Tekken 5 (PlayStation 2) review
"Namco finally gets its act together in Tekken 5. Taking a back-to-basics approach, Namco has returned to the combat fundamentals of Tekken 3 in response to the mixed reactions towards Tekken 4. Experimenting with position changes, a narrative dialogue, and walled environments, Tekken 4 felt out of character. To offer some leniency, its failures were a necessary sidestep toward the development of Tekken 5, which rightfully removes the position changes, incorporates narrative dialogue, and deempha..."
Namco finally gets its act together in Tekken 5. Taking a back-to-basics approach, Namco has returned to the combat fundamentals of Tekken 3 in response to the mixed reactions towards Tekken 4. Experimenting with position changes, a narrative dialogue, and walled environments, Tekken 4 felt out of character. To offer some leniency, its failures were a necessary sidestep toward the development of Tekken 5, which rightfully removes the position changes, incorporates narrative dialogue, and deemphasizes the walled environments. In essence, Tekken 5's gameplay and graphics recapture the greatness of Tekken's glory days. Conceptually, however, the Tekken series has deviated from its central idea and continues to add things onto things onto things without enough direction or relevance. Still, Tekken 5 delivers a strong statement and resets the standard for the fighting genre with mind-boggling visuals and sheer playability.
Tekken 5 takes a considerable effort to integrate features from Tekken 4 without surrendering the founding gameplay that brought Tekken 3 vast success. The decision to remove position changes is most appreciated. As much as exploration into new territory is welcomed, many found Tekken 4's position changes an obvious attempt on Namco's part to imitate AM2's Virtua Fighter. However, they would not have been such an issue if they were not so difficult to actually use. Most of the time, players avoided position changes altogether, since they required wasting time to grasp the opponent as if they were a throw when throws ultimately deal more damage.
Equally as poorly executed were the walled environments, where wall hits could be scored not only along the boundary of the stage, but also on solid objects scattered across the field such as statues, trees, and columns. Tekken 5 alleviates this consequential loss of movement and character control by incorporating walls without the enclosed feeling or the overcrowding objects. In fact, of the sixteen environments, Tekken 5 includes four infinite spaces reminiscent of Tekken 3: Moonlit Wilderness, Polar Paradise, and both unlockable final stages. On one hand, this creates variety in the gameplay and depth in how the environment affects strategy; on the other hand, it lacks common sense, and, except for stunning visuals, there is no common thread that runs through all the environments. Perhaps this lack of association between the storyline and the setting is due in part because there has not been a single game in the fighting genre that has been able to explain the reason, besides visual awe, for fighting in a particular environment in the first place. Why exactly are the characters in Tekken fighting on an arctic icecap with penguins, or on some random rooftop, or in a secret garden with flowers? Of course, it is too much to ask Tekken 5 to all of sudden break such a longstanding trend. However, it would have been better if the environments were somehow put more into context with the storyline.
The narrative dialogue introduced in Tekken 4 has been left unchanged. Except for the script, everything from the narrator, the style, and the structure of a prologue and an epilogue, down to even the music has been copied over. Thus, it is surprising that Tekken 5 features one of the best cohesive storylines in the fighting genre, though that really is not saying too much. The male voiceover and the English subtitles are slow, contrived, and monotonous. Every time the narrator changes his movie-preview-like voice in order to match the emotion either makes us laugh, cry, or cringe in silence. It is also a wonder to why the epilogue is never narrated when the prologue is. Perhaps they realized that it is actually faster to read words rather than listen to a snail talk.
Nevertheless, the cinematic introduction for the game serves its purpose well as an eye-opener that initiates the storyline, and the plots for each character weave together more or less successfully. Tekken 5 also does not fail to deliver the endings for which the Tekken series is known for. Exquisitely rendered and never dull, it is evident that each epilogue was given special attention and made with utter enthusiasm. Most of the endings were comical in nature and did not take themselves too seriously. Moreover, it is surprising that there are actual moments of genuine emotion, notably the sorrow in Wang's ending and the pure evil in Kazuya's ending. On the contrary, King's ending is a total rip-off from the anime Ultimate Muscle and many of them, though humorous and entertaining, hold little or no meaning whatsoever. To be sure, the Tekken series has always had a broad attitude towards their endings, though sometimes incoherent and off on their own tangent.
