Fire Pro Wrestling has quite the history in the gaming world – dating all the way back to the PC Engine days in Japan courtesy of the former Human Entertainment. When Fire Pro made its stateside debut on the Game Boy Advance – courtesy of the newly formed Spike in 2000 – it was met with a lot of positivity. Fire Pro didn’t see another stateside release until the end of the PlayStation 2’s life with Fire Pro Wrestling Returns – another title met with acclaim by fans of the genre. The series took an accessibility detour for the Xbox 360 in 2012, but it wasn’t until Fire Pro Wrestling World that the series returned to glory. In a world where Vincent Kennedy McMahon’s World Wrestling Entertainment and Take-Two essentially dominate the wrestling video game space, has Spike Chunsoft filled a void that was missing – or is it just butting its nose where it doesn’t need to be?
Game Name: Fire Pro Wrestling World
Platform(s): PlayStation 4; Steam for Windows PC (Reviewed)
Publisher(s): Spike Chunsoft
Developer(s): Spike Chunsoft
Release Date: December 18, 2017 (PC)/August 28, 2018 (PS4) (v. 2.0 on Steam went live Sept 26, 2018)
Price: $29.99 (PC)/$49.99 (PS4)
Fire Pro Wrestling World is – at its best – a simple game. Gone are the pomp and circumstance that accompanies a WWE video game, as that’s not what Fire Pro Wrestling as a series is about. Fire Pro Wrestling distills the experience into what makes Japan’s pro wrestling (puroresu) scene what it is. The focus is on the wrestling. This is why Fire Pro has maintained a 2D isometric approach to how the game is presented. As a result, you’re left with what is as basic as an experience as can be, something that has never truly changed since the introduction of the series – Fire Pro Wrestling Combination Tag – in June 1989. Think about this, Fire Pro Wrestling as a series is 2 years younger than I am, and I turn 31 in November. Your buttons are simple: Small, Medium, Heavy, Run, Breathe and 3D Walk. Small, Medium and Heavy (tied to X, A, B respectively on the Xbox One controller) are the buttons you’ll end up using the most, as they’re tied to your attacks, whether they’re standing, diving, in a grapple or mount – it doesn’t matter. Run (tied to Y) sets up Irish Whips while grappling, as well as simply running the ropes or towards an opponent. Breathe (Left Bumper) allows you to regain your stamina so you can keep going in a match, and 3D Walk (Right Bumper) allows you to walk around the ring in more of an arc. This is where things get more complex from here.
Unlike the WWE 2K titles, Fire Pro Wrestling World doesn’t have a dedicated grapple button. Grappling is initiated simply by walking into your opponent. From there, it’s all about timing and who can input their move the fastest. There is a caveat, though: you can’t simply button mash or hit big moves from the jump. To take a quote from American Football, you must “go through your progressions,” starting with small moves and then making your way through the repertoire of moves that you have as you keep dealing damage to your opponent until that moment when you’re ready to hit your finisher for the three-count fall. You can pick up your downed opponent in two different ways – facing you and facing away – by using the small attack button if they’re face up or face down. The small attack button is also used to turn your opponent face up or down if you’re by the middle of your opponent’s body. Your medium and big attack buttons are used for different attacks and holds when your opponent is laid out on the mat, and much like picking them up, the attack is different based on where you press the button. As for reversals: they’re random, but also based on how much damage your opponent has sustained through a match, or if you’re caught button mashing. Again, you get punished for button mashing. Strategy is key. There are a bit more differences as well, including the way count-outs and disqualifications are handled. Japanese wrestling typically features 20-counts for count-outs as opposed to the 10-count you see here in the United States. In addition, you have 5 counts to drop your weapons or climb down from the turnbuckle before you or your team gets disqualified from the match. There is also a mission mode, where you can learn the ins and outs of the game, one technique at a time.
The customization suite is insanely deep. It’s probably one of the most lauded features of the Fire Pro Wrestling series. You can customize everything to the smallest detail, from how your character looks, to their signature and finishers, fighting style, overall attack and defensive parameters, even on to the way the wrestler does things in a simulated match. The possibilities are virtually endless. However, if you’re not interested in that, the game has Steam Workshop support as well, and there are always creators working on the many different custom wrestlers that are available, whether they’re current or past WWE, WCW, ECW, New Japan, All Japan, Impact Wrestling, ROH, UFC – it doesn’t matter. You can fill out your rosters however you want with whoever you want, whether you put in the work or not. You can even customize the ring you fight in, the referees available, etc. In addition, the Steam version allows you to use your own music as in-match background or entrance themes. I ripped the WWF No Mercy soundtrack and have been using those songs as my backing tracks for matches in Fire Pro Wrestling World as of late, but you can use whatever you please by placing them in the BGM folder wherever FPWW is installed.
