The mashup of pro wrestling with JRPG mechanics might not sound like an odd combo but WrestleQuest somehow sticks the landing, feeling like a nostalgia trip with an absurd amount of love and care sprinkled throughout.
As part of PAX East 2022, developer Mega Cat Studios invited Inverse to try a preview build of WrestleQuest, and based on the 45-minute demo, there’s a lot to be excited about—from the hilarious writing, to the references, and smart implementation of JRPG mechanics. WrestleQuest is shaping up to be one of the hit games of 2022, even rivaling the likes of WWE 2K22.
Welcome to Suplex City
Nearly all of the JRPG systems in WrestleQuest have been designed with wrestling in mind, taking familiar tropes from the likes of Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest, and turning them on their head. It’s not just a JRPG with a pro wrestling skin over the top, with impressively thoughtful mechanics that feel deliberately designed.
For instance, rather than unlocking a door with a key, you must find a special token to summon a wrestler who destroys wooden tables that block your path. And instead of unleashing deadly spells, you have access to gimmick moves that consume mana. These moves can turn the tide of a match, consisting of your most powerful arsenal of attacks, such as flying elbow drops, stunners, and suplexes. Just like a JRPG, you can unlock more moves to add to your list, offering plenty of variation.
A familiar trope in older JRPGs is the implementation of an overworld, containing all the hubs that make up the entire experience. This is featured in WrestleQuest as well, and is another example of its thoughtful design. Each hub features a different wrestling boss you’ll interact with, all of whom utilize a different gimmick and style.
As you explore these hubs and speak with NPCs, you learn more about the boss in that area, and the information you gather can be used to cut a promo ahead of a match. Cutting promos is a major component of pro wrestling, so you’ll want to make sure you know exactly how to get under your opponents’ skin. A successful promo allows you to start a match with special bonuses that give you an advantage, such as winning over the crowd. Having the crowd behind you during a match makes it easier to pin your opponent, mirroring the ebb and flow of a real-life match.
To be the man, you've gotta beat the man
JRPGs focus on storytelling—as does pro wrestling, and the two work hand-in-hand to portray a compelling narrative in WrestleQuest. An early-game story depicts the son of a legendary wrestler looking to find his place in the industry. The father, who is in charge of the promotion, throws his son against two beloved opponents, with no intention of letting him win. Instead, the father forces the son to learn the ropes and earn his spot in the company, which doesn’t always happen in pro wrestling.
Having a legendary parent can lead a superstar to success way too quickly without any buildup, so it’s nice to see WrestleQuest take a different approach. While we only scratched the surface in terms of plot, the opening segment was compelling enough to hook us, and get us excited for the rest of the game.
Aside from the in-your-face story that unfolds as you make progress, you’re also able to control the smaller details that add to the minutiae of your wrestler. The best example of this is being able to customize your entrance. While it doesn’t offer as much freedom as WWE 2K22, there’s enough depth to give your character a distinct personality. For instance, you can add a set of crazed fans who interrupt your entrance before your character literally kicks them out of the arena before walking down to the ring. There are plenty of options to suit your style, whether you’re a babyface or a heel.
And a kickout!
It’s remarkable just how well the gameplay works in WrestleQuest. Its JRPG inspirations are quite clear, but they still feel like they’ve been tailored with wrestling in mind from the start. Arguably the best thing in terms of the gameplay is the pinning minigame, which amplifies the drama of each match. To pin an opponent, you have to time a button press to line up with a sliding green bar, and if you hit it three times, you’ll win.
The thing is, if your opponent isn’t weak enough, the green bar will be small, making it tougher to get the 1-2-3. Likewise, if an enemy tries to pin you, you’ll need to nail the timing to ensure you kick out before the three-count. It pays to deal enough damage to your opponent to ensure a successful pin, but the longer the match goes on, the more likely you are to get pinned, yourself. This risk/reward system is immensely gripping, and will no doubt lead to plenty of dramatic moments — which is the main point of pro wrestling.
WrestleQuest is an example of a unique premise that somehow seems to be a natural fit, with plenty of fascinating systems that work alongside one another. It’s clear this game is being developed by die-hard wrestling fans who also adore JRPGs, and we cannot wait to see how the final product turns out.
WrestleQuest launches for PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, Nintendo Switch, and PC in summer 2022.