The Best Wrestling Game Ever Released in North America.
As always, the beginning is the best place to start. This game originally came out in Japan in 2005, and immediately generated rave reviews from the import fans. Personally, I wanted to play it, but a language barrier in the menu screens is too tough for me to clear, plus I've never imported a game before. So, that was that.
There were two Fire Pro games on the GBA, at that point the only two Fire Pro games to see an American release, but I never played them because I'm not into handhelds and never owned a GBA. Around that time, a Gamecube version of Fire Pro Wrestling was announced. I thought, cool, maybe I'll finally get to play this game on a console. But alas, it was canceled.
Later, in August 2007, I was reading online, when I found out Fire Pro Wrestling Returns would be making an American release on the PS2. Knowing how amazing the reviews were, and with PS2 being my favorite current console (and favorite console of all time), I was immediately ecstatic.
So, finally, on November 13th, 2007, the game finally made a release. I ordered my copy off of Amazon, and after some waiting and being frustrated, this past Tuesday it finally arrived.
My first impressions of the game was being awestruck at the amount of wrestlers in the game. Even knowing this information beforehand, I was still amazed at the sheer volume. 327 wrestlers to be exact, all based on real wrestlers but have their names changed (but can be easily changed back to their real names in the Wrestler Edit mode). Most of them are Japanese, but there are also Americans, and many wrestlers in the game are recognizable to American audiences. Notable names in that regard include AJ Styles, Petey Williams, Sting, Jeff Jarrett, Dynamite Kid, Rick Steiner, Low Ki (Senshi), Spanky (Brian Kendrick), Curry Man (Christopher Daniels in a mask), Bryan Danielson, Jushin Liger, Great Muta, Bret Hart, Bam Bam Bigelow, The Road Warriors, Bruiser Brody, Lou Thesz, Takeshi Morishima, KENTA, Naomichi Marufuji, Amazing Kong (Awesome Kong), Hiroshi Tanahashi, the list goes on and on. But, enough namedropping.
Also, there's actual promotions in this game, almost like EWR but an actual wrestling game with gameplay. You can create and your own promotions in this game, and rename all of the default ones to their real names (they're renamed in a silly fashion like the wrestlers, All Japan is Olive Japan, New Japan is View Japan, NOAH is Super Nova, etc).
So, I picked two of my favorite wrestlers of all time, Kenta Kobashi and Mitsuharu Misawa, for my first match (I was Kobashi). After being so used to Smackdown, it was kinda hard to get into the swing of things, though I was already a bit familiar with the grapples (I've watched gameplay videos). For all intents and purposes, I got my ass handed to me. But losing has never been this fun before. I kept coming back, and all of a sudden, practice made (almost) perfect, and I got my first victory. It's such a fun game, the perfect balance between challenging and rewarding, and you can do almost anything a real wrestler can. There's real strategy and flow to the matches, which is very satisfying for us hardcore wrestling fans.
Everything is so accurate in this game, it's staggering. Even though there's over 300 wrestlers in the game, the moves and logic differ so much, that basically no two wrestlers act exactly the same in a match. More on the logic when I get to the Wrestler Edit part.
The AI in the game is incredible. It's almost like playing a human opponent. It's that good. All the wrestlers act very similarly to their real life counterparts as well. You could take forever learning the tendencies of all the wrestlers, and truly be able to identify the "In-ring personalities" of the wrestlers, better than any other game I've ever played.
Then I tried some of the other match types. The barbed wire deathmatches are brutal and shocking at first, but they're about as gimmicky as the real thing, so their appeal wears thin after a while. The cage matches are okay, but nothing special if you're used to Smackdown's cage matches. The addition of 8-man tags is really cool, because I've wanted to play an 8-man tag in a game for a while now. The tag team mechanics are done pretty well, particularly the AI, which is just as smart even when there's 8 people around the ring.
Next, the famed Edit mode. There are 500 free slots for wrestlers, more than enough to create every wrestler I want to play as that isn't in the game, a bunch of YouTubers, SOS/WCSF wrestlers, a bunch of wacky original characters, major and minor characters from the show 24, the WMAC Masters, Alton Brown, The Angry Video Game Nerd, several incarnations of myself, and still have plenty of room to spare. There's plenty of customization options, and over 500 different heads (and multiple ways to edit those heads), so you can basically create any wrestler you want. Hell, any human being you want, and some non-humans.
And best of all, all of those created characters act exactly the way you want to when played by the CPU, because of the logic system. The logic system in this game is the best there is, in the history of video games. You can specifically set a wrestler's pace in the match, how often the pin, how often they go for a finisher or other big move, and customize how often they go for every move in their moveset individually. it's truly an amazing and accurate system. So, if you want to, you can create two deceased wrestlers that never faced each other, and if you set their moveset and logic perfectly, you can basically see exactly how that match would have played out had it happened in real life with both wrestlers in their prime.
There's also a ring editor. Unfortunately for you TNA fans, no Six-sided ring. However, there are several styles of turnbuckles, ring designs, and colors, so you can re-create TNA's old 4-sided ring if you'd like.
Also, you can create the TNA logo, or any other logo you can imagine in the logo editor. But beware, it's the hardest thing in the game. Only doing a 4 on 1 handicap match, where you're the 1, playing as the worst-skilled wrestler in the game, up against the top 4 in the game on Level 10 difficulty is as hard as using this level editor. And that's not an understatement in the least bit. It's possible to use this thing, but it takes a lot of getting used to, and even then it's hard. However, if you can use it, you can create literally any logo you want, which is kind of nice. You can only create Six logos max though.
There's also a Belt editor, which is easily as good or better than Smackdown's. Every aspect of the title can be edited at your whim, though this mode is a bit limited in terms of plate options. There's also an 8 belt limit, so I guess these belts were meant to be universal titles, as you can't create individual belts for every promotion, there's not enough slots for that. Overall, the edit mode is one of the main draws in the game. The detail is amazing, and it's definitely fun to use, despite the learning curve.
The graphics in this game are 2D, so they don't look nearly as crisp as Smackdown. However, in terms of art style, it's comparable to Street Fighter and the classic Sonic games, as it's still a beautiful game despite being 2D. Personally, I like the way this game looks. But if you can't stand 2D games, it's your loss.
The sound is probably the game's worst feature. But that isn't to say it's bad. It's about as good as Smackdown's sound. Except, you trade crappy commentary for generic rock tunes. Personally, I don't mind the music, and some of it is quite catchy. But if you don't like it, you can always turn it off in the options menu and just listen to the crowds and smacking/slamming noises, which are pretty generic too but get the job done. Worst case scenario, you can mute the game. It's still amazing to play though.
As for replay value, this game has more of it than almost any game I've ever played. This game is so detailed, it'll literally take forever to see everything there is to see, and do everything there is to do in this game. And even then, you'll probably still want to keep coming back because it's such a fun game to play. The best way I can sum up this game is by using a line that a lot of infomercials use. You know when they say "the last (thing) you'll ever have to buy"? Like, the last toothbrush you'll ever have to buy, or the last shaver, whatever? Well, this is the last wrestling game you'll ever have to buy.
Overall, I can't even rate this game, it's so amazing. Please note however, it's for both hardcore gamers and hardcore wrestling fans. If you're both, you should definitely buy this game right now if you haven't already. But if you're one, but not the other, you'd probably still get enjoyment out of it, especially because of its unbeatable price ($15). If you have a PS2, BUY THIS GAME NOW. If you don't have a PS2, BUY A PS2 AND GET THIS GAME NOW! Seriously, I can't even do it justice. Yes, believe the hype.
Final Score: 1,000,000 out of 10.