By Itwastuesday 1 Comments
In this series of (2? 3?) blogs I intend to explore how Tekken makes sense in the historical context of 3d fighting games. We're gonna figure out why this franchise is the way it is. In this first part, I'm gonna discuss the essence of how the game works. I won't be discussing the story of Tekken, or hot 3d pixel babez, or anime, because all of that is garbage.
Disclaimer: Don't send me no angry messages about how I got the systems in your favorite game all wrong. I'm only trying to provide a cursory overview (that will still end up being way too long) of how they work.
3d Fighting 101, or, What Makes Tekken Unique?
We're talking about a 3d fighting game here, so that means we have to talk about Virtua Fighter first. On a surface level, you'd probably say that Virtua Fighter's aesthetic is the most pure of any of the 3d fighting games (probably because it came first). A bunch of Serious Looking Fighting Dudes fight in places that look like Serious Fighting goes down there. In a very general sense, there is a pattern at the core of the game which roughly looks like this- throwing beats blocking, attacking beats throwing, blocking beats attacking. Let's call a system like this a "Triangle." There are high, mid, and low level attacks. By ducking, you can duck under highs and throws, and block low attacks. By standing and blocking, you can block high attacks and mid attacks, but you are vulnerable to throws. The game flow will generally look like two players trying to break the other's defense using lows and throws, trying to set up the opponent to duck, so that they won't block the more damaging mid attacks. The other level of attack going on here is in the foreground and background, because this is a 3d game. sidestep at the right time against a linear attack, and your opponent will be open for punishment. In Virtua Fighter, attacks that prevent opponents from sidestepping are called Circular Attacks, and moves that prevent your opponent from sidestepping in only one direction is a Half-Circular Attack. There's really a lot, a ton more depth and little intricacies going on here, but there are entire websites filled with that information out there.
So, then there's Tekken. In the early years, if you're looking strictly at consoles or most western consumption of Tekken, it got by with being "the Playstation one." Other than that, the aesthetic in Tekken is similar to Virtua Fighter, but there were guys with wild hair and there was a fighting bear. Okay, so it's like a slightly more goofy VF in the visual department, then. What about the systems? Well, there's still highs, mids, and lows, just like in Virtua Fighter. There are still Circular moves, but they aren't called Circular, they're called tracking moves. Let's look at the Tekken "Triangle." So, throwing beats blocking, blocking beats attacking, but... I guess attacking no longer beats throwing. Not only that, but you can train yourself to visually see which arm is throwing you, ensuring that you can avoid more of the throws coming at you by "breaking" them. So now I guess it's... throwing beats blocking; but only when the opponent doesn't expect you to throw, and blocking beats attacking and attacking beats... nothing.
We got this VF ripoff about fighting bears and robots and guys with strange hair. The director on the original Tekken game, Seiichi Ishii, seems to have been the lead designer of Virtua Fighter, so maybe there's more to this system than a fucked up triangle. Now, you'll have to bear with me because some of this might get a little complex for a fighting game novice (this is what I consider to be one of Tekken's flaws as a franchise- it doesn't make itself very apparent to the uninitiated). So here's the juice. Here's the thing that makes Tekken, Tekken. Are you ready? It is- *drumroll*
the safe back dash.
*man coughing in silent audience*
Well what does that mean? What I mean is, in almost every other 3d fighting game ever made, you are vulnerable while moving backwards. You usually have to block by holding a guard button, and you're not allowed to hold guard while moving backwards. Tekken works more like a 2d game in this aspect, where holding "back" allows you to block incoming attacks. What's that you're tellin' me? You're holding back and your character is lamely shuffling around? Well, the idea here is that you have to back dash, by pressing back twice. When you press back twice, your character takes a single large back step, similar to many other 3d fighters. The big difference here- when you press back, and then hold back, you can make a large backwards movement, while still blocking throughout the entire animation. That's it. That sentence right there is the basis of Tekken as a fighting game. Just how much of a difference does that make?
Well, in a match of Virtua Fighter, you'll see both players standing very close to each other. I'm gonna try not to use too much fighting game lingo here, so I'll just say that they're extremely near to each other, applying concepts of the triangle. A full second will generally not pass before someone presses a button, or someone gets hit. In a match of Tekken, you're likely to find both players paying more attention to the space between their two characters. Trying to press buttons like it's any other 3d fighter against an experienced opponent will most often lead to them moving backwards, out of the way of your attack, and then punishing you while you're whiffing in the air. If Virtua Fighter is mostly about selecting the correct moves to hit your opponent with, Tekken is mostly about choosing the right way to position your character to gain the advantage. If Virtua Fighter is about the buttons you press, Tekken is about the buttons you don't press. The easiest way to get better at Tekken is to stop pressing so many buttons, and figure out how to move around the stage. This is what sets Tekken's game play apart from other 3d fighters, and they will never remove safe back dashes from a Tekken game.
What the safe back dash has meant to the series has changed from game to game. I'll talk about that in the next part of this series of blogs, which will cover the history of Tekken's game releases. I'm going to talk about how each Tekken borrows concepts from Street Fighter 2 because that's probably easiest for most people to understand. I'm also going to discuss the past, present, and conjecture on the future of the franchise. I'm going to put it up even if no one reads or responds to this post, because it's winter break and I need something to set my mind to.