Book Review: The Art of Tekken

Join Alex on his adventures reading, reviewing, and analyzing video game and film art and design books. Today's episode: reading and reviewing 2005's The Art of Tekken.

The Art of Tekken was a softcover book published by BradyGames and Namco in 2005, helping to celebrate Namco’s 50th anniversary. It’s a compilation of key art and promo shots for Tekken 1 - 5, including Tekken Tag. Like many other BradyGames art books, this one is on the light side - there are only 96 pages in the book - but it’s filled with a lot of the art that you would expect as a Tekken fan.


There are about 12 pages dedicated to the first Tekken, including some wireframes for the high-poly models used as marketing materials. The wireframes and models are great reminders of how far art has come since 1995. Considered extremely high quality back then, after almost a decade they look pretty decent. The polygon count is pretty low, and some of the textures are amusing - Yoshimitsu’s alternate variant is just stretched across his torso, and Marshall Law’s muscles look like they’re being pulled across his chest. But overall, they’re not bad. Given that Jurassic Park had just come out a couple of years earlier, 3D CG rendering was in its infancy.


Tekken 2 shows off some of the changes made for the game - King’s changed exterior, Yoshimitsu’s new costume, and Paul Phoenix’s slightly-less-pencil-eraser-shaped-head. Still, it only came out about a year after Tekken. What’s missing from both Tekken and Tekken 2 sections are any concept art, mainly because concept art as a video game discipline wasn’t as commonly used for marketing purposes back then. I remember concept art mostly being used to tease RPG characters, where the entire world was not yet sculpted in 3D, and world maps and characters had to be represented as pixels.


There is a distinct shift in both complexity and quality of art when you reach the Tekken 3 section. Character models become much more complex, and suddenly Heihachi has a katana / wakizashi pair on his waist, and Toshimitsu gains many frills are decorative changes across his costume. Most impressive in this section are the changes to hair. Ogre gains fur, as does Kuma, and Heihachi now has wispy hair sticking out of his head, rather than a polygon with some creative texturing. Eddie Gordo remains a striking character, really breaking the monotony of the other martial artists. He’s the only character to go with a primarily green outfit, and it really stands out, along with his fighting style. I was drawn to his style and his flamboyant character when I used to play Tekken 3 in arcades.

Tekken Tag, 4, and 5 continue to build on the first three sections, showing more and more detailed art as the hardware began to allow deeper expression. Tekken Tag was the first Tekken to appear on the Playstation 2, and you can tell the artists were especially eager to show off features like reflections, even better hair for Paul Phoenix, and feathered wings for Jin. In a nice touch, the Tekken 4 section has original sketches for each character next to their finished game model, letting you compare the original vision with what was delivered in the game. It’s nice to be able to glance between the two and see how characters changed from initial concept to final.

For a smaller book, it’s worth grabbing The Art of Tekken. It goes through the canonical series from the beginning to 2005, showing us a full decade of art in the Tekken universe. Seeing how King, Paul, Heihachi, and other characters developed over time is very interesting. Some aspects remain immutable: Heihachi’s hair, King’s open snarl, Paul’s hair. But a lot of other elements change a surprising amount: Yoshimitsu is reimagined for every game, and King’s skin tone and clothing changes with each game.

It’s worth noting that, like a lot of Japanese video games, there are many other art books related to Tekken that were never published in the United States or Europe. THose books delve much deeper into the move sets, art, and concepts of the games. In later reviews, I’ll go deeper into the specific Tekken books that I have, which will deeper into the history of the games. For now, this is one of the few Tekken art books published in the United States.

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