By Scott Ramage / December 10th, 2018
There is one slight problem with some moves, and that’s the translation. Some categories and move names don’t make much sense to a person largely familiar with English wrestling terminology and take a while to get used to. The Brainbuster category includes most vertical suplexes, despite there being a Suplex category. A Death Valley driver, called a “Death Valley Bomb” here, is under the category Rear Blow to Head. An STO (or osotogari for any Judo practitioners out there) is listed under the Spinebuster category. Fortunately, World includes a menu for changing move names if it’s too much to get used to.
This is made up for by the real draw of the creation suite: CPU logic. Instead of being assigned some generic style, each wrestler can have virtually every aspect of their AI programmed using a series of logic tables and percentages. Everything from moves used in a grapple to taunting to how to react when an opponent is dazed near a corner of the ring can be programmed. You’re not just creating the physical appearance of a wrestler and assigning some moves to it; you’re teaching it how and when to use them. Being able to affect the way each custom wrestler behaves makes a match like Jean Grey, 2B, Tessa Blanchard and Axel Stone versus San, Haruko, Rosemary and Dhalsim, with Burt Reynolds as the referee and The Great Wave off Kanegawa as the ring canvas a fair bit more interesting.
In addition to making custom characters, they can be uploaded and/or downloaded from FPW NET, as long as you’re signed in to PSN. While custom items mostly appear in the language of the content’s creator, notifications and things like the search bar are all in Japanese. In addition, the search bar is buried in the Filter tab on the item list. It takes time to both figure out how to navigate the site and use any downloaded wrestlers. To do so, first subscribe to any items you want. Step two: close and reopen the game. Step three: go to Edit Mode, select Team Edit, then select Transfer Wrestler. Finally, go to the “Retire” section and move those wrestlers anywhere else or they won’t show up for matches. Someone just getting into the Fire Pro series has a good chance of getting lost and having to look up a guide for what seems like a needlessly complex process.
Aside from simulating matches with custom wrestlers, Fire Pro Wrestling World offers two flavors of single player. The first, Mission Mode, is the game’s way of both introducing some mechanics and including straight-forward single player content. There are 50 missions to complete, plus six training missions, some of which unlock additional moves. Every mission has a certain objective, like getting an 80 percent match rating or tricking the referee into disqualifying your opponent. For these you always play as characters from the fake in-game promotion SPW (Spike Pro Wrestling), many clearly inspired by actual wrestlers, since most of them have move lists tailored to each objective. I struggled to sit down and play through more than three or four missions at a time as the presentation is pretty dry, even if the gameplay isn’t. In all I spent over 10 hours on this mode alone, so it’s not something that will get quickly brushed aside.
The second single player mode is Fighting Road. Here you make your own wrestler, then follow the process of joining and succeeding in New Japan Pro Wrestling through both matches and visual novel style scenes. It starts with the tryout, then being a rookie (or “young lion” as they’re called), then going on a learning excursion to wrestle for SPW in America, then returning to NJPW to compete in their biggest tournaments and challenge for titles. It takes several liberties with the actual process of becoming a NJPW wrestler—rookies aren’t forced to wear only black trunks and lose almost every match in Fighting Road—but I’m sure only the most extreme purists miss not having to do that. And yes, you can make a male or female character for this mode.
As you progress your wrestler unlocks moves and earns training points used to do certain exercises, which then boost your stats and abilities. Also, there’s the chance to join one of New Japan’s stables: CHAOS, Suzuki-Gun, Los Ingobernables de Japon, or the Main Unit (which isn’t really a stable). Since this doesn’t officially happen until after the excursion and return, there’s an option to skip everything before that and guarantee you’ll join a specific stable, rather than try to guide a wrestler there by acting like a good or bad guy.
The visual novel bits include several interactions with New Japan roster members, particularly after joining a stable. There usually isn’t much in the way of character development as your wrestler always acts like a starry-eyed newcomer, even in the latter parts of the campaign. Dialogue choices, as well as objectives like earning a certain match rating, tend to disappear for long stretches of time, then go away entirely after the midway point. On the plus side, the NJPW wrestlers largely stay true to their characters. Tanahashi is still the once-in-a-century world-beater good guy, Okada is still the cocky champ who backs up his talk, and Honma still has crushed vocal cords.
Playing through Fighting Road one time is a long-term commitment with some short-sighted design choices. It took me 14 hours to finish one playthrough, in which I challenged for almost every title except the IWGP Heavyweight title, the top title in the company. Granted, the last belt I challenged for, NJPW’s Intercontinental title, is valued more highly than in most other companies. Even so it’s a bit of a low blow considering the amount of time I invested in it. Not as much of a low blow as being unable to use Fighting Road characters outside of that one mode, though.
That brings me to the New Japan wrestlers included in the game. To NJPW fans, most of the usual suspects are here with their theme songs and recorded their own voice clips. Hearing Kenny Omega yell “You can’t escape” or Minoru Suzuki taunt opponents is a nice added touch, though some clips sound like the wrestlers had absolutely no context for what they were saying. Also, the roster is missing several key members, including (at the time) Bullet Club members and junior heavyweights, who presumably will show up in a future DLC pack. Prominent figures like Will Ospreay, Roppongi 3K, and even Japanese wrestling legends like Jushin Thunder Liger and Tiger Mask were left out for that very reason. No word yet on when that or the much-anticipated Fire Promoter mode will release.
Fire Pro Wrestling World has a number of minor, but noticeable flaws in its execution. What saves it from a death-by-a-thousand-cuts scenario is that the creation options and the gameplay (mostly the gameplay) are simply too fun to rate this game anything below above average. While the PC version can be and has been modded to hell and back, the PS4 version is a solid option with a dedicated, creative community behind it. The base game’s asking price is $50, with the season pass for extra content down the line costing another $50. Even without the season pass I’ve more than gotten my fill, clocking in over 35 hours and counting across the whole game. Either tap into that fighting spirit or, as Taka Michinoku says, “Just! Tap! Out!”
Review copy provided by publisher.
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