Witness the power of the Terrible Zaibatsu
Writing for this site has been a blessing the likes of which I've never experienced at any other site I've written for (including some of my own). Not only can I essentially pick whatever I want to write about (within reason; you're not going to see a review of Citizen Kane anytime soon, and for several good reasons), but Mr. Pataki has demonstrated an exceptional acumen when it comes to assignments. Mortal Kombat was a great idea, and he recently approached me with a suggestion that's brilliant - why not write a series on the lore of Tekken?
Alright, maybe it's not the most fascinating thing in the world to the general public, but Tekken is a series that's always been very near and dear to my heart. While other arcade-goers were mastering the technicality and speed of Street Fighter II or experiencing the brutal gore of Mortal Kombat, I was always far more attracted to the Tekken cabinets at my local movie theater. It wasn't just the three dimensional models that impressed me - the characters were immediately more interesting not only from a visual perspective, but because they all seemed far more unique and interesting from an immediate visual cue. I'll never forget playing Tekken 2 for the first time after watching the first Power Rangers movie back in 1995. I never forgot how menacing the hulking giant killer robot was, or how I got obliterated by Paul's right roundhouse (I didn't know my right from my left at the time; it HAD to have been a left roundhouse). Every character seemed to exude personality, and that's not easy on Namco's System 11 hardware. When I finally snatched up the console port, it turns out most of my preconceptions were right: there's a detailed, complex (if at times laughable) backstory, and each character has actual motivations and connections that are worth reading about. I've never been so excited to write about any subject before.
A few rules first, though. I'm only going to be reviewing Tekken, Tekken 2 and Tekken 3. I've never played any of the others (besides Tekken 6 for an entire day in an arcade in Osaka), outside of Tekken Tag Tournament, and that's non-canonical. Additionally, the Tekken series canon is often very tricky to follow, features (necessary) retconning and often doesn’t make a lick of sense. That’s part of the fun of it, naturally, but for the purpose of this my interpretation of the series will be a combination of a) what I could glean from the games themselves b) what I could glean from the instruction manuals and c) what I can glean from the Internet. There’s a lot of gleaning to be done, so let’s start with the very first game:
|Just threw my controller into a volcano
This isn’t actually the first Tekken game; turns out people weren’t very good at programming back in 1995. They weren’t able to make this janky-ass game fit on a PS1 disc without a brief loading screen, which they decided to somehow cover up with a very short game of Galaga. If you somehow get a perfect score (NERD) then you unlock Devil (just a crappy blue palette-swap for Kazuya). Galaga is not in the Tekken canon. Galaga sucks.
Rave Warriors, come out to play-ee-ay.
One of the things the first three Tekken games have in common is extremely impressive opening FMVs, both in terms of animation (at the time) and especially in music. This is something that wasn’t offered in either Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat, and it’s a visual way of learning about the characters and their backgrounds without having to thumb through a poorly-translated instruction manual. That being said, I still laugh every time I see Michelle carrying an axe.
Is the game even fun?
I've been unnecessarily cruel to the original Tekken in the past, which is particularly odd because I'm not sure anyone actually played it. I've called it a travesty and one of the worst games I've ever had the misfortune to play to completion. In reality...it's really not THAT bad. In fact, considering it was released in 1994, it was pretty revolutionary as a 3D fighter. If you consider the improvement from the arcade version to the home console port (outside of a very slight downgrade in graphics), it becomes even more impressive. The console version features twice as many playable characters, vastly improved music, adjustable difficulty, and...well...Galaga, I guess. That's to say nothing of setting up the best trilogy on the original PlayStation (eat your heart out, Final Fantasy/Crash Bandicoot/Spyro the Dragon).
That being said...yeah, there are a ton of problems. That adjustable difficulty setting mentioned above provides you with Easy, Medium, Hard, Very Hard, and Ultra Hard. This becomes astounding when you actually play the game and realize even the Easy setting is too hard for most players. The control flat out sucks, the graphics are horrible, the movesets are limited (characters don’t even have backthrows), none of the unlockable characters have ending FMVs (most are just useless palette swaps of the mains), every ending FMV features the same music, there's only two game modes: single player and two player, and...well…you have to play Galaga for a split second. I still can't recommend this game to anyone except to laugh at the graphics.
