Tekken 7 is a brutal but brilliant intro to fighting games

A dramatic reconstruction of the events of yesterday evening

Against my better judgement, I have continued my battle to become a competent brawler in daft fighting game Tekken 7. In the realm of biffing games, Tekken is an angry, side-stepping maniac who likes to play dress-up before battering its victims into a pulpy mess. I like it very much. Last night, I accumulated eleven wins in a row, eight of which were against a single opponent who simply refused to give up, resulting in mixed feelings of accomplishment, pity, pride and bloodlust.

Punchgame enthusiasts will find nothing new or impressive in this short story, but as a newcomer, it’s interesting to discover the hidden language of fighters, not just in the ‘ring’ but also during the bits in-between, like the matchmaking itself.

Let me set the scene. I was matched against a player fighting as Lars. Lars is a Swedish soldier with bad hair whose likes include “Peace of the world” and “Justice”, according to his Tekken Wiki. His dislikes include: “his father”.

Lars, a man who hates dad

Meanwhile, I was playing as Miguel, a former matador from Spain (with gorgeous hair). I like him because he fights like a really angry man outside a pub. He has the slow, undisciplined fists of a brawler, and he’s easy to understand as a newbie. He’s also permanently furious, which I adore. His middle name, Caballero, means “Gentleman”. But he is not one of those.

Miguel, a man who hates everything

We fought, and I beat Lars comfortably, three rounds to nothing. This was the first time, it dawned on me, that I instinctively felt like a better fighter than my opponent. The match ended and I waited to see if he would request a rematch.

In Tekken 7, you get to request “revenge” matches (or accept them) immediately after a fight. This isn’t unusual. But it has surprised me that so many people agree to these follow-up matches, and not just one. It’s common to have two, three, four follow-ups. For years my multiplayer diet has been team shooters like Overwatch, where losing teams tend to quickly disband. But here, everyone is up for another fight.

This applies to me too, although there are exceptions. If I’m destroyed without managing to land a single hit, I will probably take to my knees and crawl away from an opponent as fast as possible. Otherwise, I hammer the “Request revenge match” option hard and often. After a few harsh defeats, I’ll quit and seek a new fighting partner.

There was a biff like this

This means it feels like there’s an unspoken attitude to rematches. The loser isn’t whoever loses a match. It’s the first person, after several matches, who moves onto a new opponent. In the churches and jungles of the fighting ring, quitting and avoiding a rematch is a form of tapping out. A little message pops up if your opponent has scampered away. In English it reads: “the connection to the other player has been lost”. But in Tekken, this translates to: “I can’t beat you.” (It can also mean: “You are rubbish and I’m bored of fighting you”, “I need to go, dinner is ready” or “no really, the connection to the other player has been lost.”)

Anyway, Lars wanted a rematch. And Miguel, whose only hobby is listed as “starting fights”, was happy to oblige. I have reconstructed the ensuing drama here using screenshots of practice mode.

And a boff like... this!

I beat my foe again and again. I backhanded him in the face, I stuck my boot into his head, I stomped on him as he lay on the ground. At one point, Lars got out a gun and fired a shot at me (!) but it was slow to load. I ducked and charged him down with a dirty shoulder barge. My opponent did get noticeably better in later matches, and began to foresee my chargedowns, my roaring haymakers. But it wasn’t enough.

And a BASH, like so

Then, at the start of one match, a big red “DEMOTION” appeared on the screen. This meant that, if Lars lost, he would lose his current rank and be busted down. My empathy stepped in. We should let him win this fight, it said. Demotion isn’t fun.

NO, said my ambition. THAT’S NOT HOW FIGHTING GAMES WORK.

Jesus, why do you speak in all-caps, Ambition?

IT DOES NOT MATTER, he said. YOU HAVE TO KILL THE SWEDISH MAN.

And then I chucked him about a bit, because I'm awful

He was right. To hold back and throw a fight would only do him a disservice. And nobody would be so kind to me. So I defeated Lars once more, knocking him to the ground again and again. Miguel, whose fighting style is described as “none”, won me yet another victory, and a promotion to “Mentor” in the process. After that, we played a couple more rounds. But after 8 losses, my foe finally quit. “I can’t beat you,” he said to me, in Tekken.

