If there’s one thing you may have noticed on SnapThirty, it’s that at least once a year, we are absolutely floored by Japanese pro wrestling, or Puroresu if we were to use its sanctified term in the Land of the Rising Sun. Sanctified is probably the right word here to describe Puroresu, particularly New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW). The pop culture barrier-breaking sports entertainment that dominates the global perception of professional wrestling is primarily thanks to the efforts of WWE, which has transformed wrestling into an all-encompassing global cultural phenomenon. Honestly, if the entirety of the world can get along simply by the virtue of sharing a passion for a glorified soap opera featuring intense physicality, then I have yet to see a better avenue to achieve world peace.
Puroresu, unlike sports entertainment, is very much set in time-honoured tradition. For better or for worse, it is set in its old ways by treating the art of pro wrestling not as some form of entertainment, but a true disciplined lifestyle, akin to that of choosing the path of a warrior. The art of Japanese strong style has only recently made its way to the mainstream, and it’s more than just about hitting people really hard, it is in fact a wrestling philosophy that, better than any other producer or booking strategy, convinces its audience that the dance is truly real.
Wrestling video games have been dominated by developer Yuke’s over the past two decades, and they are currently behind 2K’s annual WWE 2K franchise, with the upcoming WWE 2K18 just around the corner. Surprisingly, and particularly in recent years, pro wrestling video games have not been a huge part of the Japanese video game industry. New Japan Pro Wrestling itself last had its own video game way back in 2007. Still, there has always been a Japanese wrestling video game franchise that has consistently built the most dedicated, loyal, creative, and passionate fans over the last three decades, and that is Fire Pro Wrestling.
After the release of Fire Pro Wrestling Returns on the PS2 back in 2007, the franchise has largely been dormant save for that atrocious Xbox Live Arcade release that might as well never have existed. In 2017, the franchise has now returned in the form of Fire Pro Wrestling World on the PC with full online functionality. For that reason alone, this is honestly an absolute dream come true for fans of this legendary franchise, and the perfect entry for the uninitiated. Before I talk about the game, the question that people often ask is why Fire Pro Wrestling matters so much, even with its humble visuals that don’t even touch the intense rendering that they are doing to recreate the chest hair of Seth Rollins in WWE 2K18.
Fire Pro Wrestling matters because it takes the sport seriously, and it is a game that is deceptively simple. While it may appear to look like a dated arcade style wrestling game on the surface, underneath the hood is a sophisticated and masterfully designed wrestling simulator with no equal. Mechanically, this is a game that makes you earn your way to a victory, a game that forces you to tactfully build your offence up to an epic finale, and above all, a game that forces you to respect the psychology of professional wrestling.
Mashing buttons or doing big moves early on will do you absolutely nothing, as such cheap thrills are what the WWE 2K games offer, but not Fire Pro Wrestling. This is a game that pays homage to a bygone era, where wrestling video games represented a rich and diverse video game genre worthy of recognition, with a history and evolution of fine-tuned mechanics that were absolutely rewarding to learn and master. Don’t get me wrong, there is a place for a digestible experience like WWE 2K, but if you ever sought a wrestling video game that had intelligent design and wasn’t cheap or exploitable, a wrestling video game that had more meaningful substance than flash, then Fire Pro Wrestling World is the be all end all of wrestling video games.
Fire Pro Wrestling World currently sits on Steam and honestly it is perhaps the best possible platform for it (ports for the PS4 and Switch are planned). The reason being that Fire Pro Wrestling World on a PC platform, with full online functionality, practically makes it the only wrestling video game a wrestling fan will ever need for years to come. Fire Pro Wrestling games were future-proof as is, but on a PC platform and with the Steam Workshop, Fire Pro Wrestling World is a game that is pretty much set for life.
The online functionality isn’t only compelling for multiplayer bouts (which is a real joy) but the true fascination lies in the near infinite creation tools and options that series has always been known for, and now with a platform like Steam Workshop, sharing creations has never been better. When it comes to creation and customisation, the sky is the only limit in Fire Pro Wrestling World, and do not be fooled by the visuals, as this game allows you to put painstaking detail into wrestler sprites to create anything from a bear in jean shorts to Xena the Warrior Princess.
Mechanically, Fire Pro Wrestling World can be a daunting and discouraging game at first, because you will immediately find that mashing buttons does absolutely nothing, instead Fire Pro Wrestling World is all about timing, technique, and making an effort to learn the nuances of your pixelated grappler. The moves and techniques that you would have taken for granted in any other wrestling game prove to be the most rewarding to learn and execute in Fire Pro Wrestling World. Put it simply, Fire Pro Wrestling World is the masterclass of professional wrestling. However, the actual player experience is but one aspect of this experience.
What truly distinguishes Fire Pro Wrestling World from its contemporaries, more than the deep gameplay mechanics, more than its limitless canvas for creativity, is the sophisticated Artificial Intelligence that makes all the magic happen. You see, Fire Pro Wrestling World allows you to program and simulate the mannerisms of wrestlers to such a degree that they end up behaving like their real world inspirations. Best of all, if you set two computer controlled opponents to battle it out, chances are you will have just as much fun as playing the game yourself (if not more). The design of this game is unlike anything you’ll ever see in a big budget wrestling game, where the matches pace out exactly like the real thing from the opening moments, to the perfectly timed big moves, and all the way to the dramatic finish. There are a lot of cogs spinning in this complicated but well-oiled architecture, and it simply must be seen to be believed.
I’ve thrown the term future-proof already, but that is honestly what Fire Pro Wrestling World is, because no matter what happens in the future or how many new performers join the wrestling industry, it is almost guaranteed that Fire Pro Wrestling World will provide you with all the tools you need to virtually recreate any wrestler to perfection. Being on a PC platform with online features pretty much extends the shelf life of this release for years to come, and in fact I would be surprised if they ever needed to make another entry in this historic franchise.
Fire Pro Wrestling World truly embodies the spirit and richness of Puroresu, it is a game that sanctifies the tradition of wrestling better than any video game right now. What was once a hidden niche is now, for the first time, more accessible than ever before. Fire Pro Wrestling World allows fans from all over the world to virtually create and share their own wrestling history.