4.26.2011

Why the NPB is Better Than the MLB vol. 2: Video Games

The blueprint of great a great baseball game.
No, I don't really think a better video game makes a league better...I do feel like reviewing the game and making it known to more American fans though! I think we can skip ahead to crowning The Show as the best MLB game. If you disagree with this presumption please make it through a season of the 2K Sports offering without having an absolutely bizarre glitch impede your progress. Moving on, Remember what you felt playing Grand Theft Auto in 3D after playing the original 2D versions? Not to say the original GTAs were bad; the new versions were just that much better. More of the same here. MLB 11 is a very good game. Enjoyable to play, presentation is unbelievably good, and it is the best baseball game with MLB players (probably a huge deal for some of you). Despite this, PYS is still the best baseball video game on the market.

You already have a PS3, and since it's region-free, you can play Japanese games on it. Before I go any further I'd like to thank Muka and Vern over at spiritstranslation.com. They translate the game so non-Japanese speakers can enjoy everything that the game has to offer. They also gave me permission to use screenshots from their site to enhance this post. More on that site later.


Gameplay

     Pitching
          
Pitching is intuitive. The goal is to time your release point and the closer you are to achieving this, the smaller the ball will appear to the hitter (the ball in the zone literally changes size depending on your success). The battle with the hitter feels more in your control and the seemingly infinite amount of traits that your pitcher possesses adds to the uniqueness of every pitcher. Some are lefty experts (their attributes actually rise when facing lefties) and some rise to the occasion of big games (rise in playoff games) while some suffer attribute deductions when runners get on base or in the first few innings if they are a "slow starter." This means that in one game your pitcher's ratings will vary constantly, with a median base rating. How realistic is that!
 Let's break this screen shot down. If you look close enough you can see the release point resulted in a rather average sized pitch over the catcher's right knee. In the bottom right you can see the skills for the pitcher and the batter. The pitcher, emotionally unstable Toshiya Sugiuchi, sees his attributes rise as he goes deeper into the game, has a quick pickoff move, is lucky, and it is easier to find a good release with him when you control him. The batter, Kazuhiro Wada, the incumbent MVP of the Central League, is a bad bunter but possesses opposite field power. Not a great pitch...outside part of the plate...MVP of the CL with the opposite field power trait...look out.

Add to the mix an abundance of pitch types to choose from, and the ability to use the rosin bag to help your release, and you have a deceivingly complex pitching configuration that makes you use strategy as much as timing your button press. As you increase AI difficulty, you better learn to think like a real pitcher if you don't want to get lit up.

     Hitting

Hitting is practical. Many argue that a cursor based system is unrealistic and has no place in this world. The way MLB games have tried to implement it, I'd have to agree. Placing a dot somewhere in the strike zone and giving you a square cursor to hit it with did not make much sense. However, a bat shaped cursor that varies in size depending on skill, and hitting a ball that varies in size depending on how the pitcher performs on a pitch-to-pitch basis makes so much sense it's crazy. If the opposing pitcher mistimes his release, you can see the spin of the ball! If he times it perfectly then the ball actually appears smaller to you, and harder to hit. Another reason I prefer this type of cursor batting over the zone batting featured in the Show is that you never blame the game for not getting a hit. If you pop out, you know that you got under the ball. In the Show, sometimes I would find myself looking at a replay trying to find how I pulled a grounder on an inside pitch when I pushed up for a flyball and swung at seemingly the perfect time.