Let me spin you a yarn about revenge, redemption, and space ninjas
Once upon a time there was a corporation ( zaibatsu, in Japanese), specifically, the Mishima Zaibatsu. At the head was a man with the second most ridiculous haircut in the world, Heihachi Mishima. Heihachi amassed a ton of wealth through [REDACTED] totally legitimate means. Unfortunately, Heihachi’s five year old son, Kazuya, just wasn’t trying hard enough in his martial arts studies. Money might be able to buy you happiness, but it can’t buy your kid a decent pushup. One day Heihachi finally gets sick and tired of Kazuya fucking up the input for Wind God Fist, picks him up, says “If you’re really my son, you’ll be able to climb your way back up,” and tosses him off a cliff. Note that this kid is five years old. This is undeniably child abuse, no two ways around it. Anyway, Kazuya gets a bigass scar across his chest and somehow climbs his battered body up to the top. Rough way to start a Wednesday, lemme tell ya.
Two decades-ish later, Heihachi decides having a ton of money is somehow boring (someone needs to introduce him to collecting Blu-Rays) and he announces a big fighting game tournament, called The Rave War. Then someone in marketing whispers in his ear that that’s a stupid name for a fighting game, and he renames it Tekken (King of the Iron Fist). The grand prize is…I dunno, like a billion dollars or something. Kazuya (and a bunch of other dudes) decides to enter. It’s basically the same thing as Mortal Kombat with lower stakes but better gameplay. Tekken is not a great game by any stretch, but it struck enough of a cord with fans to warrant a sequel. What is it about this clunky, janky piece of software that spawned a franchise churning out games to this day instead of flaming out into obscurity alongside Bloody Roar, Ehrgeiz, or Wu-Tang: Shaolin Style? The strength of Tekken, both in terms of its story and its gameplay, lies in its individual characters.
Kazuya’s somehow presented as a hero in this game, which is particularly hilarious considering what happens in the next few games. It’s not surprising that a dude who threw his five year old son off a cliff is portrayed as a villain, but Kazuya doesn’t look at all like a hero and his backstory sure doesn’t reflect that either. He’s been driven by revenge all these years (how could you blame him?) but that does not a hero make. In those two decades, Kazuya’s taken the time to learn and perfect most of his father's moves, so he’s easily one of the best characters in the game (and very easy to pick up). He’s also entered a bunch of martial arts tournaments and hasn’t lost a single one (winning all but one, which was a draw). I’m pretty sure he doesn’t even care about money; he just wants sweet ol’ lady vengeance.
NOW we’re talkin’. Easily my favorite character in the series (and the only guy with a haircut more ridiculous than Heihachi’s), Paul’s actually become kind of a joke character. To wit: in this game he makes it all the way to the sub-boss (Kuma) but is too tired upon beating him to advance to the final battle with Heihachi. This theme of being so close to winning will haunt him in the next two games as well. Despite the nonsense Namco always lays on Paul’s shoulders, he’s a fucking beast in this game as well as the next two. He’s the one guy who pulled a draw with Kazuya, and actually entered this tournament “to eliminate any comparisons.”
Hahahahaha look at that fuckin’ face. No joke: his face is like that for the entire game. I have no idea what they were thinking outside of “let’s put Bruce Lee in a video game,” but the game is almost unplayable as Law because you keep laughing at his jaw hanging wide open like he just saw Christian Hackenberg complete a pass. Law is a Chinese-American who works in a Chinese restaurant and (hahaha that face) works as an assistant at a dojo and (god it’s the funniest moment in the series) wants to use the prize money to open his own dojo. Sure, his kicks and backflips and shit are fun as hell to use, but I’m never going to get over that face. Homeboy looks like he just saw the climax of Double Team.
