Fighting games have found themselves in a strange predicament over the past decade. Once flourishing in the 2000s with big hitters rolling out annually, the fighting game market has become increasingly saturated, with only the big name brands making any sort of lasting impact. NetherRealm's Mortal Kombat has continued to enjoy tremendous success with the launches of both Mortal Kombat X and Mortal Kombat 11, with two Injustice titles keeping the studio afloat as one of the best fighting game developers in the industry. Unfortunately, this has also led to other studios taking a backseat, putting out AAA fighters at an uneven rate. Bandai Namco is one such company that relied solely on a few titles to get by - with one of them being Tekken 7.
Tekken 7, as the title suggests, is the seventh mainline entry in the Tekken series of fighting games that first began in arcades in the 90s. The latest chapter launched in 2017 to mostly positive reviews, and even found its way to being a prominent highlight at the numerous EVO tournaments and fighting game championships worldwide. Over the years, Tekken 7 has bolstered its content with season passes, adding new areas, costumes, and fighters to strengthen its current fantastic roster. As of 2021, though, what has kept Tekken 7 such a tremendous force in the fighting game world? And are we seeing signs of the game's inevitable decline in popularity already?
Well, the answer is never that simple, especially when it comes to fighters that continuously update their games with content on a regular basis. Tekken 7 has evolved over the past four years, seeing plenty of tweaks to mechanics, new characters, and interesting crossovers that has mostly kept the attention deadlocked on the title. The introduction of crossover fighters like Final Fantasy XV's Noctis, The Walking Dead's Negan, and The King of Fighters' Geese has done well to keep players coming back for more. Add legacy fighters like Zafina, Lei Wulong, Armour King, and more to the mix, and you have a recipe for long-term investment from a devoted player base.
I didn't realize the impact of this business model until recently when I reinstalled Tekken 7 (after almost two years of going cold) and noticed just how much content actually awaited me. Granted, this was content that required me to shovel out a good penny or two to get access to all the new characters, but I was pleasantly surprised that Tekken 7 had managed to keep itself so busy over these past few years, thus maintaining a sizeable player base. It's a far cry from the likes of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, but Tekken 7's player engagement has still thrived thanks to its diverse DLC fighters constantly adding something surprisingly fresh and new to experience in the game.
Leroy Smith, a parry-intensive character, was perhaps the biggest new addition to the roster. Despite receiving a mixed reception from the player base - and understandably so, considering his parries can counter pretty much everything in the game - it got me invested again, not just to play and master him, but also to find a way to combat his parries. I had to return to old faithful mains like Master Raven and Kazumi Mishima in order to circumnavigate his parries, thus forcing me to reconsider how I actually play. Leroy Smith is one of many of the new characters that I personally felt brought something fresh to the table, whether it was Noctis' ranged warp strikes or Zafina's contortionist fighting style. Each new character amplified the experience as opposed to just being another cookie-cutter addition to fill the empty spaces (I love you, Dragon Ball FighterZ, but I'm looking at you).
In its fourth season pass, after years of tweaking and improving the title, I can confidently say that Tekken 7 is quite a different - yet familiar - experience since its launch. Diversity of the roster aside, it certainly feels like Bandai Namco have taken fan feedback into account when balancing fighters too. This is especially evident with Leroy Smith, who seems to have gotten the old Mercy nerf treatment. At the same time, fighters that I'm comfortable with using, from the likes of Zafina, Master Raven, Kazumi, Lee, or Devil Jin, all feel still feel great to use and remaster all over again.
Is Tekken 7 a perfect experience now, though? Sadly not. Despite all the updates and additions, it still feels like its dragging behind some of the series' more impressive entries, this including Tekken Tag Tournament 2 or Tekken 3. The focus on esports has given it the life it needed to continue thriving and being one of the most popular fighters on the market, but it's not without flaws. Bandai Namco's insistence on the tried-and-tested season pass formula has made it a bit inaccessible to newcomers, especially if their favourite fighters like Lei or Anna Williams were gated off in these paywalls. It's a problem that plagues most AAA fighters, so Tekken 7 certainly isn't excused.
Yet, do I recommend you play Tekken 7 in 2021? Absolutely. If you got the spare change to buy fighters and season passes (not to mention the base game going for laughably low prices on sales), this comes as an easy recommendation to both fans and those interested in dipping their feet in a solid modern fighter. Sure, it doesn't have the pulling power of something like Mortal Kombat - then again, few fighting games do - but Tekken 7 has managed to keep this fighting game brand at the peak of relevancy without compromising the great fun factor beneath. If anything, I hope Bandai Namco learns from the few errors of Tekken 7 and crafts an extremely compelling sequel in the future; one to rival the best of its own series. Tekken 7 may not be perfect, but it's a modern fighting game I've found myself constantly revisiting time and time again because, well, it's still bloody fun.
Writer. Enthusiast of all things geek. Legend has it he completed Final Fantasy VII without a memory card.
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