Beneath six foot of hulking muscle and a career in pummelling fellow wrestlers into the ground, AEW legend Kenny Omega is a big nerd. It’s no secret: his signature move in the ring, One Winged Angel, is a homage to Final Fantasy 7‘s iconic villain Sephiroth. At last month’s Wrestle Kingdom 17, Omega entered the arena dressed as Sephiroth (complete with his theme song blaring) before winning the IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship.
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When he isn’t beating other wrestlers into submission, Omega is a huge fan of Japanese role-playing games (JRPGS) like Final Fantasy. Speaking to NME, Omega says that some of his other favourite games include Chrono Trigger and Earthbound, and explains he’s “always been fascinated by the culture and almost everything that’s come from Japan.”
“It felt like this place was calling me,” recalls Omega, who says that beyond those JRPGs, he owed his thanks to Japan for everything from his favourite anime to wrestling promotions was. As Omega grew older, he found his love for Japan’s professional wrestling scene only grew stronger, and he remembers thinking “somehow, some way, I need to find a way to Japan.”
However, Omega wouldn’t get to tour the country until 2008, years into his wrestling career. Before that, Omega says he found solace from an unlikely source: Sega‘s Yakuza series, an open-world action game that tells the story of Yakuza member Kazuma Kiryu as he brawls his way through an intricate criminal conspiracy.
“Before I was able to make those dreams come true, playing [the first] Yakuza when it was released for the PS2 was my way of artificially living in that world, of living vicariously through the characters,” says Omega, who loved jumping into the game “to walk the city streets and feel like a dude struggling to make ends meet, just trying to make something of myself.”
Fast-forward, and Omega – now a bonafide legend in Japan’s wrestling scene and beyond – will be starring in the upcoming remake of Yakuza spin-off Like A Dragon: Ishin. Omega will feature as a Trooper Card called ‘Essence Of The One-Winged Angel’ (of course) in Ishin‘s Battle Dungeon side-game, and the wrestler is fine singing his own praises.
“Whether you know me or don’t, or like wrestling or don’t like wrestling, [Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio] crafted up a Trooper Card that’s just all-around useful,” says Omega. “I don’t know if I can say it’s busted, but I mean…it’s great for crowd control. If you guys want a card that’s reliable and can carve down foes, you’re gonna want the Kenny Omega Trooper Card.”
Though the cameo seems like a match made in heaven, Omega isn’t entirely sure how it came about. “There’s no specific answer – I don’t even know what I did,” laughs Omega, who says that getting to tour Ishin publisher Sega’s headquarters may have shown off his “deep and profound” love of Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio. Of course, the wrestler also shot his shot and told Sega how long he’d wanted to work with the company. Eventually, Omega was invited to star in a promotional video for one of Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio’s showcases, which in turn led to his appearance in Ishin. However, it’s likely Omega didn’t bring up the one-sided grudge he held with the developer while he was wrestling in the New Japan scene.
“We did collaborations with Bandai Namco and various animation companies,” Omega explains. “There was a moment when some of our guys in New Japan turned up in Yakuza 6 and as soon as it was announced and I wasn’t involved, I did the very mature thing – the adult thing – and said I’m gonna boycott your series. I’m not gonna play it, because you should know how much this means to me, gosh darn it.”
Omega’s personal crusade didn’t last long, and he admits to getting back into the series with 2020’s Yakuza: Like A Dragon. “I was like oh man, I’m so silly – why did I do this to myself? I love this series so I said forget it, water under the bridge, I still love you,” Omega recalls, adding that he “pretty much yelled to whoever would listen that ‘everyone’s got to be playing this series because it’s so incredible’.”
Getting to star in Ishin is a “dream come true” for Omega, whose lifelong love of gaming means he takes his PS5 on any trip longer than two days. “It takes up all of my backpack space and weighs like 300 pounds” he laments, though admits he’s currently “pretty deep” into the much lighter mobile card game Marvel Snap. As for his own card in Ishin, Omega couldn’t be happier. Beyond making him look “at least 10 to 15 years younger,” the process has been a delight for Omega: “It was a really cool collaborative effort where we were kind of able to work on it together – the art they have crafted is fantastic.”
Interview by Jake Tucker.
Like A Dragon: Ishin launches on February 22 for PlayStation, Xbox, and PC.