Review | Captain Tsubasa: Rise of New Champions
It’s not often that you’ll catch me playing sports games. I don’t have a problem admitting that games like Madden NFL and NBA 2K are just not my cup of tea. While I respect their place in this world, I would much rather go outside and play the sport. Now, that isn’t to say I don’t like any sports games. A game where the ball can catch fire or a tackle can be devastating, that’s the kind of sports game for me. For a sports game to be fun to me, it has to let go of reality and just embrace the fact that it’s a game. That’s exactly the kind of game that Captain Tsubasa: Rise of New Champions is. While I’m not a follower of the franchise, I still had some fun with this arcade football game.
Captain Tsubasa: Rise of New Champions focuses on the titular character, Tsubasa Ozora, as he rises to athletic stardom. Tsubasa is a gifted middle school student that shows a lot of promise in football (soccer), catching the eyes of many scouts. In Episode: Tsubasa, players will experience the story of Tsubasa’s final year at Nankatsu Middle School. With his team being two-time champions of their football league, they aim to close out strong with a third championship. Of course, the other teams don’t want to make it easy for Nankatsu, challenging them every step of the way. The story is filled with fun character moments and plenty of drama, complete with Japanese voice acting seemingly from the newest anime series.
While Tsubasa may be the star for a brief moment, the real bulk of the story comes from Episode: New Hero. Instead of focusing on Tsubasa, the player will create their own character and choose one of three schools to attend. Once you rise through the Japanese league and obtain victory, you’ll take part in the Junior Youth World Challenge in America. This is where the game shifts gears, where the boys must now become men and take on the big leagues. Episode: New Hero adds more RPG elements and even more character moments, offering significantly more content than Episode: Tsubasa. It’ll even offer multiple story paths.
As your custom character plays games, they’ll improve their stats and earn new abilities by developing bonds with other characters. These bonds will form by utilizing certain dialogue choices and even specific appeal missions in games. While it’s likely great for fans of the series, this story does overwhelm you with a ton of cutscenes. After each game, you’ll suddenly find yourself watching multiple scenarios to earn player points and abilities. After leveling up my bonds with several players early on, I wound up just skipping through multiple cutscenes simply to get to the next game. As mentioned before, fans of the franchise may enjoy all the extra character moments. Otherwise, it really just destroys the pacing of the story.
As far as sports stories go, Captain Tsubasa: Rise of New Champions has plenty of heart and epic showdowns. Of course, it’s the gameplay that really matters in a game such as this one. When playing in actual football games, the game feels similar to something like Super Mario Strikers. You’ll take control of multiple players on your team as you switch between offense and defense. The gameplay has a really interesting pace, mostly due to the brutal tackles and epic cinematic abilities. Every now and then, the game will briefly interrupt for a short cutscene of a special shot, tackle, combo move, and more. Despite the occasional interruption, the football segments maintain a good length made up of two halves.
The gameplay offers a lot of depth when it comes to the maneuvers you can pull off. When on offense, you’ll be able to dribble the ball regularly or you’ll be able to use stamina to dribble faster. When meeting a member of the opposing team, you can try to get around them with the press of a button, but timing is key. Press the button too early and you’ll leave yourself wide open for a tackle. If you’re successful and you manage to avoid two players, you’ll get a special bonus to your stamina. When it comes to passing, you’ll also have several options to strategically outfox your opponents. You can even pass into a combo with a teammate, allowing them to take a shot with charged up stamina.
While dribbling and passing are key elements to the game, it’s really all about the special shots. Several characters will have these really cool shots that can evoke the power of tigers, eagles, and more. While some characters have less flashy shots, it really gives the game a certain fun energy. It’s pretty satisfying to pull off one of these shots to get a game winning goal. Even better to have it blocked by the goalie, only for the impact to be so powerful that they fly into the goal. Honestly, it’s some of these interactions that add an epic flair of presentation to the game. How certain characters react to these abilities make it feel like the anime is coming to life in your hands.
Of course, on the defense, there’s a few cool moments too. Sometimes it could be during a powerful tackle with the force of a bus. Other times it could be taking the force of an opposing shot right to the chest. Then you’ll have the weird duels where two players clash and have to button mash to take control of the ball. These duels don’t happen often, but it does feel reminiscent of clashes in other anime games (Dragon Ball Z comes to mind). The outcome of these duels can sometimes lead to a shot towards the goal, while others can be more defensive. Overall, Captain Tsubasa: Rise of New Champions brings a certain level of energy to the game that makes it stand out.
Looking at the presentation of the game, it’s pretty impressive when considering the amount of story content. Having a lot of fully voiced cutscenes and some inspirational music really helps too. Graphically, the game takes an expected cel-shaded approach to look similar to the anime. With that in mind, it does seem to take more style cues from the manga. Sadly, there isn’t a lot of variety in the actual venues, ultimately looking pretty similar. Another issue comes in the performance, which oddly has some framerate loss, even on a high performing system. This happens particularly during the beginning of each game when all the players walk out onto the field. Luckily, the rest of the game runs smooth, which is the most important part.
Playing the game will earn points that can be spent in a special shop in the game. There aren’t any microtransactions, so nothing to worry about here. These points allow you to purchase player packs to help unlock more bonds for your custom character. The more character bond options, the more skills you’ll ultimately be able to learn. You’ll also earn several training items, each being a consumable that players can use before each match in Episode: New Hero. It feels somewhat like a simulation of the ultimate team modes in several EA sports games. As long as it doesn’t involve real money, I don’t see any issues with it.
Playing online also seems to have little issue. Matchmaking is quick and seamless, and you’ll take your custom team online in no time. The online netcode seems pretty solid, performing with virtually no lag and playing just like an offline game. Winning matches helps to build your rank points and overall raise the skill level for your team. If you finish Episode: New Hero, you can even use your own custom player. I can definitely see fans of football video games with a competitive personality spending tons of time online.
As far as anime games go, Captain Tsubasa: Rise of New Champions definitely delivers a great sense of style. While there are some shortcomings, it makes up for them with epic gameplay moments and fun arcade football. Even if it might be too over-the-top for fans of games like FIFA, it will likely be a fun time for fans of the franchise. Unfortunately, that’s a background that I lack, so saying fans will likely enjoy it might be an overstatement. Either way, I had a lot of fun with my time in the game, and was caught by surprise with the amount of content. If you’re a football video game fan and want to spice things up, this might be worth a shot. If you just so happen to be a fan of the Captain Tsubasa franchise, then you may need the game even more.
Final Score: 7.5 out of 10