Yoshimitsu’s been a mainstay of the series and I’m pretty sure his appearance has changed in every game (again, I stopped playing after the third installment). Remember what I said about Galaga being non-canonical? The instruction manual actually describes Yoshimitsu as a space ninja, so maybe I was full of shit when I said that. For a guy who gets to use a sword in a game where no one else uses a weapon, he’s actually kinda shitty in this outing. Weirdly enough, his inability to commit seppuku is what holds him back. Yoshimitsu’s motivation is the money. Greenbacks. Genuine Heihachi Bucks. He’s like some Robin Hood sorta figure, but his goal isn’t necessarily to win the tournament. He’s acting as a decoy while the rest of his clan works to surreptitiously acquire the billion dollars. I never quite thought of that. He is infuriated by Ganryu and his disrespect of the sumo code, so he punishes the corrupt sumo by stealing his money and distributing it to Law's village. Nice gesture, but it’s overshadowed by that ridiculous face Law’s making. Dude looks like he just found out about the Tekken anime.
Nina’s Irish, but even the game doesn’t care about this. There’s no reason I should care about it either, but it kinda bugs me that they couldn’t find a way for her “ow” and “yah” vocalizations to have the slightest hint of an Irish accent. She’s an assassin who’s a master of aikido and such, and upon reading the manual I’ve realized what a raw deal she seems to get in each game: she never actually assassinates anyone she wants. Nina was kidnapped and drugged into believing she has to assassinate Heihachi (either the group who kidnapped her wants the money, to end the illegal practices of the Mishima Zaibatsu, or a fun little mix of both). The same thing happens in the next two games. If given the chance, Nina would probably just focus on killing her sister (the dumbest part of any Tekken game is their sibling rivalry, but Namco loves that shit for some reason). Nina’s a great example of the graphical setbacks this game suffers from in comparison to its successors: her face is totally bonkers and I have no idea why. Her ending FMV is even worse: Anna’s looking for a shoe, she yells at Nina, Nina slaps her, Anna cries, turns out Nina had the shoe all along. It was obviously intended to show that Namco could not only program 3D models in a more human moment rather than beating the snot out of someone, but also in a humorous moment. Sadly, the FMV fails on both counts. After seeing this I don’t know if I’d give them money to do a sequel. That’s why I’m not in the stock market.
I have absolutely no idea why Jack is entered in this tournament. This huge killer Soviet cyborg is a decent fighter, but I keep getting mixed signals as to why he’s even here for any reason other than Namco thought it would be cool to play as a robot. They were right, but still. The manual says he’s backed by a scientist who wants to turn Russia back into a Communist superpower (I guess all you need to do that is a billion dollars?) while the internet says the Russian government sent him in to stop…Kazuya? What? I have no idea, this is so stupid. Fun fact, or about as fun as facts get about Jack: this is the only game he appears in. That’s right, you don’t even get to see him in Tekken Tag Tournament. While the above picture highlights how completely fucking stupid and huge Jack looks, one of the nice things about the game is how it actually sounds like metal whenever he gets hit, which is a nice touch.
Another ridiculously fun character to use, King also has a really weird backstory that I swear changes based on the source you read, so bear with me as I try to piece things together Dale Cooper-style. King was a Mexican orphan who may or may not have dealt drugs and almost certainly killed someone. He was then badly injured and taken to a Catholic church, who took him in, healed his wounds, and convinced to join the luchadores (speaking as a Catholic, we’ve had a long standing relationship with lucha libre; it’s the most overlooked verse of the Nicene Creed). King’s fighting in the tournament to raise money for his orphanage (which, based on the ending, actually features real life kids in the FMV). I would be remiss if I didn’t mention this is the only game where you can see King’s face (in the opening). It’s not a major detail but Mr. Pataki said he’d kick me in the nuts if I didn’t mention it (and then he did it anyway).
