Here's why it hurts when Tekken 7 cuts your favorite character

The drunken master will be sitting out for the latest King of the Iron Fist tournament.

Lei Wulong is not in Tekken 7. After two years of hoping, the reality seems inescapable.

Lei didn’t appear in the 2015 Japanese arcade release of Tekken 7, and he didn’t appear in the 2016 Fated Retribution re-release either. But hopeful fans could rationalize this —when the game debuted on home consoles in June 2017, surely there would be additional characters. And Lei, as one of the longstanding, iconic staples of the franchise, would certainly be one of them.

However, a tweet from longtime Tekken producer Katsuhiro Harada in late 2016 appeared to confirm and explain Lei’s absence. The usage data on the character—a combination of console and arcade data, population data, and Internet analysis—was too low to justify the work and expense the development team would invest in him.

Harada dangles the possibility Producer Harada dangles the possibility of Lei in Tekken 7 as late as September 2016.

Harada left the door slightly ajar, saying in January 2017: “We do not sell classic Tekken characters, Paid DLC will be special content. With this system, we can do free updates and support for a long time.”

But now, it’s July 2017. Bandai Namco confirmed there would be two additional DLC characters released in Winter 2017 and Spring 2018, but both fighters would be “from other videogames’ licenses.” At Evo 2017, Harada announced the first DLC character: Geese Howard from Fatal Fury. There was no mention of classic Tekken characters—characters like Lei, Anna Williams, or Julia Chang—who had been left by the wayside. Lei’s prospects seem increasingly unlikely.

Lei was never designed to be a high use character. He was, by his complex design, inaccessible to anyone picking up the game for the first time. But up until a month ago, he was my favorite character, and has been since I first played as him in Tekken 3. Lei rewarded legacy players, who learned his intricacies over the course of years, not months.

Lei Wulong first debuted in Tekken 2 as tribute to Hong Kong martial artist and actor Jackie Chan. Like several of Chan’s screen personas, Lei was also a Hong Kong police detective who practiced Kung Fu. In his first game appearance, Lei was not the diverse character he would eventually become—he only had once stance, Phoenix, outside of his default idle pose.

In Tekken 3, however, the developers expanded Lei’s repertoire significantly. He now had five additional “animal styles,” such as Panther:

And Crane:

The styles—the other new animal styles were Snake, Dragon, and Tiger—had their own movesets and combos, and most of them could transition, post-combo, into a different stance. Strung together, the animal stances formed a beautiful ballet sequence, simultaneously smooth and deadly.

But the ability that drew me to Lei, and committed me to learning his intricacies, was his Drunken Fist. In real life, Drunken Fist is a relatively obscure martial art. It uses the staggering, oddly-angled movements of a drunkard to catch an opponent off-guard.

Jackie Chan’s The Legend of Drunken Master was my favorite martial arts film of all time—I was mesmerized by Chan’s fluidity, particularly in his climactic fight scene against taekwondo expert Ken Lo. Film critic Roger Ebert put it best: “It may not be possible to film a better fight scene.”

When I saw Lei staggering about in Tekken 3, playing at being drunk, I wanted to learn his character and, at least vicariously, be like Jackie Chan.

The developers knew the appeal of Lei’s Drunken Fist. Each subsequent game added new wrinkles to the  style. In Tekken 3, it merely consisted of a single punch, a low kick, and a transition from Dragon style.

But Tekken 5 added, in addition to other moves, a healing technique, two 2-hit combos, and a parry. Tekken 6 added additional mix-ups and a spinning headbutt. By Tekken Tag Tournament 2, Lei’s Drunken Fist was full of fake-outs and deceptive trickery, much like the real-life martial art. Even when Lei wasn’t explicitly in Drunken stance, its aesthetic had become pervasive. Everything about the way Lei moved and behaved was now informed by fluid, lackadaisical movement.

This progression from game-to-game, this ever expanding technical know-how, is what I treasured about the Tekken series. Multi-game characters, such as Nina Williams, Heihachi Mishima, Paul Phoenix, and Lei Wulong, became beloved. For older players, these characters represented years of accumulated gameplay knowledge; the character-specific strategies and tactics that worked in Tekken 4 would still work, on some level, in Tekken 6 or Tekken 7.

Each game was an occasion for rediscovery. Signature moves, such as King’s difficult-to-master Rolling Death Cradle, Lei’s low-high Rave Spin, or Paul’s Death Fist, would always be there—the characters retained their basic essence. It was the little changes that made Tekken players feel like part of an exclusive club. We knew where these characters had once been, and we were privy to their individual growths and subtleties.

The developers also knew this. It’s why they made sure to have a ‘type’ of each fighting style, even if due to storyline purposes, they didn’t use the original characters. Julia Chang replaced her mother, Michelle Chang. Christie Monteiro replaced her mentor, Eddy Gordo. Jun Kazama died after Tekken 2, but in Tekken 5, the developers introduced Asuka Kazama, a family member who shared many of her older relative’s moves.

Promotional art from Street Fighter x Tekken. Promotional art from Street Fighter x Tekken.

And this is why it hurts so much when characters like Lei are removed from the game. His removal was done with zero transition—there was no disciple of Lei’s to carry on his lineage. There is no practitioner of Crane style or Drunken Fist. It’s all just gone, without a trace. It’s why the more extreme Lei fans have voiced their displeasure by refusing to buy the game.

When the developers got rid of Lei, they also got rid of the character’s history, which players spent the better part of 20 years metagaming, recording, and becoming emotionally attached to. Years of updated frame data. Years of refined techniques and advanced strategies. At what point is there an implicit, if not explicit, agreement—that characters with that much legacy become synonymous to the game’s identity and should not be so easily discarded? There are, after all, two bear characters in Tekken 7—Kuma and Panda— each with nearly identical movelists. But still, there’s no room for Lei. And so much gameplay knowledge, passed down over the course of two decades, becomes irrelevant.

“It was gut-wrenching feeling; I did not expect it to happen,” said professional Tekken player Michael ‘Suiken’ Khieu on Lei’s exclusion from the game, in an interview with Zam. “Lei has been in the franchise for so long, and he’s been solidified as a main character of the story arc for some time now.”

Khieu, who’s played Tekken since Tekken 4 and started his competitive training for Tekken 5, had used Lei as his main character for 11 years. He used Eliza in the latest EVO 2017 tournament, where he tied for seventh place.

“I feel that Namco had a good reason for why they didn't include legacy characters such as Lei and Julia—maybe there’s something in the works,” said Khieu. “The effects, though, are pretty apparent. The majority of the Tekken community was a little taken aback by it.”

“I believe it does impact of a lot of players,” continued Khieu, “but as professionals, we have to adapt and move forward in some way.”

The solution, of course, is to simply choose a new main character. And I have. I’ve put more time into Paul, who I’ve played on and off since the beginning of the franchise. And I’ve picked up Asuka, whose defense-oriented style is a nice change from what I’m accustomed to. But it’s not the same. In Tekken 7, there is no Swiss army knife character with endless mixups—with a conditional solution for every circumstance—who makes me feel as gratified to win and as comforted to lose. With Lei, losing often felt beside the point (he has never been a high-tier character)—it was about how stylish and slick I could look in victory or defeat. That sort of anarchic fun, wins or losses be damned, is missing from an otherwise incredible game.

Please bring back Lei, Harada. There may never be as many Lei players as Hwoarang players. But the reason why Tekken endures is its acknowledgement and celebration of its past. And Lei, just as much as Jin, or Kazuya, or Law, is an integral part of that past that deserves to be acknowledged.