Hello NJPW fans! My name’s Daizou Nonaka and I’m a producer at the videogame company Capcom. Thanks to all the fans who read my last column about the Super J-Cup! This time, I’d like to talk about King of Pro Wrestling on October 14.
It’s a stacked card from Ryogoku this year, but the one that’s most interesting to me from a game producer’s perspective is the main event: Kazuchika Okada versus SANADA for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship.
This is the fourth time this year that we’ve seen Okada versus SANADA.
Match 1: New Japan Cup Final. Okada beats SANADA in 33:07.
Match 2: Dontaku for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. Okada beats SANADA in 38:03
Match 3: G1 Climax in Osaka. SANADA beats Okada this time, in 29:47.
All of them were great matches. It’s 2:1 Okada, but really either man could have won each match. SANADA finally got that win over Okada in the G1 Climax, and certainly has every right to challenge for the title. The result, though, is that we’ve arrived at the fourth match between the two this year, and in videogame terms, a crossroads: the fourth in a franchise.
These guys have come to know each other so well as opponents this year. They have counters for counters, they know each other’s offense completely. Thing is, the fans know it, too. The challenge with this fourth match is to bring something extra, something different to their other matches. It’s do or die; either this rivalry becomes even more exciting, or it starts to go stale. That’s the crossroads of being at the fourth in a franchise, something the videogame industry knows well.
In my experience with videogames, the fourth in a franchise can go in one of three different routes. I’ll lay out the scenarios for you with some hopefully familiar examples.
Route 1: The true evolution. Players get a new perspective on game worlds, existing systems and mechanics are powered up, and augmented by entirely new elements. For example, the chapter based storytelling of ‘Dragon Quest 4’, the over-the-shoulder viewpoint of ‘Resident Evil 4’, or the introduction of Yoshi in ‘Super Mario World’.
Route 2: The hard left turn. A completely new element is introduced that signifies a radical change to the franchise going forward. In the fourth ‘Ace Attourney’ game, main character Phoenix Wright was replaced by Apollo Justice, and in ‘MegaMan X4’ the Double Hero System was introduced.
Route 3: Fan service. Fans of the franchise are rewarded by a loaded buffet of the systems mechanics and characters they love. Like the collection of games in ‘Kirby Super Star’, or the festival theme of ‘Mario Party 4’.
Now, a home truth. A lot of game franchises end on the fourth installment. Why’s that? There’s a simple one word answer: fatigue. There’s a lot of fervour surrounding the first three installments in a franchise, but by time number four, that’s cooled somewhat and people are more focused and critical. There’s a danger once you get to number four of looking like you’re repeating yourself or falling back on the same patterns. Whether the franchise continues depends on what people come out of number four with. It’s all in the result.
So, let’s get back to Okada and SANADA. How will their fourth match pan out? Let’s look at it in terms of the four videogame sequel routes I outlined before.
The true sequel
A continuation of what has come before. An exchange of spectacular dropkicks, Tombstones countered to Skull End attempts. We might see the swinging Skull End, the Moonsault into the hold. Then? How might this be extended to surpass fans’ expectations? The progression has to be shown. Taking the match a long way past 30 minutes, toward the 60 minute time limit. We’ve seen each man use their opponent’s favourite moves, so maybe we see an exchange of Rainmakers, or an exchange of Skull Ends. With body and soul all on the line, we get as close as you can go to a time limit draw.
The hard left turn
We can let our imaginations run wild here. Maybe SANADA hits a reverse neckbreaker, or Okada busts out an O’Connor Roll. We’ve seen SANADA attempt a Rainmaker before, but Okada trying for a Moonsault wouldn’t be out of the question. An Okada Moonsault would definitely be a hard left turn. Or perhaps SANADA uses some of the tactics that he’s brought to the ring against Toru Yano in the past.
We see all the moves these two have used in their past matches, and then to push the fan service thing further, why don’t we draw attention to the factions they’re involved with? Maybe we see Okada use an Ushigoroshi or Karma. Maybe SANADA uses a Destino. Maybe the two draw on fans’ association with CHAOS and LIJ and not just themselves.
Whichever route they go down, it should be a great match. With the title being on the line, it might take something unconventional for one or the other to get a victory, just like we saw in Osaka how SANADA’s use of the Pop-Up TKO finally led to his first win over Okada.
So, to my prediction. We have a long battle of attrition. Then, in the closing stretch, SANADA suddenly calls on inspiration from his LIJ partners to change the flow of the match. Yet Okada kicks out of a Destino to hit a rolling lariat and then his third Rainmaker to successfully defend!
Yes, I’m cheating and saying that they go for all three routes of my sequel crossroads! It might seem like a cop-out, but I think the two can really live up to and surpass all the fans’ expectations for this match. I’m going to get myself hyped up for Ryogoku by watching all their earlier matches on NJPW World, and I suggest you do the same!
Daizou Nonaka is a 35 year veteran of the videogame industry and wrestling fandom. Working at Capcom he has produced games in the Mega Man series among many others.
Check out Megaman Zero/ZX Legacy Collection coming to PS4, PC, Switch and XBox One January 21, 2020!