Late last year, arcade dwellers were given a reason other than DDR to sweat at the arcade. Tekken 5 was a reminder why we all spent so much time and money waiting to play a great fighter, and redeemed a sense of competition that has been missing for a number of years. Namco has once again sequestered it's fighter series at the top, proving that the seemingly abysmal Tekken 4 was merely a stepping stone to greatness. Now, in it's 5th term, the series is at it's very best, and the Playstation 2 port transcribes the fiery heat of the arcade flawlessly.
It has been a great year for Playstation 2 owners. The hardware is at it's very cusp, and developers are pushing games to a level once thought impossible. This is a sign of the final stretch, and traditionally a time when some of the best games are released. Tekken 5 on all level exemplifies this very theory. The fighting is fast, responsive, and full of depth whilst looking absolutely amazing. That being said, it goes without question that this is the must have fighter of the year.
The Tekken series has always been an acquired taste. Whenever mention of the game comes up, you'll undoubtedly have a huge slew of opinions spattered back. While it is arguable whether or not you enjoy the game, it is impossible to deny the execution of the game. Subjectively, Tekken 5 has one of the best fighting engines we have ever seen. Rounds move incredibly fast, yet you never feel as if you have lost control. Tekken 4 introduced a number of tweaks and position changes that left fans of the series in bewilderment. Although Namco meant well in trying to push the series to new levels, they in turn deterred gamers. With this new release, the developers have taken a back-to-basics approach, and those familiar with Tekken tag tournament, or Tekken 3 will feel right at home.
New comers to the series will easily fit in, as there is a character that fits everyone's taste. All of the old characters are back again, with a couple of new additions. The premise of the opening sequence is that Heihachi Mishima is dead, thanks to one of the new characters, Raven. Raven is a mixture of Wesley Snipes in Blade, and a full out ninja. The other new additions are Asuka, whose movements are similar to those of Jun Kazama, and Feng who really has no association with characters of past Tekken fame. As aforementioned, there are characters to suit the tastes of everyone. Each character has a unique fighting style, and nationality. One of the cooler additions to the game is the dialog spoken between characters before matches. Sometimes this dialog is confusing, or just makes you laugh, but each character speaks in their native tongue. For fans of King, you'll get a kick out of him “speaking” in growls and grunts. You will have a large arsenal of characters at startup, but you can also unlock a great number of them by completing the story mode with different characters.
There are a number of modes of play in Tekken 5, with the story and arcade modes being the most dominant. Other modes include a rather mundane 3d action game called the “devil within” mode. The devil within mode is essentially a hack and slash adventure starring Jin Kazama, in which you run through rather un-textured hallways beating up baddies to get to the next area. While I think that Namco meant well with this mode, the execution is rather bland, and will only hold your attention for a short time. Also included is an arcade history mode, which without any unlocking you will be able to play exact ports of the arcade versions of Tekken 1-3. The addition of the arcade history mode adds a great sense of replay, and a reminder of just how we have come to the product of today. I'll admit, it's a bit tough to even play the first Tekken, but the second and third still have the strong sense of charm that established them as an arcade favorite.
The story mode of the game is how you'll be able to unlock new characters and stands as the meat and bones of Tekken's single player aspect. Each character has their very own story, which is narrated through an exposition piece, a few conversations with opposing characters throughout the rounds, and finally a full fledged cgi cut-scene after defeating the game's boss: Jinpachi. One thing that has always stood out in the home versions of the game are the great endings for each of the characters. Sometimes ambiguous, and other times ridiculous, the endings have always exemplified why fighting games should incorporate a story into play. You'll be able to watch these endings again and again if you please, as upon beating the game, you will unlock a theater mode complete with intros and all.
The arcade mode of the game is similar to that of Virtua Figther 4's. Ironically named, the arcade mode is essentially a port of the arcade version of the game. What made consumers come back again and again was the ability to “level up” if you will with your characters. Players could buy cards with magnetic strips to keep track of their stats, as well as money they have earned by winning matches. The money is used to buy clothing, accessories, or just modifications to the character's figure. Each and every character in the home version starts out as a beginner, and as you move along through the game, you are placed into ranking matches to move up. Accordingly, the competition gets tougher as you move up the ranks, and the amount of money made upon winning also increases. The accessories do not add to your player's abilities in any way, but when you have a nail bat and sombrero attached to you, there is no doubt you are creeping out your opponent (and friends too!).
Even on the easiest setting, the game can be a challenge to complete, especially upon reaching the end of the game. The series has often been criticized as being one you can fly through, but this time out, Namco has made things a bit more difficult. Luckily, you will rarely feel cheated, or that a match has ended unfairly. The enemy AI is just smart, therefore enticing a need to master the moves of a character. Unlike other fighting games, Tekken takes a slightly more realistic approach, leaving button mashers and fireball slingers in the dark. It's imperative that you master the in depth combo system, as well as understand the reversal system to succeed in winning. If properly executed, these moves can look amazing, especially the multi-throws or reversal grabs.
In terms of image quality, character models, and frame rates, I challenge you to find a better looking game on the Ps2. The textures and skin tones of the characters are impeccably lifelike, while their movements flow with complete prowess. The backgrounds, while limited in their functionality, are absolutely breathtaking. You will often times just want to stare at the background forgetting that there is fight going on in front of you. There are a number of beautiful locales, but specifically the moon casted flower level, and the arctic level scattered with sliding penguins stand out. It is amazing to me that the hardware can accomplish such alluring backgrounds while keeping a very high frame rate within combat. That being said, Tekken 5 is one of the best looking games this year, on any console, period.
One criticism I've had with fighting games in the past are the cacophonous sounds that emanate from the soundtrack (if you've played any of the marvel vs. capcom games, you know exactly what I am refering to). Tekken 5's soundtrack is not groundbreaking by any means, but the music tends to fit the atmosphere just right. A reason to ignore the soundtrack are the hard-hitting sound effects that occur when you are beating your opponent into a pulp. Power moves, followed by a grunt or some other onomatopoeia sound like they hurt, and that is exactly what you want to hear. When you grapple your opponent down, and stretch their arms to the eye clenching sound of bones breaking, you realize that you wouldn't want to mess with any of these folks in real life.
Missing from the game is any sort of online play. I've always been a bit bewildered as to why, at this point, any developer would exclude such a feature. Fighting games at their heart, are all about the competition with others. Tekken 5 does in fact have a versus mode, but online multi-player would have put this game over the top. Even with it's minor flaws, Tekken 5 is one of the most complete packages for fighting fans. Gamers rejoice, our beloved Tekken has returned.