Tuesday, 13 August 2013


I swear, these designs for Kazuya and Xiaoyu are ALL WRONG.

Dear reader, I sit down to write this today with a growing case of Tekken withdrawals.

"But how can that be, Craig," you might ask, "when there have been so many new Tekken games recently?"  Well, it's true enough that we are currently experiencing no shortage of Iron Fist branding.  The problem is that not a lot of it is what I want Tekken to be.  

Tekken Card Tournament (which I never got around to reviewing in full) is an interesting idea with some very simple, solid gameplay mechanics that just about anyone can pick up in minutes, a dedicated support team tirelessly working to sort out any issues brought up by the user base, and if nothing else has spawned an actual physical Tekken trading card collection, which will doubtless plague my magpie mind for a good long while yet.  But, it's very worrying that so many balance issues and tech errors are still being found in a game that's been available to the public for so long, and the in-game card marketplace - which lets anyone with sufficient real-world funds simply buy the best possible cards for their character right from the get-go and gain a ludicrous advantage - basically takes what balance there is and snaps it over its knee like a Venom'd-up Bane (I stand by the assertion that limiting premium purchases to the random booster packs, while perhaps frustrating for some, would be a major improvement).  On a personal note, the need for a constant internet connection kinda leaves me in the cold - I can't really play it 'on the go' so having the game on my Kindle is a bit meaningless, and playing the browser version feels odd because it's much too simple a game for a whole laptop...

Then there's Tekken Revolution (which I've already covered) and that hasn't really held my attention either.  In fact, I don't think I've gone back to it even once since posting that write-up in June.  That's partly down to snobbery - Nina's still not in it so I don't care - but mostly, it's because the game feels hollow to me.  Revolution is 95% copied assets from TTT2, which I already own; the stuff that's genuinely new is limited to flashier effects and some inferior music choices.  Yes, I know, as I said in my post, that this is a Tekken game for other people who are a lot less obsessed with the series than I am...but the fact that it's now taken up the lion's share of the developers' attention has resulted in me feeling like I've been left out in the cold.  Also: vampire Lili?  Vampire...Lili?  The prosecution rests, your honour.

So I've been thinking a lot about the future, and that inevitably means the still-gestating Tekken X Street Fighter, which will counterbalance Capcom's effort by forcing those movement-challenged World Warriors into an arena where the 3rd dimension exists on more than just a cosmetic level. (hey Harada-san, free idea - shoot a commercial for the game which solely consists of Ryu fruitlessly firing hadoukens at Heihachi, who dodges every single one by moving one step to the side while Ryu's eyes boggle and he screams, "WHAT KIND OF WITCHCRAFT IS THIS S***?!") After playing a hell of a lot of TTT2 and tentatively dipping my toe into the freezing waters of SFXT again, I've come up with a bunch of points that, IMO, Namco would do well to keep in mind as they plan their next opus.  GET READY FOR THE NEXT BASELESS SPECULATION!!

1. Make Projectiles Blockable or Dash-Evadable
There are a lot of question marks hanging over the actual mechanics of TXSF; personally, I'm not expecting to be hugely surprised (SFXT, after all, was more or less Street Fighter 4 Tag Tournament Edition guest-starring a bunch of caricatures of the Tekken cast), but I do share the concerns of many when it comes to projectiles.  Fireballs and the like are a pretty rare sight in Tekken and rarely fit into a competitive match due to their obvious 'tells' and long recovery periods, which negates the advantages of their range and guard-ignoring power.
Obviously, this won't really work with the SF bunch, who've been relying on a variety of goofy-named sparklebollocks for decades.  Can you imagine the whinging there'd be if the kikkoken or the sonic boom or whatever isn't triggered immediately and can't be infinitely spammed by morons who refuse to learn how to play the game properly? (okay, okay, I'll try to be less biased...no promises) So they'll have to be fast and 'safe', but if that's the case, it should go without saying those attacks should be blockable.  As an aside, I'd also like to take a leaf out of SFXT's playbook and allow players to harmlessly slip 'through' projectiles by doing a forward or backward dash-step at the right moment; that really evened the playing field for close-range fighters on both sides, IMO.

