eBaseball Pro Yakyū Spirits 2021: Grand Slam | Review | Switch - TheFamicast.com: Japan-based Nintendo Podcasts, Videos & Reviews!


Monday, August 2, 2021

eBaseball Pro Yakyū Spirits 2021: Grand Slam | Review | Switch

There are a healthy amount of baseball games on the Nintendo Switch in Japan. A majority of the games in the genre have come from Japanese developers with Konami being one of the main companies providing the goods. With eBaseball Pro Yakyū Spirits 2021: Grand Slam, this marks the first complete simulation style baseball game on the platform. It also marks the first time that the Spirits series has appeared on a Nintendo platform since the 2011 version on the 3DS. Has it been worth the wait and is this a game that you should look to pick up even if you don’t know a lick of Japanese? I’m here to take about all of that and more in this review. 

Background on the Series
The Pro Yakyū Spirits series has been around for quite some time, with the initial game coming out on the Playstation 2 way back in 2004. Believe it or not, the series is a spin-off of more playful looking Power Pro Baseball series from Konami. As I mentioned in the intro, Spirits has been a rare sight on Nintendo platforms, only making an appearance once before back on the Nintendo 3DS in 2011. While that game has some interesting talking points, we’ll have to save that one for another video at another time. 
Back to Spirits 2021, this year’s game is only seeing a release on the Nintendo Switch - skipping out on the next generation systems as well as the Playstation 4 (and Vita) this time around. There are several reasons for that. Being cost effective with their current engine, which is obviously scalable if you check out the 2019 PS4 and Vita versions, is part of that. Investing in making something for next gen just might not have been viable at this point for Konami. Heck, even when they made the jump from PS3 to PS4 for the series, it took the team at Konami years with the series going on hiatus for a few after the 2015 release on PS3. In the same vein, it would take quite a bit of time to develop a next generation engine, so perhaps the thinking here is along the lines of this: Why not get some more money from that engine by releasing a game on the most popular platform in Japan in a sub-genre that has virtually no competition when it comes to realistic baseball? 

If you’ve played a simulation baseball game (especially any games from Konami), you will feel right at home here. For pitching, you select your pitch with the analog stick, place where you want it to go and then fire away with B. After you press the pitch button, you’ll have to press the button again to control your release. This determines how accurately the ball will come in. It’s easy to understand, but it can be a little bit difficult until you get used to it. It feels great, and offers a little bit more challenge than what you find with pitching in Power Pros. 
Batting is also pretty simple. You control a bat reticle with the analog stick and press B to hit the ball. Alternatively, you can perform an opposite field hit with A, which is usually a bit weaker, but when used strategically you can see some positive results. Switching to a power hit can be initiated by pressing R. This causes the hit reticle to drastically decrease in size. It’s a bit harder to hit the ball, but if you make contact at just the right point, you will send the ball flying. 

Fielding and base running also feel pretty good. The physics in the game make for realistic movements and momentum for you players. For fielding, there is a dive/jump button (any of the buttons) but these are things that should be used sparingly. Just like in real baseball, the risk/reward of trying to make a big play can really pay off or end up in a complete disaster. Overall, you will be hard pressed to find a better baseball game when it comes to controls. 

Several Modes are on offer here including some that have appeared in past games - Exhibition, Pennant Race (up to 30 years), Star Player, Koshien Spirits, Home Run Derby and Live Scenario. Before we get into the new modes, I just wanted to touch on the aforementioned Live Scenario. Hands down, Live Scenario is one of my favorite modes in the game. Here, you are put into situations from real games from the current NPB season. There are multiple difficulty levels and you have the ability to choose between both sides to alter, or keep the current outcome of the games. This mode covers the regular season, All-Star games as well as the post-season and will continue on into the 2022 season as well. It is perfect to jump in and out of and can be really challenging at times. If you pick up this game, this is a mode that you need to try out.
In the 2021 iteration of Spirits, and a first for the series, four player games of baseball are possible. Unfortunately, that is something that I really didn’t get to try out, so I can’t really comment on it. If you are in to competitive play and don’t have friends around like me, the online competitive component to the game might help you get your fill. If you want to hear about some of the other modes, I suggest checking out my Spirits 2019 review, as those modes (Koshien Spirts, Star Player, Home Run Derby, etc) are largely unchanged. 

The new modes for 2021 are Grand Prix, Championship and the Tokyo 2020 Olympics mode. Let’s dive into those a bit here.

Grand Prix
In Grand Prix, you scout players to build a dream team to participate in various games and tournaments against the CPU. The more you play, the more items you receive to strengthen your players. To be honest, the management side of things didn’t really appeal to me here, so I didn’t touch this mode very much. If you’re into that kind of thing, there’s some fun to be had for sure. 

