Videogames always move forward, but is the past really the enemy?
As I’m writing this, Mario Odyssey is just around the corner, which makes it an unknown. Will the game be good? Bad? Previews have lied before, it could be anything! There is technically just as much of a chance as seeing the next Mario Galaxy as Mario is Missing. But one thing we do know is that it won’t look like this:
In much the same way you don’t want to show your naked baby photos to a date, the old days of gaming are fairly embarrassing. Okay, yes, there is nostalgia for the “8-bit style”, and every once in a while we get a great “throwback” game like Shovel Knight or Mega Man 9/10, but those adventures are few and far between. The lamest of cell phone games do their best to have “high definition” graphics, and even something like Pokémon Go, a game that barely requires graphics at all, looks better than most of the Playstation 2 oeuvre. Videogames move forward because they must, and looking back (or releasing a product that is actively looking back as an artistic choice) should be about as successful as scoring your bald-headed granny a gig with Insane Clown Posse (this is not to say your grandmother could not be a thriving juggalo, I understand that is a very warm and welcoming community).
At first glance, Tekken 3, the third Tekken game released on the Playstation 1 (I know that sounds obvious, but it’s not like there were only three Final Fantasy games on the Playstation), seems to follow this same line of thinking. Tekken 3 was a very deliberate reboot for the series… or… perhaps that’s the wrong word? Tekken 3 is definitely a continuation of the Tekken universe (so this isn’t some alternate universe or a situation where Spock accidentally nuked the space-time continuum or anything), but from a gameplay perspective, this may as well be a reboot. Tekken 2 featured 25 characters (or thereabouts, depends on how you count model swaps), which was a fairly significant roster for 1995. Tekken 3 featured 23 (or so) characters, but only six of those characters were familiar faces from previous Tekken entries. Okay, again, that’s kind of an exaggeration, as characters like King and Kuma are just “the next generation” compared to some previous characters. Kuma II technically isn’t Kuma I, and Panda certainly has nothing to do with any of that.
But, as ever, a fighting game is defined by its roster, and this roster makes an obvious comment about the “old” roster. It’s old! Paul Phoenix has gone from the Ken of the series to a glory-seeking has-been (who, incidentally, got beat up by a bear), Lei looks like he’s getting too old for this shit, and Heihachi Mishima is your super powered grandpa. The only characters that stay youthful are the cryogenically frozen Nina and Anna, and that was only because videogames are lawfully forbidden from featuring women over 40 (that’s the explanation, right?).
The rest of the roster, meanwhile, is youth in spades. The new main character is Jin, the son of two former Tekken characters who behaves properly like a genetic mix of the duo. He comes with a love interest and new rival, and, yes, they’re all in high school. Then we’ve got Forest Law, son of Marshall Law (God I love that pun), King Jr., the protégé of King Sr., and Julia, adopted daughter of Michelle. The rest of the new characters seem to emphasize youth, with Eddy Gordo as a break-dancing hip hop gangsta octopus, and Bryan as one of those topless zombies that all the kids seem to love. And the big boss is an “ancient evil” that has been resting for millennia, so, yes, the final battle is absolutely going to be a teenager beating up the oldest thing he can find.
But there’s very little to complain about with the youthfulness of Tekken 3, as it’s an improvement to the franchise in every way. Tekken and Tekken 2 seemed destined for the Virtua Fighter graveyard of games that are 3-D, technical, and not very fun at all for some reason. Tekken and Tekken 2 weren’t bad, and, in fact, they might have been some of the best 3-D fighters out there… but this was also during the era that “3-D fighter” was a completely new thing, and competing with the raw love some had for really creative games like Street Fighter Alpha or Darkstalkers was no simple task. Yes, Tekken 2 had a boxing dinosaur, but did it have an enchanted succubus battling a giant bee from hell? Tekken 3 turned the weird up to eleven, smoothed out the basic flow of a battle, improved the graphics, and tossed in a magical wooden man (and woman!) for good measure. Tekken 3 rode that youth wave to conquer the fighting world, and you’ll still find 30somethings wandering around local arcades talking about the wonders of that Yoshimitsu.
But Tekken 3 didn’t quite forget its past.
Tekken 3 was the final Tekken title on the Playstation 1. It might seem ridiculous now, but the original Playstation was kind of a big deal in its time, as it was Sony’s first foray into the videogame console market, and the first successful console to support CDs (sorry, Sega). And Tekken was right there at the start of the Playstation’s R U E adventures, complete with next gen, blocky as hell graphics and “a TV scorching 50 frames per second”. So it seemed only appropriate that Tekken 3 would find an apposite way to close out the generation (before kickstarting it again with Tekken Tag Tournament).
Tekken 3 included a pile of unlockables, as was the style at the time. Over half the roster is missing at the start, and then there is a Final Fight-esque beat ‘em up mode to be completed. And I’m pretty sure you had to do something ridiculous to score the one and only Tiger, too. But after earning the entire cast, you could beat the game with said cast, and gradually unlock all of their endings. And then, after all that was done, you finally earned a completed Theater Mode. And do you know what you could do with complete Theater Mode? You could pop in an old Tekken or Tekken 2 disc, and watch every ending in the entire franchise.
This was unprecedented in videogames! This is still incredibly unusual! You, dedicated Tekken fan, are actually being rewarded for owning old games. In an industry that’s constantly pushing the new and… that’s it. Just the new. It doesn’t matter if the latest version is actually better than the previous game (or not), what’s important is that you buy the newest hotness, and trade in those old discs at Gamestop or some other wretched pawn shop. A game (and the people producing said game, obviously) actually remembering that older games even exist is amazing, and, simply a “theater mode” or not, it’s great to see a franchise remember its roots.
So, way to go, Tekken 3. In an industry obsessed with the latest thing, you managed to marry the new and old with aplomb. You truly are the King of the Iron Fist.
…. Whatever the hell that means.
FGC #340 Tekken 3
- System: Playstation 1, though probably also available on every system produced by Sony. Vita? Sure, probably.
- Number of players: Fight, fight, two players, always fight.
- Favorite Character: Gon is a precious angel that could only be on this Earth for a short time, and he will always be remembered.
- Favorite Ending: Gon is a precious angel that could only be on this Earth for a short time, and he will always be remembered.
- Favorite Game Mode: Tekken didn’t establish itself as Tekken until Tekken Ball, the only fighting match that requires a giant beach ball to win. Or… wait… did that happen in Dead or Alive?
- Goggle Bob Fact: So, first of all, I managed to score my copy of Tekken 3 right before leaving on my freshman high school band trip to Myrtle Beach. Like, I literally bought it an hour before the bus left. So, since I naturally brought my Playstation along, our room was basically just all Tekken 3, all the time. Pretty sure the entire roster was unlocked before the second day. On the other hand, I distinctly recall my freshman crush looking over the instruction manual and noting, “Wow, that guy has a huge package”. “That guy” was Eddy Gordo, and I have been jealous of that digital beefcake ever since.
- Did you know? It sounds like a high school rumor, but Anna actually has two different endings. In America, Anna’s ending is a poolside bit of sibling rivalry where Nina has to watch her sister get the attention of all the boys. In Japan, the ending ends with Nina snapping Anna’s bikini, and we close on a triumphant Nina and a topless Anna. It’s true! It’s on youtube! My uncle told me!
- Would I play again: There’s actually a Tekken 3 arcade cabinet in the retro section of my local arcade, and I’ve hit that a time or two. It’s a fun way to beat up a bear, so, yeah, I’ll play it again.
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Yoshi’s Island for the Super Nintendo! Good! I needed an excuse to try out that SNES Classic! Please look forward to it!