The hot and cold zones change during the at-bat. If you have a high and inside hot zone when you first step to the plate, it might disappear when you fall behind 0-2. If the pitcher neglects that part of the zone completely throughout the game it might also be a cold zone. In real life, if a pitcher doesn't throw one pitch to the inside part of the plate through 6 innings, the first pitch that comes inside will catch you off guard. The cursor size fluctuates as well. If you fall behind 1-2 it will decrease in size. When your cursor passes through a hot zone or cold zone, it doesn't increase the mathematical probability that you will get a hit, the cursor just gets bigger or smaller.
Hot zone, cursor is huge.
Same batter in a cold zone, small cursor.
It's such a small thing but it's so important to a realistic at-bat. I prefer knowing why I hit the ball the way I did, instead of wondering how the heck power swinging and pulling a hanging curve right down the heart of the plate results in a dribbler to third. And with the varying cursor it really makes you wait for your pitch, for the pitches in the cold zone, it makes sense that you foul them off or making it more likely that you get less good wood on it. To supplement this, PYS doesn't have a power and contact swing, it features a pull and opposite field swing. When trying to foul pitches, the opposite field swing is crucial because it allows you to see a pitch longer before deciding to swing.

The traits I mentioned earlier apply to batting too. Some hitters improve when runners are in scoring position, others have better contact after getting two hits in a game. Some are slow getting out of the box, decreasing the likelihood of an infield hit and some less clutch players get worse with RISP. There is a hefty list of special skills that you can see here (navigate the sidebar to see pitcher skills). To add to the personality feature of the game, players even have tendencies that include watching more pitches and trying to draw walks or being better in the fall or summer (in Pennant mode). The computer acts like their real-life counterparts and all of the players you control actually feel like they are in your control and that's my favorite about hitting in this game.

Modes:

     There's a pretty standard selection of modes. There's exhibition, playoff, season, stardom (similar to road to the show), and online (which includes a kind of cool card collecting mode where you get player's cards and then you manage those players against other players). The pennant mode lacks the deepness of the Show, but its progression system is definitely a strength. It makes a whole lot of sense. There is a best case and worst case scenario for your prospects as to how they will pan out. They will likely fall into a path in between the two extremes. How they do is completely up to you. Players are split into three categories: on-the-rise, in their prime, and over-the hill. On-the-rise players will gain experience every day and will receive bonuses if they play well or even just play. Prime players have basically maxed out but may see small improvements or declines. Finally, the older players actually start to lose attributes little by little. Everything is pretty standard for a season mode.
Two possible paths for this prospect.
Miscellaneous:

     Ball Physics

As you will no doubt see in the gameplay video I included with this post, the ball moves as it should. It doesn't warp all over the field. It's smooth and believable, the way it moves on the field.

    Settings (a lot of them)

This game has the most customizable difficulty I have encountered in a video game. Most games have the standard "easy, normal, hard" settings. If you're lucky, you get an "expert" level. In this game there are nine different level just for the AI's pitching. The diagrams below show the two extreme levels. There are 7 levels in between that make the pitcher the perfect difficulty. You can see the rest of the levels pitch charts here.
Very easy.
"Spirits" level.
After adjusting all the settings and tweaking them after playing you will have a game that is the perfect difficulty for you. And forget the concept of "rubberband AI." Raise your hands if this has happened to you: Up 3-0 in the ninth with two outs, the number 8 hitter ropes a double after going 0-3 with 3 Ks to that point. The next hitter bloops a ball just in front of the center fielder. You swallow your pride and summon the closer. Wouldn't you know it, the number one hitter with 0 HR on the season ties it up, crushing a low and away slider. You can put your hands down and go to Play-Asia to pick up PYS 2011.

Closing Comments

This turned more into a PYS 2011 advertisement and I apologize for that. Hopefully you can at least see how much I love this game. It is by far the most fun I have playing a sports game. Special thanks go to Spirits Translation. They translate the game so non-Japanese speakers can enjoy the game. They do this free of charge but I encourage you to donate even a few bucks as they definitely deserve at least that.

I probably missed a few things (hard to believe with this long post I know), but the following video is actual gameplay featuring the two all star teams, and it should give you a good idea of what the game is about. Yu Darvish, everyone's favorite Japanese player, pitches in the first half inning, for those of you that are interested.

© 2011, copyright Julian Jowise

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