When Fire Pro Wrestling World was in development, one of the elements promised for the game was a story mode. After all, the Fire Pro Wrestling games have a reputation for being deep simulations with story modes that can have similar depth. (Goichi “Suda51” Suda was famous for the Super Fire Pro Wrestling Special Super Famicom campaign that was shockingly dark.) This month, Fire Pro Wrestling World gets its own campaign in the form of Fighting Road. It seems to blend matches and visual novel elements to create something educational and enjoyable.
Fire Pro Wrestling World’s Fighting Road campaign begins with players heading into a trial. You are taking part in a New Japan Pro-Wrestling (NJPW) audition, as your dream is to become the International Wrestling Grand Prix (IWGP) champion. Yuji Nagata, Super Strong Machine, and Hiroshi Tanahashi are holding a tournament with all the amateurs, with the best performer getting a shot at training, making a debut, and becoming a star. It tells its story by sticking with a straightforward formula. You go through a visual novel event scene, complete with occasional choices. Then, you take part in a match that may or may not have certain conditions you must meet to “win.” These matches tend to last at least ten minutes and sometimes even involve losing to succeed. Once you complete it, you tend to learn a move and earn experience points. You get to see another visual novel segment, go through a training session to build up your wrestler’s stats and change their moves, then go through it all again. It is an absolutely massive campaign. I have gotten through the first three segments, and by the time Young Lion finished I had only completed around 5% of the scenario.
Fighting Road feels like an opportunity to grow. When it comes to the actual wrestling portion of the game, Fire Pro Wrestling World gradually scales in difficulty in this campaign. During the Audition, Newcomer, and Young Lion chapters I went through, each mission and opponent became gradually stronger. The throwaway characters in the audition did not bother with finishers or special moves. They didn’t really fight back, and the goal could just be to survive. Once you get to Newcomer, the campaign starts introducing objectives like needing to get a 75% approval rating for a match or showing you know how to use your moveset by tasking you with using your signature moves and finisher a certain number of times. The types of matches and mission opportunities get more varied and challenging.
This also means learning about important concepts. For example, one of the earliest concepts Fire Pro Wrestling World teaches players is ukemi. This is knowing how to take a hit. In the instance in Newcomer, that segment of the visual novel and ensuing match is about being on the receiving end of an attack and making it look good. It also teaches you about pacing. In another Newcomer segment, you have to first get the match to last between fifteen and eighteen minutes. Then, in order to succeed, you have to use a finisher to end the match before it passes the eighteen minute mark. I felt like Fighting Road was helping me understand the mindset and how NJPW worked.
I also liked how Fire Pro Wrestling World’s Fighting Road introduces you to NJPW’s athletes. Every time someone new appears, the game takes a moment to establish them and explain why they are an important part of wrestling history. We learn their nickname, their catchphrase, and highlights of their career, all while seeing pictures of them in the ring. Certain people get a little more screen time than others, due to their roles in the story. Early on, Nakata, SS Machine, and Tanahashi are the major players. Which is nice, because it allows you to get comfortable with a few people before throwing lots of others in your face. Other folks, like Kazuchika Okada, Keiji “Gedo” Takayama, and Tetsuya Naito, will make brief appearances early on, then play larger roles
A sense of forgiveness is also present in Fire Pro Wrestling World. When you start Fighting Road, you can choose from three difficulty levels that offer easy, normal, and hard experiences. This allows for some initial accommodation, as you can find a comfort zone for yourself. Then, you have an additional option after a match. Let’s say you tried your best during Fighting Road, but failed a fight. I found the game would offer to allow me to continue through the scenario as though I had passed. I still received the same rewards as I would have had I passed through that match normally.
There is just one bit of advice I have with Fire Pro Wrestling World’s Fighting Road campaign. On the PlayStation 4, I noticed a quirk when taking screenshots. Even though all the text would be in the box on-screen when I hit the Share button, the screenshot I would see later sometimes did not have all the text in it. Since I was sometimes using this for research purposes, as I would take screenshots of the names of members of New Japan Pro-Wrestling so I could look them up later, it ended up being a bit discouraging. My advice is if there is a moment you would like to capture, say one of the times Tanahashi gives you a meaningful look, give it a few seconds to make sure all the text registers.
Fire Pro Wrestling World’s Fighting Road pulls lots of good elements together. You have an original wrestler you can customize and create, decide on the appearance and moveset. You go through visual novel segments that introduce you to the NJPW world, teach you what the athletes have to go through as they train and prepare, and give you a chance to meet some icons. It also helps you learn how to actually play the game, with matches that gradually ask more of you and require you to complete conditions that show you understand what is going on. It certainly has a bright start, from what I saw in the Audition, Newcomer, and Young Lion arcs.
Fire Pro Wrestling World will come to the PlayStation 4 on August 28, 2018. The game is immediately available for the PC, but the New Japan Pro-Wrestling Collaboration add-on that brings the Fighting Road campaign to that version of the game launches on August 28, 2018 as well.