One of the most well known and sought after games ever to be released on the PlayStation platform is PES or Pro Evolution Soccer. In this article, we discuss the long detailed history of PES, some of the features that have varied from game to game, the highlights, and of course the flaws the game has been critiqued for over the years.
Pro Evolution Soccer was developed by Konami and first published under the title Goal Storm (Europe and North America) or World Soccer Winning Eleven (Japanese) in 1996. The game has since taken the soccer gaming world by storm.
Pro Evolution Soccer has it's roots in the video game soccer series International Superstar Soccer (North America) or Jikkyou World Soccer: Perfect Eleven (Japanese), which was first released during November 1994 in Japan for Super NES. The first North American release didn't hit the shelves until June in 1995. In Europe the game was known as Goal Storm from 1996 to 1997, then as ISS Pro in 1998, ISS Pro Evolution in 1999, ISS Pro Evolution 2 in 2001 and finally Pro Evolution Soccer in late 2001. Once Europe made the switch to the Pro Evolution Soccer title in 2001, North America chose to be different, calling the series World Soccer: Winning Eleven until 2007 when the game was also renamed to Pro Evolution Soccer. To this day, Japan and Asia know the game as World Soccer: Winning Eleven.
PES has been updated and refined every year to increase playability, realism and gamer enjoyment with the most recent release coming to Xbox One and PlayStation 4 in September 2016.
The games newest versions are released yearly around late September under two differing titles. In Asia it is known as World Soccer: Winning Eleven and as Pro Evolution Soccer throughout North America, Europe and Indonesia. The Japanese version of the game is localized and includes local leagues. Historically, PES has lacked the licensing permits for teams and player names, most likely because EA sports purchase exclusive rights for their FIFA soccer game series. In 2008, all that changed and PES began introducing licensed content and featured Christiano Ronaldo as the face of the game franchise. Ronaldo appears on the game cover in 2008, 2012 and 2013. Pro Evolution Soccer has been released in 19 languages and has been available for purchase throughout 62 countries since December of 2011. Since 2012, the franchise has worldwide sales exceeding 81.65 million copies. It is currently ranked as one of the worlds best selling video games. The game has achieved cult status amongst the gaming community and many gamers fondly remember Konami's fictitious player names such as Batustita (Gabriel Batistuta), Von Mistelroum (Ruud Van Nistelrooy) or Roberto Larcos (Roberto Carlos).
Goal Storm or World Soccer: Winning Eleven in Japan was the beginning of the PES we know and love today. Going back to play the game now it's hard to view it as the root of today's popular game as the gameplay has changed so much. The only thing that sticks out as genuinely PES is the hilarious commentary. The series didn't take on the role of "soccer simulator" until a new project director, Shingo "Seabass" Takatsuka took over the helm. Mr. Takatsuka got his nickname due to his love of fishing for sea bass.
With "Seabass" calling the shots, Goal Storm transitioned into ISS Pro and carved out it's place as the top soccer game for the PlayStation console. Previously the games centered around scoring goals, and could no way be confused with a sports sim. The newer versions of the game put an end to that and began to focus on playing "real soccer" with emphasis on build-up play, off the ball runs and best of all - defence.
From ISS Pro onwards, the game involves the same fundamental gameplay we are used to today. Controller setup is almost identical and gameplay pacing is almost perfect, creating the opportunity for intricate passing plays and patient build-ups. In-game strategies exist in the form of 9 different in game tactics tweaks, such as a 'zone press' when out of ball possession and 'overlap' which send fullbacks scurrying to overlap wingers in the offensive zone.
With each new release of the game, Konami tried to get the commentary formula right. The commentary was just awful with the game analysis being described as "spotty" at best. A fond memory of the legendary ISS Pro commentary is hearing the line "a great game, it's just a shame someone had to lose", after a game ended in a draw.