This etiquette must be obvious to any joystick twiddler out there but it’s something I’d not realised or expected. It’s a punishing world but a rewarding one. And not only because I finally punched the air last night with a sense of real victory, but because you’re encouraged, simply by social norms and a sense of shame, to endure for as long as possible against a foe. But even if you tap out in the end, you still get noticeably better because of this, like Lars did. It’s a brutal, adrenaline-soaked form of practice-makes-perfect, and it’s likely my opponent learned more from this fight than I did.

I will try to remember this when I lose the next eight matches.

11 Comments

  1. Baines says:

    Since Tekken 7 supports Nvidia’s Ansel, if you have an Nvidia card you could have done your recreation photos with dramatically chosen camera angles and at an absolutely ridiculous resolution.

    Nice to see that you are hanging around with it.

  2. mukuste says:

    I want to get into fighting games but they seem so darn hard.

    I once got Skullgirls off some bundle or other and decided to give it a go… I noped out during the tutorial because it was too damn technical for me. Haven’t touched the genre since.

    • Baines says:

      Modern fighting games are largely built on a few decades of evolution. Further, the genre has a fanbase that believes heavily in the importance of mechanical execution and having a bunch of systems and things to learn.

      Attempts at “simpler” fighters tend to fail, with vocal objection to even the idea of lowering the barrier to entry (which is seen as compromising the games.)

      It is what the FPS genre might have become if the FPS genre hadn’t stayed big chasing casual audiences. If stuff like rocket jumping and skiing had been the norm (and had been built upon with new complicated systems and expectations), rather than falling by the wayside when players flocked to Halo and Call of Duty (causing most developers to copy the styles of those games instead).

      One possibility is to look at David Sirlin’s Fantasy Strike. Sirlin has tried to remove much of the extraneous complication while continuing to reward player skill. Some of which are rather radical (though others would call it “regressive”) changes to the accepted established formula. However, Fantasy Strike simply isn’t as flashy as other games. And players still question whether it won’t ultimately turn out to be a shallow experience. (It is still in development.)

      Tekken is decent enough for mashing around and having a bit of fun. Street Fighter V is a bit of a mixed bag. As much as I’d like to see King of Fighters be successful, that series is pretty unfriendly to new players (and for what I’d consider wrong or “bad” reasons, no less.)

      Ultimately, the easiest way to get into fighting games is to play with friends of similar skill levels. Most games become somewhat playable at that point.

      • welverin says:

        Isn’t MvC Infinite somewhat friendly to the button mashing newbie?

        • Baines says:

          Capcom has been in a weird place for the last several years, with some rather conflicting goals. They want their fighting games to appeal to the wide casual audience, to the vocal hardcore, and to the e-sport/tournament players, but all those groups want different things.

          For example, Capcom touted SF4 as a game designed to appeal to casual players. At the same time, the dev team intentionally implemented FADC (focus attack dash cancelling) as a key mechanic to extend combos as well as to turn unsafe moves safe. That was done to appeal the vocal hardcore, who want to be rewarded for spending hundreds of hours practicing mechanical execution of combos.

          A similar approach was taken with SF5, which also had the intentional desire to look exciting in tournaments (which in turn led to a system where massive comebacks are actually relatively common.) And like SF4, MvCI was touted as built to appeal to casual audiences. The vocal hardcore immediately revolted, only for some who had seen/played the in-development game to instead claim that the game was actually highly technical.

          And the game does seem to be fairly technical, which is understandable when you look at what the game does. Team games already add extra complications and considerations to a fighter. On top of that, you have the extra complications and considerations of the Infinity Stones, which are more than just a way to deal some extra damage. And on top of all this, you have Capcom trying to recreate the appeal of MvC2, which itself had blown up after evolving into a rather different technical game than what Capcom most likely originally intended.

          Going back to the topic of Skullgirls, I’ve seen a few articles in recent weeks about how Skullgirls players are winning MvCI tournaments, drawing the conclusion that the two games may have more important mechanical similarities (such as the heavy importance of using resets to get around damage scaling limits) than MvC3 itself has with MvCI.