Everyone else has got a pretty good reason for participating in a fighting game tournament. They’ve all got some semblance of a background in combat arts. Michelle? None. None besides that stupid axe in the opening FMV. Sure, she’s got motivation; her father was killed by Heihachi, so she’s off for revenge (really, she’s no better than Kazuya). She’s the one character in the game with a backthrow, and she’s surprisingly easy to use (I can’t stand using her in the sequel). I’m all in favor of including a Native American (even if she’s half-Chinese) in a medium that’s sorely lacking in that department, but I’ve always thought she should’ve been given a stronger fighting background. Turns out Ganryu has a crush on her. Must be those Daisy Dukes.
I’ve talked enough about the secret characters, and this guy in particular, to mention him now. Ganryu was a bigass sumo wrestler (the best kind to be, or so I hear), but he wrestled dirty and got kicked out of the league. He decided to work as a bodyguard for Heihachi which was a pretty sweet gig, till Yoshimitsu came across him and kicked his ass while taking his ill-gotten winnings in the process. In the future he apparently develops some sort of unrequited crush on Michelle and Julia, which is weird. He’s a worthless palette swap of Jack and I really don’t think a lot of thought went into his design. Again, the secret characters don’t have any ending FMVs so don’t expect to glean any information there. I don’t think he even has an entry in the original manual, so it’s pretty tough to narrow anything down on him. Almost certainly everyone’s least liked character.
Lee is the adopted son of Heihachi, meant to antagonize Kazuya. Throwing him into a ravine wasn’t enough, you had to go all the way to China and adopt some kid with silver hair to turn into your own personal Race Bannon? Lee’s more of a palette swap of Law, except he has an infinite kick combo that’s hard as shit to dodge in this game because you can’t sidestep. Storywise, I think he’s just here to support Daddy Dinky. Don’t worry, this isn’t the last we see of him, and I swear on the grave of Harambe that’s a good thing.
Bullshit. You can do better than that. Really? That’s the best you can muster? Guys guys guys. You don’t understand. We made this game to compete with Virtua Fighter 2. If consumers see this shit on the screen, they’re gonna guffaw their ways back to Primal Rage. Look. Look. Seiichi, look at me. Look. I told you Heihachi has a pet bear, and he has to fight Paul, it’s funny, he’s like a joke character. People will be laughing at us when they see this shit. He looks like a giant wolverine and he clips into everyone. And furthermore, I- wait, we ship tomorrow? DOES ANYONE ACTUALLY USE THE MEMO BOARD ANYMORE I SWEAR TO GOD
This is straight up the most idiotic thing I’ve ever seen in a video game.
One of the major problems I’ve had with Japanese fighting games (and Japanese media in general) is the over-sexualization of women (see Cammy in Street Fighter II, Morrigan in the Darkstalkers series, and just about any female character in the Soulcalibur series, and the fact that they made more than one Dead or Alive Extreme Beach Volleyball game). There’s no doubt about it: Anna was included for sex appeal, and it has unfortunately only gotten more obvious as the games have progressed. That being said, for the being the “sexy” character, she’s really far less sexualized than other series would’ve made her. It’s actually a little comical how hard she tries to be sexy and it just doesn’t work considering all those other franchises. As it stands, Nina’s sister has no real purpose except to show up and annoy Nina every once in awhile.
There is absolutely no reason for Wang to be entering this tournament. The poor sap is 82 years old; he should be playing pachinko in an Okinawa arcade before dying surrounded by some ungrateful grandchildren who would rather play Gameboy than listen to him talk about what life was like before Nagasaki. Apparently he’s a friend of Heihachi’s (deceased) father, Jinpachi, and he just…lives in the Mishima garden, I guess. Also he helped Jack Burton defeat David Lo Pan in Big Trouble in Little China.
Kunimitsu used to belong to Yoshimitsu’s (space?) ninja clan, but was a naughty nelly and judiciously expelled. He enters this tournament for some treasure Heihachi stole from the Native Americans (connection to Michelle? Who cares). Astute viewers will notice that the above picture of Kunimitsu is actually of a man. After this game, Kunimitsu was changed to a woman fighter, and you haven’t read a single Vox thinkpiece that surmises that he/she may be transgender. That’s because God is kind and merciful.
