Review by Siegfried

"Frantic"

Very few series can claim to be as successful as the Captain Tsubasa series. By ''Successful'', I am not referring to the sales of the game or how popular it was when it was released. I am referring to the essence of games, that thing that simply drags you in and makes you yearn for more. The video game industry abounds with series in every genre. As a matter of fact, one could even say it is plagued with such series, with titles that fail to appeal, but that continue to be released year after year -I could also go on about others that slowly decrepit with time, but I'll retain myself.

Captain Tsubasa is the exception. While never very popular worldwide because it never got an international release and was never duly translated, each subsequent title kept improving upon its underling. With Captain Tsubasa, each title actually felt totally different, which is a feat since the first four titles shared the same stellar game play and were quite similar. Because of this, one would almost be led to think that Tecmo would never try to alter the game as they ran the risk of screwing everything up.

Wrong!

Captain Tsubasa 5 does what no other title belonging to a lasting series would ever dream of even trying. It dares the impossible, it adopts a different game play although it still obviously shares the main strengths found throughout its prequels. Obviously, in this case, such strengths amount to the RPG-ish menu-based system and to the special techniques performed by each player during matches.

Even then, this fifth console installment still improves upon the unique principles the older titles shared. One of the gripes people had with the older titles was that it never really felt like football. The exhaustive menu-based system made the game seem a bit redundant, as it was merely a matter of making good choices while being forced to look at a single picture of the player.

While appealing once you understood the games, these esoteric features nevertheless rebutted players and the high difficulty settings would only drive potential gamers away. It seems Tecmo realized all this and Captain Tsubasa 5 is what everybody must have been waiting for, fans and non-fans alike. In other words, this game offers drastic changes from its predecessors and is truly sublime.

Tecmo's new ideas are very straightforward, yet extremely appealing. Keep the menu-based system, but make the whole thing play almost like real football. Gone are the single pictures that changed only when the ball wobbled along. Gone are the static crowds. Gone are the generic-like actions performed by look-alike players, provided these were not among the cast of Tsubasa's, Hyuga's or Misaki's.

Instead, you are now free to roam across a real pitch which is worthy of any FIFA title. The pitch in Captain Tsubasa 5 assuredly looks better than its more sober counterparts as it literally seems to scroll by when the players run around. Avoiding opposing players is however tougher than it would seem as everybody suddenly converges towards the poor chap who has the ball. This is exactly when you should at last bring up the menus and choose to either pass the ball around or go for the stylish, powerful shots.

Even then, the unimpressive layout of the menus succeeds in reducing these to a minor role, which obviously makes the game even more exciting. While the first titles relied on blocky menus, Captain Tsubasa 5 opts for smaller text that seems to belong to the background. Moreover, pressing a single button once the appropriate menu appears now performs a definite special technique. You no longer need to scroll down endless lists to search for a move.

One would be led to assume that this continuous transition between a regular football game and an RPG system would make the game seem slow, but it is actually the opposite. Captain Tsubasa 5 remains a frenetic, awe-inspiring adventure that makes the best shooters feel drowsy. The best part is that this frantic pace keeps on increasing from match to match. As the opponent obviously gets tougher and cheaper, you are forced to play even more strategically and the need to make the most of your roster imposes a frightening pace on the decisions you are asked to take.

Moreover, every single football rule now exists in the game. Off-sides now form part of the traps you must avoid and tackling someone from behind is liable to engender a free kick. Of course, knocking the hell out of someone with your most powerful shot doesn't count as a fault, which allows you to blow the keeper away should your player be the infamous Kojro Hyuga. Obviously, the inclusion of the off-side rule makes the game even more gripping as you have to be careful all the time.

Captain Tsubasa 5 is visually a step-down from its prequels, which is the result of the new features of the game. The presence of the real pitch and the incisive football part has chased away the abundant gorgeous anime-like animations found in the prequels. The players on the pitch all look strikingly alike and it is impossible to differentiate them although there are certain exceptions. Thankfully, key players can be easily spotted as their pictures appear below the pitch whenever they interfere with the action.

Some of the actions nevertheless enjoy stylish, albeit short cut-scenes. Special techniques come with their own mini-movies and will amaze you with their flashy colors. Again, some characters look particularly messed up even during these movies, but this doesn't really hamper the game. In any case, the short length of these ensures you will not get easily frustrated with the glossy effects.

