Get back in the ring!
It's been about 25 years since Goichi "Suda51" Suda had a hand in a Fire Pro Wrestling game, but he's coming back to lend his storytelling chops to the retro-style wrestling series--it's where he got his start, after all.
Suda's made a name for himself and the team at Grasshopper Manufacture with bizarre concepts for unconventional narratives that have turned into cult hits, such as Killer7, Shadows Of The Damned, and the No More Heroes franchise. If you've been paying attention to games he's worked on, you've seen the love of professional wrestling throughout his body of work; Travis Touchdown suplexes enemies to finish them off and Mask de Smith's whole persona was based on a luchador-masked wrestler with the proper moveset to fit. All that can be traced back to Fire Pro Wrestling.
Fire Pro Wrestling World - Official Overview Trailer
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Back in 1994, Super Fire Pro Wrestling Special hit the Super Famicom in Japan, and in addition to its intricate gameplay, it had a surprisingly involved and twisted narrative called Champion Road. As director and writer, Suda hit us with an unexpectedly dark scenario that involved a series of devastating character deaths blending into the story's wrestling events (it also featured a Ric Flair stand-in named "Dick Slender"). It concluded with the main character eventually becoming champion. However, the final scene cut to a frame of his house and an audible gunshot, implying that he had committed suicide. It's a grim premise to begin with and a difficult one to build from, but that's what Suda is doing. And this time around, it seems to be more hopeful than what he wrote over two decades ago.
This new scenario--that's coming as DLC for last year's Fire Pro Wrestling World--was born out of the idea: what if the main character from the original story had a kid? It's sort of a sequel, essentially Champion Road 2 in spirit, starring the son who is now 24 years old and in a tag-team called The Vanishing. When I had a chance to talk with Suda briefly about it, he said, "I'd been kind of mulling it over for a while and it's been 25 years since the last scenario, and now it's kind of the right time. I decided, okay, I'm going through with it. That's how this character came about."
A lot has changed in the years since. With the original story being brutally dark and utterly ridiculous, and Suda's body of work built from unconventional, experimental types of games, there are so many directions this could go. What kind of tone should we expect from a new Fire Pro story? How does Suda feel about the original story; did it go too far, or did he wish he'd done it differently, in retrospect?
"The original scenario was pretty traumatic: the main character rises up to the top and then ends up dying, you know?" Suda said. "When thinking about what to do with this one, I do have a general idea of where to go and what to do with it. But put simply, it's sort of a story of his growth and development. As I started writing it, the character started coming to life on his own. And to be honest, at this point, I'm not sure where this character is going to go. I don't know how it's going to end until I actually finish it!
What I want to portray is sort of the inner-mind of a pro wrestler. When he's fighting, what is he feeling? What is he thinking? What kind of stuff is he struggling with? It will be a bit more serious and a lot more introspective. - Suda51
"I hit the original Champion Road with my unbridled passion for the sport and the result was intense and over-the-top in a way only pro wrestling can be. Reading it now, the prose is pretty rough, so I’d like to rewrite it given the chance."
Suda's latest game, Travis Strikes Again, channeled a lot of what made No More Heroes stand out with fourth-wall breaking and self-references, some very on-the-nose, but thematically fitting. They almost gave a sense that he was trying to talk the player through the game. But it seems that the new Fire Pro scenario is aiming to be a bit more measured for now.
"With [No More Heroes'] Travis, he's always kind of been like that," Suda said. "He's got a really deep connection with video games, so I felt that he was that sort of character that would talk directly to the players. For this game [Fire Pro], I mean obviously it's a pro wrestling game, and thematically it is a bit different. And rather than have, for example, the wrestlers speak directly to the player or laying out the central themes, what I want to portray is sort of the inner-mind of a pro wrestler. When he's fighting, what is he feeling? What is he thinking? What kind of stuff is he struggling with? It will be a bit more serious and a lot more introspective."
With Suda in full control over the scenario writing, it'll be nice to see him have a hand in gameplay elements for The Vanishing tag-team, especially having directed Fire Pro in the past. But that aspect may have to be left to Spike Chunsoft's development team.
"Since I haven't finished writing the first scenario yet, I'm not sure if stuff like that might pop up, but basically I'm thinking of just leaving the gameplay stuff all up to the studio," Suda explained. "There are a few things, these wrestlers are going to have their own unique special moves and stuff. For things like that I'm going to put in requests like, 'okay I want them to have these moves that work this way.' But apart from that, I'm planning on pretty much just leaving it up to the studio."
For those not familiar with Fire Pro Wrestling, its had a storied history that began in 1989 as a PC Engine game by a now-defunct studio called Human Entertainment. Former members of Human eventually formed Grasshopper Manufacture which Suda heads up as CEO. As for Fire Pro Wrestling, Spike Chunsoft picked up the reins in 2000, and in total there have been more than 20 releases within the franchise--most of which are only available in Japan, where pro wrestling had breakout success, coinciding with the popularity of the games.
"Human had actually been putting out the game since before I joined the company, but originally it started out as a straight up wrestling simulator," Suda said. "And so I decided that, kind of like the scenario I wrote for [Super Fire Pro Wrestling Special (1994)], I wanted to do something similar where it wasn't just a simulator but really giving it proper themes and giving it a sense of story. The originals came out, and they were the sort of games where you don't really have to be into pro wrestling to get into it. There were a lot of gamers that didn't know anything about it who tried the game and were like, 'oh, this is actually pretty cool, I kind of like pro wrestling now,' and that was a pretty big thing in Japan at the time.
"With this latest one, I feel like it's the same type of game, where you don't need to know anything about pro wrestling, you don't have to really be into it; just try playing it as a game. People who just chekc it out just as a game will hopefully get into pro wrestling through this! The scenario that I'm writing up again is a proper story, so it's not just about men as wrestlers. It's got this realness as well, and I'm hoping it will help people get more into the game and then, by extension, pro wrestling."
If you dig the games that Suda and company have made over the years, you may owe it to New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW), but he called back to how he used to despise the sport. It wasn't until the break out of a particular persona in the NJPW scene--who's based on an old Shonen Jump manga series--sparked something in Suda and sort of set things in motion.
"I actually used to hate pro wrestling," Suda admitted. "I thought it was really gritty, people always bleeding all over the place and stuff. But the moment I saw Tiger Mask debut on NJPW, I was like 'wow, this is something different.' It was pretty much that moment I got really into it, just from seeing that guy. If Tiger Mask hadn't made his debut, I probably wouldn't even be into pro wrestling."
And if it wasn't for the break out of Tiger Mask, he probably wouldn't have worked on Fire Pro all those years ago.
Editor's Note: Translation for the interview with Goichi Suda was done by Spike Chunsoft.