What the hell is the deal with Armor King? I have no idea why people like him so much; as far as gameplay goes he’s objectively inferior to Regular King, he just shrugs a lot, and he just looks like a grimdark palette swap. Armor King is King’s friend, rival and mentor. He enters this tournament because that’s what friends, rivals and mentors do in Japan. Canonically, this is actually where his eye gets scratched, which is why it’s red in subsequent games. Armor King represents the most wasted potential in the series.
Alright, put yourself in this man’s stone sandals for a second. You’ve amassed this formidable Scrooge McDuck stockade of yen, you’re also somehow one of the best martial artists in the world, so why hold a martial arts tournament? Is this some sort of Donald Trump scheme for brand recognition? I considered the possibility that he’s trying to root out potential dangerous competitors/saboteurs, but the only one that makes sense is Kazuya. He’s either getting his jollies by sicking a killer bear on people or trying to lure out his son for some strange reason. Gosh ‘n golly jeepers, I sure hope this is explained in a goofy twist in the sequel!
None of this makes sense - which ending is canon and why does Prototype Jack look like one of Sid's toys?
This isn’t a game like the Twisted Metal series. There is a very clear canonical ending, and for once each ending actually plays out to that end. Kazuya is the winner of the tournament, not anyone else. He goes to his father’s body, fights on the same cliff he got dropped off 21 years ago and…oh no…OH NO…LOOK OUT
BAH GAWD KANG! HE DID IT! HE KILLED ‘IM! THE ONE THOUSAND EIGHT HUNDRED METER DROP! YOUR HEART’LL STOP EITHER FROM THE DROP OR THE TASTE OF THESE DELICIOUS CHILI DOGS SLOBBERKNOCKED WITH FRIED OYSTER SKINS! THE TOMBSTONE WILL READ “HERE LIES THE RICHEST BALDING MAN IN THE WHOLE STINKIN’ WORLD!” BAH GAWD KING! KAZUYA MISHIMA! KAZUYA MISHIMA! KAZUYA MISHIMA! SOMEONE STOP THE MATCH! THE MOST TERR- BAH GAWD KING HE DID IT AGAIN, HOW COULD THE VALLEY STILL BE STANDING?!?! HE ALMOST GOT HIS HEAD RIPPED OFF! BAW GAWD WWE BROUGHT TO YOU BY WOMEN'S TAMPONS, PONTIAC TEMPEST, AND WWE RAW VS WWE SMACKDOWN ONLY ON XBOX ONE! AND WE ARE BACK TO THE FIGHT BAH GAWD KAZUYA MISHIMA NEARLY KILLED HIM, NEARLY BLEW HIS GUTS OUT BAW GAWD HERE COMES THE REFS TO STOP THE MATCH BAH GAWD HERE COMES VINCE MCHACMON KISS MY ASS BAW GAWD HERE COMES STONE COLD STEVE AUSTIN TO OPEN UP A CAN OF WHOOPASS AND DRINK BEER BAH GWARD HE DID IT AGAIN KAZUYA MISHIMA BAH GAWD ALL THE AUDACITY THE UNORTHODOX ENERGY COMING FROM THE YOUNGER MISHIMA! THE END BAH GAWD!
What have we learned?
Well, we’ve learned this game is hot garbage, but three dimensional models were impressive enough in a pre-OJ verdict world to drag drooling consumers to arcades and KB Toys alike, and thus a sequel is born. We’ve learned that even in 1995 Sony was producing some pretty impressive opening FMV cutscenes on their first ever console, such that most games that followed thereafter on the system would feature one as well. We’ve also learned that Namco is really lazy at explaining characters’ motivations and backgrounds, which, when combined with the volume of characters, makes connecting all the different storylines something akin to tying a bunch of particularly excited macaques’ tails together. Good things the next two games will fix that problem, right?