Namco’s Tekken series is as much a pillar of the fighting game genre as Virtua Fighter, Dead or Alive, or even Street Fighter II. As a franchise it broke new ground in 3D gaming when it emerged on the PSone in the latter half of the ?90s, going up against the likes of Battle Arena Toshinden. Since its inception, Tekken has kept pace admirably with the rest of the fighting pack in both presentation and style, as well as maintaining a hardcore fan base along the way. Even though the formula hasn’t changed much over the years – Tekken 4 proved that ?if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ – it’s always been good. Now, with this fifth franchise entry, the gameplay, visuals, and sound have been polished just about as much as possible for this particular hardware generation. A few notable issues notwithstanding, Tekken 5 is about as good as it’s going to get on the PS2.
If first impressions were all it took to make a great videogame Tekken 5 would be in a class of its own. The character models look amazing, the environments are incredible, and the animation is remarkably solid throughout. It’s nigh on impossible to tell for sure if the six packs on the characters are fully rendered or just a very well realized tummy texture. Lighting and shadows, particle and alpha effects, supremely quick load times, fantastic CG sequences?you won’t find anything to complain about here.
Look closer, though, and you realize that Namco was able to accomplish this visual voodoo because the PS2 doesn’t have much else to do. The fight arenas are fairly small and sometimes feel cramped, and there is still no analog or 3D movement on show save for the occasional duck and dodge. They could learn a thing or two from their own Soul Calibur series in this department. Also, upon even closer inspection, the seemingly flawless models do have a few rough edges here and there – a pointy shoulder, and clipping errors with flowing fabric or hair, etc. Still, it’s certainly not enough to deter you from playing the game.
The ?interactive’ environments boil down to cornering an opponent and smashing them into a wall, which may crumble a little on impact. The ground does the same thing, at even the slightest impression. Beyond that, there is no interaction to speak of. No objects to pick up, no ledges from which to gain a height advantage, no windows or doors to throw an opponent through – these places are interactive in only the most simplistic sense of the word. You can bump into things, but nothing more. The apparently flimsy masonry shatters at the slightest touch, which tends to look a little silly unless the fighters were about 600lbs each and fighting on Jupiter. Actually, that’s not much of a stretch, all things considered.
Tekken 5 is easily the most far-fetched of the series. Gone are the days of the Mishima family soap opera, their infighting and their occasional revenge-worthy instances of villainy. Now, Kazuya and Heihachi are trying to kill each other on a regular basis, which proves utterly futile (and has since day one), while their removed family relations come home to roost. Lee seeks to enslave Heihachi for not being as kind to him as he was to his brother-by-adoption Kazuya. Jin is evidently still mad at Kazuya for raping his mom, as well as having problems fighting off the ?Devil’ curse – you’ll see. And these are the normal people in the story! Steve – perhaps the most useless character of all time – is here to avenge his creation in a laboratory. Bryan Fury hunts Yoshimitsu in the jungle, chaingun in hand not unlike in the flick Predator. Yoshi even uses a cloak much like that particular alien menace’s chameleon ability. Paul Phoenix is challenging all the aliens in the universe, inspiring a scene very reminiscent of Mars Attacks!. Roger now fights with a baby kangaroo in her(?) pouch on a quest to save its father. Jack-5 is on a crusade to meet his creator, and evidently fall in love with her (those bionic arms must be good for something after all). Yeah. None of it makes much sense, but the CG stuff does look really good. Some character endings are even hilarious, but Hwoarang has possibly the most impressive ending sequence. Don’t miss it.
However, nonsensical motivations aside, complaining about the story in a fighting game is like lamenting the lack of plot narrative in a porn movie. It’s really peripheral, and if you’re here for that part of the game, then you’re missing the point. But, if you came to kick ass, then Tekken 5 delivers admirably. The game’s feel hasn’t changed much over the years, so if you mastered Paul Phoenix in a previous installment then you’ll still be good with him in Tekken 5. It’s a return to the classic days of Tekken, and in more ways than one.
Included on the Tekken 5 disc are unlockable editions of the first three games in the series, in all their PSone glory. It’s an interesting history lesson, and though Tekken 5 plays enough like the others to really render them obsolete, it’s still nostalgically entertaining to see how the series has evolved. Four games for $50USD, no matter how similar they may be, is pretty worthwhile, especially when they’ve all been so well produced. The only notable series omission is Tekken Tag Tournament, but that may be due to possible sales drops for that particular PS2 game?though it’s unlikely to be selling much at this point as it was a PS2 launch title.
The whole tag battle notion has been excised from Tekken 5, which is perhaps something Namco should reconsider for future titles. Tekken Tag Tournament started out as a gimmick, but it still stands as this reviewer’s favorite entry. Admittedly, Dead or Alive 2: Hardcore does the tag aspect better, but if Namco would value this feature in future Tekken’s, surely more people would welcome it. However, memory and graphics would most likely be hit, and to achieve the stellar visual polish on display here, some corners would invariably have to be cut. Maybe the PS3 will be able to handle it.
One critical knock against Tekken 5 lies in its end boss. Jinpachi Mishima is perhaps the stupidest, lamest, cheapest boss character I’ve ever had the displeasure of fighting – over and over again. He’s coming to destroy the world or something, though it’s unclear as to why he needs to get in a fistfight with the winner of the Iron Fist Tournament to go about his conquering. The Mishimas have slightly more logical connections to him, but it all ends more or less the same way. The biggest problem, though, is that he’s such a cheap fighter. Rather than making him a clever and cunning opponent, or adorning him with slick moves to use upon unlocking his character, Namco instead have him resorting to stun moves that take forever to recover from. These leave the player open to any and all follow-up attacks; Jinpachi throws a devastating projectile whenever he wants (which he’ll keep throwing even if you do manage to dodge one), and he can regain health whenever he sees fit, too. On top of that, by way of stark contrast your hits do comparatively little damage. Jinpachi is quite possibly the worst final boss in a fighting game – ever!
Most of the sound is exactly what you’d expect, and much of it is revisited from previous games in the series. The grunts and impacts all sound comfortably familiar, but the soundtrack has received a noticeable boost. Some of the tracks even linger in the mind long after play has ceased, and for a game where you only hear maybe 40 seconds of a song at a time, that’s pretty impressive. There is also a sound test in the options menu that lets you adjust and listen to the soundtrack whenever you want, which is a nice addition.
In conclusion, if you’re an established fan of the Tekken series, buy this latest incarnation. It is classic Tekken coupled with the best the PS2 hardware has to offer in terms of sights and sounds. If you’re not a fan of the series, then it may exist to convert you, but if things like open-ended environments, fatalities, counters, reversals, and fluid back-and-forth combat are more your thing, then your main fighting fix likely lies elsewhere.