        • Archelon says:

          From a purely mashy perspective, Tekken is probably more fun than MVCI (something which contributes to its popularity).

          From the perspective of learning the game, though, MVCI is a nightmare. in my opinion the big problem with fighting games is their inexplicability (sp?). A new player just doesn’t know what’s going on. Fighters with more immediately comprehensible guessing games (the old street fighter fireball / jump in / anti air) can be watched and enjoyed, and picked up and played with some level of tactical understanding.

          MVCI is *terrible* for this. A relative newcomer who plays against someone who knows what they’re doing will just get destroyed, over and over again, and they will have close to no idea why. Characters will flit in and out, they’ll be blocking the wrong way all the time, the screen will be filled with garbage etc.

          Tekken probably comes somewhere between the two extremes. It has a murderous (slightly toned down) system for getting hit on the ground, technical movement, and a bazillion moves, but most of them are just punchy kicky / block or duck type stuff.

      • spuckuk says:

        Tekken 7 is actually notably easier than it’s predecessor Tekken Tag Tournament 2. I’s probably the easiest fighting game to get into and have fun with right now. Low execution requirements and easy to make cool stuff happen.

        Loved the article btw

    • welverin says:

      I’ve been playing the things for 25-30 years, I don’t think I could give you a single bit of helpful advice for getting into them.

      While all that time spent playing assorted fighting games over the years allows me to not completely bounce off them, I find myself incapable of getting into a series I’m not familiar with. I not at a stage in my life to dedicate the time to learn the things that set a game apart and find a character I like to get into them.

      Thus I stick to series I’m familiar with.

    • Hypocee says:

      Know that Skullgirls is at least midrange in fighting game complication, more complicated than Tekken or Street Fighter at minimum and maybe even more than anime fighters. Team mechanics, every movement style, three or four visible meters and a couple hidden ones, and only the loosest correspondence between animations and hitboxes – it’s unapologetically for the hardcore. It’s lovingly and wonderfully made and that comprehensive tutorial deserves all sorts of praise, but the tutorial was put there to teach the FG equivalent of organic chemistry.

      That said, until quite recently there wasn’t anything much better to throw to an interested party. Super SFII Turbo HD Remix is the best choice, but it’s trapped on the PS3 and 360 and still has a significant time-to-fun. Street Fighter, Soul Calibur or Tekken was yer lot. But the past year or two, there’s been something in the air. Capcom’s been able to make noises about softening the execution requirements in SFV without being howled down. Arc System Works’ meteriffic anime fighter series Guilty Gear and BlazBlue have gotten “stylish modes” with little or no penalty for mapping moves and combos(!) to single buttons.

      Both of those are still on just the execution side of the issue, but also a couple of the folks who’ve been making noise about this for over a decade have finally gotten to make their own fighting games. Seth Killian with his team made Rising Thunder, essentially the 2D fighter as viewed through an MMO’s cooldown management. Rising Thunder doesn’t exist anymore because Riot bought Radiant Entertainment; everyone will be stunned if next year they don’t reveal that they’ve been working on Rising Thunder But It’s League of Legends Characters Now. Also renowned board game designer and project lead on SSFIIHDR David Sirlin et alia are making Fantasy Strike, the fictional fighting game of which several of Sirlin’s previous games have notionally been spinoffs or demakes.

      I enthusiastically second the recommendation to check out Fantasy Strike. It’s aimed at the gaping void between Divekick and anything else that’s been released for a two decades, and it’s fascinating. Radical, tense, unforgiving, but above all it’s comprehensible. Watch 20 minute of footage and you’ll understand what’s going on on screen, which is a weird sensation these days.

      Finally, probably coincidental to Killian and Sirlin’s things, the one I’m even more excited about than Fantasy Strike: Pocket Rumble. It’s not quite as revolutionary a design as FS but the execution speaks to me more. There are a lot of “all”s in describing it. All moves have uses, there isn’t room for six or nine or twelve types of punch. All characters have 12HP. All normal throws do 2HP. All and only specials are chip-enabled and cancel out of all and only normals. All characters have five specials, one done by pressing both attacks at the same time and the others by holding one of the two down-diagonals and holding A or B for a few frames.

