I’ve been spending some time with Tekken Revolution over the past few weeks. It’s an interesting game but it seems to be quite maligned by the more hardcore fighting game community for its free to play… eccentricities as well as its beginner friendliness. However, I like it enough that I think I should be making a case for why you should appreciate it if you’re an existing Tekken fan, and why you should definitely give it a go if you’re looking to get into Tekken.
Tekken goes free to play
Tekken Revolution (TR) is a free to play game available right now on the Playstation Network. Namco Bandai released it with little fanfare in June as, interestingly enough, it was officially announced less than a week before it released. It’s the closest thing I have ever seen to a spur of the moment, impulsive game release. It recycles assets (character models and levels, with the odd exception of Asuka and Lili who both have changes to their face for some reason) from Tekken Tag Tournament 2, but has some fairly significant changes that makes it a much more basic experience. In terms of features, it’s fairly bare bones in that it offers you only the standard Arcade battle, Online battle, and a training mode. It seeks to replicate the arcade experience in an online environment by having you consume coins in order to play. Premium coins can be bought that gives you a slight boost in experience and money, which is how this free to play title makes its money, but your standard coins for playing online and arcade mode regenerate over time, much like energy in your typical facebook game.
You can have 2 arcade coins and 5 online coins in total, each arcade coin regenerates every 1 hour and you get a new online coin every 30 minutes. It usually takes about 20 minutes to go through your online coins in a session, and with a little messing around in training mode and some testing in arcade mode, you can easily get a 45-60 minutes play session out of your coins.
In my time with the game I haven’t really seen much reason to buy coins, aside from the times I spent my last free play coin on a loss and I was so salty I just wanted to play again. Experience tells me that playing while you’re salty is inadvisable in general, so being forced to stop isn’t necessarily bad.
The cast is fairly small to begin with. You start out with 6 fighters, and as you play you can unlock more. Whenever you finish a fight you collect Gift points, which will automatically unlock a character as you hit certain point thresholds. As far as I know, those thresholds are 7000, 15000, 30000, 60000, 90000 and so on. Unfortunately, it will pick the character you unlock at random, so if you’re super interested in a specific character, you’re basically just stuck hoping the unlock gods favour you this day. I’ve been wanting to unlock Jin Kazama, as he’s my secondary character after Law, but no luck so far.
More unlockable characters have been added since release as well, all from TTT2. I’m assuming they’re being converted one by one from TTT2 and added to the list of unlockable characters as they finish balancing them for the TR system.
They also have a leveling system in place. Finishing matches earns you experience and fight money, when you level up you get 4 points to put into the character of your choice. Each character has 3 stats, power, endurance and vigor. Power enhances your damage, endurance gives you more life and vigor gives you a better chance at getting a critical hit with certain moves. Stat upgrades in a fighting game might seem unbalanced at first, but the benefits from the upgrades seem so slight that I don’t feel like they affect the outcome of matches much. I’ve never once had a match that I felt was decided by stats, even when fighting players more than twice my level.
The natural question then becomes, if the stats aren’t really significant, then why is there? Beyond providing a superficial progression system to keep players going, I don’t know, but in a free to play game is enough reason in itself I suppose.
A history of violence
For reference sake, I’ll start out this section by saying I’m no great Tekken player. I play Law as my main, have been since Tekken 1. I know my frame data on Law, but I can’t get the dragon stance moves after a 4.,3~dss to come out without delay. So you know, no expert at Tekken here, more like intermediate on my best day.
A quick recap of my history and relationship with Tekken, which I guess is relevant to why I enjoy TR. The original Tekken was the very first game I got for my Playstation after I mowed lawns all summer to save up and get one when I was a kid back in 1995. I played the holy hell out of that game and helping a young Kazuya chuck his old man off a cliff was one of my fondest memories of the early Playstation days.
I missed out on Tekken 2 but got back into it with Tekken 3 and then Tekken Tag Tournament. T3 and TTT were faster and smoother than the previous ones and were the ones to really introduce the sidestepping and movement we’re used to in Tekken today. Tekken 3 remains one of my favourite fighting games of all time.
I barely played Tekken 4, as I was heavily into Street Fighter (3rd Strike and Alpha 3) at the time, but I played enough to decide that the inclusion of walls, slightly slower pace and emergence of environmental hazards wasn’t really my cup of tea. That was the last Tekken I played for over 10 years as I missed out on Tekken 5 and 6 due to lack of interest before finally deciding to pick it up again for Tekken Tag Tournament 2 (TTT2).