At the very beginning of the game, players can select among 20 characters, which, by the way, is the total amount of characters in Tekken 4. As usual, the other characters can be generally unlocked through successive Story Mode completions. Keeping the series fresh, Feng Wei - a Chinese Dragon Fist expert, Asuka Kazama - an exuberant girl reminiscent of Jun Kazama, and Raven - an international spy that is like a cross between Wesley Snipes and Shinobi, have been added to the roster. Movelists for all the characters have been updated with mostly high-flying techniques. Small yet significant changes have been made such as the wider window of opportunity for escaping from a throw and the damage reduction of King's throw combinations. In the end, the gameplay feels like Tekken 3 with bits and pieces of Tekken 4 sprinkled throughout.
In an effort to infuse Tekken Force with more intensity and purpose, Namco has developed a minor 3D adventure starring Jin that is appropriately called "Tekken: The Devil Within". The object of the game is quite simple: go around defeating enemies, solving puzzles, and unlocking doors. Unfortunately, this sounds like every other action game in the world. In short, "Tekken: The Devil Within" is unbearable. Monotonous in every sense of the word, it is more drawn out than a presidential debate. For each of the five stages, there are four parts, and for each of the four parts, there is a barraging onslaught of enemies at every turn and an eternity of doors to be unlocked. Every stage and enemy uses virtually the same design except with different texturing. Furthermore, the blah storyline is incomplete, bland, and disjointed from the gameplay. In fact, the whole venture is so unnecessary that it ruins what would have been one of the best games in video game history. But, alas, in order to unlock that last question-mark covered character called Devil Jin, "Tekken: The Devil Within" must be played the whole damn way through. For a nice comparison of how this feels, it would be like forcing Virtua Quest down your throat just to unlock only the most powerful character in Virtua Fighter 4 Evolution. And they say suffering isn't fun...
It is clear that Tekken 5's Arcade Mode borrowed from Virtua Fighter 4 Evolution's Quest Mode, albeit without neither much effort nor originality. Each computer player has a befitting name for their rank and character, and, except for the 'kyu' tier, specifically defeating similarly ranked enemies increase a character's rank. The actual titles for the ranks higher than 5th dan have been changed with the Tekken perspective in mind, but the overall concept of the ranking system is relatively the same. Unfortunately, everything in VF4 that would have made Arcade Mode better is missing. The game does not offer any challenges, and besides rank promotion and demotion, there is no actual 'quest' element, no engaging reason to progress. To its credit, the blindingly fast loading time makes Arcade Mode more engaging than VF4 on a technical standpoint. The ability to select the next opponent from a choice of three continues the adrenaline flowing and gives players the power to decide their own path.
Understandably, the primary purpose behind Arcade Mode is to accumulate currency or 'G' to purchase customizable items that can change the appearance of a character. Generally speaking, every character has three alternative options for their head, face, upper body, and lower body as well as a respectable palette of costume colors to choose from. To sustain its graphical capabilities, however, Tekken follows VF4's lead in making it impossible to equip more than one item for a specific body part. Per character, this is less than the number of options in VF4 but considering that there are far more characters in Tekken, the sheer quantity of customizable features included is astonishing. Regrettably, items for player customization are too expensive. How much a player can reasonably earn and how much an item costs is extremely unbalanced. Considering that winning an average fight in Arcade Mode is worth in the conservative ballpark of 800-1200 G, a price tag of 100,000-500,000 G on extra costumes and numerous specialty items is just uncalled for. It is acknowledged that the creators wanted to ensure sufficient replay value and to make certain that the prices are proportional to the reward - it is, indeed, expected that extra costumes and special items be difficult to attain. Nonetheless, even the most hardcore Tekken fan can only be expected to earn about two million G at a time, which is just enough money to purchase all of the items for just one out of thirty characters.
