I really liked Tekken 4
. It took the popular "King of Iron Fist" series to an interesting place by successfully borrowing ideas from competitors like Dead or Alive 2
and Virtua Fighter 4
while adding its own unique touch. It presented a legitimate revamping of a franchise that had remained relatively unchanged for close to seven years, and brought such novel additions as uneven surfaces, strategic wall damage, destructible objects, and position changes to an already addicting gameplay mechanic. It was a great sequel and definitely worth picking up.
As cool as I thought Tekken 4 was, however, it couldn't hold a candle to Tekken Tag Tournament. I loved that game. It was the reason I plunked down the cash to pick up a PlayStation 2 in the first place, and it became an after-work obsession of mine for nearly two years. I'd spend entire weekends participating in pleasant competitions with my closest friends, I'd devise bizarre and unworkable strategies with my co-workers, and I'd practice Jin and Jun's crazy ten-strings with my woman between dinner dates. We had fun... lots of fun, and it was all because of that game's terrific timing, pacing, and balance. To be honest, though, I had secretly hoped that the developers would go back to something closer to Tekken Tag for Tekken 5 -- and wouldn't you know it? Somebody at Namco apparently read my mind, because Tekken 5 is awesome.
To be more accurate, Tekken 5 is really more of a Tekken series melting pot. Though it more closely resembles the Tekken 3/Tekken Tag pair of games, it still takes the best elements from the previous four titles and combines them into a single kickass experience. So while the bothersome wall infinites from Tekken 4 have been completely eliminated, players can still use the occasional barrier to get an advantage on their opponent. The uneven, mulutiple-elevation stages have been nix too, but to acknowledge the fact those destructible goodies from the last game were a pretty good idea, the floors, walls, and certain other environmental spots still show damage when you smash into them. On a slightly less important note, the crouching command has thankfully been returned to its old "down press" designation instead of down-diagonal -- meaning that players probably won't end up walking forward by accident when trying to duck as they did in the last one.
These alterations are made even better by Tekken 5's obvious increase in speed. Though still not as fast as DOA Ultimate or a 2D fighter like Guilty Gear, it's still the quickest game in the series by far. And when coupled with some of the most even character balancing I've seen since VF4: Evolution, this speed increase provides a great base for what turns out to be an excellent fighting ga"me. I'm particularly jazzed that Namco finally toned down newbie "mash bastards like Christie Monteiro and Lee Chaolan -- who still chime in as powerful characters but with a lot less cheddar to go along with it.
Speaking of characters, it's hard to get angry at the lineup here. Boasting more than two dozen popular fighters from throughout the series' history, the roster in Tekken 5 is pretty much a who's who when it comes to fighting games. Returning favorites like Jin, Kazuya, Marshall Law, Paul Phoenix, and Hwoarang join more recent names like Steve Fox, Craig Marduk, and the aforementioned Christie Monteiro. Plus, as I said before, they're all extremely well balanced and are easily the best versions of the characters yet available (especially Steve -- he's a tank). Additionally, the three brand new combatants (Asuka Kazama, Feng Wei, and Raven) are incredibly cool to use and a lot of fun to learn. In fact, Raven and Feng Wei quickly became two of my favorite alter egos thanks to a pair of fighting styles that haven't really been used in this franchise before. Raven's uncanny resemblance to Wesley Snipes as Blade is was a humorous side touch too.
One of the primary reasons that Tekken 5's large cast of characters is so fun to use, though, (other than the usual list of insane juggles and intuitive reversals), is because there's literally a million things to do with them. Namco has always been famous for making its home versions of Tekken better than the arcade originals, but this time it has outdone itself. There's literally something in here for everyone.
And when I say there are a million things to do, I'm not just referring to the typical list of training modes, time trials, or two-player matches either. Tekken 5 goes way beyond that. The game's beefy story mode, for instance, is definitely the best in the series: offering hand-drawn and fully narrated prologues that are book ended by several badass ending cinemas. What's more, is that almost every single one of these endgame movies are surprisingly humorous in nature, and are fully packed with several laugh-out-loud moments. Go ahead and try to keep a straight face when enjoying the endings for Anna, Nina, or Asuka, for example, or try not to crack a smile when Heihachi's ambitious but highly entertaining finishing moment plays through.
