Masato Masuda, creator of the Fire Pro Wrestling series, has died.
He was 48 when he passed away, as reported by Suda51, which was astonishing to see since the series has been a staple in gaming since 1989. No cause of death was revealed.
The Fire Pro Wrestling was a trailblazer for both the gaming industry and wrestling as a whole. What began as a crude-looking series in 1989 on the PC Engine/TurboGrafx 16 became the must-have import wrestling game to own in the 16-bit era with Super Fire Pro Wrestling X Premium receiving acclaim in U.S. magazines like EGM. That particular entry was noted for its tough difficulty (although you can adjust it), having over 100 wrestlers in the game by default in an era of 12 being considered a large roster, and it had a creation mode that allowed you to craft your own wrestler from scratch. The roster included worked-shoot fighters from the UWFI and a shoot group in Pancrase – marking the debut of MMA fighters like Nobuhiko Takada, Bas Rutten, and Minoru Suzuki in video games. I covered the series quite a bit in a recent piece on the history of MMA in gaming because long before the UFC had a game of its own, the Fire Pro Wrestling series had MMA in it. However, with this entry, it was just fighters in a pro wrestling ring using shoot-style holds.
The “gruesome” fighting mode debuted in the 1996 Sega Saturn entry 6-Man Scramble. It featured an Octagon, an icon very similar to the UFC’s logo at the time, and a slew of shoot fighters from both the U.S. and Japan. The series remained exclusive to Japan until the GBA’s launch in 2001 saw the release of Fire Pro Wrestling A as just Fire Pro Wrestling. The franchise was known for using real-life wrestlers with just a name swap, which wouldn’t fly in the U.S. (in theory), so colors were changed in FPW 1 and the follow-up in 2001, Fire Pro Wrestling 2. The final true entry in the series was Fire Pro Wrestling Returns, and what a way to go out. It got a U.S. release with minimal visual changes, features a default roster of 328 characters, allows for 500 more to be created with each memory card, and debuted the ability to craft both female wrestlers and MMA fighters. This means that a game made in 2005 and released here in 2007 allows you to have dream MMA bouts like Ronda Rousey vs. Cris Cyborg, or even silly things that would never happen – like Rousey facing Fedor.
Masuda’s forward-thinking game design was a clear influence on the development of the Aki-engine games like Virtual Pro Wrestling 2 (which also merged pro wrestling and MMA together in one game, and was the only one in 3D to do so). If you’ve ever wondered why pro wrestling fans can take pro wrestling seriously, check out an FPR game. There, you’ll be able to see the drama that unfolds in a pro wrestling match because the franchise was crafted to recreate it. It came about in an era of the license being the sizzle and the steak not mattering, and since it lacked a license, it had to ensure that the steak was damned good. The series was usually able to live up to its reputation, and if you’ve never tried the series out, a fan-translation of Super Fire Pro Wrestling X premium would be a good way to start, or for a better (and far more legal) option, check out Fire Pro Wrestling Returns on PSN. It’s one of the PS2 classics, and one of the few few games in that line worth checking out. The original PS2 release was a highlight of the PS2’s latter-days since it launched at $20, and featured cover art crafted by Hardcore Gamer Magazine’s own Terry Wolfinger. The Fire Pro community has continued to support the game with created characters and new formulas that hold up quite well despite nearly a decade passing since the game’s original release