With a collection of minor issues, Tekken 5 also lends itself to be awkward and partially unfinished. No one can explain why Starblade is even in Tekken. It has practically no relevance to the Tekken series yet it is the first thing that comes on the screen. Furthermore, to make Starblade the ultimate reward for painstakingly unlocking all the characters is random, absurd, and for a lack of a better word, stupid. Just as strange is why there is a concert stage backdrop to the general interface or why the Tekken series insists on having a time limit when selecting characters in practice mode. However, what is even more puzzling is why there is no instruction on how to select an extra costume after purchasing one for a whopping 500,000 G or why there is an inability to immediately restart a match. During the continue screen, Tekken 3 allowed players to immediately restart the battle without returning to the character select screen. In Tekken 5, as swift as the loading time is, it takes going back to the character select screen, waiting for the characters to load, selecting your character, and then waiting some more for the match to finally begin. Why players have to do the run around every time is beyond explanation. The memory card mechanics were also poorly handled. Only one player's data can be stored on a memory card and the game, outside versus mode, features no access to Memory Card Slot 2. Last but not least, as a minor gripe, the health indicators on top of the screen are not as remarkable as they could be. Perhaps in a minimalist style, they are just two basic orange bars with orbs and names next to them. Yes, the indicators are clean and simple, but there are ways to make them more visually interesting without sacrificing clarity.
Many people have expressed justifiable disappointment over the absence of online play and Jinpachi. At this point in the Tekken series, the lack of online play does not necessarily hurt the game. From hints in Arcade Mode, Namco seems to be playing with the idea, so if Tekken 6 does not support online play, it will fall short of our expectations. Nevertheless, Namco has also created a design issue that has the potential to ruin the series: Jinpachi. By definition, a boss battle should be more than the average fight and should test a player's skill. Jinpachi more than satisfies these two conditions. However, even on the easiest difficulty setting, Jinpachi is too powerful. With the ability to counter practically every move with a stun blow and to project fireballs from his gut, Jinpachi reminds us of M. Bison from Street Fighter Alpha 3. This kind of continue-abusing finale is out of step with the Tekken series. Sure, Jinpachi is beatable, but he is also intolerable, especially for new players that do not have enough experience.
People have said it, and I will say it again. The graphics in Tekken 5 simply should not be possible on the PS2. Every character is modeled down to the tee: the musculature, the facial features, the fine detailing on each character's costume, and especially the movements of each character. As if it could not get any better, every move is fluid, natural, and believable. Even Lei's signature five-form style is so smooth that they're practically real. The environments, as unrealistic as they might be, all have a distinct concept that comes across loud and clear. Just thinking about Moonlit Wilderness, Cathedral, Waterfall, Hell's Gate, or even Poolside creates a clear visualization of the environment. Perhaps the only concern is the environmental damage effects, where prior cracks on the ground are restored or when debris doesn't stay on the ground. Still, Tekken 5's perfection in graphics almost makes every one of its flaws forgivable and forgettable.
Both the game's sound effects and musical soundtrack have improved, albeit not as dramatically as the graphics. A more powerful bass has been gratefully added to increase the impact of every strike. Now a blow to the stomach actually sounds as painful as it feels. Besides that, except for fighting on glass and the like, the variety of sound effects has not changed all that much from Tekken 4 and even Tekken 3. On a musical standpoint, nothing has changed much either. It has improved in 'listenability', meaning if the music is taken out of its context as part of the fighting background, it can stand on its own. For instance, one song in particular, Moonlit Wilderness, has a clear melody and enough content to be worthy of note. Still, most of the soundtrack is only appropriate as game music, unless Tekken music is your thing.
Tekken always has substantial replay value, and Tekken 5 is no exception. As annoying as the Arcade Mode is, it is worth the time to see how good you are, and Versus mode usually satisfies any group of people. This time, not only getting each character's ending but also experiencing each character's storyline persuades you to complete Story Mode. In comparison, Survival Mode and Time Attack are, more than not, insignificant filler that feel like outdated modes that have been just taken for the ride. "Tekken: The Devil Within" is also almost not worth the time to unlock Devil Jin, and it is most certainly meaningless to play it a second time, unless collecting rare replay-specific items floats your boat. Overall, Tekken 5 displays an engaging gameplay in Story and Arcade Mode that is more than the sum of its parts. In the end, Tekken 5 is a graphics landmark in video game history and restores the Tekken series to its rightful place. Hopefully next time, Namco can concentrate its effort on leaving nothing unfinished and is able to deliver the perfect package on all levels.
Community review by draqq_zyxx (September 11, 2005)
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