Review by cog

"Leopard headed wrestlers"

I was playing Tekken 5 against the computer and I realized something. It was no fun. Shocking, I know. But as someone who quite often plays game by himself for no other reason than to keep himself occupied I had to wonder what had actually driven me to play Tekken 5 alone. Most likely it was the fact that it was in my Playstation and I am by design a very lazy person. At any rate, I was there, playing it alone and decided to explore it, to understand what made it so unfun for a lone gamer to play.

Now at first I was tempted to go the easy route and say "Oh well this game is made for 2 players, its a fighting game." and be done. But I couldnt. I had enjoyed playing Street Fighter 3 by myself quite a bit, and when I was younger Street Fighter Alpha 3 was the most used disc in my Playstation. In fact, looking back upon all of the video game systems I've owned almost all of them had a heavy amount of singular fighting game experience. And even more than that I found it fun. So why then had Tekken 5 failed me so much? (Actually as an interesting side note, Tekken 3 is just as unfun by yourself as Tekken 5. I discovered this years ago but didnt want to tell anyone.)

What I came to in the end, is that Tekken 5 lacks soul.

Soul, being an intangible concept, is a difficult thing to define in video games. It has absolutely nothing to do with how the game plays or how good the graphics are. Soul has to do almost exclusively with how connected the game's designers and developers are with it's concept and how much they want to make a good game. For example, Donkey Kong is a game with soul. Shigeru Miyamoto wanted to use video games in a way they hadnt been used before to tell a story and what he came up with was Donkey Kong and it's hero Jumpman (who wore a hat because Miyamoto couldnt properly draw hair that moved realistically). Donkey Kong succeeds as a video game primarily because of it's creator's investments into it, personal and financial. An example of a game completely devoid of soul would probably be somehting like Mortal Kombat Advance. A rushed, buggy, terrible port of a bad game made primarily to make money and secondarily to make money. No thought, no invested emotions and no thinking went into it. And as such it lost any soul it had. So when I say Tekken 5 has no soul, it's a pretty serious accusation.

Here is what I mean by that: Tekken 5, as a video game created to make money and to entertain, has failed to prove to me that it's creators were personally interested in making it the best and most interesting game that they could (note, I am not arguing about Tekken 5's technical or graphical content, as both are very very good. Tekken 5 is perhaps the best combination of good gameplay and good graphics that has ever been released in fighting game form.) That's not to say that Tekken 5 has zero soul. It has a little, as can be seen in the character endings mainly (and in those most usually the ones focusing on characters that have little to do with the main story), but this soul is not attributed to Tekken 5. This is residual soul.

You see, Tekken 1 (a bad game, with bad graphics) has alot of soul. Namco, obviously seeing the success of Virtua Fighter, told a group of its developers to come up with something that could compete with it. These developers did so, but added in things they wanted, things that they personally wanted to see. A robot, a wrestler who apparently had the head of a leopard, and a crazy samurai ninja were added to the game's mostly generic roster not because market research said "hey people want to see this stuff" but because the developers wanted to make the game stand out. They wanted to make the most interesting fighting game possible. (This kind of soul is also what has fueled a number of fighting games including King of Fighters, Breakers, Samurai Shodown and even Street Fighter 3.)

This soul is what keeps Tekken 5 going. By now most of the characters have become empty shells of things designed and developed primarily to hold the movesets the team has created on its own using generic models for months of the game's design. Sure they all look different and have personalities, but thats more of a concession to allow them to be easily recognized and identified with by the players than anything else. The game developers once so interested in making something that would stand out from Virtua Fighter are now interested in making something that will strengthen the name brand they have created and also sell a whole bunch of units. Its not that the team doesnt have soul in them anymore, its just that they have learned (through Tekken 4) that the average gamer doesnt like it when things are changed, and so theyve decided to stick with what works, and that means a loss of soul.

***

A single player given free range in the Playstation 2 version of Tekken 5 has a number of options to keep themselves entertained. They can play the story mode, the arcade mode, the survival mode and the time attack mode of the main game. All of these are exactly the same, more or less. Anyone not wowed by the story mode, is not going to be wowed by the arcade mode and is certainly not going to be wowed by time attack or survival. The other options to be had are the Namco arcade history and the Devil Within. Playing these modes gives me a sense that perhaps, and I'm talking purely theoretically here, they were never meant to be played. The Devil Within is the easy one to recognize. Anyone who owns Tekken 5 and has played The Devil Within realized its lack of soul. They all played it for one level, maybe two and decided it was just tacked on and terrible. This is because it is tacked on and terrible. The arcade history is no different really. Emulated versions of games that have long since been replaced by better and more interesting games which are worth a look at first, mainly for laughs or nostalgia, and then are quickly forgotten (for while Tekken 1 and 2 have soul, it doesnt suddenly make them into good games). The only real reason that these things are in the game are so they can be blurbs on the back of the box. (Actually the arcade history isnt even a blurb on the back of the box, making it a purely useless addition.)

So the next time you think playing Tekken 5 alone is a good idea, I'd tell you to probably think again. It's the kind of game that needs to be played with more than one person to work. It's the kind of game where the players create the soul, not the developers, and complex things like soul creating are best done in groups. Read a book instead.


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 07/29/05


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