Tekken 7 has been available to play in Japanese arcades for over a year, but the home release – as well as any appearance in the U.S. – has kept fans of the series waiting. At Microsoft's E3 2016 press conference, it was revealed that Tekken 7 is launching worldwide on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC in early 2017. I went hands-on with the upcoming brawler well ahead of the release and came away impressed with what I saw.

Tekken 7 is the first game in the series to use Unreal Engine 4, and the results are strong. The characters are finely detailed and move smoothly in both matches and cutscenes.

In addition to a strong cast of returning characters, Tekken 7 introduces five new characters, in addition to Akuma, the great demon, from the Street Fighter series. From Josie, a new fighter from the Philippines, to Shaheen, one of the first playable Middle Eastern characters to appear in the series, the latest additions are diverse, colorful, and possess traits that reflect their cultures. I was able to see Lucky Chloe, probably the most unique addition to Tekken 7's roster, in action. With headphones on and cat paws in tow, she dances her way through matches with her colorful outfit and personality.

The story mode takes advantage of the more powerful engine and hardware by transitioning straight from beautifully rendered cutscenes directly into the matches with no loading. From there, the fists fly as the story unfolds in what Bandai Namco is calling "the last chapter in the Mishima saga."

I've been a longtime fan of both Street Fighter and Tekken, so I always love when the two worlds collide. While I've stepped up my game in Street Fighter through Ultra Street Fighter IV and the more recent Street Fighter V, my love for the Tekken series has always been more for the characters than the gameplay. That made Street Fighter X Tekken a great experience for me since it was based on the Street Fighter mechanics, but with Tekken 7, Akuma's inclusion helps me enjoy the Tekken 7 fight mechanics thanks to various spillover points from Akuma's Street Fighter roots.

Bandai Nacmo says that Heihachi's wife made a deal with Akuma that if anything happened to her, he would kill Heihachi and Kazuya. As my time with the story mode begins, I select if I want to play as Heihachi or Akuma (I choose Akuma), and the two kick off a high intensity brawl.

Akuma plays exactly how you'd want him to play. Within seconds of selecting him in a showdown against Heihachi, I'm hurling fireballs, throwing dragon punches, and slinging hurricane kicks toward the Tekken mainstay. My familiarity with Akuma from playing Street Fighter helped me topple Heihachi. As the match ends, the battle transitions seamlessly into a cutscene showing the two combatants flying at each other in what should end this confrontation. The screen cuts away just as the strikes go to land and my demo ends.

Tekken 7's visuals are crisp, the gameplay feels stronger than ever, and the story mode's presentation feels fully featured and headed in the right direction. With so many factors playing in Tekken 7's favor, I'm more excited than ever to see how the final chapter of the Mishima blood saga plays out.

Tekken 7 launches on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC in early 2017.