Whether you’ve played it at the arcade or on your home console, almost every fan of fighting games has done a round or two (or hundreds) in the world of Tekken. Simply put, the Tekken franchise is one of the best fighting franchises of all time. It shares the same rarified air as series like Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, and Soul Calibur. The popularity of the game has spawned ten mainline entries and plenty of spin-offs and crossovers. But out of these multitudes of options, what is the best Tekken game of all time?
If you ask most fans of the Tekken franchise what the best game in the series is, you’re likely going to hear the same answer from many participants in the survey — Tekken 3. There’s something about Tekken 3 that takes it above and beyond any of the other franchise entries. Some factor that combines everything great about the series into one enjoyable stew. You get the introduction of long-time protagonist Jin Kazama for one. But Tekken 3 also marks the point where the gameplay of the series was truly perfected. It also happens to be released around the time that a lot of 90’s kids, Gen X, and millennials would be old enough to start playing the game at the arcades and on their Playstation. Thus, it’s got the nostalgia factor going for it. Even though the first Tekken Tag Tournament was introduced three years later in 1999, there were probably still plenty of people choosing to continue playing Tekken 3 over the new entry. So, while it may not be the most polished game in the entire franchise, and while it may not have the modern graphics and gameplay elements of other entries, it’s beloved for a reason. You can still go back to Tekken 3 today and have a ton of fun with it.
As always, this is just my opinion on what the best Tekken game is (even if plenty of other fans share the sentiment). But, if you’re looking for the easiest intro to the game, Tekken 3 is as good of a choice as any. Plus, once you get your skills down in Tekken 3, you can hit up Tekken 7 and jump into the online modes without feeling lost. There’s nothing worse than getting absolutely crushed by a cursing 8-year old the first time you play a new game.
Which isn’t to say the rest of the series’ games don’t have their merits. A lot of the mainline games are made with care and quality. Critics and audiences agree, with the mainline entries rarely dipping below an 80 score on Metacritic. Your results may vary when you’re picking the best Tekken game, as you probably have one you grew up playing or one that you would always play at your local arcade. There’s a good chance your favorite Tekken game is the one you played the longest and have the most memories of, which is totally fair. But if you’re a newcomer to the series looking for the must-play way in, Tekken 3 is almost certainly the best choice.
Picking the best Tekken game is no easy feat, so picking the best choice for newcomers is a good metric to use. What would impress a newcomer to the franchise and make them say “Yep, I’ll play more of this.” Now, if you’re talking about the story, you’d of course suggest that someone starts at the beginning. As far as fighting franchises go, Tekken has a decently solid story, that usually focuses on either Kazuya or Jin Kazama as the protagonist. The first two games introduce you to the rivalry and cycle of revenge between Kazuya and his father Heihachi Mishima. You also get introduced to the Devil Gene concept in Tekken 2. Tekken 3 introduces Jin Kazama, the son of Kazuya. So, if the story is an important piece of the puzzle, starting with Tekken and Tekken 2 wouldn’t be the worst idea, but mechanically Tekken is lacking. Tekken 2 is a little better but it still shows its age. Neither can match Tekken 3. Gameplay-wise, Tekken 7 is one of the best in the franchise. As the most recent entry to the series, it’s fine-tuned for modern consoles and modern gamers. You get the best graphics in this version too, but first you need to get your proverbial sea legs, so Tekken 3 still comes out on top.