Championship is in essence, the online hub for Spirits 2021. Here, you can compete in one-on-one matches with other players all across Japan. The mode is divided up into two parts, with standard lobbies (200 total where you can set parameters for the game or join an existing lobby) as well as a variety of ongoing tournaments that are set up by Konami. I didn’t get super into this mode, but I did manage to play a few matches online. Connectivity was fine, for the most part, but by default, a variety of assists are turned on so the game feels a bit slow. Gameplay is largely unaffected by this, though. I am located in Japan, though, so if you’re playing from another country, your mileage may vary. 

Tokyo 2020 Olympics
The Tokyo 2020 Olympics are a pretty big part of Spirits 2021. Here you can set up a tournament to play through, play exhibition games and even take part in a special Olympic themed Live Scenario sub-mode. This mode works just like the standard Live Scenario, putting you in turning points of real-life games that took place during the Olympics. The mode wasn’t available before the Olympics actually took place, but was added later as part of an update to the game.The same update brought the Dominican Republic team into the game as well as the ability to participate in the Olympics in Pennant Race Mode. On top of all of this, there is a “Mission” section that challenges players to complete a variety of tasks in the mode. 
I think this mode is pretty cool, but some aspects of it are a bit lacking. Rosters for the non-Japan teams are composed of made up players and even the uniforms are a bit different than their real life counterparts. My guess is that licensing for international players on this kind of level was just a bit too much (probably monetarily) to accurately put into the game, which is a bit of a shame. Not only that, but the players models that are used for the other countries all just look…weird. In some cases, the face textures don’t blend in naturally with the rest of the head model making for an odd looking, clearly “video gamey” character. This part is disappointing, but I’m sure there is probably a valid, expensive reason for the decision. 

Spirits 2021, like its predecessor, does contain a “shop” where you can use in game points to purchase boosts for players, stadiums to play in as well as a variety of players and coaches. Not only that, but there are hooks into the eShop where you can buy supporter chants with real world cash. These would be played throughout your games on the field. I highlighted all of this in another article (which you can find here), but just to recap - these are NOT cheap. I haven’t spent a single yennie here and am enjoying the included chants and songs that are already in the game. This option is there for people that are interested, but definitely not necessary to enjoy the game overall.

Visuals & Audio  
Of course, if you’ve played the 2019 iteration of Pro Yakyū Spirits on the Playstation 4, you will definitely notice a bit of downgrade on the visual front. Still, for a Switch sports title, things don’t look too bad here. The players are accurately represented here and definitely look the part. Uniforms are spot on and the stadiums are perfect representations of their real life counterparts. If you’re coming into the series for the first time, things are going to feel fresh. For veterans of the series though, you are going to notice a lot of familiar things here. Animations are by and large the same as before, too. So again, if you’re coming back to the series from 2019, you’ll notice. If not, no big deal here. 
Although I do think that the Switch version of Spirits does look quite nice, there are some underwhelming aspects that you may notice, especially if you’re playing on the big screen. The finer details of uniforms, various logos at stadiums and the big screens and scoreboards at the do lack clear details. It’s all a bit low resolution. On the flip side, the game does run at a consistent frame rate (near 60 fps from what I can tell) and it looks fantastic in handheld mode. Of course, on the smaller screen it’s just more difficult to distinguish some of the more nuanced aspects of the visuals. 

Sound here is a strong point. Commentary is believable and well done, the overall environment feels like Japanese baseball - pre-pandemic. Now I understand that Nippon Pro Baseball wants to portray the sport in all of its unique glory. But for a series that is all about realism, I think some of the changes to imitate the way that baseball is being played in Japan in 2021 would make for a more realistic experience. Games are quieter now than they were in the past. There are less instruments, no balloons release during the 7th inning stretch and heck, all of the games this year in real life are limited to just nine innings of play. Given that this would require a reworking of the engine, though, I understand why Konami didn’t go the extra step here. 
Note on Japanese
Just know that if you are getting into Spirits 2021, there is quite a barrier of entry when it comes to the language. Some of the more text heavy modes like Pennant Race would be a lot smoother of an experience if you know Japanese. Fortunately, things like Google Translate will likely be able to help you out to get your through menus and maybe some of the more wordy game sections of the game. 

eBaseball Pro Yakyū Spirits 2021: Grand Slam on the Switch is a solid game. If you’re coming from the 2019 release in the series, you might find yourself a little bit disappointed as not much has changed here. It’s more or less a port with a few new modes, a roster update and parred down visuals (it DOES look better than the Vita version, though).  For those jumping into the series for a the first time in a long time or the first time ever, 2021 is a great place to start. The game looks and runs great on the Switch, there are plenty of modes and the game is going to be supported for the next two years. If you don’t speak or read Japanese, you might have a hard time with this one, but I think there is still some fun to be had despite that.

1 comment:

The Binghi Family Cook Book said...

Hey Danny, thanks for writing this article. By any chance do you know or if Discord is popular in Japan? I'm a part of a Mario Superstar Baseball (Gamecube) Discord that has grown a lot in the past year in the US and has an online scene. It would be awesome to get some players from Japan to join as well.

Mario Superstar Baseball Discord Invite: https://discord.gg/Gc3NxYtvGp