Fighting Games Peaked With Tekken 3’s Opening Cinematic
Fighting games rarely have good storylines. If that sentence makes you angry, open up your phone, get on Google Maps, type in ‘field’, and follow the directions until you find some grass. Now, touch it. Fighting games are still great, especially if you play with someone who's just about on your skill level but not quite. Whether you're a button masher, someone just starting to learn the combos, or a Fuzzy Guard, Footsie, and Frame Trap fan, as long as you play with someone just like you, you'll have a great time. But a story? Nah. Not unless you're talking about the Tekken 3 opening cinematic, that is.
I get why most fighting games lack a strong narrative. Their core gameplay loop is that every other character whales on the others just… because. There’s usually an underlying narrative, but fighting makes it hard for any sense of logic to fly. There’s often demons or superpowers involved, but what kind of self-respecting demon can be defeated by punches? Meanwhile, if games go for a smaller, more grounded storyline, there are no stakes. And again, since everything is settled by punching someone in the face, it's difficult to sell any emotional nuance.
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That's why fighting games often opt for a general Good vs Evil motif or to hold the narrative together with a tournament. In Tekken, that's the King of Iron Fist Tournament, and whenever you win this as a non-canon character (basically anyone who's not a Mishima), you get a non-canon cinematic that basically describes their daydream of life after winning. This is a great 'get out of jail' card when it comes to storytelling, as it lets Tekken swing for the fences without worrying about its own melodramatic continuity. Ling Xiaoyu can open that theme park if she wants – who cares?
For that to work though, each character needs to be bordering on iconic. Tekken 3's opening cinematic gives us a brilliant snapshot of each of them, and sets up the masterful way Tekken creates interesting – if entirely non-canon – storylines for its supporting stars. The first 30 seconds features Heihachi Mishima and some exposition for the demon waffle that drives the main narrative, but then the chaos emerges. We see Paul street fighting beneath the train tracks, Law defending his restaurant from robbers, an extremely homoerotic close up of King working out, and Xiaoyu kicking someone in the air on a cruise ship, for some reason.
Then the fun really starts. After we see various characters fighting – as you would expect in a fighting game – we then watch people being cloned, being chased by helicopters with rocket launchers, breaking out of prison, as well as an alien appearing in the middle of the forest, and, in the case of Hwoarang, doing nothing apart from looking sexy on a motorbike. Then again, what else does Hwoarang really need to do?
The opening cinematic ends with Jin Mishima in the forest – a different one to the alien one, I think – holding his burning arm while a fiery demon appears before him. This bookends the opening with the central plot, but really, who cares? It's a fighting game with weird demon stuff, big whoop. Now, why was that little Chinese girl beating people up on a cruise ship? It's the perfect opening because it sets up so many of the characters and gives their smaller, more entertaining stories the spotlight in between the demon nonsense. Tekken 3 lets you play as a boxing kangaroo or a mini dinosaur that attacks with farts, for god's sake. It knows it doesn't need to constantly keep up with the mythos, and it's not afraid to just have fun. I wish more fighting games told their stories like this.
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Not a full fighter, but close enough.
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Stacey Henley is an editor for TheGamer, and can often be found journeying to the edge of the Earth, but only in video games. Find her on Twitter @FiveTacey
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