PRIDE FC’s legacy is a fascinating one. The company blended MMA with pro wrestling-style presentation that topped what other companies were doing at the time, which made their stars seem larger than life.
Throughout its existence, PRIDE delivered some of MMA’s most exciting moments, like the Frye-Takayama war, for example, that remains a staple of combat sports both work and shoot almost 19 years later. Its history in the gaming world is also interesting since it, officially, they only had one release in North America, yet the company’s influence continued on in the industry long after its demise.
PRIDE FC’s gaming roots: Fire Pro Wrestling, VPW 2
The Fire Pro Wrestling game series, developed by Spike Chunsoft, was one of the first games to feature PRIDE FC and its fighters, albeit in an unofficial capacity. For years, Fire Pro was known for allowing players to create inter-promotional dream matches between wrestlers from different promotions. Because Japanese likeness laws are so lax, it allowed the game to create very close likenesses to the real-life wrestler counterparts—as long as the characters used different names. Josh Barnett once mentioned this while on New Japan commentary, discussing his “Jorsh Hornet” character in the game.
Spike Chunsoft later began using a PRIDE-like ring after getting sued for using the Octagon in its first North American-released game on the Game Boy Advance in 2001. The company then began using a white ring with a “BLADE” logo, which was completely fine, because Dream Stage may have cared about bootleggers with their tapes. They seemingly didn’t mind a little homage to their company.
AKI’s Virtual Pro Wrestling 2: Odou Keishou was another of the earliest games to feature PRIDE FC, albeit in an unofficial capacity once again. Players could play as fighters who looked awfully similar to stars of the time, like Nobuhiko Takada, Masakatsu Funaki and Rickson Gracie, among others. It was also the first 3D game to a create a grappling system for martial artists in the game and based on the game’s optional “shootfighting” rules, allowing for hybrid style match-ups between fighters and pro wrestlers.
The first two games: PRIDE FC and PrideGP Grand Prix
PRIDE FC would finally get their own game in 2003, when PRIDE FC: Fighting Championships was released for PlayStation 2 in both Japan and North America. At the time, MMA gaming wasn’t an established genre yet, and only Anchor Inc. had experience with the genre. The developer crafted the world’s first true MMA video game in the form of Ultimate Fighting Championship on SEGA’s Dreamcast, which had a port on the PS1 by Opus.
Anchor Inc. would later go on to develop the PRIDE FC game. It used the same fighting engine as Ultimate Fighting Championship, but it also managed to nail PRIDE’s high-end visual set presentation and its the high production values for walkouts, just like in real life. But the game fumbled a bit when it came to matching the actual feel of a PRIDE fight.
One major issue with Ultimate Fighting Championship was that while Anchor’s game engine worked for flash tap-outs, and it allowed you to use counter-punches and -kicks by holding both the punch or kick buttons, it didn’t allow for long fights. Pacing yourself wasn’t possible, either. And its defensive game was based entirely on catching punches, not bobbing and weaving away from strikes. Avoiding submissions was only possible in the UFC game if you pressed the same buttons that your opponent did to do the move.
In PRIDE FC, that was improved: Players now had to wear down opponents to get a submission. It doesn’t feel like the pace has slowed, but having a larger health bar often lead to fights feeling to have a more deliberate pace to them. Using the health bar does hurt the player’s ability to have long-haul fights, though, which does shorten the longer first rounds, even when the accelerated clock in effect.
During fights, the flow feels stilted, and transitions between positions still look a bit weird in the game. One thing that made PRIDE FC stand out was its rosters’ personalities and their body language, which didn’t quite translate into the game. Fighters didn’t move with much swagger, and move animations felt generic, or not fully tailored to the fighters.
Thankfully, the Japanese-only sequel would fix some of the issues that hurt the first game. PrideGP Grand Prix 2003‘s roster remained strong, and this time including soon-to-be legends like Mirko Cro Cop and Wanderlei Silva alongside other stars. It was overall a stronger effort to make the game more visceral and befitting the real-life PRIDE.
Unlike in the first game, moves like a Cro Cop high kick now had more of a snap to them, looking more realistic than before. The legendary Frye-Akayama exchange was now possible via clinch, which could lead to thrilling back-and-forth exchanges that did their best to fully-replicate real-life sequences. You could even use this setup to knock opponents out, resulting in some rewarding wins and punishing defeats. You could also now even replicate memorable moments, like Sakuraba’s flying punches and diving stomps, allowing players to really get a sense that they’re fighting with that fighter’s true skill set instead of just playing as a knock-off character that looks like the real deal but is still missing the few touches to make it feel like an accurate portrayal of the fighter’s personality and fighting style.