Tournament mode gives you the option to host either traditional bracketed tournaments or round robin-style events. It’s fairly straightforward, but if anyone feels like seeing what a G1 Climax style event would be with WWE or Impact talent involved, or if New Japan participated in a WWE King of the Ring tourney, you have the opportunity to do so. Offline and Online exhibition matches feature the same style of matches that you can customize to your whims. Whether it’s a standard New Japan-style match, a WWE rules match, UFC (Gruesome Fighting as it’s called) bouts, cage matches, barbed wire deathmatches or striking only (kickboxing/MMA) matches, you can do pretty much whatever you want, however you want.
Now, the next thing I’ll be talking about is “Fighting Road,” the story mode connected to the New Japan licensing deal with Spike Chunsoft. It is to note, the PC version can only access this via the purchase of the “New Japan Pro-Wrestling Collaboration” DLC, which includes 39 NJPW talents and their entrance themes – including the likes of IWGP Heavyweight Champion Kenny Omega, Kazuchika Okada, Minoru Suzuki and more – as well as new moves and edit parts. The PlayStation 4 version comes with this included, hence the $49.99 price tag.
Fighting Road tells the story of your rise to the top of the New Japan Pro-Wrestling ranks, from your audition with the company to your appearance at Wrestle Kingdom’s main event, where you eventually reach your dream of being IWGP Heavyweight Champion. The early chapters of the game include missions where it’ll determine what path you’ll take as a New Japan star, whether you’ll be a member of the Main Unit, Los Ingobernables de Japon or CHAOS when you return from your training excursion in the United States. You’ll make friends and gain enemies, unlock new moves, as well as earn training points to improve your wrestling ability as you make your way to your goal of becoming IWGP Heavyweight Champion. While the premise is awesome, the story leaves quite a bit to be desired.
First things first, plain and simple, Fighting Road is one hundred percent an ad for New Japan Pro Wrestling, if I’m just being frank. What makes it worse, is that it’s DLC and not part of the main game experience – on Steam at least. Having to pay for what should be part of the main game and is essentially an advertisement of a product is not only dishonest, it’s downright disrespectful. I get that this is an introduction to New Japan for those who have no direct exposure to the company, I can’t get over how it comes in a full game package on the PlayStation 4, but not on Steam. That’s asinine and shady, and that’s being absolutely nice about it. That being said, you can skip the exposition, but if you choose not to skip, the exposition takes a significant chunk of the story, and it can get boring after a while. In addition, the missions tend to be rough to complete in the early stages, because everything is stuck behind a menu, which is stuck behind another menu. The fact that the moves that are initially unlocked are so few at the beginning stages is appalling, especially because the early missions expect you to wrestle in specific ways, including one mission that pops up multiple times in The Newcomer chapters.
What truly hurts Fighting Road is how corny the dialogue comes off. It’s such a basic story, but coming from games that have had stories that are typically more involved – i.e: WWE SmackDown vs Raw 2006/2007 – it just falls flat. Not that it doesn’t fall flat by itself, because it just seems…inauthentically wholesome, if I had to pick the most appropriate descriptor for the story’s exposition. If you’re a fan of New Japan Pro Wrestling, I guarantee you’ll have a ball with Fighting Road, because for anyone else, it’s mediocre – at best. The added bonus of getting official New Japan talent and music included is nice, and kind of justifies the price on Steam, but honestly, before the NJPW collab was announced, people on the Steam Workshop were already making multiple different versions of these wrestlers and more. It’s up to you to figure whether you want this or not. Fighting Road is not needed for any real enjoyment of the game.
Review Disclosure Statement: Fire Pro Wrestling World was provided to us by Spike Chunsoft for review purposes. For more information on how we review video games and other media/technology, please go review our Review Guideline/Scoring Policy for more info.
Fire Pro Wrestling World is a love letter to professional wrestling, but only to the most hardcore of hardcore fans. If you enjoy the deep customization suite – despite the lack of efficiency that has plagued the series, something that WWE 2K aims to fix in WWE 2K19 – and the opportunity to have nearly one-thousand created wrestlers in your game, you’ll find hours of enjoyment baked into the action. However, if you’re looking for something accessible, quick to get into for a quick match or two, search elsewhere.
- Deep Customization Suite
- Custom BGM
- Story is essentially advertisement for New Japan Pro Wrestling
- Customization menus need to be condensed