Through SquareSoft has been busy lately developing games for new consoles, the company isn't exactly known for its non-RPG titles. Following several disappointing Japanese PS2 titles like Driving Emotion Type-S and All-Star Pro Wrestling, Gekikuukan Pro Baseball: The End of the Century 1999 is the latest of Square's subpar PS2 games. Poor AI, ridiculously limited gameplay, and a lackluster performance in just about every area mean that there's absolutely no reason for anyone to import Gekikuukan Pro Baseball.
The game is an official product of Nippon Professional Baseball, Japan's premiere baseball league. While Japanese baseball is generally exciting and full of action, this game could easily convince those not familiar with NPB otherwise. Gekikuukan is slow to the point of being considered sluggish, and it's almost ridiculously simplified. After you watch an intro movie that simply jams with Japanese rock 'n' roll and is filled with action-packed video clips from actual NPB games, you're treated to gameplay that's pale in comparison. The game sports five actual modes. The exhibition mode simply lets you pick two teams, a stadium, and get right into the baseball. The pennant race is set up similarly to a season mode in American baseball games. The game's league mode is actually just a tournament - you pick all the teams participating, and then eliminate one team at a time to win the championship. The Nihon series mode is akin to a World Series mode in American baseball - you pick two teams and the first to win five games wins the series. Additionally, Gekikuukan Pro Baseball allows you to play with all other sorts of odd options, such as whether you want nine or ten players on your team and what sort of handicap you wish to play with. All 12 of the Nippon Professional Baseball league teams are available in the game, so you can play your favorite Japanese baseball team, whether it's the Seibu Lions or the Yomiuri Giants.
Had it not been for the absolutely horrible control scheme, this game could easily pass for mediocre. The game does away with current baseball control standards like guessing the pitch, changing your batting stance, negotiating your batting angle, or even controlling your fielders. In fact, you'd be hard-pressed to find a simple player-control indicator in the whole game - because there isn't one. The game simply guesses what player you'd like to control and assumes you know which player that is. This leads to plenty of confusing moments and frustration, as it's never altogether clear whether your fielder is actually headed anywhere near the ball. Gekikuukan Pro Baseball uses a modified version of the traditional pitching and batting scheme - a box in front of the batter indicates the strike zone, and a small target lets you chose where your pitch is going. When you're in the batters box, a large reticle shows you where you're going to swing your bat. The idea is to line up your reticule with where the pitch is going to be and swing at the right time. Unfortunately, the control is simply too loose, and actually hitting the ball is something of a chore. Like in most baseball games, you use the diamond-spread of buttons of the face of the controller to toss the ball to corresponding bases. Fielding the ball is an absolute joke. Not only do you never actually see your fielders run onscreen while the camera is focusing on the ball, but when they finally do get to the ball, they take forever to actually scoop it up. You can make them dive for the ball, but if they miss they'll get upset and run offscreen before they come strolling back to get it. If they manage to actually get to the ball in some sort of quick fashion, you'll find that all your fielders have arms like 9-year-olds - none of them can actually manage to get the ball to the infield in any sort of timely fashion.
The players on the field generally look good, but the backgrounds and some of the animations are simply horrible. The player models are well detailed, but the faces look nothing like the little photo snapshots that appear in the lower corner when the game is introducing a new player. The player animations are jerky and unrealistic, and they flow from one to another in a very jarring manner. The stadiums don't look good at all, and they're filled with a horrible 2D crowd. Some stadiums feature large screens that display highlights for fans in the nosebleed seats, but since the screens also feature stuff like the batting reticle, it's obvious that the footage is simply recycled. Jagged lines can be found all over the place, and the visual effects are poor. There are almost no lighting effects in the game, and some of the visual bits - like the fireworks that explode when there's a home run - are almost laughable.
The game features running commentary in Japanese and some fairly good sound effects. The bat sounds about right when it hits the ball, and the characters shout odd things in Japanese. The crowd sound effects are pretty poor, and listening to the Japanese commentary peppered with English terms like "double play" and "strike" is extremely odd.
Japanese baseball is different from American baseball in a number of ways. The stadiums are much smaller, and in some cases there's an extra player. Also, the AI in this game would lead you to believe that there are all sorts of additional oddball rules. In one case, this reviewer saw a runner who was on his way to third suddenly turn around and run all the way back to first base for no apparent reason. The poor AI at least follows suit with the rest of the game's elements.
There's not one single element that stands out in Gekikuukan Pro Baseball: The End of the Century 1999, and the game is one big disappointment from start to finish. Those tempted to import Gekukuukan Pro Baseball should save their money and bide their time.