Back in 1996, a little kid was spending most of his time off school in the makeshift arcades that had spawned in the streets of Delhi. The likes of Metal slug and Cadillacs-and-Dinosaurs fascinated him. And within the treasure trove of games found in those arcades, an unknown fighting game named Tekken which showed up in all its 3D glory, blew his mind away one day. There was a new favorite in town among the arcade dwellers. But it wasn’t until 2 iterations later, that he realized that this new game was going to be etched in his memories forever. Tekken 3 was released in 1997 and blew all its competitions out of the water. And to this day, that kid, me, knows the key combinations of the knee-hop combo for Yoshimitsu. Tekken 3 was that special. Serving as one of the best-looking games in the original PlayStation, and one of the best 3D fighters, the game was nothing short of a marvel in its time. But what was it that made the game what it was? And why does this particular outing still have a legion of fans? Let’s take a trip down memory lane with Tekken 3.
In many ways, the 90s can be considered the golden age of fighting games. So, in 1997 there was no shortage of options in the genre. While the bulk of it was 2D games, which saw some great innovations in its own space, there were a good number of 3D fighting games that tried to mix things up. Games like Soul Calibur, Bloody Roar and Dead or Alive (which was arguably the best looking at the time) had already made their mark on the industry with their take on the genre. But it was Tekken 3 that made the best of the then available technology. Focusing squarely on fluid movement and making effective use of 3D space, the revamped fighting system was a complete overhaul of the one in Tekken 2. With the return of fan favourite characters and some truly compelling new ones, Tekken 3 was leaps and bounds ahead of its predecessor.
The different move sets for each character felt tailor-made for a specific type of player. Whether you took an aggressive, thoughtful or mash-all-buttons-and-hope-for-the-best approach, there was a character for everyone. The moment to moment fighting itself was complemented by cleverly implemented camera angles whenever a move that took more than a second of animation on screen was executed. And all of this was presented in gorgeous graphics, which was second only to dead or alive (which wasn’t as good a fighting game like Tekken 3). It was probably this aspect, the fact that Tekken 3 was not just a by the numbers sequel but so much more, that instantly gratified players upon its release. And boy oh boy was it Good
Going above and beyond the call of duty for the newest instalment may have had players gravitate towards Tekken 3 at launch. But it was the sheer wealth of content buried within the game that kept players coming back to it. The deep character-specific move sets meant mastering each character needed commitment, and it was one that was a pleasure to oblige to. Each character had a specific storyline, which was abstractly hinted at in the opening cinematic and then expanded upon when the Arcade mode was beat with that character. Back in its time watching these 30 seconds long 3D rendered movies was a reward on its own.
Then came in the additional characters that were unlocked by beating the Arcade mode each time with a new character. And before you knew it, what started as a 10-player roster was now 20, with the 20th character (a turtle-dinosaur cross named Gon) strangely appearing off-screen leaving room for one more character on the board (We’ll get back to that shortly). And then they were the various other modes like Time Attack, Survival, Team Battle and Vs which were expected out of a fighting game. But Tekken 3 also had other quirky modes like a Ball Mode, one where you play beach volleyball with the same move sets. And Tekken Force Mode which served as a beat ‘em up within the same universe.
And then a Theatre Mode which was a gallery of all unlocked story clips and musical scores from the game. All of these modes meshed well with the tone of the game and played just as fine. In today’s day and age all of the above would have been paid DLCs. But Tekken 3, like many other games in its time, offered all of this as rewards for just playing the game.
Just when you thought that you had seen it all, in comes another character to fill in the aforementioned 20th spot. And this character was unlike any other. Breaking all fighting genre conventions Dr Bosconovitch (Doctor B. on screen) was a character who could not stand on his feet. His move sets were completely unique from the rest of the cast. He was hard to pick and even harder to master. However, if anyone, like me, had mastered Doctor B, they were pretty much invincible.
The game took a completely different form once this old scientist was unlocked and in the best way possible. The developers were clearly having fun in creating this character. As if they had a hall pass on creating whatever they want for this one special unlockable. Tekken 3 also did alternate costumes differently. While Forest Law’s alternate costume which served as a homage to Bruce Lee from Game of Death was available from the get-go, the same cannot be said for Anna Williams’ White Tiger costume. And unlocking Eddie Gordo’s alternative costume gave us a whole new and better version of him in the form of an afro sporting, disco dancing Tiger Chan. Unlocking Jin Kazama and Ling Xiaoyu’s school uniform costumes also unlocked their schools ground as a bonus map to fight on.
All of the above may seem overwhelming, but that was just the surface. A whole other world of discovery was waiting to be found in the form of secret move sets which were only available on the then elusive and hardly accessible ‘Internet’. There was just so much content in this gem of a game that players were constantly finding new things and that sense of being rewarded never got old. Games like Tekken 3 are rare, if not non-existent, today. Namco has since had some missteps with the franchise, but delivered again with Tekken 5, and then several years later with the best version yet in Tekken 7. But in my books, Tekken 3 was the one that started it all. It was way ahead of its time and stood the test of time gracefully, considering it was an early 3D game. It may not have had the legs of Street Fighter 2, but it is without a doubt one of the best fighting games ever.