Beginning the year 2023 on a high note, wrestling has never been at such an international peak as it has been in the past few years alone. Thanks to the internet and the growing presence of the IWC (the “internet wrestling community,” not the watch company of course), the spotlight of wrestling has evolved past the WWE. Japanese wrestling began to weave into this interconnectivity with many of their stars moving to American and independent organizations and vice versa. Even recently, Sasha Banks, one of WWE’s biggest stars, left the company to debut her Japanese woman’s wrestling career as Mercedes Mone. Before any of this, however, there was Rumble Roses. A game meant to test the waters of the American market with mixed results at the time. Looking back at it, Rumble Roses was ahead of its time.
Released in November 2004, mere days before WWE Smackdown! Vs Raw, Rumble Roses was developed as a joint venture between Yuke’s and Konami. Yuke’s at the time was a dominant force in wrestling video games as the developer of the WWE Smackdown! titles since the first game on the PlayStation 1. While they were developing the first SvR, Konami approached the company in developing an all-women’s wrestling game with the charisma and personality expected from a Konami title in the mid-2000s. Yuke’s was more than determined to be on board in what I can imagine being a break from professional wrestling based on real characters.
Rumble Roses was unique in that this was one of the rare wrestling games with an entirely fictional roster. Almost every character fits an archetype of a wrestler that manages to hold up to this day. There are evil nurses, American wrestlers that fit every ‘murica stereotype, ninjas who work for the government, foreign exchange students, teachers of said foreign exchange students, judo prodigies, idols, and masked wrestlers. This eccentric cast of characters wouldn’t be complete without the “hero,” Reiko Hinomoto, around which Rumble Roses’ plot centers around.
To complement an original cast of wrestlers, Rumble Roses has an eccentric plot to go along with it and I use the term “eccentric” very loosely. Of the ten wrestlers, the player can begin Story mode with any of the wrestlers, each with plot paths that overlap with each other. Since Reiko is the cover star alongside her rival, Dixie Clements, she has the most screen time. Rumble Roses begin with Reiko being a rising star in the Rumble Roses tournament as well as a crowd favorite. She’s the de facto babyface of the game, respectful to her opponents, always the underdog, and strives to be the best professional wrestler in honor of her mother’s name, Kamikaze Rose.
Kamikaze Rose was a legendary wrestler who served as the inspiration for Reiko and her sister to get involved in wrestling. After spending most of her life thinking that her mother passed away, Reiko enters the tournament to look for her missing sister. Her sister, now under the name “Evil Rose,” spares no expense in hiding that she’s Reiko’s missing sister. Reiko pieces things right away much to the annoyance of Evil Rose who wishes for Reiko to not be involved with the organization.
As Reiko befriends various wrestlers, some of them begin to take on an uncharacteristically “heel” persona. Makoto Aihara, a Judo prodigy that Reiko meets early in her story, returns under the name “The Black Belt Demon,” with a possessed look in her eyes. This version of Makoto fights with the intent to destroy her competition, much to Reiko’s confusion. Shortly after this fight, the puppetmaster, Anesthesia, reveals herself as the mastermind behind Evil Rose’s disappearance.
Anesthesia wanted to collect samples of various strong women all over the world to see who would be chosen to fuel her “Lady X” project. In other stories, the “Lady X” project is explained further as a conquest to create an army of humanoid weapons to be used as weapons for world domination. The first test subject of Lady X happened to have been Kamikaze Rose, using her DNA sample as a base for the cyborg. With the final match in Reiko’s story being against her now cyborg mother, Reiko continues to uphold her mother’s legacy now with the help of her allies and rivals.
Any attempt at realism is flown out the window when a ninja wrestler who summons toads is a part of the main roster. But even with this in mind, Rumble Roses is a game not to be taken seriously which is a tall order for the IWC I’m sure. Everything from the plot to the characters and their mannerisms is meant to capture the “larger than life” aspect of joshi puroresu. Almost a decade later, wrestlers like Asuka, Io Shirai, and Kairi would pave the way in their WWE tenure. Organizations like Stardom have had their recent share of wrestlers with explosive personalities as well.
It’s thanks to Rumble Roses that this bubbling scene was given a chance in the American spotlight although it was a tad bit too early at the time. Most players remember the game for its copious amount of fanservice which I understand. Konami made no attempts in hiding the fact that players can control beautiful women in mud wrestling matches. There’s also a gallery mode where you can learn more about the wrestlers on a personal level. At the same time, Rumble Roses have some of the most in-depth wrestling mechanics that wouldn’t be featured in another wrestling title for years. To this day, one of the most dynamic features were its Face and Heel system.
In wrestling, the terminology for Faces and Heels is synonymous with what an average fan would call a “Hero” vs a “Villain.” The Face is the character that the audience cheers for and Reiko would be an example of a babyface, a wrestler that’s designed to be this way. She’s the newcomer, the underdog, the respectful and modest one in personality yet explosive and daring in actual combat. However, every wrestler has an “alter ego” that’s the opposite of their personality.
Completing the story mode as Reiko will unlock Rowdy Reiko, her “heel persona.” In the context of the story, Rowdy Reiko is a “what if?” version of Reiko who never found out the truth of her mother. Eventually, she would be rejected by the crowd after a string of losses and would become the leader of a biker gang of misfits. Her hair is now bleached, wearing a revealing leather jacket with matching hot pants. She looks at her opponents in disdain and disrespect, scowling and sitting at the corner of the ring unimpressed.
