** Karl Stern hosts an excellent audio show over at f4wonline.com, focusing on “classic professional wrestling.” You can check it out by becoming a member of the f4wonline.com Empire (which we heartily recommend). He covers everything from the Pioneer Era to the Monday Night Wars, and sometimes even veers into contemporary stuff, but that’s part of the fun of the free-flowing show. Classic pro wrestling becomes a springboard to all kinds of topics. During the show, Karl answers questions and engages with reflections sent in by listeners. I’ve recently corresponded with Karl a bit, and since a few of the things I’ve written about were topics I’ve meant to address on the blog, I figured I’d reprint those letters here, rather than try to write separate entries. For more on Karl and his work, check out dragonkingkarl.com **
6-5-13, re: Fire Pro Wrestling –
RE: The talk of Fire Pro on your last show, I figured I’d send in a few thoughts. I saw some have already been posted on the board, and maybe other listeners have sent or will send in their takes as well, so of course use as much or little of this as you see fit.
For general background, the Fire Pro series was a Japanese franchise of wrestling video games that started in the late 1980’s and ended in 2007, with releases along the way for a number of platforms. A few of these games ended up being released in North America, probably the most recognizable being Fire Pro Wrestling Returns for the PS2 in 2007.
I’ve been an aficionado of wrestling video games since the old NES “Pro Wrestling” game (the one with The Amazon, Great Puma, King Slender, etc. that you’ve mentioned on the show before), and for years the Fire Pro series was an elusive “Holy Grail” that I heard about and saw glimpses of, but had no access to.
The games generated buzz in the pre/early internet era where information was harder to come by, leaving people like myself with only a vague notion that there were Japanese wrestling games out there featuring tons of real wrestlers not seen in most American games at the time.
The franchise also gained notoriety due to the fact that 1994’s “Super Fire Pro Wrestling Special” included a single player story mode developed by cult Japanese game designer Suda 51, where–after suffering a series of in-ring and out of the ring setbacks–the main character commits suicide. Pretty heavy stuff, less than ten years after Nintendo’s much simpler “Pro Wrestling” introduced most of us to wrestling video games!
Later on, during the end of the 1990’s, I got so swept up in that great age of North American wrestling games (WCW vs nWo Revenge, Wrestlemania 2000, No Mercy, etc.) that Fire Pro fell off my radar, but a few years after that–following the sharp decline in wrestling game quality post-No Mercy–I often found myself reminiscing about the “good old days.”
By 2007, when Fire Pro Wrestling Returns was released for the Playstation 2 in North America, I’d stopped playing wrestling games altogether (and was no longer following the real world product, either), but I couldn’t pass up a chance to see what the Fire Pro games were all about.
“Returns” ended up being the very kind of game that appeals to my tastes, and it actually helped get me back into active wrestling fandom. The game features hundreds of real world pro wrestlers and MMA fighters from every notable Japanese promotion, as well as some familiar faces from North America and Mexico. The publishers skirted around licensing issues, I imagine, due to the use of thinly (and sometimes hilariously) veiled names. Don Frye, for instance, appears in the game as “Bone Cry.” For the thoroughly obsessive like myself, you can actually go through and edit all the names so that they correspond to their real world counterparts.
The game also features a number of real world Japanese venues (again, with fictional names), promotional rings, and a variety of rule sets (traditional pro wrestling, hardcore, Pride rules, K-1 rules, UFC rules, etc), so it’s possible to replicate almost any kind of match, barring the unfortunate Big Japan alligator or piranha match (though Big Japan’s Shadow WX who participated in those matches IS featured in the game).
However, much like watching the Japanese or indy wrestling featured in Fire Pro Returns, the game isn’t for everyone. It definitely isn’t tailored for the expectations of a video game audience in 2007 (much less now in 2013), as it features intentionally crude/throwback graphics (it basically looks like something from a Super Nintendo or Sega Genesis), its menus are treacherous to navigate, and the gameplay takes a good deal of getting used to. It seems to appeal most often to a niche audience of gamers in their mid to late 30s who grew up watching wrestling in the 1980’s and 90’s and playing 8 and 16 bit video games. Basically, those of us (like myself) who fall dangerously close to Eric Bischoff’s stereotype of the 40 year old internet wrestling fan living in his mom’s basement.
Fire Pro Returns also has an online community of modders (people who create wrestlers, rings, logos, etc) that remains strong to this day. Unfortunately, it requires a now hard to come by peripheral called a Max Drive in order to transfer files from online sites to a PS2, so I never became active in that aspect of the game. Still, the game comes with more than enough content out of the box to appeal to those who want to pick it up to play a quick match, or those (like myself) who use it to simulate and keep track of seasons worth of booked matches.
One last note that may be of interest to you since you’ve mentioned Extreme Warfare Revenge before on the show: Fire Pro Wrestling 2 (which was released for the Gameboy Advance in North America in 2002) features a “Management of the Ring” mode, which is supposedly similar to EWR, except that you can actually play (or simulate and watch) any of the matches booked over the course of the campaign. Unfortunately, I’ve never been a Game Boy owner and the PS2 game didn’t have this feature. I would have been interested to try it out.
Thanks again for all your work with the show, Karl. Definitely the most consistently good thing going, audio wise, on f4wonline.com.