Bandai Namco is pulling out the stops for Tekken 8. Armed with a bigger budget than for the previous entry, the series has come a long way, and its executive producer Katsuhiro Harada has been a part of it since the PS1 days.
TheGamer sat down with Harada and producer (and interview translator) Michael Murray, for an interview at Bandai Namco’s European HQ, where we got a day’s hands-on with the new game. Tekken might have Guinness World Records for longest running 3D fighting game series and longest running video game storyline, but Harada knows the humble beginnings from which it sprang.
When Harada first started in the early 1990s, he tells us via Murray, his immediate boss said Tekken’s biggest rival was Virtua Fighter, the preeminent 3D fighting game at the time. Harada’s manager asked him, ‘how many years do you need to catch up and beat Virtua Fighter?’, to which Harada replied they’d need about a decade. Almost thirty years later, he’s still here helping Tekken stay top of the class. “Working on Tekken until around 2005 was one of my goals, but to still be here 28 years later is much longer than I ever expected.”
Fighting games, especially the most popular ones like Tekken, have to maintain the deep and complex appeal for the hardcore esports fighters on one side, while remaining approachable, fluid, and entertaining for the newcomers and casuals on the other. “It’s quite difficult to balance,” Harada says, pointing out the differing expectations from each camp.
“The gameplay mechanics, such as the Heat System, might appeal to the esports fighters. But the regular consumer they’re more interested in the total package – what kind of modes, the story, FMVs – and Tekken 8 needs to have a very good balance of both, so we keep that in mind when developing the game.” Perhaps this answer could hint that Tekken 8 will have the extra goodies that longtime fans were somewhat disappointed didn’t appear in the previous title, but this is speculation of course.
The previous entry surprised players with its tie-ins, with Street Fighter’s Akuma playing a major role in Tekken 7’s story and featuring as a playable character, with characters from The Walking Dead (Negan) and Final Fantasy series (Noctis) also coming to the game as DLC. But Harada is coy over this subject for the new game. “Akuma was in Tekken 7, but that was not a collaboration since he was actually in the storyline, while others [guest characters] were added later,” he says.
“It’s similar for Tekken 8, we are not creating the game with guest characters in mind from the start, we’re focusing on our own characters in the starting line-up. Then at some point, if we need that boost of excitement or if that’s something fans overwhelmingly ask for, then maybe that’s something we’ll add later on, but right now it’s not something we’re considering.”
Tekken 8 also kicks off the series for the new gen, with the game only launching on PS5, Xbox Series, and PC. Harada was unequivocal that the PS5’s hardware allowed them to make the game look beautiful. He points to the benefits of the fast loading times of the SSDs, adding that “bumping up the resolution a little bit requires so much machine power”.
One key goal for Tekken 8 was to make sure it showcased the new gen. While the gameplay “still holds up”, the Tekken team wanted to ensure players felt like the game was “totally worth the money and investment”. While Tekken boldly enters the new gen, some longtime fans will be sad that certain characters won’t be coming with it.
As the literal grandaddy of the series, it was hard for me to believe that the charismatic Heihachi Mishima was really gone forever. Is he really, truly dead? Does that mean Kazuya is now the main antagonist of the series? “I don’t know how he’s not dead, right?” Murray laughs, referring to his death at the end of Tekken 7 where Kazuya throws Heihachi’s limp body into lava. I countered that there could always be a way, and in Tekken 4 Heihachi had tried to make himself immortal using Ogre’s blood (he failed).
“He looked pretty dead to me,” Harada adds. “Heihachi had failed to actually convert the devil gene, and he doesn’t have it so there’s no way he can revive like Kazuya or Jin can.” Harada tells me he had been surprised to see just how dead Heihachi was in the story. Murray says that when Harada expressed his shock to the team about just how dead Heihachi was, they told him they’d only given him what he asked for. “His staff had said, ‘hey, what are you talking about, that was the order you gave us’, and I remember it quite clearly.”
Murray says Harada had told them, “‘Heihachi has been dead so many times, you have to make sure it’s convincing this time’, and we were like, ‘you told us to make sure he’s dead, right?!’”
Harada maybe regrets having a team that follows his word so willingly. “It’s my favourite character so I was shocked,” he says.
For any fans desperate to cling on to hope, Murrary jokes “What about AI Heihachi?”, although that’s a bit of a monkey’s paw solution. But these days, when characters can just somehow return, you never know… Maybe this is just wishful thinking on my part.