2. One-on-One as the Focus
This has been talked about by Harada-san already, so I don't know if it really needs to be said again - but yes, TXSF should absolutely be a 1-vs-1 game, not a tag game.  If there's time to add tag battles as an alternate option during development, that's fine and dandy, but if you can only pick one option, stick with 1-vs-1.  We've already got both SFXT and TTT2 for team play.
The other reason I'm in favour of this is for the sake of Rival Battles.  SFXT shot itself in the foot with these because they couldn't work out storyline reasons to make a 2-on-2 fight seem like a grudge match; hence most of the 'encounter' cutscenes boil down to something like this:

Fighter A1:  "Hey, there's another 2 fighters over there, let's go punch them!"

Fighter A2:  "UGH, that's such a drag.  Do we have to?"

Fighter A1:  "Yes we do, because of...of...reasons!"

Fighter B1:  "Do those guys seem weird to you?"

Fighter B2:  "Who cares?  FIGHTY FIGHT TIME"

It's just a bit bleh and makes these battles seem less like 'rivalries exploding' and more like 'randomly bumping into some talkative strangers'.  Returning to singles matches makes it easier to pair up characters as clear rivals and write dialogue exchanges that show genuine mutual hatred.

3. Stick with the Icons
SFXT had a pretty wide roster and I can't say it was altogether successful.  That series icons like Lei, Jack and Bryan wouldn't appear until the Vita DLC was unlocked (and others like Anna and Lee were abandoned altogether) while relative newbies such as Bob and Paris Hilton made the starting line-up just felt plain wrong, and over on the SF side we had Poison, Cody, Guy and others who aren't actually from Street Fighter somehow making the cut.  That'd be like putting Mitsurugi from Soul Calibur in the game instead of Marshall Law.  Don't get me started on Fat Mega Man or the Sony cat things.
My advice to Namco here would be to not get any crazy ideas and just play it safe.  Start with the main rosters of each series' most enduring titles (that'll be Street Fighter II and Tekken 3) and work your way forwards from there gradually and with consideration for legacy above all.  Want one of the Tekken 5 debutantes in there?  Sure, but only if the Tekken 4 crowd has been respected.  No shoving Asuka ahead of Steve Fox, etc.  And I say this as someone who likes Zafina and was kinda bummed she missed out on the other crossover...but, this is nonetheless the best way to go.
(side note: and if we must have Mega Man, take note of the reaction to his Smash Bros. appearance - people like it much more when Mega Man looks like sodding Mega Man.)

4. Keep It Serious!
This, in hindsight, was one of my biggest pet peeves with SFXT, and I concede it's a pretty...nebulous problem: the game was too damn silly.  Or at least, too damn happy.  After all those CG trailers depicting the rival battles as super-dangerous life or death struggles (alright, the King/Marduk vs Poison/Hugo one was kinda goofy but the others were butt-clenchingly tense), the final game was cheerful, light, frothy, and never made this clash of cultures seem like anything more important or troubling than a student exchange program.  Even the goofy rivalry between Harada and Ono at various press events at least served to make Tekken's presence in Street Fighter's world feel like a hostile invasion, like that time Degeneration X threatened to crash a WCW Monday Nitro show.
So let's shake things up.  Make things darker - not 'gritty' per se, but more chaotic, more scarred, out of sync almost.  Carry that theme over to the menu design, the stages, the music.  When characters from opposing series interact, make it plain there's mutual hatred here.  And remember, this is the Namco game, Tekken's world.  Even though Tekken tends to have more obviously villainous characters (or at least those that exist in a kind of moral gray-zone), that doesn't mean they're the bad guys this time.  Ryu, Ken, Chun Li - sure, they're heroes in their own world, but now they're The Enemy.  If you can find a way to make those guys come off as legitimately evil without straying from whatever their foundation is, magic will happen.