Her intro is even changed as the original Reiko had the song “Look To The Sky” by Sota Fujimori. Dance Dance Revolution fans will know this as the song appearing in 5th Style, but Rowdy Reiko’s theme is now an energetic ballad about being on the road. The music in Rumble Roses, as expected by Konami’s in-house composers, is a total knockout as the “who’s who” of Konami composers all contributed to the soundtrack.
Rumble Rose’s intro song is a cover of “Yankee Candle,” originally performed by and credited to David Lee Roth and Steve Vai. This is also the intro song to Dixie Clements, Reiko’s main rival and the one who is putting poor Reiko in various submission holds in the promotional art. Other big names within Konami include Silent Hill’s Akira Yamaoka, Castlevania's Michiru Yamane and other Bemani contributors including des-row, DJ TAKA, and Yuichi Asami as his performing name, U1-ASAMi. The in-game fighting music is based on heavily sampled energetic music that wouldn’t feel out of place in an older Smackdown! Title.
While each Heel and Face persona comes with her own music, intro, personality, and move set, the requirements to unlock them are based on playing their original persona. This would double the roster to 20, but in the American version, a player cannot select a Face if a Heel is present and vice versa. While I understand from a logistical standpoint why this is the case, the Japanese version that followed this release would allow the player to swap between the two personae with a push of a button.
The way to turn Face and Heel involves the Vow System, unique to Rumble Roses. Before each match in single-player mode, the player can set up three different vows split between Face and Heel. Face vows includes winning a match from near defeat, pressing the R1 button (which means no guards or reversals), or using a Fatal and/or Lethal move. Heel vows involve fighting dirty, using weapons, defeating your opponent in less than X minutes, and using Humilation Moves.
Once a wrestler reaches 100% as a Face or a Heel, they can challenge the current Title Holder for the championship belt. Winning the championship match unlocks the character in gallery mode. Successfully defending the title as champion will unlock the beach venue in gallery mode as well. Unless the player wants to see their favorite wrestler in, well, interesting predicaments, the main appeal of the vow system is the turn itself.
What I enjoyed about Rumble Roses is that the developers understood that simply being a “heel” and a “face” doesn’t mean you’re “bad” or “good.” It simply means her alter-ego is the antithesis of their original values. Anesthesia is the game’s main antagonist as she’s kidnapping wrestlers for her Frankenstein-esque project. Her heel version is simply an unhinged version while her face keeps up appearances in public.
Likewise, Bloody Shadow, or Benikage, isn’t inherently “evil” but she’s a ninja who works for the government, being antagonistic to everyone in her way. Yasha, or Judgment, is her “Face” version who is basically the superheroine of Rumble Roses. She fights for justice and is no longer working for corrupt government officials. Her clothes also reflect this as she’s unmasked and dressed in light colors. Being a “heel” or a “face” in wrestling means utilizing the same character, yet in a different light, no pun intended. Rumble Roses dilutes this effect in story mode by having the alternate persona have far less importance to the story, but it’s still cool to see the one or two cutscenes that put these personalities on display.
Rumble Roses’ gameplay is very easy to pick up and play, especially for fans of WWE Smackdown! Here Comes The Pain as it runs on the same engine with similar controls. Triangle is to grapple, which can be combined with a direction for unique grapples. Generally, the up direction targets the upper body while the down direction targets the legs. Each wrestler has their own unique moves, yet the controls are still the same, meaning every character can be enjoyed without difficulty.
As the player fights, they will receive a stock on their Special meter. One stock allows them to use their Killer Move and Lethal Move. Killer Moves are executed by pressing L1 on a standing opponent, leading into a flashy finisher that may end in a submission hold, pin fall, or leave your opponent dazed. Lethal Moves are like Killer Moves, yet they require certain conditions to be met. Reiko’s Lethal Move can be done while she’s on the top turnbuckle and her opponent is unconscious on the ground, for example.
A secondary meter that’s next to the wrestler’s health bar is their Humiliation Meter. If the wrestler is caught in a grapple or a move that can be seen as embarrassing, their meter, identified by a heart, will begin to fill. Upon reaching maximum humiliation, the opponent can use their Humiliation Move, which is the wrestler’s ultimate attack. The majority of Humiliation Moves are submission holds which grant the wrestler two times the effect of a regular submission hold. This makes this a very dangerous move for the victim who is on the receiving end.
Reception for the game was as one would expect at the time. While most focused on the fan-service and the graphics, others appreciated the familiar yet effective gameplay that Yuke’s provided. It was a solid wrestling experience from a gameplay perspective, the animations were unique and based on Japanese-style wrestling, and it was a decent beginning of what would become a mini-franchise. Following the release and success of Rumble Roses, Konami would work on Rumble Roses XX on the Xbox 360.
Fortunately, Rumble Roses XX is backward compatible with the Xbox Series X, meaning I can finally play the game after playing the demo all the way back in 2008. Going to an all-new game for the first time versus reflecting on an underrated wrestling classic will be an interesting one. As with most games in the Konami library, Rumble Roses is but one of many IPs on the shelf to collect dust. With wrestling, especially women’s wrestling, having a burst in popularity, I’d hope Konami could revive the series in any way. Regardless, this is a title all wrestling fans should enjoy for various reasons.