Professional Baseball Spirits 2011 Review by Lasombra
The great game of baseball is America’s national pastime. The new MLB season has opened, and MLB: the Show 12 has hit the markets already. But in the land of the rising sun baseball is also being played and revered. Translated as Professional Baseball Spirits, it is Konami’s answer to The Show, the Winning Eleven to EA’s FIFA. Is this a game worth the time to learn a few words of Japanese, or is this best left in the Far East?
PBS is different kind of baseball game compared to the Show. It focuses more on a more arcade style of gameplay compared to the gritty realism of the Show. The pitching system is flawless, and actually better than the Show. Pick the pitch, place it, and a closing circle will appear. Hit the button again and the size of the circle is what the ball will look like to the batter. Pitching accuracy isn’t a what if scenario like in new versions of the Show, where a pitch could be thrown way off target. Since the game is more focused on arcade, the 100 percent accuracy makes the game go by a lot faster. Balls are fewer, and strike outs are a lot higher. For the batter you see a bat icon on the screen with a ‘sweet spot’ aka the area the bat will hit the ball for the best effect. Hit the sweet spot and you’re almost guaranteed a hit. Miss it, and you either whiff, hit a foul, or ground/fly out. Go for a contact swing and the sweet spot is bigger. Try for a home run and the spot is a lot smaller. Although I said it plays like an arcade game, hitting home runs are quite rare, but if you don’t mind high scoring games from only non-home runs, it should not be a problem. There is one flaw in the game’s mechanics though. The fielding is awful. For some reason the programmers decided that diving did not need to be included in the game. I do not know if this is a Japanese baseball rule, or if they just wanted to ensure a high scoring game, but either way it is annoying giving up a lead when the ball harmlessly drops a foot in front of the outfielder when he could have made an easy dive.
The game comes with multiple modes: spirits mode, pennant mode, stardom mode, and grand prix mode. Spirits mode is a mini-game laden game that you go through when creating a player. There are no easy stats to apply, a simple face change, and bam, a new player in 5 minutes. Instead you have to go through a series of tasks with the player. Complete the task, for example, striking out the batter, and you get points. Don’t complete the task and you get nothing. Making a superstar player to add to your favorite team takes some skill and luck.
Manager mode is simply season mode. It can go on for 20 years. It’s not deep like the Show. No training, ticket prices, or upgrades needing to be performed. It just has the bare essentials of playing the game, trading players, and checking stats. However, it does let you play as the full team, a single player, the manager, or just watch. Playing as the manager can be tricky because as it is a Japanese game a lot of the options are in Kanji. Unless you read Kanji, or use a translator, it’s all going to be trial and error. Still, it is a fun way to switch up the game play if you are tired of playing as the whole team all the time.
Stardom mode is a lot deeper than the Show. This mode shows the difference in Japanese and American culture when it comes to video games. In the Show career mode feels fun but unfulfilling. Play the game, get a random training day, play more games, hope you win a championship, and then bargain for a big money contract that is essentially useless since there is no option to spend the money. In PBS stardom mode should be called story mode. You start out as a raw high school recruit, and you are shoved into the life of a pro baseball player. In-between games your player has many options: practicing, going out with the team to build team spirit, buying items which helps on the field, and even traveling Japan. Although it is all in Japanese, and being unable to read much of it at the moment, I didn’t understand at all what was being said to me. However, it felt more fulfilling an experience of actually developing as a player and forging a career, instead of going through the motions. Just the addition of a ‘fans’ bar and gaining and losing fans after every game gives playing the next game more of an edge.
Grand Prix mode is best compared to EA’s Ultimate Team mode. A lot of the mechanics are very similar. You start with a small team of low level players and you play games and tournaments to get cash for buying packs of new, and hopefully, better players. GP mode is a little different because your manager character levels up and gains skills that put pluses or negatives on the players. Additionally the players level up as you play them. However the players don’t have contracts, as far as I can tell. Unlike Ultimate Team, where the player needs to constantly buy pucks for contract cards to get to play the players more, in GP it seems to be infinite. No need to throw your controller at the wall because you’ve put the time and effort into leveling up Yu Darvish, only to not get to play him in the tournament finals because his contract is up and you’re broke. Some of the tournaments are straight forward and play exactly like a normal game, while others have special rules like the Smile Cup where every player’s condition is great, or the Fresh cup where you can only use players with a certain star rating.
The one major problem new players to the series will experience is the game is 95% in Japanese. There are some words, some phrases here and there in English, but almost all the important stuff is in Japanese. It is a sports game so it is not as hard to pick up and play as with an RPG, as an example, but those not steeled to the task of dealing with a foreign language could feel overwhelmed and lose interest. There is a really good website dedicated to translating the game that can help with all the menus and the games basics. However, career mode and understanding the story is beyond the scope of the site.
The presentation for the game is top notch, and accurately depicts the lively atmosphere of a Japanese baseball game. Music being played by the crowds and chants are used. Drums can even be heard as well. It is a stark contrast to the dull and quiet atmosphere of an MLB game. Additionally the programmers put a lot of effort in the broadcasting of the game itself. Tight scores going deep into the game will be scrolled alone as if being watched on TV. Important at-bats will have the screen split between pitcher and catcher as they stare each other down. It adds pressure to an already pressurized atmosphere. However, just like with all sports games the commentating is not the best. Even not knowing a lot of Japanese it was easy to tell a lot of the dialogue was recycled. It might not be as boring to some because of the novelty of hearing it in a different language, but because it is in a different language it will probably be turned into background noise.
Graphically the game is not pushing the limits of the PS3. Character models, although sharp, look like they came off the trail-end of the PS2’s lifespan. Do they look bad? No, they suit the need asked for them. How much this will bother you depends on how much graphics are important to the gaming experience. If the characters have to look lifelike as in the Show then prepared to be disappointed. Accept it is a sports game and not meant to be a movie like Metal Gear, and it shouldn’t be a bother.
Professional Baseball Spirits is a solid 3/4 hitter in a sports game batting line up. Its stark contrast in style and gameplay makes it a rival to the Show without being called a clone, while giving an enjoyable, fast-paced baseball experience. While it has some flaws that take away from its shine, baseball fans should try this game once, if only for the novelty of playing the Japanese leagues.
Positive: Character models are crisp and emulate their real life counterparts.
Negative: Looks like a PS2 game
Bells and Whistles 10
Positive: Standard game modes made different than any other sports game and each other
Positive: Realistic game atmosphere.
Positive: Arcade style emphasizes high scores, strike outs, and a fast pace
Negative: Outfielders don’t dive, and infielders hardly ever as well
Positive: Career mode feels like an RPG
Positive: Different experience from MLB: the Show
Replay Value 9
Positive: All game modes are interesting and will keep you into them long term
Negative: It is a sports game. What you see is what you get. Get bored, and it’s over.
http://www.spiritstranslation.com/ This website has helped translate the 2011 version of the game.