Another cool addition to the game is the changes that have been made to the arcade mode. Following the standard set by Virtua Fighter 4: Evolution a few years back, Tekken 5 offers players the ability to play ranked CPU opponents for a simulated arcade experience. This feature further enables users the ability to set up and name their own personal profile to keep track of how good they really are and to use that stature to earn money. This basic philosophy means that the higher the rank of your CPU opponent, the more money you'll get when you beat him -- and once you have enough gold in your reserve, you can then go ahead and spend it to get tons of bonus goodies.
These purchasable bonuses also take a queue from VF Evolution as they're primarily made up of a wide selection of customizable clothing. So if you'd much rather see Heihachi wearing an eye patch and a motorcycle helmet instead of his default outfit, you can go ahead and do that. Likewise, if you'd prefer to see Paul Phoenix wearing Legion of Doom motorcycle jackets or King adorned as royalty, you can do that too. This kind of modification is one of the primary reasons that SEGA's fighter still has so many fans today, and I can see it having the same effect for Tekken fans. It's truly an addicting little feature, and I just wish that there were even more clothing items to select.
Namco has also included a bonus action/adventure mini-game known as "Devil Within," which follows Jin Kazama as he runs around and kicks plenty of hive-minded robotic butts. Interestingly enough, Devil Within implements a completely different control scheme from the regular Tekken fighting mode -- so it may take a bit of getting used to before you can be as effective here as you are in a regular match. Personally, I preferred Tekken 4's "Tekken Force" as an action/adventure alternative, but considering the fact that this is all bonus stuff and not part of the primary experience anyway, it's really not that big a deal. Besides, I still had more fun with this than I did Death by Degrees and I absolutely had to unlock the Devil Jin (which becomes accessible by completing this feature).
The development team could have left the features list at is and still had one of the deepest fighting products around for the PlayStation 2. But in a move that has to be considered one of the best bonus additions ever, Namco has also included three arcade-perfect emulations of Tekken 1, 2, and 3. Known as Arcade History Mode, these three classics could have warranted their very own compilation disc -- so when you consider that they've been included with Tekken 5 free of charge (and with almost zero loading time), you have yourself one hell of a great deal.
The only real disappointment is that Tekken 5 is devoid of any online feature whatsoever. And while I'm always the first to concede that the PlayStation 2 doesn't exactly provide the greatest online experience around, it's still a little heartbreaking that there's absolutely no way we can compete against worldwide players without having to travel to a regional tournament first. Just imagine how cool it would have been to hop on over to Tekken Zaibatsu and challenge some of the top tier players only to face them in a matter of minutes. Or even better, what if you could call up some old pals halfway across the country for a friendly competition to remind you of the good old days? Oh well, maybe the lack of online is good thing -- since true broadband Tekken would probably rob me of sleep for a couple of months.
Luckily Tekken 5 is put together so gorgeously that it's easy to forgive its lack of an online mode. Supporting 480p progressive scan and 16:9 widescreen, the game looks brilliant on any HDTV that can support it. But even if you don't have the hardware to enjoy such things, Tekken 5 is still one of the best looking PlayStation 2 games around. Whether it's the meticulous detail given to the character models, the excellent animations in each character's faces and bodies, or the beautiful environments that have been recreated for the stages, Tekken 5 is seriously good looking. And for fans of Namco's always-killer CG, they won't be disappointed here. It's easily some of the best work the studio has done and makes me wonder if the powers that be will ever authorize a full-length motion picture ala Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. The team certainly has the technology and talent to do it.
Equally inspiring is the overall audio presentation. More diverse and less repetitive than any of the other game's in the series, Tekken 5's soundtrack has finally beaten out Tekken 2 for the title of "Best Tekken music. The ending themes in particular are done extremely well, and there's a wide range of tunes that fit the cast of characters rather effectively. Happily the sound effects are just as powerful and provide everything you'd expect to hear in a high-quality fighting game. What impressed me most about Tekken 5's aural quality, though, was the voice-acting. Because for the first time in the history of the series, each and every character speaks with full lines of dialog before, during, and after their matches -- and usually in their native languages (well except for Lei and Xiaoyu that is)!
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