Graveyard: Tekken 4

Watch your step, for you’ve just entered the Graveyard. Inside, we’ll be digging up games that have long been without a pulse. You’ll see both good and bad souls unearthed every month as we search through the more… forgotten…parts of history.

The mid-’90s saw a rise in polygonal fighters after the debut of Virtua Fighter in ’93, but no series in that era did more to raise the bar visually while also adding to the lore of its world quite like Tekken. With a diverse roster of humans, demons, robots and even a guest-starring dinosaur alongside a boxing kangaroo, the series went for a broad approach when it came to its roster compared to other fighters. The first entry was a solid foundation, while the second nicely improved upon it and the third wound up being one of the best fighting games of all-time and a definitive release for the PS1. Its sequel tried more new things, however, and has wound up less-remembered despite being a great game in its own right.

One thing that allowed Tekken to shine early on wasn’t just its deep combo system, but also its usage of more real-world areas. The first game may have been iffy graphically in hindsight, but having fights take place in real-world locations and areas that players could relate to like a baseball stadium helped add to the realism of a game with a fighting robot and giant demons in later entries. The fourth game kept the combos intact, increased the pace of the combat, and added the ability to move more freely around the in-game world and send your foe into objects to deal out more damage. Being able to use the environment as a tool to win is something that has made this the most divisive mainline entry in the series — but also allowed it to stand out the most too.

Playing as a fast-striking character like the debuting Marduk and juggling foes against walls added a thrill to the combat that wasn’t there before. Similarly, sloped environments were something that changed strategy up in Virtua Fighter 3, and were taken to a new level here with more kinds of environments to fight in and the ability to wall juggle in that mix as well. It adds a new element of fun to the action and being able to have a desperation attack to help escape wall juggles ensures that the only way you’ll get beaten down is by avoiding that tactic. Every new element brings with it more strategy than what had been seen before, or since in some ways since this was the only time the Tekken series went with this level of environmental interactivity.

Tekken 4 offers up a level of gameplay depth that wasn’t seen before in the series and hasn’t been seen since. As a result, it has aged remarkably well across the board for an eighteen-year-old game. It’s amazing how well a concept holds up when it’s executed just about perfectly and as someone who enjoyed both the Virtua Fighter and Tekken franchises, Tekken 4 has remained one of the most replayable entries in either series to just pick up and play for a while. It’s easy to get hooked all over on the environmental interaction and it’s a shame that has become something of a lost art in the genre.

The third game brought about the debut of Tekken Force made, a side-scrolling brawler akin to Streets of Rage or Final Fight, but using the in-game assets and using regular roster members as bosses. Tekken 4 upped the ante with an over the shoulder perspective to increase immersion and offer a different kind of third-person brawling experience. At the time, most brawlers were either keeping the old formula alive or sometimes switching to a 3D perspective, with a third-person viewpoint like this where it’s strictly over the shoulder not being used much. This view was different and something that helped it stand out, but it changed the strategy of the genre completely since depth perception became harder to judge. Still, it’s impressive to see Namco trying new things in an extra mode they didn’t even have to try with to begin with.

Tekken 4’s usage of the System 246 arcade hardware made a PS2 port a snap and enabled for a generational leap in graphical quality over what was seen before. Every character got a bump up in size and animations remained as smooth as ever, resulting in a more-rewarding experience when your beefier characters like Marduk got tossed around like ragdolls with slight slowing of the animation to show the increased struggle in moving that mass around. Character models gaining more detail was a positive and helped the fourth entry live up to all of the cinematics that we had seen in the prior games. It may seem odd in hindsight, but seeing high-detail models moving around the in-game world without slowdown was impressive stuff and holds up nicely since even today’s polygonal fighters don’t feature the same level of interactivity as this game does due to the focus on the competitive scene.

The franchise’s sound design has always been strong and the fourth mainline game keeps that tradition alive. The soundtrack is among the best in the franchise’s history with fantastic tunes like “A Fist for a Fist” really getting the blood pumping. The intense effects for striking, especially into things like the environment work wonderfully. It’s a real shame this game hasn’t been re-released because it would benefit on the AV side from not being bound to PS2 hardware — especially its interlaced output that makes faster action trickier to clearly enjoy. Tekken 5 received a re-release on the PS3 that helps amend this, but Tekken 4 continues to get the shaft no matter what.

Tekken 4 is a sleeper hit in a series full of top-shelf games and one of the more underrated fighting games of the past twenty years. Hopefully, Bandai Namco puts out a definitive collection of the series on modern hardware because it truly does deserve more love than just current-day releases. The older entries are still a lot of fun to play and Tekken 4 has aged wonderfully across the board outside of the PS2’s own hardware limits for 480i output. It has some of the most robust gameplay the series ever saw and some of its best environments. Force mode wasn’t quite as good here as it was in Tekken 3 or later games, but it’s still something different from other fighters and it’s an amazing package from beginning to end.

Leave a Reply