A nice feature though is how the goalkeepers come out whenever they need to make a save. While it was merely a matter of two different pictures before, the keepers now enjoy a variety of throws and punches. Animations involving more than one player also look better as they benefit from a better resolution.

While the graphics vary from mediocre to splendid depending on the situation, the soundtrack is an exhilarating trip to a heightening atmosphere. Captain Tsubasa 5 has perhaps the most frenetic -at the risk of repeating myself- score ever found in a game. The game begins with an upbeat theme that urges you on until you move from one team to another. Every time you move on to control another team, another track plays and every single piece is a work of art.

The final theme itself -against the over-abusive Champione, the team's name speaking for itself- is true artistry as it superbly combines long strings with a decidedly upbeat mood. The result is an ongoing fiery orchestra that will have you strive for an honorable performance against the best team in the game. Time and dedication will then show that this is can be an almost impossible task as the team consists entirely of star players.

One of the flaws that repeated itself over and over again with each Captain Tsubasa title was its maddening linearity and the total absence of replay value. Those were even considered as curses since they were always criticized without ever being taken care of. Taking this into consideration, Tecmo's drastic changes are wise as these same changes have literally injected a new life into the game.

Captain Tsubasa 5 is packed with easter eggs that include hidden techniques, additional modes, secret characters and even separate dream matches. The hidden techniques alone make the game span over months as these are unlocked only by going through specific situations. Yes, you need to perform given actions at definite times to be able to use those moves. Without the aid of a walkthrough, you will need months to discover all these moves, as there are dozens of those, ranging from ultra-powerful shots to all kinds of crazy combinations.

Moreover, depending on how you played and which events you triggered, you can also access more matches that have absolutely nothing to do with the plot. Some of these are exceedingly hard and pose a real challenge, but successfully dealing with them unlocks more players which can be used in the All Stars mode. This new mode simply lets you play with an edit team consisting of the best players, be they Japanese French or German -yes, even the almighty Karl Heinz Schneider.

It is hard to resume Captain Tsubasa 5 in just a few lines. You see, the thrill here is not about the football part or even about the stylish techniques you can perform to shatter everything around you. It is more about the excitement of beating the opposing teams and knowing how to neutralize them. The excitement of going on to face stronger sides adds to the frantic -to the point of being totally sick- atmosphere of the game and is definitely not for the faint of heart.

This game also boasts about being a faithful port of the anime. Some matches do not involve Tsubasa as you are instead left to control the likes of Nitta or Jito. Players react differently depending on who the opponent is; Hyuga will actually stop playing well for a while, as fans of the anime may recall. Takeshi Sawada looks as cool and innocent as ever, but you'll learn to fear him as he suddenly appears out of nowhere to intercept a sure goal.

Don't let its kiddy looks fool you, Captain Tsubasa 5 is an extremely hard game and will require a lot of time. Some matches may require you to lose over and over again until you attain a proper level. Even then, the computer will resort to dubious strategies to destroy your dreams of ever moving forward. This is also where the title's appeal comes from. Once you have experienced a few minutes of it, you simply cannot help but be totally dragged in.

Moreover, the ''extra league'' itself is totally baffling as you are asked to control an amazing amount of teams. One second you are facing an insurmountable team and the next instant, you are playing as the same team and trashing the side you started with. Players you first dread join your team and those you learnt to rely on with leave for another line-up. Captain Tsubasa 5 allows you to get a glimpse of all the famous players of anime, from Napoleon to Misugi, without forgetting the charismatic Wakabayashi.

Add to this the quite nice graphics and stunning soundtrack, and Captain Tsubasa 5 claims and keeps the crown of the best title in the series. In addition, its overwhelming replay value places it head and shoulders above the older titles. Of course, one could still whine about the game being in Japanese, but that's not much of a problem as the options can be quickly learned and memorized. You'd still miss out the plot, but it is merely a port of the anime itself and watching the episodes again (or reading one of the numerous transcripts available on the net) will tell you all you need to know. It thus doesn't really matter.

What really matters is that this game is an unrelenting masterpiece.


Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 10/08/02, Updated 10/12/02


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