The Tekken (鉄拳, “Iron Fist”) franchise came onto the scene in 1994, and since then has garnered critical and commercial success, cementing its place in the hearts of fans, as well as the best-selling fighting game franchise in history.
For the uninitiated, Tekken is a fighting game with a somewhat convoluted plot that revolves around the actions of the Mishima Zaibatsu, a wealthy Japanese conglomerate owned by the Mishima patriarch, Heihachi. The fate of the company is decided through a yearly fighting tournament open to all comers, where the winner takes control of the company with the understanding that they will host the next year’s tournament. There are ten entries in the series, the bulk of which are main entries, as well as a couple of spin-off arcade games that were eventually ported to consoles, and some companion anime. It is a game that draws heavily from martial arts around the world, as well as supernatural elements, and a silliness that proves that it doesn’t take itself too seriously.
With a legacy as large as Tekken’s, it’s no surprise that they’ve introduced a bevy of interesting, iconic characters that won the hearts of fans and newcomers alike. Take a trip down memory lane as we discuss the Top 10 Iconic Tekken Characters!
10. Eddy Gordo
While Eddy wasn’t around for the first two installments in the series, he was featured in the third installment and was so popular he’s been in every subsequent installment. Eddy was born into one of the richest families in Brazil and was fated to take over the company business. However, when Eddy was nineteen, he returned home one fateful day to find his father shot. With his dying breaths, he pleaded his son take blame for the crime in order to hide out in prison for his own safety.
Eddy’s time in prison was a nightmare, fueled by hate and anger. It changed his life forever when he saw an old man defending himself more gracefully than Eddy could ever imagine. The fighting style was capoeira, and Eddy studied diligently under his master for years until his release. Just in time for the annual Iron Fist tournament, he joined, hoping the resources provided by winning would help him seek out his revenge. As a capoeira master, Eddy floats around the arena, seamlessly chaining combo after combo in a deadly dance.
Another character introduced in Tekken 3, Hwoarang also rose to such popularity that he was featured in every following game. Hwoarang is a taekwondo student who apprenticed himself to Baek Doo San, a master from previous games whose initial intentions became warped after he killed his father, and took a turn towards the dark side.
Hwoarang is every bit as dedicated to his art as his master. Although he is hot-headed and arrogant, and often brags about his fighting abilities, when he is in combat he takes care to respect the abilities of his opponents and not lose himself to his pride. He is known for holding a grudge and joins the Iron Fist tournament in order to avenge his master’s defeat against the fighter, Ogre, and to prove himself against his rival, Jin Kazama, who he had previously fought to a draw. The only thing that motivates him more than a grudge is his anticipation of a good fight.
A character named King has appeared in all of the major games in the Tekken series, although two discreet people have inhabited the role. In both cases, King is a luchador from Mexico, who fights to support orphan communities around the world.
The first man to take up the iconic leopard mask was an orphan boy who brawled his way through his childhood. When he was grievously wounded in a fight, he collapsed on the steps of a monastery, and a priest saved him from death and taught him the error of his ways. He became a priest with a dream of helping orphan boys like himself and entered the Iron Fist tournament in the hopes of winning enough money to build orphanages around the globe.
The second King was an orphan boy as well. He grew up inside one of King’s orphanages and worked alongside him to help children. When King I was murdered in a fight with Ogre, King II took up the mantle, realizing that the orphanages King I had worked so hard to build would collapse into disrepair. After years of training, he was finally ready to enter the tournament, with the hard-hitting moves befitting a wrestler of his stature.
7. Marshall Law
Marshall Law is an American fighter of Chinese ancestry who has appeared in every major game except for Tekken 3. He is the game’s tribute to the legendary martial artist turned movie superstar, Bruce Lee, and often appears wearing some of the actor’s iconic outfits. As expected, he is a master of Jeet Kune Do.
His story is a humble one. Working in a restaurant in San Francisco, Law dreamed of opening his own martial arts school. He saw an opportunity in the Iron Fist tournament, and never looked back. After successfully establishing a chain of dojos, with his ambitions fulfilled, everything seemed to be looking up for Law. However, he was roped back into the tournaments when students at his dojo started being fiercely attacked by the taekwondo master, Baek Doo San.
Although his origins and motivation aren’t as dramatic as other characters on the list, it’s hard to explain the thrill a player feels in inhabiting a character that fights as incredibly and fluidly as Bruce Lee. It’s easy to see why he’s represented in almost every entry in the franchise.
6. Paul Phoenix
Paul Phoenix made his debut in the very first Tekken game and has appeared in every single entry in the series, including spin-offs. He is an American practitioner of Judo and is easily recognized by his aggressive attitude and his red karate gi. His goal is to demonstrate his fighting prowess to the world and prove that he’s the best martial artist in the universe.
Paul is a hot-headed fighter who once fought Kazuya Mishima to a draw, much to his own disappointment. He is friends with Marshall Law, who often acts as the voice of reason to his overbearing need to act before thinking. He joins the Iron Fist tournament not only for glory but also for the prize money, as his drive to be the best fighter sees him bailing on his jobs and struggling for money. Although he is a series staple, he has become an increasingly silly character, both in his portrayal throughout the game’s story, and his behavior in the arena.
