The fighting games genre has, traditionally, been notoriously hard to get into, and approaching a game like Tekken 7 seemed impossible for me. Sure, you can pick up a controller and start mashing away with friends, and it’s a great way to enjoy a flashy spectacle. But players who have seen the hype of the biggest Evolution Championship Series (EVO) moments and incredible competitive plays know that there’s a mountain of depth waiting to be discovered. Tapping into that depth requires more patience, learning, and determination than most players are willing to put in. Yet, those who can manage this for their chosen fighting game will find a deeper sense of satisfaction than in almost any other genre in the medium.
Does that sound at all familiar? If it does, that’s because you may be thinking of the Soulsborne genre pioneered by Japanese developer FromSoftware. Games like Dark Souls, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, and Elden Ring have become major successes, proving that some of the most gratifying gaming experiences can come from overcoming the toughest of challenges. I’m a nobody when it comes to fighting games, just a casual fan who has dabbled in the genre while appreciating legendary moments like EVO moment 37. But, after finishing various games from Hidetaka Miyazaki and his team, I realized that the FromSoft method of game design was exactly the perspective I had been missing when it came to approaching a fighting game like Tekken 7.
Learning from failure
The first lesson that any FromSoft title teaches its players is that failure is okay. You are going to die, whether it’s because of a surprise ambush, a devious trap, or a boss battle. It’s fine to fall, so long as you understand what went wrong and use that as a learning experience to improve on the next attempt. It’s why Dark Souls offers a deep sense of satisfaction when players beat a loathsome boss after dozens of attempts, and that isn’t so different from how a fighter like Tekken 7 should be approached either.
One unfortunate truth about fighting games is that you’re going to lose — a lot. There will always be someone better than you; it’s a humbling lesson to learn. That can inevitably be frustrating, but, much like a FromSoftware game, nothing is stopping you from trying again. And, for me, this is where things began to click.
Upon booting up Tekken 7 for the first time, I checked out its tutorials, played around in free practice modes, and made sure I understood the bare minimum I needed to enjoy the arcade and story offerings. I felt good about my ability with Hwoarang, so I decided to take my “skills” online — only to get thrashed like the inexperienced player I was. But, instead of rage quitting as my instincts told me to, I recalled how it felt to overcome failure in Dark Souls and decided to rematch my opponent. One painful mistake at a time let me realize the simple errors I was making compared to my opponent. Each subsequent loss was a chance to weed those out from my muscle memory.
It took time, but I began to develop some fundamentals about when to move, defend, and attack, just like I would have against bosses such as Ornstein and Smough. I still may not be able to Korean backdash or understand frame data, but I now grasped concepts like counters and whiff punishes, as well as the importance of the neutral game. That wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t understand how important positioning and adaptability are with FromSoft bosses, and I have Miyazaki and team to thank for it.
Every opponent is a new boss to master
It’s nearly impossible to stop playing FromSoft games once they sink their teeth into you. At that point, each new boss becomes exciting instead of intimidating. You wonder about how creative or monstrous they could be, rather than the initial fear you had at the beginning of your journey.
When it comes to playing against real humans in Tekken 7, it’s a similar feeling. Before each match begins, you’re greeted with a loading screen where players show off their customized profiles and you see some stats regarding their rank, playstyle, and recent victories. This isn’t unusual for a fighting game, but the sheer amount of information on screen could make me feel nervous before the match had even begun. It was a mistake to think that way.
The magic of fighting games is that every player has their own fighting styles, strengths, and weaknesses that don’t come across on a pre-match display. Someone who looks like a high-level player might have just played for a long time, whereas a low-level player could be an expert using a different profile. The danger of an unknown Souls boss isn’t in its damage numbers alone, but with its surprising moves.
None of them should be underestimated, and the same applied to my Tekken 7 opponents. Much like a FromSoft boss, my opponents had distinctive patterns to their playstyle and moves that I began to recognize them falling back on time after time. Understanding that and countering it to emerge victorious, just like learning the attack patterns of Knight Artorias, was truly seat-of-your-pants stuff.
However, unlike a Souls boss that can be fought over and over again, I could only rematch specific players as long as they wanted to play. That meant I had much less time to learn their patterns and had no choice but to overcome their habits in a matter of minutes. It felt like the Souls formula distilled into a single showdown. When I realized that, I then knew that each new opponent was an exciting prospect to battle with, and no two of them would ever provide the same experience. FromSoft fans always want more content, but in Tekken 7 I had found a limitless supply of Souls bosses.
An unlimited number of weapons
In games like Dark Souls or Elden Ring, there are innumerable weapons to discover and master. Many of them belong to archetypes like spears or great swords, but plenty of them are wholly unique in their movesets too. Finding the right weapons to match your playstyle and counter the enemy in front of you is half the battle. And that’s not so different for Tekken 7. Fighting games often have absurdly long move lists for characters, and Tekken 7 is a prime offender.
Hwoarang alone has over 100 moves. While that was daunting at first, I remembered something crucial: I would never attempt to master every weapon in Elden Ring. Instead, I gravitated toward my favorite tools of destruction, and this lesson proved essential for getting to grips with Tekken 7.
Rather than commit what felt like a dictionary’s worth of attacks to memory, I decided to learn a single example combo for Hwoarang from the Tekken 7 training menu. I watched the demo and followed the prompts. After enough practice, I could pull it off with acceptable consistency. But mastering an attack is different from knowing when to use it.
Souls bosses and Tekken players aren’t open books at first, and I had to look for the right opportunities. In Elden Ring, that would mean rolling and evading until I understood the monster’s attack patterns and found an opening, and the same applied to my Tekken 7 opponents. I’ve only learned a scant few other combos since that initial one, but it’s given me a handful of weapons that I can use to punish my enemies for sticking to their habits.
FromSoftware games have a knack for pulling players in thanks to a gratifying loop of overcoming difficult challenges through learning and perseverance. What FromSoftware doesn’t explicitly say is that these lessons can extend beyond its often-horrifying adventures into other realms. For me, this meant I could finally approach a game as intimidating as Tekken 7, and I have FromSoftware to thank for that.