Like many, my love for professional wrestling has the WWE front and center. I have become infatuated with the product they have created, for better and for worse. As I grew more interested in the sport, I wanted to broaden my horizons. This is where New Japan Pro Wrestling comes in. The premier pro wrestling promotion in Japan, NJPW houses some of the best grapplers, high flyers, and submission experts in the world. With the promotion’s popularity growing here in the United States, it was only a matter of time we would see licensed versions of these wrestlers in a video game. With Spike Chunsoft’s PS4 release of Fire Pro Wrestling World, that is now a reality.
On the surface, Fire Pro Wrestling World is an arcade wrestling game. It has a consistent cartoony art style that evokes that type of nostalgia. You don’t have to manage stamina bars or wait for a finisher meter to fill; you can do any move you want right from the start of the match. It is also more fast-paced than most matches you’ll ever see in real-life due to its tight controls. It feels like a huge deviation from the “simulation” style we’ve become accustomed to.
However, it is one thing to feel like an arcade game and another thing entirely to actually be an arcade game. I like to consider Fire Pro Wrestling World a hybrid; it has elements of both arcade and simulation games. In some ways, it is more complex than its simulation counterparts.
Most people’s journey into Fire Pro Wrestling World, including mine, will begin by creating a wrestler. Right when the creation suite opens, you are overwhelmed with a plethora of options to customize your very own wrestler. Just about every layer can be personalized to your exact specifications. It is one of the most robust character creation systems I have ever seen in a game. It is so crowded with options, navigating the menu can seem complicated. It is cluttered to the point to where it is a bit unwelcoming. Those who are patient enough will be able to create the wrestling persona they have been dreaming of.
This notion carries over to ring customization as well. Using FPW Net, you can upload an image–given that it fits the upload size–and apply it to your own ring. Both created rings and wrestlers can be uploaded to FPW Net for the Fire Pro community to download. You’ll find accurate portrayals of tons of wrestlers from different promotions including the WWE.
Do you want to reenact the matches from this year’s All In event? More than likely, someone has created those wrestlers down to their taunts and finishers. Do you want to settle who the better horror movie slasher between Michael Myers and Jason Vorhees? I can confirm that is a possibility.
There are also some officially licensed NJPW wrestlers with full movesets, taunts, and attire that mimic their real-life counterparts. There are some notable absences, especially from the Bullet Club, but you’ll still get to play as some of the most iconic wrestlers from the Japanese promotion.
While the functionality is all well and good, it is inconvenient to upload or download these creations. Unlike the PC version which uses the Steam Workshop, you have to use the proprietary website to bring community-created content to the PS4 version; this is also true of any image you want to use for your ring mat and aprons. The FPW Net option in the menu does take you to the console’s browser but navigating the internet on a game console has never been great. As much as I would love to upload all of these wrestlers, I would rather not have to exit my game to do so.
Fire Pro Wrestling World’s gameplay is deceptively in-depth. As I mentioned, it looks like a game you can just pick up and play. It is quite the opposite. I implore anyone to go to the game’s Mission Mode, a mode that gives you specific objectives to complete and do all the tutorial missions. There is a specific flow to the game that is satisfying but requires you to understand what is happening on-screen. Even with that knowledge, you’ll learn more as you continue to play.
However, once you understand that flow, the gameplay is pretty straightforward. Three of the face buttons represent a light, medium, and heavy attack with the fourth button allowing you to whip your opponent across the ring. Most moves will require you to “lock-up” which can be done by simply moving towards the opponent. Once you lock up, you will have to determine which kind of attack you want to use, as well as hit the button within a time window specified by the opponent’s stamina.
Depending on your opponent, you could go right into heavy moves but more likely than not, you’ll get countered. Like an actual match, you want to wear down your opponent and save any signatures and finishers when it is the opportune time to do so. Also, if you do end up having a squash match, your match rating – which is determined at the end of a match – will usually be lower. I found that having a back and forth match, purposely having my opponent get the edge on me, ended with a higher match rating.
However, having a good match rating is pretty insignificant unless your objective is to attain a certain percentage. If you are there just to win, you can squash your opponent without any repercussions. It would be nice if match ratings had a more significant role in your match by rewarding players with something, but since everything is unlocked from the start, there isn’t an incentive to try to get a good match rating other than for personal fulfillment.
