Pro Yakyū Spirits 2019/2020 | Review | Playstation 4 + Vita - Japan-based Nintendo Podcasts, Videos & Reviews!


Thursday, December 10, 2020

Pro Yakyū Spirits 2019/2020 | Review | Playstation 4 + Vita

by Danny Bivens

The truest digital form of baseball.
The Pro Yakyu Spirits, or Pro Baseball Spirits, franchise from Konami has been around since 2004 seeing release on numerous platforms including the PlayStation 2, PSP, Xbox 360, Nintendo 3DS, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Vita and mobile. Interestingly, the game is actually a spin-off of the Power Pro Baseball series, utilizing the same engine with more of a tweaked, realistic look. In 2019, Konami came back from a four year hiatus and released Pro Yakyu Spirits 2019 in July of the same year on the PS4 and Vita. At the time of this writing of this review, the game is nearing the end of its two year life cycle, but does that mean you should just ignore this baseball release from Konami? That’s what we’re here to talk about. 

Typically for the channel, we stick to covering games on Nintendo platforms, however, with my love of the game of baseball and general interest in the sport here in Japan has made this game hard to ignore. I actually picked up both the PS4 and Vita versions of the game in the summer of 2020 for a pretty reasonable price off of Amazon Japan. And let me tell you, I wasn’t disappointed. Just to note, I’m mainly going to be talking about the PS4 version of the game throughout this review (focusing on the 2020 roster update) as they are by and large the same game. Toward the end of the review, I’ll touch on the Vita version. 

Gameplay in Pro Yakyū Spirits 2019 is complicated, but not hard to get used to for simulation sports fans. Pitching has players choose a pitch by pressing a direction on the joystick/control pad, choose where they want to throw the ball and then confirm their selection. After the throw is in motion, a circular, shrinking prompt comes on to the screen, prompting you to press the button again. If you time it within the small area around the target, you’ll throw an accurate pitch. Press the button too early or too late and the results can be disastrous - beaning the batter, or just putting yourself behind on the count very quickly. Spirits is actually very similar to Konami’s other baseball offering, Power Pro Baseball 2020 in this sense, with the only difference here being the additional gauge at the end of the pitch. While it is a bit hard, it adds a bit more challenge to place the pitches where you like. It also just feels good and is quite a bit of fun. 

Fielding is pretty standard here. As soon as the ball is hit into play, you will take control of the nearest fielder in an effort to make a defensive stop. Throws to the bases are handled with the four face buttons with each assigned a base. Other standard additions, like being able to throw to the cut-off man from the outfield, dives, cutting off throws to home and more are all here. The momentum of the fielders, throw trajectories and animations are all great. There’s really not much more to say other than it feels very solid and responsive. 
Batting here is deep, and yet still easy enough for players of any skill level to get the hang of. You can perform a normal swing with X, and an opposite field swing with O and of course have the ability to bunt. If you press R1, you can switch to a more powerful swing. The cursor here is smaller, but you have a greater chance at driving the ball out of the park if you make contact. It all just feels right. Base running is also a breeze and is easy to understand. On a side note, even with the realistic presentation, you are always able to move past the actions in between the pitches by the press of a button making for quicker games. Impatient gamers, rejoice. 

Pro Yakyū Spirits 2019 is packed with tons of different features and modes. One thing to get out of the way right off the bat, although this game is billed as a 2019 game, Konami has made an effort to extend the life of the product by offering a beefy roster update and additions for the 2020 season. As soon as you boot up the game, you can choose from either the 2019 rosters or the 2020 rosters. I’ve mentioned this in other sports related videos, but I’m really impressed that Konami has the balls to do something like this. Year to year changes for sports games are usually minimal at best with developers seemingly ticking off check boxes to show the public that there is indeed something new with their games. The two year cycle is not only good for players but it’s also good for the developers. They have more time to work on the next iteration in the series and actually have a chance to truly bring something new to the table - a true win-win situation. It’s just a shame that western developers will likely never go this route. 

Just to list everything out in terms of modes, we have standard exhibition games, Dream League, Pennant Race, Star Player, Training, Koshien Spirits, Pro Yakyū Sokuhō Play (live scenario), Online Play, Home Run Derby, a tutorial and then various options to edit teams, players and settings. While I think most of these (exhibition, Pennant Race and Training) are pretty self explanatory, some of the other modes need a bit of explanation. Dream League puts you in the role of a team manager. After creating the look of your coach, you are then tasked with putting together a team of star players to face off against others in numerous games of baseball. Being the manager, you don’t have direct control over the players themselves, but rather have to make a handful of decisions throughout games on what you want your players to do. If you’re really into the management side of baseball, this mode might be interesting for you. For me, while it was cool, I’d much rather be actually playing the game. 
Star Player is easy enough to understand. Here, you take control of one player (either a rookie, a created player or a player from an existing team) and work on their skills over the course of the season. When games appear on the schedule, you get to play as just that character in a variety of situations. You will be spending a lot of your time in conversations with a variety of NPCs and navigating menus before getting into the action. In my short time with the game, I took control of the Orix Buffaloes’ starting pitcher Brandon Dixon. Of course, I got to choose the pitches I wanted to throw as well as handle some simple fielding aspects as well. Star Player is a fun mode, and has you in and out of a game in around five minutes. It might be a little confusing with all of the Japanese, though.  