Unfortunately, while PrideGP game did a better job of replicating the fighters, it did a worse job with the signature high-value production look that the first version of the game had. Walkouts and celebrations featured generic animations, and instead of large confetti displays after wins, you got a stilted animation from your fighter and his team mid-ring. Rope movement looked fine before, but now looked stiff and unrealistic. The sequel did feature something that would become something of a rarity for MMA games, though: Secret characters, including Sakuraba as Saku Machine. This game would turn out to be PRIDE’s last as an active company, but its legacy in gaming continued after the promotion’s demise in 2007.
DREAM, EA Sports: MMA, and UFC Undisputed 3
After it closed in 2007, various MMA groups tried to keep its spirit alive by the filling the hole PRIDE left in the scene. The first such group led the Yarennoka! New Year’s Eve event at Saitama Super Arena, marketed as “Fedor Returns” and released in North America on both television and via on-demand DVD by HDNet (now AXS TV). The event’s relative success spurned the creation of DREAM, which outright tried to be PRIDE FC. DREAM even used the same PRIDE FC opening theme as their own to further the feeling of an authentic PRIDE FC successor.
The rise of MMA in the late ’00s led to more of an interest in gaming giant Electronic Arts, but with UFC’s rights tied up with THQ, they found themselves in the rare position of being able to only make a deal with a secondary group for their game. Strikeforce ended up as the main group for EA Sports MMA, which used Randy Couture, former UFC champion, and Fedor Emeliananko as its top fighters. While no deal was struck with DREAM, EA did pay homage to PRIDE FC with its fictional company made for the game, “Mystic,” who held shows in the Saitama Super Arena, and had Mauro Ranallo on commentary with Lenne Hardt handling ring introductions.
Fighting at the Mystic arena meant you could use stomps and soccer kicks under the PRIDE FC round system. Entrances are a bit more elaborate, too. With Lenne and Mauro in tow, this homage to PRIDE worked fairly well, fitting into the series canon nicely, since it featured some of PRIDE’s biggest stars, including Fedor, Sakuraba, Kevin Randleman, and Alistair Overeem, among others.
When EA’s dealings with UFC went sour, it led to Dana White famously stating that anyone in that game wouldn’t be in a UFC game. Thankfully, that didn’t hold true, and the final UFC game under THQ and Yuke’s, Undisputed 3, was the last to feature PRIDE FC in an official capacity.
UFC’s own game wound up paying homage to PRIDE FC better than any game did while it existed. The Saitama Super Arena was included alongside large-scale introductions and an impressive 33-fighter roster. No deal for Fedor could be made, but Cro Cop and Bob Sapp were featured alongside Rampage Jackson, Wanderlei Silva, Anderson Silva, Royce Gracie, and even lesser-heralded fighters like Phil Baroni and Sokoudjou, whose exciting fights may not have won them titles but are still easily remembered.
“PRIDE mode” allowed players to take the entire Undisputed 3 roster, including created fighters, into the company’s signature white ring. It featured more of MMA’s subtle action replicated in a virtual format, a perk of of being made at a time when game graphics had advanced rapidly since the initial Undisputed 3 release.
The original grappling engine was fully-featured here, alongside things like wall- or rope-walking to regain standing position, and using the ropes as a way to setup big throws and suplexes. Counter-attacks are also more exciting: For example, you could perfectly-time a knee strike when an opponent goes to tackle you; if they’re lucky, they’ll just get knocked silly and be able to continue fighting in a daze, but if they aren’t, they’re down for the count, and few things top something as simple as having picture-perfect timing on a counter and landing a one-shot KO.
One of the most impressive parts about PRIDE mode is just how much effort was put into it. It’s clear that Yuke’s wanted to do justice to the company’s history as best they could, and did so wonderfully with a fairly stacked roster and a fantastic presentation. Introductions felt epic. Lenne Hardt returned with Bas Rutten and Stephen Quadros to call the action. It’s not perfect, but the essence of the company is replicated quite well in this.
Hopefully, PRIDE FC will return to EA’s UFC series one day. If not, then fans of the controversial but exciting Japanese promotion have several ways to enjoy its action interactively. Its first PS2 game did the best job of replicating the presentation of the entire company, while PRIDE mode in Undisputed 3 is the best-looking and best-playing incarnation of the company to date.