FIRE PRO WRESTLING WORLD [Review]: Fighting Spirit Unleashed.
Known far more as a wrestling freak than video gamer, it’s quite odd that Fire Pro Wrestling World is my first entry into the longtime and ultra-beloved series. Moody, a novice at anything wrasslin’? What in Odin’s name is this world coming to? Even crazier is that FPWW is a PS4 exclusive (joining the Steam release from last December) and I got my hands on it 2 weeks ago. Yip–your boy has gone to the dark side of PlayStation, much in thanks to this release.
Fire Pro is robust with customization, designed as a pick-up-and-play arcade shell deep in simulation; that said, it’s been quite the adjustment from WWE 2K. You can’t just mash buttons and spam reversals. Grappling in the NJPW or SWA squared-circle (or even MMA octagon) requires proper spacing for strikes and a well-timed mechanic for slams and suplexes. The road to getting your hand raised by Red Shoes is through momentum. Victory is attained through stringing weaker attacks and set-up holds (timely chops, irish whip clotheslines and boots, etc.) to soften up opponents until you use more powerful “medium” (slams, suplexes) and “strong” (piledrivers, powerbombs) moves from your arsenal. There’s even a button to breath. Restoring your energy in a match is key and you’ll have to spend several minutes working over an opponent’s specific body part for tapouts; hitting a big time plancha or dive late will also catch a huge pop from the crowd, giving you a much-needed edge in a close match. There are many ways to win in FPWW and that’s just half the beauty of it.
While the game visually may not look like much, I’ll attest that FPWW looks far more detailed and colorful that I imagined and witnessed via screenshots. There is a lack of match commentary, for better or for worse, considering how Michael Cole and company have plagued 2K’s wrestling joint for years with their own pitiful studio punch-ins. But I would take a Suzuki jab to the jaw to hear the wild Japanese commentary of Shinpei Nogami and Milano Collection A.T., since the game’s in-ring soundtrack will get pretty repetitive after the first few hours. Thankfully you have the option to turn it off, and, heck, I enjoy the heck out of the WWF WrestleFest 1991 arcade art style which should serve as a cool contrast from the HD/4K aesthetics of this October’s WWE 2K19. But what seperates Fire Pro Wrestling World from the aforementioned is the ability to have every wrestling move ever, the ability to create every pro wrestler ever, and the near-damned ability to have every wrestling match type ever (Sami Callihan would have a deathmatch field day!).
A Day 1 Patch will deliver FPW NET — the game’s online download and share mode that we’ll have to keep tabs with following the game’s launch this Tuesday. I’m stoked to add the brunt of character omisions to the already impressive in-game NJPW roster. Many, including the Young Bucks, Adam Page, and Tajai Ishimori, etc., are tied with ROH or other fed contracts that likely kept them off, although future additions by DLC are on the way. A Junior Heavyweight Story Mode will showcase Jushin Thunder Liger, Tiger Mask IV, Jado, Will Ospreay, SHO, YOH, Rocky Romero, Barreta, Yujiro, and Dragon Lee! The game will also be an absolute shitshow once the custom creations is packed full of legends, factions and rings of New Japan/All Japan/WWE/WCW/ROH/Impact present and past; I’m beyond excited to see what the community does when major non-NJPW talents like Ricochet, Jay Lethal, Io Shirai, Pentagon and Samoa Joe are thrown into the mix.
But let’s talk Fighting Road, the brand new story mode I spent most of my time with. You create your own NJPW “Young Lion” (if you consider a 38-year old “Loose Cannon” Travis Moody a young boy, that is), get whooped into shape by older New Japan vets like Togi Makabe and Yuji Nagata through a series of photo-and-text training sessions. A “visual novel”, if you weeell. Gamers reliant on nextgen graphics and realistic cutscenes in their current sports/fighting games might be disappointed with something aesthetically so amateur; while New Japan diehards or fans of the near 30-year old series should actually get a kick out of it, as I’ve taken several humorous screenshots of New Japan studs Tetsuya Naito and Hirosho Tanahashi namedropping yours truly in the midst of our cheesy dojo chatter. Thankfully, the only real bad dialogue comes from your overly optimistic pest that doesn’t sound nearly as drab or directionless as your main guy from WWE 2K18‘s MyCareer mode. Of course I’d rather have video packages over static representations, but, strangely, FPWW is even missing quite a few NJPW entrance themes despite being a fully-licensed game. Hmph.
Regardless of its own technological pitfalls, Fighting Road is a still addicting mode that’ll have players guessing what will happen and who will show up next. Even after several hours of play, I’m still under the 10% completion mark — a time in the mode that takes a turn for the crazy when your future ace is sent on an excursion to the SWA (Spike Wrestling Association), a made-up fed with wrestlers very loosely based off greats like Vader, Lex Luger, Ricky Morton, Bruiser Brody, etc. You’ll eventually return to Japan with a new gimmick, initially being a part of Gedo’s masterfully mindless mixed tag action at Korakuen Hall before landing a spot on the G1, the Dominion upper card and, eventually, the main event at the Tokyo Dome. The one thing I do appreciate about this mode as a FPW n00b is not having to “win” every match, proceeding to the next tier of events even after taking the fall.
But there will be no #fightforever. Once you finish Fighting Road (which, bah gawd, could take up 20+ hours or so, who knows?), your created character can’t be imported. Yes, 2Kers, this again: spending all that time customizing your protagonist, only to see them whisper in the wind. This really stinks, as even only 1/10th into my career I’ve enjoyed improving my moveset through XP accumulated via simulated training excercises. I’ve also watched my Moody rookie grow a beard, change the color of his facepaint, and even rock a Los Ingobernables t-shirt. Players have all this willpower to deeply customize their hero throughout story mode yet can’t take the progression elsewhere. The other strange, but minor, issue is the fact our character is of Japanese heritage in cutscenes no matter what nationality we make them. And while there’s no “Universe Mode” to speak of–a proper outlet to arrange and schedule your hours and hours of creating and customizing–Fire Promoter is on the way. Since I’m not much of an online player, I’m hoping this will be the “GM Mode” of sorts, as it’s pushed as a place to manage/hire/fire/train/condition our own wrestling organization.
Fire Promoter aims to give The Elite and Jericruise a run for their money, featuring the ability to “collaborate” with other feds, right down to hosting shows and selling merch. I’m All In! Ha.. I’m not exactly sure if this will count toward stable arrangement and creating our own Battle of Los Angeles’ (BOLA) and New Japan Cups, determining various title pictures, contenders, and the like, but the mode sounds intensely promising. The Day 1 Patch will also improve game stability, a promise to fix and correct online network and communication errors, online multiplayer lobby connection, errant move names, and optimize framerate and processing. I got quite a few blue “kickback” screens while toying around with my character creation, not surprising at all considering the infinite levels of info the game has. Unlike 2K, none of my info or progression was lost in the resets. Throw in a planned third DLC Story, the ability to create as many wrestlers our system memory allows (with 1000 moves to choose from), battle against or alongside four players online and locally (which the Ringside Apostles tried and adored), and this FPW World is finally mine and I couldn’t be any more thrilled. 4.25/5 First Trimester Tokyo Dojos.
Spike Chunsoft’s Fire Pro Wrestling World lands in America on PlayStation 4 this Tuesday, August 28th.