Your enjoyment of the game is reliant on how well you can time your moves. If you do have a rough time even hitting light attacks on your opponent, you’re not only going to lose; you’ll be incredibly frustrated. It is a facet that can (and potentially will) deter people from playing Fire Pro Wrestling World. Those who are patient and do end up nailing down the timing will find an incredible, in-depth wrestling game that will satisfy you after every match, win or lose.
Your enjoyment will also come down to the moveset of the wrestler you use. A large part of creating your wrestler is making a define moveset for them. Like the actual creation suite, you’ll be given an overwhelming amount of options. You’ll have to pick a move for every position. Whether you’re in front, behind, or beside your opponent, you can choose the preferred move you want at that specific position.
Any of these moves can also be chosen to be your signature and finishing move. If you want a Cutter to be your signature and a simple DDT to be your finisher, that is entirely possible. If you want a running knee, like Kenny Omega’s V-Trigger, to be a finisher, that is also possible. You can personalize your moveset to the kind of wrestler you want to be. For example, I love a good DDT and Powerbomb, so my created wrestler’s signature is a DDT, and his finisher is a Triple Powerbomb. I also have a signature where I suplex my opponent into a bridged pin. It allows you to create the wrestler you’ve always wanted to be.
The new mode that was implemented alongside Fire Pro Wrestling World’s PS4 release is Fighting Road, the game’s campaign mode. Using a created wrestler, you’ll begin a career as a “Young Lion” in NJPW where you’ll be mentored by Yuji Nagata. On your road to becoming a wrestling star in New Japan, you’ll meet some of the most popular stars from the Japan promotion such as Tetsuya Naito, Kazuchka Okada, and Hiroshi Tanahashi.
The new mode is a mixture of the gameplay above and a visual novel. Before any match, you’ll have to progress through the mode’s narrative which is pretty trivial. The dialogue is also some of the most cringey and laughable writing I have ever seen in a video game. Lines like “Naito catches you in his powerful gaze” and Tanahashi telling you, “Ha! Tell that to your trembling legs,” are so comical, I couldn’t take any of it seriously. It’s great for all the wrong reasons.
On occasion, you also are given a few dialogue choices. However, it doesn’t seem like it does anything different to the narrative in any way. It doesn’t affect anything save for how you want your character’s personality portrayed by your fellow peers.
The matches that take place in Fighting Road are, in some cases, similar to those in Mission Mode. During some matches, you’ll be given specific criteria that must be met to complete the match; typically, you’ll have to have a precise match rating or use certain types of moves.
However, there are no incentives to actually meeting those criteria. The only rewards that could be blocked behind completing these objectives are the number of skill points you garner and the moves you unlock – in Fighting Mode, you will have to unlock certain moves to use them. After losing a match, it seemed I attained the same amount of moves and skill points I would have achieved if I had won. The only difference the outcome seemed to make is the dialogue after the match. You’ll still progress through the narrative when you lose. It just makes the match feel less important than it should.
Before or after each match, you’ll have a chance to spend skill points to increase your character’s statistics. You’ll train certain facets of your wrestling game by exercising specific skills like strength, stamina, and entertainment. This is where Fighting Road’s true progression resides. Seeing the numbers slowly move up is one of the only visible forms of upward progress throughout the mode. Unfortunately, this also feels irrelevant. Since you are being dragged along a particular path, it never feels like my character ever makes any vast improvements to their game. If anything, each match has felt the same as far as difficulty is concerned.
Overall, irrelevant is precisely how Fighting Road can be described. On paper, a campaign mode for the game sounds excellent. Even the goofy visual novel direction they take with the mode is a way for it to differentiate itself from other wrestling games while still being enjoyable. The lack of choice, which is a feeling very prevalent in the rest of the game, and redundancy is what is this modes downfall.
Fire Pro Wrestling World is a worthy competitor for the annual WWE 2K game. While it may be daunting at first, it is the best wrestling game to release in recent years. Once you get used to the game’s incredibly in-depth creation suite, there is no doubt you’ll be spending just as much time creating as you are playing.
Just as deep as its creation tools is its gameplay, allowing you to create a moveset that fits your playstyle. It is unfortunate that Fighting Road isn’t as great as it could have been but it does give you the option to play a narrative-driven experience that, at the very least, will provide you with a few laughs. For anyone who has the patience, Fire Pro Wrestling World is a game that will appease any pro wrestling fan.