      Almost every character in PR is strongly linked to a single mechanic or archetype from fighting games and makes that mechanic their distinguishing Thing. Parker is the trapper who has the Third Strike parry. Keiko is the puppeteer. June’s the zoner par excellence. Subject 11 is the command-throw grappler juggernaut. Hector puts his HP in hock to power his stuff. Quinn’s Mr. Mixup/crossup. Tenchi’s the shoto. Naomi is Terry Bogard, powering up and rushing in with hops and slides.

      The thing about fighting games is that they need opponents, so the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. You never get to play a game if it isn’t a hit. To some extent a skill mismatch hurts play, but PR is a bet that the major barrier to getting someone to also play Game X is a knowledge barrier. A new player can have each character’s tactics explained in a minute, try a round with some or all of them, pick a starter and be actually making decisions and missing or landing hits inside twenty minutes, especially if the person introducing them sticks to one character in the first session. The idea is that people who dedicate themselves to different mainstream franchises can meet each other on equal footingin PR because it’s so easy to pick up. Of course, that also benefits people who quite reasonably don’t want to put in hours of work before they can meaningfully biff with someone.

      Can you tell I’m a bit jazzed about Pocket Rumble? Now the bad news is that the PC release is held up by problems getting the netcode and other problems sorted on the Switch version. As a single-screen multiplayer game with four directions and two buttons the game does absolutely beg to be on the Switch, but I suspect if Cardboard Robot had known it would take five months and counting since they got content complete, they might have chosen to spit out the PC version first. Just know that they’ve stated that they’re not going to spend time making PC EA releases while they crunch on the Switch version. If you pay the USD10 on Steam you’ll be getting a version from June, when the last character was added, with a few acknowledged bugs and half-tuned balance – there’s consensus among the supernerds in the Discord, for example, that Keiko is on a tier of her own above everyone else and Naomi’s on her own tier below everyone else. Still, that kind of thing doesn’t matter until you get hours and hours in, which you won’t unless you like it anyway. Check it out maybe!

  3. Blad the impaler says:

    Bah. I can stand neither Lars nor Miguel. But I agree with your assessment of tapping out. Tekken seems to have really hit on something with the infinite grudge match option. Strangely, it offers a bit of decorum in a genre where you wouldn’t expect to find it. I could be imagining that as well.

  4. TheGrimReefer says:

    Fighting games are not as hard as people make them out to be. Yeah your first fighting game is going to seem brutal, unforgiving and the amount of shit you have to learn seems insurmountable.

    Once you get into your first game though, and are able to see past the mashing and understand the underlying mechanics and psychology enough, you will be able to learn every other fighting game that much faster.

    When I started playing fighting games like 6 years ago with SF4:AE, I didn’t even know what the hell I’m supposed to do in practice mode except for grinding out combos and lose 80% of my online matches if not more.
    Nowadays when a new game comes out, I’m able to break it down and act methodical and efficient when it comes to learning what my character and his opponents can do.

    Simplifying all that would make it all bland and boring. Many people approaching fighting games and being all like “This is too hard” go into the games with a single player mentality. A single player game wants you to beat the game and feel like you’re awesome at it, even though it’s designed for you to sleepwalk through it.
    Going into a fighting game expecting to beat people with years of experience is like expecting to beat Michael Jordan in a 1v1 game of basketball, when you just picked up the ball for the first time.

    Shit takes time. Learning a move or combo and bringing it close to perfect execution can take the same time as it takes you to beat whole Final Fantasy series.

    Lower the expectations in your own success at video games when you go into something as fierce and competitive as fighting games.
    These games are real hobbies, not a timewaster that makes you feel good about yourself when you come home from work. Although you can still treat them as such, just be a good sportsman and take your losses with a smile.

    Especially Tekken can be misleading in that regard, as it has a plethora of braindead easy strings that make a new player feel like there’s nothing they can do to defend against that, and whoever mashes buttons faster wins, when in reality the game is an intricate, strategic mindgame with an endless ceiling of skill and execution, like the recent Tekken World Tour finals have proven.

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