5. Multiple Mini-Arcs > One Overall Plot
SFXT attempted to glue its divergent roster together the same way basically all of Capcom's crossover fighters have wound up doing - make up a brand new threat that attracts the attention of everyone equally, somehow.  In that case it was the Pandora, a big glowing box that did stuff by magic, and everyone wanted it because who doesn't want magic, I guess.  Personally, I don't think it worked all that well - some of the narrative hoops many characters needed to jump through to justify them even knowing about the dang box were ridiculous, and the fact that most of them weren't out specifically to take on any of the other pairings made it less like a cataclysmic battle and more like a bunch of kids playing treasure hunt.  Which is what it was.
One core piece of advice here: don't even try to bolt every single character into one story.  Sure, you can maybe link 'em together in groups if some have formed pre-existing canon alliances - of course Ryu and Ken will still be boyfriends, and King and Marduk can still be Wrestle Bros - but by and large, treat every rivalry like it exists in a bubble.  What heinous act committed by Vega would send Yoshimitsu on a mission of vengeance against him?  How does Ryu's mastery of the Blue Fireball Side of the Force (I know it has a name, I just don't care) threaten what little peace of mind Jin has?  Is Nina willing to accept Bison's money in exchange for tracking down and killing Cammy?  Start with these simple threads and develop them right, and you'll find they start to overlap in organic ways that are much more rewarding than anything you'd get from a MacGuffin quest.  (r.e. those suggested rivalries - I'm just theorising based on what seems most likely...we can all agree that Cammy shouldn't be wasting her time with Lili, right?)

6. Don't give everyone the SAME ending...
This is one of those things I feel a bit conflicted about criticising, because on the one hand, the fact that Capcom actually bothered to have the arcade endings for SFXT be actual movies as opposed to just still art and some text is uncommonly generous for them.  Bu-u-ut, after unlocking more than one of them, I started to notice a common thread...and upon checking around, it turned out that, yup, every - single - drokking - one of them puts the characters in the same arctic environment with the same glowy cube.  Maybe that was unavoidable based on the story (and thus we have another reason not to follow that cue again) or maybe it was just Capcom being cheap and recycling art assets to the max, I don't know, but it really limits the appeal of the ending scenes as 'rewards' for good playing.
To be honest, I don't think I really need to tell Namco to do better - they've been doing proper ending movies for way longer, and are consistently the best in the fighting genre at it, the occasional wobbles notwithstanding.  TTT2 serves as a perfect example of this: not just for having the most endings of any Tekken game, and not just for having a wide variety of narratives, but also a wide and eclectic collection of art styles that makes each new video a pleasant surprise.  All I'm asking of Namco here is to keep up the good work, basically...

7. Customisation = Best of T6 + Best of TTT2
The thought that TXSF might not have customisation options has never occurred to me; since its debut in T5 it's become such an integral part of the games for me that I wonder how I ever got so attached to this series back when I couldn't make Paul Phoenix wear a duck on his head.  The main appeal this time around, of course, is getting to muck around with the 'legendary' character designs of the World Warriors, and if you don't think the first thing I'll do is make Ryu a bald guy wearing a pink floral shirt and hater-blockers, then you clearly have not been paying attention to this post.  PAY ATTENTION.
That being said, I do have some requests regarding the mechanics of customisation.  TTT2 was, in general, an improvement over previous versions of the system - in particular the options to 1) have multiple custom costumes saved at once, 2) allow both players in a local match to use customs, and 3) purchase any given clothes item once then change the colour at will rather than be forced to buy multiples in different tones.  However, where the system suffered was in the actual items available, with most of the clothes being generic models shared by all characters of the same gender, save for one or two unique options per character.  I realise that it's asking for a lot more work on the developers' part, but I'd much prefer if we could maintain the options from TTT2 but revert to a parts list more like that of T6, where virtually all clothes items were unique pieces (only accessories like glasses and weapons were shared), and where boots and gloves were kept separate from tops and bottoms.  This would make for a wider variety in character 'looks', and fewer of those weird loose-fitting tops that kinda smother everyone's physiques.

8. The Training Mode?  Keep it!
Simple enough - for all the crap I'm slinging at SFXT it did have a good, old-fashioned, step-by-step tutorial system.  While I liked TTT2's Fight Lab a lot, the desire to make it more a minigame unto itself (sensible though the idea may have been on paper) did somewhat dilute its effectiveness as a learning aid.  Ditch Combot, Violet and their bonkers narrative, and keep things basic.  Go step by step.  Let the player linger over each point as long as they want, and continue at their own pace.