The Tekken I came back to in TTT2 was a very different Tekken than what I had known. My old skills weren’t really relevant anymore. My old main, Law, was still pretty much the Law I knew but everything else was a strange new world. The inclusion of the bound mechanic, along with the prominence of wall splats and the ease with which you could be picked up off the ground into a combo had led to a game dominated by extended combos and ground harassment. My experience coming into TTT2 was usually one of me getting comboed into a wall, then comboed some more, then being unable to get back up because my opponent was doing flips on me all night. It’s very much a game of trying to not let the other person get to play. Each round was about 10 seconds of playing followed by 20 seconds of watching how dead I was. I got used to it and I got better at it, but still, it was a harsh welcome and not a lot of fun to play. It’s a hell of a barrier to overcome, especially if you’re just getting into the game as a beginner.
Now an experienced Tekken player might at this point say “well noobs suck anyway, why should I care?”. Thing is, that big barrier of entry is a very real issue if you care about the health and growth of the fighting game community (FGC). If you have a game that is alienating and just plain un-fun to play for beginners, then your community is dying. Sure it might take a while but slowly you are withering away without sufficient new blood.
Return to basics
This is where Tekken Revolution comes in. In TR they have made some gameplay changes that essentially takes Tekken back to its roots. The bound moves that were introduced in Tekken 6 have been toned down heavily (only ever seen a bound on counterhit), and it is much harder to pick up your opponent after a wall splat or when they’re on the ground trying to get up. The result is a game with shorter combos, more neutral game and more of an honest fighting game feel to it. Rather than 1-2 combos ending your night, now it takes 3-4 combos to finish off your opponent, assuming you convert into good damage every time you get a touch. You’re not stuck in a combo for the majority of your playing experience, you’re up and moving around and trying to punch things. It makes a big difference to the accessibility of the game because it lets people play.
In addition to toning down existing gameplay elements, they have also added a few new wrinkles. They’ve added a special arts property to certain normal moves, four different moves for each character, that essentially gives them a chance of landing a critical hit that does more damage. You can tell if its a special art by the blue effect they give off when you do it.
The more significant addition is the Critical Art property that has been given to one move per character. The critical art move has been given some invincibility and now functions in much the same way as a Shoryuken would in Street Fighter. They come out pretty fast, if properly timed will beat out any other move, and recover very slowly. The critical arts moves are very abusable, but also very punishable.
Bad players will often just stand there and mash on their critical move the second you press a button. Just wait until you fight a Kazuya that just does lasers and critical arts move for example (btw duck the laser, block and punish the critical art move). But if you block a critical move, you have plenty of time to hit them with pretty much whatever you want, including launchers into high damage combos. If you’ve ever played Street Fighter, this should be pretty familiar. Baiting and punishing invincible moves is most definitely a thing in Tekken now. Whether that’s something you want to have to deal with in Tekken is up to individual tastes, but coming from a decade of playing Street Fighter, it’s second nature and I don’t mind it at all.
One definitive positive of the invincible attack is that all players are now given a handy tool to blow up the mindless button pressing players. Anyone who has ever played Tekken before has had that experience where they’re fighting an Eddie or a Hwoarang or something that just keeps throwing out attacks and you can’t seem to do anything about it. The other player might just be mashing buttons, or he might know what strings he’s doing, but regardless he is just pressing buttons without really thinking about what he’s doing with no regard to spacing or position, often whiffing 2-3 attacks before finally connecting one. All the while you’re just standing there blocking, slowly losing life, trying to figure out when it’s your turn but you can’t seem to find the opening. For me personally, losing those kinds of matches is by far the most frustrating experience in Tekken. Experienced players can deal with this of course, but getting to the point where you know every characters 5-6 main strings, where the opening is and which move you can stick into that opening safely, is a long, winding and extremely frustrating road to travel.
Well now you have your critical arts move, and if someone is trying to just press buttons on you, a critical arts move will shut that shit down immediately.
The resulting gameplay in Tekken Revolution is in many cases a bit slower, as players become more hesitant and movement and fakes become more important in trying to bait out an ill-timed invincible attack from the opponent. In the end, the player who is smart about his attacks usually ends up being the victor, which in my mind is definitely a good thing.
