Tekken 7 Spectator's Guide

By Alex Beaven
July 13, 2017

As the fighting game community has embraced Tekken 7 since its June 2nd release, many new faces have shown up to watch and play the game for the first time. While it is common to hear that Tekken is one of the most complicated fighting games on the market, a casual viewer may not quite grasp what makes the game so tough.

This spectator’s guide is here to help with understanding the fundamentals of Tekken by explaining the movement, combos, whiff punishment, and poking that all come into play at a high level.

Movement is Key

Tekken is unique compared to most fighting games due to its 3D landscape, which allows for more free movement than other games.

Having an additional axis to side-step into the foreground or background of a stage adds a layer of movement options not seen in games such as Street Fighter or Injustice. Because of this, high-level players such as JDCR and Saint rely on side-stepping and back-dashing to dodge incoming attacks and punish them for damage.

Most players even utilize methods such as the “Korean back-dash”, done by back-dashing, inputting a down-back input, and back-dashing again repeatedly. Tactics like this “KBD” actually cancel the last few frames of each back-dash, allowing you to back-dash more quickly, making it easier to dodge opponent’s attacks.

While knowing how to move away from pressure is important, many viewers may be confused when seeing tournament players make quick advances toward their opponent. For example in the Grand Finals of CEO 2017, Saint would often do multiple dashes in front of JDCR.

This strategy can be used by players like Saint to strike fear in his opponent because it forces them to react and allows Saint to control the pace of the round. Understanding how a player uses movement in their game plan is essential when watching Tekken matches.

Being a moving target is much safer than simply trying to stand and block in Tekken, and moving will allow a player to punish attacks that they evade. JDCR took to Twitter shortly after Tekken 7’s home release with some movement advice: “To be specific, when you block opponents jab, you became -1 [1 more recovery frame than the opponent]. He mixups with low or mid. Don't block. try to sidestep a little bit.”

What this means is that the animation your character goes through when blocking is one frame longer than the animation your blocked opponent goes through. That gives your opponent the chance to start another attack before you can react.

When watching high-level tournament play, small details such as when a player side-steps can make all the difference between life and death in a round.

Know Your Punish

Side-stepping is not always the answer for punishing attacks. In Tekken, the fastest attacks will be moves with just 10 startup frames. Given that the game runs at 60 frames per second, it is important for players to know what attacks have 10 or more recovery frames (labeled as “-10 frames”). If a player’s attack is “-10” frames on block, that means attacks from the blocker with 10 startup frames will be a guaranteed hit.

Tekken also has lots of unsafe moves that are “launch punishable” which generally put a player at a -15 frame disadvantage when blocked. For unsafe attacks like this, the defending player can use a launching attack to punish the mistake and lead into a juggle combo.

A simple way to look at Tekken’s combos would be to recognize what attack launches an opponent in the air and which moves are used after the launcher for an air juggle. Near the end of a juggle, an attack that utilizes the “tailspin” mechanic of Tekken 7 will bring an opponent back to the ground. After the tailspin, one last attack or string of attacks is used for either damage or pushing an opponent to the wall.

For Tekken 7, the refined “Rage” system can also give attackers a cinematic attack similar to Street Fighter’s super attacks, called a “Rage Art”. Rage also gives access to “Rage Drives”, which are stronger or safer versions of key moves from a character’s command list. Rage is granted when a player is at 25% or lower health, and their character & health bar will begin glowing red to signify Rage activating. Rage is arguably more important in Tekken 7 than it has ever been in a Tekken game, and it has become a key mechanic to watch for when spectating matches.

While watching Tekken, spectators should not feel forced to understand how safe or unsafe every attack is, though seeing certain blocked moves lead to a launcher combo is a key part of understanding why and when a combo begins. Many casual viewers may see juggle combos as boring and repetitive, but it is important to realize just how much thought goes into selecting each piece of the puzzle when structuring combos.

Applying Pressure

While knowing how a player defends themselves from pressure is important, it is also crucial to watch for how they apply pressure on their opponent.

Each character has numerous “attack strings” which are moves that naturally connect with each other, and often these strings are used for poking at an opponent when trying to put pressure on them. Tekken uses a four-button layout with two punches and two kicks, and each button is connected to a limb instead of varying attack strengths. Players are encouraged to learn a variety of punch and kick strings when selecting a character to practice.

To fully understand how strings work, it is important to understand Tekken’s high/mid/low system of attacks. High and mid attacks can be blocked by standing up and holding back, and lows can be blocked by crouching and holding back. When crouching, players are however vulnerable to mid attacks but they will duck under any high attacks.

To make the most of this high/mid/low system, players include different strings and attacks in their game plan. A string that is low-mid would force a crouch block then a standing block to fully defend against it. A mid, high string could either be completely blocked standing or blocked standing then ducked under.

In a real match, you may see strategies that mix up an opponent’s defensive game plan. For instance, Saint has some very fast low poking options when playing the character Jack-7, and if he forces an opponent to crouch block he can use a mid-hitting launcher attack to begin a combo.

Certain attacks in Tekken have the unique ability to begin a combo when landed as a counter-hit (“CH”). For a move to counter-hit, it must hit the opponent while they are already attempting an attack. For example, if JDCR’s offense makes an opponent want to jab their way out of pressure, JDCR’s character Dragunov has a running mid attack that will launch that opponent when it lands as a CH.

Tekken also has lots of unblockable attacks, though most of these are very easy to dodge and are quite unsafe for a player to use. These are not often seen in tournament play, but are usually part of a specific strategy if they are used.

If an opponent is playing very defensive then a player could also implement a grab, though these grabs can almost always be broken out of or ducked under. To break a grab, all a player must do is press a punch button when the grab is starting.

Most characters also have a command grab which requires both punch buttons to be pressed to break. These command grabs usually do more damage than a regular grab or lead into a high-damage combo. Some characters have lots of command grabs, but it is important to know that there are no specific “grappler” characters in Tekken that will rely mostly on grabs for damage.

Smart and experienced players will recognize when they have the opportunity to poke with certain attacks, and many strong players will be able to memorize the options they have within a character’s command list. Having the knowledge to fight against certain characters will always be beneficial, especially if a player is facing off against their own character in a “mirror match”.

Bringing all the Pieces Together

It may be simple enough to analyze each piece of the puzzle that makes up Tekken’s gameplay, but combining all of these mechanics in real-time is what makes Tekken one of the most engaging competitive fighting games.

Players with the skill and technical knowledge to succeed stand out above the rest and these factors make players like JDCR and Saint able to perform so consistently well. Clutch moments are amplified by Tekken 7’s slow-motion camera angles, a new feature aimed at increasing the viewer experience.

Keep an eye out for JDCR and Saint at Evo as they look to continue their domination of the Tekken scene.