9. Replay Editing Suite
This is pretty much the ultimate in wish-fulfillment for me and isn't especially necessary, but it's an idea that I've been going over in my head for a while and I do think it'd be a great way to boost the idea of a 'Tekken community', such as it is.
Both T6 and TTT2 (probably SFXT as well, though I can't say I ever checked) allow players to upload recordings of their fights to an online server, where they can then be downloaded and viewed by other players, anywhere in the world.  It's a popular addition, no doubt, but why stop at just vanilla replays?  These, after all, are an archive of a given players' skill and style, and so are in some ways a reflection of who they are.  So let's get creative with them.
What I'm talking about is a full video-editing program, or at least as close to it as can be done in-game.  After a fight, you save your replay to the HDD then load it up in the editing menu, which allows you to go through the whole fight frame-by-frame and tinker freely with camera angles, colour filters, adding/removing effects, instant playback on short bursts that look especially dramatic, speed-ramping, removing the HUD, change the music, the whole nine yards.  Obviously, when you're happy with it, you can still upload it to the server, possibly with an attached tag to allow everyone to fine-tune their search for edited or unedited replays only, of course.  Some enthusiastic and clever Tekken players are already trying their hand at this even without dedicated tools, so I can only imagine how big the groundswell of support would be if this was something anyone owning the game could do.
(For a real-world example of how this system could work, see the 'highlight reel'/entrance video editing options available in the more recent WWE wrestling games)

Bonus! 10. Want a truly great crossover? Talk to Sega
Okay, maybe THIS is the ultimate in wish-fulfillment for me.  I'm having my cake and eating it, so what?  It's my blog, dammit.
And no, I am not asking for a Tekken vs Virtua Fighter game.  That has been mentioned as possible in the past, and yes, I'd certainly buy it if it were made, but however much I'd love to see a Nina/Sarah showdown for the ages, that's not why Namco should be hawking the Tekken license to Sega.  Instead, the guys they need to talk to are the people behind the Yakuza series.
For the uninitiated, Yakuza (or RyĆ« ga Gotoku in its native land) is an ongoing series of roaming action-RPGs where players step into the shoes of one of several morally-cloudy criminal types and navigate the seedy red-light district of Kamurocho, unravelling a twisting plot of family, betrayal and revenge through one vicious hand-to-hand melee after another, and occasionally taking a detour for some gambling, hostess pestering and utterly insane sub-stories.  I kind of ignored the series for a good few years, but praising write-ups of Yakuza 4 suckered me in and, boy oh boy, it got me hooked.  I've since blasted through it 3 times, and 2 times through the zombie spin-off Dead Souls, and am currently gnashing my teeth in frustration over Yakuza 5 not getting a Western release yet.  Bah!
What does this have to do Tekken, you ask?  Simply put, I want Yakuza: Tekken Edition.  Not a crossover as such, but basically a game built on the same engine and controls, just with the Tekken characters and universe swapped in.  Yakuza already has that same appealing mash-up of incredibly serious melodrama and harebrained comedy that Tekken has been built on for years, and its combat system - while not a direct copy of Tekken's one-button-per-limb setup - has a very familiar look and feel to it, and rewards tricks like juggling, block-punishing and counters.  Even the main characters of Yakuza 4 handled like Tekken types: Shun Akiyama's machine-gun kicks and laid-back mannerisms are very Hwoarang-esque, Detective Tanimura's tricksy counters and limb-breaking chain holds seem xerox'd from Nina's playbook, and Taiga Saejima's muscle and ground-&-pound game brings Marduk to mind.  And Kazuma Kiryu is just the less-evil version of Kazuya in all but name (and even that's similar).  The point is, this isn't a totally stupid idea.  It's not like "let's make a Tekken FPS!" or "how about Tekken Kart Tournament?!" or whatever, it's an existing game built on the same core concept of Tekken (fighting, basically) that goes in a different direction.  It can work.
And on a business level, look at it this way: Namco get to further broaden the Tekken audience, as they've been doing for the past year, and Sega get to release a new Yakuza title with an established brand name that can and will shift copies to non-Japanese audiences.  It's a win-win.


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