The netcode in Tekken Revolution seems pretty solid. Connections that are 3 bars and down can be pretty laggy, but 4 and 5 bar connections are nice and smooth. TR also seems to avoid a problem I experienced a lot in TTT2, where after playing several matches in a row the netcode would seemingly shit its pants and every match would be super laggy. Returning to the main menu and going back to searching for games from there rather than directly in the menu after a match seemed to help though. I’m not sure how many had similar experiences with TTT2 but I’ve not had this problem in TR. Of course, you run out of coins before this problem would rear its head, so maybe it’s still there just cleverly disguised by the coin system.
Fighting games and free to play
Tekken Revolution was the first out of the gate with its free to play system, probably a bit rushed specifically to be first, judging from its recycled assets and small character roster. However it’s not the only fighting game franchise to be testing the waters of free to play.
Killer Instinct is one of the Xbox One launch titles, and will be free to play, using a much different model than Tekken Revolution does. KI will give you the game (arcade mode, practice mode, online play) along with one character (Jago, the Ryu of the game it seems) for free. You can then either pay about £3.20 per character if you only want a specific character and don’t care about the others, or pay £12.80 for all the characters and stages to complete your game. There’s also a premium package for £25.60 that offers additional skins for your characters as well as the original Killer Instinct.
Instead of charging you to play continuously like TR tries to do, KI has has a system where they charge you for stuff up front, they just have several different payment models for you to choose between. In TR you never *have* to pay for anything, you just have the option to pay if you don’t want to wait to regenerate your play coins. In KI, you kind of do have to pay if you want certain characters. Of course, if Jago is your guy and he’s all you want, you’ll never have to pay for anything in KI.
There is also a Chinese made fighting game trying to leverage the free to play model called Xuan Dou Zhi Wang, aka King of Combat for us westerners, that is still in closed beta.
Gameplay-wise, it seems very similar to King of Fighters, even going so far as to team up with SNK and feature classic KOF characters Terry Bogard and Benimaru in the game. What’s notable about King of Combat (besides the fact that it looks awesome) is that it is owned by the same parent company that owns Riot Games, creators of League of Legends, and they are planning to use the same free to play system as LoL does. In League of Legends, you can unlock characters with points you earn by completing matches. You can also pay to unlock if you don’t want to spend the time saving up your points. You can conceivably play LoL and never spend a penny, as the only things you have to pay for are additional skins for your characters, which are of course entirely optional. The LoL free to play model is a proven success, having taken LoL to the very top of competitive gaming. If King of Combat successfully integrates the LoL model into a fighting game, we could potentially be looking at the future of fighting games, where the game itself just acts as a platform for continuous development and additional content.
With disappointing sales of fighting games in recent years, with even juggernaut franchises like Tekken Tag Tournament 2, Marvel vs Capcom 3, Street Fighter X Tekken and the Super and Arcade Edition updates to Street Fighter 4 not doing the kind of numbers the publishers would like, expect free to play to very much become a thing in the fighting game genre.
The significant thing about Tekken Revolution is that it has basically removed two of the biggest barriers to entry with Tekken. It’s free, so it costs you nothing to give it a go. And it’s more welcoming to beginners so you can get a feel for the game rather than figuratively getting thrown into deep waters and torn apart by sharks.
The competition online on TR is also noticeably lower than in TTT2, which seems to support the idea that TR is bringing new players in to Tekken. Hopefully TR can function as a kind of gateway drug, bringing new players to Tekken and making them curious enough to learn the game, maybe pick up TTT2, maybe even start going to tournaments down the line.
There’s no reason for experienced Tekken players in the FGC to hate on this game, they should understand and appreciate what TR is trying to do for Tekken and the FGC at large.
Gameplay-wise, I really enjoy TR as it is much closer to the Tekken I know and love from earlier entries in the series. I’d even go so far as to say that if they toned down the invincible moves and added more characters to the base roster, Tekken Revolution is exactly the Tekken game I want (free to play quirks aside). I’m selfishly hoping that TR is a sign of the direction they’ll be taking Tekken in, I’d love to see a Tekken game that can do for Tekken what Street Fighter 4 did for Street Fighter. Taking it back to the basics of the franchise, making it more accessible for beginners, and building a new foundation for the franchise to grow again.
Finally, for anyone who has been interested in getting into Tekken, or anyone who tried to get into Tekken in the last 10 years but just couldn’t get over the hump, give Tekken Revolution a go. It’s free, it’s beginner friendly, the competition online is manageable and consists of many people just like you. If there was ever a chance for a beginner to go online and have fun with Tekken, it’s now.