategy that can be attributed to Heat State. Will you pop it early, save it for a trump card, or wait until your back is to the wall? Once you burn up your Heat State, you have to go the rest of the round without it, so using it effectively will be imperative to success.

Bandai Namco also knows that Tekken is a tough game to learn and the developers created a rather fantastic system to help newcomers get started while giving more seasoned players another option to play around with. Special Style can be compared to Modern Controls in Street Fighter 6. It reduces the technicality of the game down to auto combos and situational buttons. On PlayStation, mashing the Square button puts out a bread-and-butter combo, Triangle button is a launcher combo, Circle is low attacks and throws, and the X button is defense-breaking crush attacks.

Feng shoulder checking Leroy Smith in Tekken 8
Source: Bandai Namco

Here’s where Special Style really stands out: You can toggle it at any time in a match. Playing a character you’re unfamiliar with or for the story content? Toggle it on before round start. Don’t need it? Turn it off and never bother with it. I think Tekken players will have their divide over whether winning with Special Style controls is a legit strategy, but that versatility means that even pro players could play technical and then occasionally flip on Special Style even mid-combo to make sure they don’t drop it and get the damage they want. I believe that there’s a strong chance top level players will learn how and when to apply Special Style effectively in their gameplay. It’s a great combination of a welcome mat for the newcomers and a new tool for pros to explore.

Thankfully, Tekken 8 also has training options galore if you really want to get into the nitty gritty of how your characters work. I loved Super Ghost Battle and training snapshots. With Super Ghost Battle, you play against a ghost that uses AI-powered deep learning to understand your patterns. It eventually learns to play like you do, including when you leave holes in your defense and when you drop combos. It’s a great way to study where you’re weak, where you’re strong, and how to close the gaps. The Training snapshot lets you pause training and combat mid-session and create a save state that you can return to. It’s an absolutely fantastic way to return to a middle-part of a combo and practice what to do once you’ve gotten through the early setup.

King of Iron Netcode

The entrance to online lobbies in Tekken 8
Source: Bandai Namco

Tekken 8 has a large suite of ways to play, but none of that matters if the game doesn’t play well online. Fortunately, I'm happy to report online warriors can put their fears to rest. Leading up to this review’s release, the servers opened up for an online session featuring a variety of matches and modes. I was able to test Ranked, Quick Matches, the online lobby system, and Tekken Ball. In every single case, matches were buttery smooth on Tekken 8’s new rollback netcode.

The worst ping I saw was when I got matched with a player where the ping was over 200 (I play wired on good internet service). I don’t know what happened there, but amazingly, the match remained stable. It still played crisp, and I didn't feel like my inputs or the game’s responses were put off by rough connections in some matches. That said, if you didn’t want to deal with that, you can limit crossplay, connection quality, rank levels, and even see if your opponent is playing on wired or Wi-Fi setups before you accept a match.

The online lobby in Tekken 8
Source: Bandai Namco

There are also so many easy ways to play what you want to play in Tekken 8’s lobbies. You can train online with your friends, sit down at a single arcade and wait, or jump on a double arcade with a buddy to throw down immediately. You can also set up Player Match sessions if you want a private lobby to work with. Some of my only issues with online in Tekken 8 could be considered nitpicks at best. The chat box in online lobbies had text that was too small for me to read clearly without straining my eyes, and there wasn’t a way to change the text size. Also, on the double arcades, despite obviously sitting down with the player on the other side, I couldn’t see their username or character till we were starting the match, which seems strange to me. Outside of these bits, it was an impeccable experience that handled well under some serious stress testing, and well improved over the previous online stress test.

Good A** Tekken never ends

King flexing triumphantly in Tekken 8
Source: Bandai Namco

Throughout my long hours of playtime with Tekken 8, I struggled to find bad aspects of this game. The online and offline modes are plentiful. The roster is robust and varied. The online plays smooth and crisp under even undesirable conditions (with plenty of options to restrict those conditions). And the cherry on top is that this game looks and plays absolutely gorgeous. The move to Unreal Engine 5 seemed intense given how much Bandai Namco had to build from the ground up, but the payoff is obvious. And with the Heat System and Special Style controls, whether you’re a newcomer to Tekken or an old hand, this is a ridiculously fun game to learn. You want the best the King of Iron Fists Tournament has to offer? Tekken 8 is it, and looks set to carry that torch for years to come.

This review is based on a PlayStation 5 digital copy supplied by the publisher. Tekken 8 comes out on PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, and PC on January 26, 2024.

Senior News Editor

TJ Denzer is a player and writer with a passion for games that has dominated a lifetime. He found his way to the Shacknews roster in late 2019 and has worked his way to Senior News Editor since. Between news coverage, he also aides notably in livestream projects like the indie game-focused Indie-licious, the Shacknews Stimulus Games, and the Shacknews Dump. You can reach him at tj.denzer@shacknews.com and also find him on Twitter @JohnnyChugs.

Review for
Tekken 8
  • Solid main story with grandiose battles
  • Very large & robust starting roster
  • Gorgeously rebuilt characters & stages
  • Heat System & Special Style are great new mechanics
  • Online netcode handles very well
  • A wealth of online and offline modes
  • Large amount of online options & customizations
  • Tekken Ball is back
  • Online lobby chat text is hard to read
  • Slight frame drops in busy cutscenes
  • Heihachi Mishima might actually be dead this time
From The Chatty
  • reply
    January 23, 2024 6:00 AM

    TJ Denzer posted a new article, Tekken 8 review: Delightfully devilish, Kazuya

    • reply
      January 23, 2024 6:16 AM

      my body is ready

    • reply
      January 23, 2024 6:39 AM

      I read the shack review and was encouraged by what was said about the netcode, but PC Gamer's review seems to say the netcode isn't great compared to some of the more recent fighting games :( .

      • reply
        January 23, 2024 9:59 AM

        Your comment had me going to check if I was an outlier, but from what I read in several other reviews, seems like PC Gamer was one of the few that had a bad experience online. Not to say the netcode is flawless, but general consensus between myself, Denny, DotEsports, GameSpot, VGC, and a few others were that it's a pretty smooth experience even under pressure.

        • reply
          January 23, 2024 10:18 AM

          Cool, yeah I'm hoping it works well. As long as load times and netcode are better than T7 it should be a good time.

    • reply
      January 23, 2024 8:28 AM

      Shackers Who are Getting Tekken 8 , show yourselves

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