Koshien Spirits is a special mode that puts you in the role of a high school student trying to play in the annual nationwide high school baseball tournament (called Koshien). Here, you’ll get checked out by professional scouts, increase your skills and build relationships with teammates and girls. The majority of the time you will be working your way through menus to build up your stats with an occasional chance to actually get into actual games of baseball via short missions (get a hit, make an out, etc). This mode is incredibly text heavy and while I think you could enjoy it by fumbling your way through, it might be lost on you. 
Pro Yakyū Sokuhõ Play (also known as Live Scenario) lets you play through all of the games in the 2020 (or 2019) season as every team in key moments. Protect leads, strike out batters, get hits, blast home runs - no matter the game, there is always some kind of turning point Konami will put you through. These aren’t limited to just the regular season games, either. Playoff games and even the Japan Series are in play. Each “mission” is also relatively quick, so if you just want to sit down and play some key moments you can do that for a minimal amount of time every day. I absolutely love this mode as it brings helps capture the drama and feel of Japanese baseball with a minimal time commitment. 

When it’s all said and done, there are definitely more than enough modes to play through and enjoy in Pro Yakyū Spirits 2019. Just a quick mention here, but the Home Run Derby was also really quick to get into and pretty satisfying.

Visuals, Performance and Audio
The visuals in PYS 2019 are absolutely fantastic. The ball parks themselves look just like their real life counterparts, featuring proper signage, field details and more. The atmosphere of Japanese baseball is also captured perfectly (pre pandemic at least) with the chants, flags, horns and more. The crowd is also wonderfully detailed, with appropriate movement and a realistic look. The players themselves are extremely detailed and look on par with the real life players. Animations while batting, home run celebrations and more are also on point to add to the level of realism. Even small things, like the ability to grab the resin bag with your pitcher (which also slightly improves the quality of your pitches) are a really nice touch. All of this is also moving at a smooth framerate as well. 

The in-game commentary is spot on and called by a three man team that do a pretty bang up job. Honestly for the sound aspects of the game, the only thing missing from real the experience is the licensed music that the home team players use when they come out onto the field, but that’s understandable given the nature of the copyright legal work that Konami would need to go through to make this possible.

Vita Version
It seems odd to me that even in 2019 when this game was released that Konami opted to release a Vita version of the game. Opening sales for this version of the game topped out at around 45,000 units on launch day. The last time the game appeared on the charts in mid August 2019, only around 63,000 units were sold through. I don’t have the final official numbers, but when it was all said and done, physical sales of the PS4 version were around 250,000 (as of September 2019, the last time he game charted) and the PS Vita version is, like I said before, right around 63,000 units. The Famitsu numbers here don’t account for digital sales of the game. 

As for the game itself on the Vita - players will get pretty much everything that the PS4 version has. All of the modes and game play options are there, but this time in a portable package. The biggest difference here is with the visuals. While things still look pretty good on the Vita, some of the finer details are a bit more washed out and just less detailed overall. Character models look a little bit more on the blocky side and the crowd is a bit more static. It’s definitely not bad and everything plays pretty well. The biggest shame here is the fact that the PS4 and Vita version don’t have any kind of cross platform save system set up (as fas as I know). A true missed opportunity that really makes the purchase of both games redundant for many. 

English Support?
If you’re waiting for an English release of this game, I think you’d probably forget about it. I have a bit of an anecdote about that. Before the MLB season was even finalized to go in early summer of 2020, Japanese baseball was up and going, eventually playing out a 120 game season that started in late June and ended in late November. In the period where MLB was still getting things figured out, NPB had a perfect opportunity to expand into the Western market while there was no competition (outside of Korean baseball) and yet, they didn’t. This action speaks loud and clear. NPB is not interested at all in garnering interest into the Japanese brand of baseball outside of Japan. Sure, this situation is a hell of a lot more complicated than just hitting the send button to a large network outside of Japan. Regardless the reasons, my point remains the same - this series will likely never see any English support anytime soon, and it seems to be more on NPB than Konami. 

Pro Yakyu Spirits 2019 is a fantastic baseball experience. It is the perfect encapsulation of what Japanese baseball is and captures the atmosphere perfectly, showcasing the differences that you’ll find between Japan and the major leagues. There’s a wealth of modes, the  gameplay is solid and the visuals are stunning. If you’re comfortable trying to navigate the pretty difficult Japanese found throughout the experience, you won’t be disappointed.

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