"Truly, this is King of the Iron Fist."

Tekken – the King of the Iron Fist. Up until this point, one had gotten the impression that Namco's flagship fighting series – no, not Soul Calibur – had simply run out of room to innovate, opting instead to go the route of Street Fighter and simply fine-tune the formula and add new stages and call it a “new game.” Tekken 4 was an attempt to revolutionize that old archaic Tekken formula, but by all regards was a disappointing, unappealing fighter that cast off what had made it great. Virtua Fighter 4: Evolution, once thought a hardcore fanatic's niche title, had gone Greatest Hits, and was (and still is!) being called the deepest, greatest fighting game ever made.
Something had to be done.
Cribbing a bit from Virtua Fighter's system of ranking and item customization, Namco “rebuilt” Tekken apparently from the ground up, and the results are far, far beyond my wildest expectations. Going back to the roots of the game while revamping outmoded elements, this is easily the best game in the series, and should have fighter fans of all makes and models rejoicing.

Graphics and Presentation - 10/10
I've gotten flak in the past for reviewing games' graphics “overgenerously,” giving Zone of the Enders 2 and Final Fantasy Tactics Advance high marks despite the fact that yes, Doom 3 might look better. The fact remains that on the Playstation 2, little more could've been done to make this a stellar graphical showcase. Environments, usually the weak point of the visual presentation in fighting games, shine here; despite the fact that many of the stages are nonsensical romps, they are very well animated and exquisitely well done. The characters themselves have reached a level of realism unseen before in 3D fighters, period – they don't have the same “cartoony” feel many Dead or Alive games have, and the modeling here strikes me as superior even to the excellent Soul Calibur series. Jaggies are non-existent. Though certain characters – notably the new addition Devil Jin – have minor clipping issues, it never really detracts from gameplay.
That being said, many of the item customizations are complete afterthoughts, not particularly finely executed, and can contribute to the previously mentioned clipping. Of course, Virtua Fighter 4 suffered from the same issues, but the customization mechanic was comprehensive and deep; it is nowhere near as well accomplished in Tekken 5. The menus are also full-spectrum, ranging from cool (Arcade Mode, Story Mode) to generic and bland (Versus Mode, the hub menu, the customization menu). A few nagging errors, however, do not break this perfect score.

Gameplay and Mechanics – 10/10
This is where a fighting game – and any game, really – needs to shine. You could have the most intriguing story or the most inventive ideas ever, but if it isn't executed well, it's mostly a moot point. Tekken 5's fighting is furious and intense, at the same time methodical and wild. Characters' fighting styles range from traditional karate and kenpo to luchadore Mexican wrestling and capoiera. The “position change” of Tekken 4 is gone, replaced with the traditional throwing again; extended-range throws have been implemented, as well, and effectively at that. This is not Mortal Kombat's dial-a-combo mechanic: it is fluid, cohesive, and you don't even have to worry about a combo breaker. While juggling and the infamous okizeme techniques are still foremost in the Tekken gameplay, all the elements have seemingly come together for a great culmination, a combination of complexity and simple intuitive control. Ring outs, though present now in most 3D fighters, make no appearance in Tekken 5, but the walls of Tekken 4 remain; without the position change mechanic and with very few viable options of escape, walls are more or less the ring outs of Tekken.
No matter whom you choose, you generally have a fighting chance this time around (one of the most widespread complaints from Tekken fans was the complete dominance of Jin Kazama and Steve Fox in the previous installment). Tiers, though present, do not affect the gameplay as heavily as games like Marvel vs. Capcom 2 or SNKvsCapcom CHAOS, to name a few examples. Combination attacks are quick and fluid, and each character possesses all of the tools necessary to win. It's truly a fighting game fan's dream. However, a slight caveat: this game's input for complex moves is nowhere near the precision of Virtua Fighter 4's, which is both a good and bad thing. Tekken is great because it appears as though anyone can play it – and they can – while still providing a level of depth for those wishing to take it a step further.

Audio – 8/10
Audio in fighting games is arguably an oxymoron, something of a joke among gamers (I Love New York '99 from Street Fighter 3: Third Strike comes to mind, as does the entire MvsC2 soundtrack). However, Tekken's musical score ranges from the traditional Eurobeat-and-some-hard-rock tunes tracks to some truly good ones, notably Moonlit Wilderness and the opening song. It more than provides the atmosphere needed for fighting, and the music for each stage fits like a glove. There is little to complain about, although the forgettability of the entire thing is still present; there's nothing you're going to hum to yourself at work or school, but the music gets the gob done all the same. As long as Capcom doesn't subject us to another jazz/pop soundtrack, I think we'll be fine.

Plot – 3/10
The plot in any fighting game is weak. Period. Tekken is no different, although the device with the Mishima family feud never gets old in my mind (Kazuya threw his father to the evil robots? Oh, no he di'in'!). There are literally a few endings wherein Namco was apparently taking itself seriously that you'll just burst out laughing at the melodrama of it all, especially Wang Jinrei and Ling Xiaoyu. Ultimately, however, a fighting game doesn't need a good story to survive – it needs excellent gameplay, which Tekken 5 has in spades. Generally, the game does its job of trying to provide the player with the character's motivation to fight, even if it is a bit ridiculous.

Replay Value – 8/10
Story Mode is nine battles long. Of course you'll finish it several (dozen) times! There are 30-some-odd characters to learn, palette swaps, customization, and a mini-game with 5 whole levels (that take forty-five minutes apiece, no less!). Just trying to rank up your favorite characters will be time-consuming. You'll definitely be playing Tekken 5 for a long time.

Rent or Buy?
Buy it. Definitely. Absolutely. Buy it.

Reviewer's Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

Originally Posted: 03/07/05

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