In the day of 32-bit consoles, three 3D fighting games were supreme. There was the somewhat crappy-yet-popular Battle Arena Toshinden, the groundbreaking Virtua Fighter and the newcomer, Tekken. The first franchise died quietly due to a string of inferior sequels. Only Tekken and Virtua Fighter remained to duke it out. VF fanboys assault Tekken junkies with constant verbal attacks of “the game is shallow, it’s a button mashing game” while the others counter with “Virtua Fighter is frustrating and isn’t any fun.” Well, I’ve played both series extensively, and I’ve come to my own conclusion; the Tekken junkies are onto something. Tekken 3 is one of the finest games on any console. Not only that, but it also surpasses its arcade counterpart.
Heihachi, the head of the unscrupulous Mishima Corporation, has decided to hold another King of Iron Fist Tournament. Taking place fifteen years after the last Tekken, all of the world’s greatest fighters congregate once again to try to win the tournament, and in doing so win whatever their heart desires. The plot is clichÈd as far as fighting games go, but the characters each have interesting reasons to fight in the competition.
While the plot is standard, the phenomenal cast more than makes up for it. Featuring twenty different characters (ten instantly accessible and ten hidden), this was one of the largest casts ever assembled for a 3D fighting game at the time. All of this would be for naught if the characters did not possess interesting and varied fighting styles. Thankfully, this is one of the things that make playing Tekken 3 a joy.
The different fighting styles are unique, for the most part fairly realistic, and nothing short of amazing. The most eye-catching style is Eddy Gordo’s Capoeira. It looks like a cross between break dancing and fighting, something that has never been seen in video game before. More traditional forms of martial arts are present throughout the game, such as Tae Kwon Do, Judo, Aikido and various others. While most of the characters only perform realistic (albeit exaggerated) moves, five characters use more unconventional methods. The cute dinosaur Gon unleashes deadly burps while the last boss can breathe fire. All of the unrealistic characters except for one are hidden, so fighting purists won’t have to worry about Mortal Kombat-style moves too often.
While some people, namely Virtua Fighter fans, deem the gameplay in the Tekken series as button masher friendly and shallow, I prefer to use the term “a minute to learn, a lifetime to master” to describe it. A button masher may be able to beat the first few levels on the medium difficulty, but worthwhile progression will be tough without bothering to block, counter, combo, sidestep and throw.
Even if you know how to do all the moves, a strategy must be developed depending on whomever you are facing. Each character has their own set of strengths and weaknesses and exploiting that is the key to being a proficient Tekken player. All of the fighters are flawlessly balanced so there really aren’t many cheap moves. Besides, all of the cheap moves can be defended against with the right strategy.
If the cast of twenty characters wasn’t enough to satisfy you, the plethora of modes surely will. Tekken 3 features the standard arcade, practice and versus mode (which are practically mandatory in fighting games nowadays.) The slightly less-common modes are team battle, in which you pick a few characters to form a team and then go against another team. You then fight one-on-one until all of a team’s fighters are defeated. It’s a pretty fun mode that’s made even more entertaining when going against a human. Next is the survival mode in which you fight off a never-ending amount of enemies and see how long you last against the onslaught. Survival is a challenging mode, but Tekken veterans will love it. The time attack mode is the only dull mode in the game. You have to win three fights while not running out of time. It’s fairly amusing the first two times, I guess.
What sets Tekken 3 apart from other fighting games is the two hidden modes. The first one is the addictive Tekken Force mode. This mode is similar to games like Streets of Rage and Final Fight. It’s a side-scrolling beat ‘em up but with all the Tekken moves. The only problem is that it can be a bit tricky moving up and down since you have to double-tap up or down quickly. Thankfully, you can customize the controls so the trigger buttons do it one simple tap. Tekken Force is fairly short, only about five minutes long max, but it still is a delightful throwback to the days when beat ‘em ups were king.
The other unique mode is Tekken Ball. There is a line in the middle of the level and each character is on the other side of it and cannot cross it. The only way to damage the enemy is to launch volley around a beach ball and smack the opponent with it or to have the ball land on their side. Of course, this mode is goofy, but it is probably the most fun I’ve had with a fighting game. Playing with two players is even better since the competition is heated in this mode.
The graphics are practically arcade-perfect. The character models look especially exceptional. Each character is intricately detailed and there is barely any pixelization that is present in almost any Playstation game. The characters are slightly blocky, but still far superior to anything else on a 32-bit system. The only problem with the graphics is that the backgrounds occasionally don’t scale properly and end up looking funky. This only happens occasionally so it doesn’t become a common distraction.
The animations are also a technical achievement. Every single move is animated perfectly while never looking jerky or cheap. Watching the instant replays at the end of each round is a treat for the eye thanks to the superb animation. Most of the endings and the intro are fairly bland FMV. Good thing the scenes are usually humorous or action packed because it helps take our eyes off the substandard animation that isn’t up to par with the in-game graphics.
There isn’t any voice acting except for the occasional grunt and battle cry. The sound would have been enhanced if there were some kind of taunts at the beginning or end of each match to listen to. The music makes up for the lack of voice acting, though. There is a different tune accompanying each level and every song matches the stage perfectly. The music is generally pulse-pounding industrial, but the background instruments add a personal touch to tying the level and the music together.
With twenty fighters and nine different modes, Tekken 3 is bursting at the seams with replay value. The fighting is fast-paced and deep while not becoming a frustrating bore. If you’re even a moderate fighting game fan, I demand you to buy this game. It’s one of the closest things to perfection the fighting genre has ever seen.