Namco’s sophomore outing of their seminal fighting series sees some nice refinements over its predecessor to create a solid fighting game, even if some elements haven’t quite held up over time.
World-building & Story
Following the competitors of the 2nd “King of Iron Fist Tournament”, Tekken 2 chronicles the interwoven stories of a number of martial artists as they compete for supremacy. At its core, however, is the Mishima family – power-hungry and with varying motivations, they battle based on long-standing rivalries for control of the Mishima Corporation and all the power that comes with it.
It’s this feuding that has been the lifeblood of the franchise ever since Heihachi threw Kazuya off a cliff in the very first game. This is continued through this second instalment where Heihachi – overthrown from his empire – vows to take everything back from Kazuya, who is dealing with some literal demons himself. It’s melodramatic and nonsensical (aided by CG graphics which haven’t necessarily aged particularly well), yet has a campy and enjoyable factor which is difficult not to warm to. As you might have guessed from my description, a knowledge of the previous release will aid your understanding of this title, but it’s not essential to know what’s going on.
Aside from the central drama, plenty of side-stories play out through the game’s arcade mode which are also very fun to watch. Characters like Nina – the seductive assassin – or Michelle – the eco warrior – provide some much needed variety, each with their own reasons for entering the tournament. Even seemingly comic relief characters like Roger have their own little cinematic cutscene telling their story which, although often brief, are nice additions to flesh out Tekken‘s world.
Speaking of fleshing out the world, world-building remains strong throughout. Each character has their own arena somewhat based on their personality or culture (i.e. Jun fights on a grassy hilltop while Yoshimitsu fights in an eerie forest), plus thesetting of corporations and power struggles is well represented in the title’s cutscenes. For a game based on the real world, Tekken 2 adds enough quirks to create an interesting, unique environment.
Presentation & Sound
Tekken 2 has all the hallmarks of an early 3D fighting game in its presentation, as the genre was just finding its feet in the shift to the new dimension. With modern eyes it looks rough and even compared to some of its contemporaries it could be better, yet there’s an undeniable charm that shines through even when playing today.
Character models are probably the weakest element, full of sharp edges and you can often make out the wireframe model they’re based on. What strikes me most about the cast, however, is their design – this is an eclectic bunch, each with their own little quirks like Jun’s cutely tied up hair or Lei’s oversized trousers. Their detail makes them memorable, and that’s one of the things that can make or break a fighting game for a casual player like me.
Despite not being the most cleanly drawn models, everything animates smoothly from the smallest of kicks to the most over the top of sword swings, aided by the fact that the game runs at 60fps. In addition, little flourishes of visual flair happen quite often while fighting, whether it be a smattering of misty red blood flying out when smacking your opponent’s face of the satisfying circular thud of Lei’s kicks connecting with their target – nearly everything is represented visually on screen yet it never feels cluttered.
The character models in the game’s CGI cutscenes are better than the in-game models, featuring more realistic (i.e. rounded) proportions while still moving well. Some oversights like Nina’s infamous spaghetti hair during the opening scene are unfortunate and once again remind you of the era the title is from, but they’re hardly a deal-breaker. In general the CGI is impressive, with some nice direction and exciting scenes (particularly the opening) – it’s just a shame there aren’t more of them throughout Tekken‘s arcade mode.
Like the models, backgrounds are also decent, but not quite there. There’s generally some static background element that will follow you as you move around the arena – whether this is a city skyline or densely packed forest – while the actual ground itself is just a flat, uninteresting surface. Compared to modern fighters, Tekken 2 looks decidedly unappealing, but at the time it released, I can remember being pretty impressed with some of the background vistas – particularly Devil’s stage with its repeating screens framing the action.
Sound is – to me – the high point of the presentational package. There’s no voice acting here, but I gamed during the era this rarely existed in the early PS1 days and it often makes me nostalgic replaying titles like this. The grunts of each competitor alongside the clobber of their kicks and punches is enough to give you an idea of their personality, however, alongside the highlights of their visual design.
It’s the soundtrack that’s the star of the show, though. On the whole I’d describe it as fairly peaceful, yet there are tracks which cover every mood – whether it be the subdued thoughtfulness of Jun’s stage to the addictive mayhem of Kazuya’s. Some are immediately catchy and you’ll be whistling straight away – such as Michelle’s stage, while others start slow but crescendo into beauty like King’s. Truly, this is a magnificent soundtrack to my ears.
Gameplay & Content
Being an evolution of the systems introduced in the original Tekken, Tekken 2 doesn’t reinvent the wheel but provides a nice refinement of the core ideas of the franchise. It doesn’t quite reach the highs its successor did (still inexplicably missing from the PlayStation Store), but it does provide a solid experience that’s still worth revisiting to this day.
The core “hook” of Tekken is that each face button is linked to the character’s limb – x and circle are kicks while square and triangle are punches. These are obviously combined with each other (alongside the usual fighting game inputs like quarter circles on the d-pad) to produce special moves, and these can be chained in with normal attacks to produce combos. This means combat has a lot of depth to it, but is still easy enough for a newcomer to get to grips with fairly quickly.
Fighting is relatively fluid and crisp, even compared to modern games. It’s simple to chain attacks together; throws can be used if you’re unsure what to do and relatively easy to pull off attacks can take down a good chunk of health – useful for a real beginner like me. The AI in game can be fairly ruthless at times but is also inconsistent, going one round kicking the living hell out of you and the next just sitting there and taking the majority of your attacks. A little more balance would’ve gone a long way in making you feel like you’re constantly improving your skills.
There’s a decent array of characters to get to grips with – an initial 10, each of whom unlocks a counterpart from playing in arcade mode, then there are even more hidden characters beyond this. Despite the fact they all use martial arts as a base, they’re generally all nicely different in the way they play – some using more punches; some using more kicks and there’s even swords and daggers in there. It’s easy to find someone who fits with the way you play.
In addition to the game’s arcade mode, there are multiple other ways to play. Survival pits you against foe after foe with the goal of going for as long as possible; while team battle has you picking a squad of fighters and going up against an enemy team in a series of 1v1 bouts with the winner staying on. They provide a nice distraction, but won’t do much other than sweeten the package’s deal.
And speaking of how much is on offer here – it’s fairly average for a fighting game. Obviously as a PS1 release there’s no online play and local multiplayer is blocked off too (except if you play on a PSTV). It’ll only take you an average of 20-30 mins per character to blast through arcade mode and as such Tekken 2 really is what you make of it – but for the price it’s going for, it’s difficult to call it a bad value proposition.
With the second entry, Tekken really started to come into its own as a nuanced fighter with an interesting story and lore; likeable characters and a great sense of world. Revisiting that today doesn’t diminish any of that, although some elements of the presentation are beginning to look a little worse for wear. Still, I had a lot of fun rediscovering the systems and watching the character cutscenes as I replayed on Vita and can easily recommend giving it another try if you want a fun fighter to take with you on the go.