Another character who appeared in the first entry into the series and almost every subsequent entry, as well as Namco’s Soulcalibur series, Yoshimitsu is a mechanized ninja with a fighting style that makes the most of the traditional ninjutsu and his enhanced physical mobility.
He is the leader of the Manji Clan, a group of Robin Hood-esque ninjas who steal from the rich and distribute it to the poor. In pursuit of their noble goals, Yoshimitsu joins the first Iron Fist tournament in order to obtain the wealth of the Mishima Zaibatsu and give it to those truly in need. He joins the fray in the second tournament in order to rescue the scientist who saved his life and enhanced his body. Although he often acts selflessly, he and his clan find themselves butting heads with the series’ baddies, including Brian Fury, who nearly destroys the Manji entirely.
Part of what makes Yoshimitsu so iconic is the bizarre way he behaves in the arena. The physics-defying mobility afforded him by his enhancements means he can pull off moves that are truly out of this world, and make predicting his combos an exercise in patience.
4. Nina Williams
The blonde, Irish assassin joined the fray in the very first Tekken game and made such a splash that she’s been in every follow-up, and even spawned her own spin-off action game, Death by Degrees. She has a lethal fighting style that blends both aikido and koppo, which makes her a deadly grappler.
Nina has the cold indifference expected of a professional in her field, and the skills to carry out her job, no matter how dangerous. She was given enhancing drugs at a young age to create the perfect assassin. Because of trauma in her past, she has an inherent distrust of men, although she had an incredibly close relationship with her father before he died.
She joins the Iron Fist tournament when she is hired to assassinate Heihachi Mishima, but her true agenda is to battle her sister, Anna, and settle the score with her once and for all. Both Nina and her sister Anna undergo a cryogenic freezing process, which explains their youthful appearance throughout the series.
3. Jin Kazama
Jin was introduced in Tekken 3 and has since become one of the main protagonists/anti-heroes of the entire series, appearing in most promotions and packaging for each subsequent release. He fights with a blend of Mishima-style karate, and the traditional fighting arts of his mother’s family, the Kazama.
Jin is the son of Jun Kazama and Kazuya Mishima. Sensing the dark heart of Kazuya, Jin’s mother Jun raised him in isolation, bringing him up with a sense of justice, and teaching him how to defend himself. She kept his ancestry secret from Jin for a long time, but sensing the evil of Ogre approaching, finally told him about his history, and warned him that if anything happened to her, he should seek out his grandfather, Heihachi. After his mother’s apparent death, Jin went to live with his grandfather. After years of training alongside Heihachi, he joined the Iron Fist tournament in order to fight Ogre and exact justice for his mother.
Jin is such an iconic character because he represents a constant struggle between his two natures. The goodness his mother instilled in him is always at war with the evil inherent in the bloodline on his father’s side, and he is willing to go to any lengths to put an end to the wrongdoings of the Mishima Zaibatsu, even if it puts him up against his family.
2. Kazuya Mishima
Originally thought of as the hero of the series with his introduction in the very first game, the plot that unfolded following his appearances in the subsequent releases proved there was more to Kazuya than meets the eye. Initially a plain-looking practitioner of Mishima-style karate, Kazuya developed into one of the most ruthless villains in the series.
Raised by his abusive father Heihachi, Kazuya entered the original Iron Fist tournament under the pretext of defeating his father and restoring honor and sanity to the Mishima Zaibatsu. At war within him was both an angel and a devil, fighting for control. His intentions were proven false when, after his apparent murder of his father, he took control of the Mishima Zaibatsu and engaged in even more ruthless, unscrupulous business practices. Where Heihachi had been a man of cruel principle, Kazuya embraced the evil inherent in his bloodline and became a true devil.
While there is much more to his story, it’s needless to say that his heartless actions are the motivation for many of the characters in the series to join the Iron Fist tournament. While his son, Jin, fights for justice and to end the evil actions of the Mishima, Kazuya has come to embody the evil within.
1. Heihachi Mishima
No fan of the series should be surprised to see Heihachi at the top of the list. Since his introduction as the main antagonist in the series in the very first game, he has been featured in every single game in the series and has even been featured as a bonus character in different fighting game franchises. He is a true master of Mishima-style karate and a powerhouse in the ring.
He is a cruel man with ruthless business practices, which helped his family company amass a large amount of wealth and power. Although his initial reasons for doing so are unknown, he started the annual Iron Fist tournament that resulted in his ultimate defeat by his son at the end of the first game. After he retook control of the company at the end of the second game, he has had his hand in almost every tournament throughout the series, as well as the events that shaped the lives of many of the characters who choose to fight in the tournament.
Unlike his son and grandson, Heihachi doesn’t seem to inherently possess the devil gene. In hosting the tournaments, he has created a crucible for those genes to expose themselves so that he can capture their true power, and take ultimate control of the world. He is a world-class villain for a world-class series.
The impact the Tekken series has had on the fighting genre is undisputable, both in terms of sales numbers and in terms of best practices for fighting game mechanics. While the series has stumbled in some ways, it’s iconic cast is part of what keeps fans loyal, even after all these years. With the latest entry in the series, Tekken 7, slated for a 2017 release, it’ll be exciting to see how these characters have evolved for the latest console generation. As far as the list goes, are there any fan-favorites that you would put in your personal top ten? Let us know in the comments below!