The third game released for PlayStation 1 included the awesome addition of the "Master League" which was a division featuring 16 teams. In "Master League" gamers managed a team made up of all fictional players that competed to earn currency for victories. The main goal of gamers was to earn currency and then buy "real world" players to fill other teams with. The fabled "Master League" laid the groundwork for soccer games of the future, as can be seen in FIFA Ultimate Team.
Over subsequent iterations of PES, the Master League grew and became more refined. There were more teams added, more divisions and cup competitions, player salaries arrived as did an emphasis on youth development. Even as gamers saved up enough currency to buy real life players for their sides, many had trouble letting go of the nostalgia they felt for the games made-up players. 2012 was the first year that PES didn't include the fictitious players in the rosters, much to the dismay of the games fan base. Gamers and become used to these players attributes and found it difficult to replace their "genius" on the pitch.
The peak years of PES began in 2002, when the release of the game included a new aspect where players could control the ball and turn in a single motion. They were also given unique animations such as goal celebrations or run ups to free kicks. Robbie Keane and his somersault goal celebration come to mind. The computer AI also became much more refined and human-like, prompting some gamers to only play in single player mode for fun. Even the commentary had improved by leaps and bounds. The game was finally becoming what everyone involved had always known it could be.
The improvements kept on coming from lofted through-balls in PES 3 as well as the addition of a Champions League Tournament. PES 4 in-game players began to retire as they aged and referees were now seen in amongst the game on the pitch. The refinements continued with the release of PES 5 as opposition tactics were improved and massive distance shooting buffs were added. There was nothing more glorious than scoring a screamer from 35 yards out. In PES 6 the physical nature of soccer really came to the forefront as did the ability to keep the game flowing with quick free kicks. The changes over the years arrived one after another, none truly standing out, but each working with the other to build a more complex and real feeling gameplay. The game had progressed to the point where actual footballers were playing in team wide competitions within their clubs.
An interesting development, or "tactic" as dubbed by some, was the release of the Japanese equivalent (Winning Eleven) released months before the PAL version. This allowed for testing time and patching capabilities to be developed so that when the game finally hit North American and European shores it was already at a higher level than it would have otherwise been.
Takatsuka was prideful about this process and stated that gamer comments about in game improvements were taken to heart and implemented to make the games better and more realistic.
The love for PES was almost unanimous outside of the EA Sports fan clubs, even though Konami still wasn't able to attain licenses for player names and likenesses. This was one fact that was always brought up by FIFA players in order to downplay the success of the PES franchise. In my opinion the fictitious but "oh so similar" player names found in PES were rather comical and had their own charms.
All of this changed in 2001 when the X-Port was released by Datel, enabling PS2 save data to be transferred to PC and back again. This allowed dedicated players to create custom option files that contained corrected player and team names with accurate kit colours and up to date transfer data. It became a tradition to "die hards" that would correct the in game data with every PES release. Even Konami got into it and would include editing aids such as shirt designers, number fonts and player faces, allowing gamers to keep their games up to date with occurrences in the real world of soccer.
The game had developed such a following that even professional footballers were coming out and proclaiming their love for PES. This is not a big deal nowadays where most players are open about playing either FIFA or PES, but back in 1990 this was quite something.
After the release of PES 6, things changed. Instead of continuing the numerical version numbers the game would now be identified by the year. This name change has become synonymous with the downturn of fortunes for PES. In PES 2008, released for PlayStation 3, the game encountered many troubles. Gameplay was not smooth, being prone to stuttering and slow reaction times from the players. Online play was also a complete disaster due to server issues and unrefined gameplay which allowed gamers to quit games without any form of penalty. Even the much celebrated customization options were downgraded amid rumours that FIFA was waiting in the wings to take legal action against Konami. Even Takatsuka went public, admitting that the game was "so far from what we wanted".
On the business side of things Konami also took another devastating blow. In 2007, EA Sports appointed David Rutter (former Championship side manager) to promote FIFA on PS3 and Xbox 360. FIFA had already been gathering steam as their game play engines were getting better and better. FIFA featured "true ball physics" and "360 degree running" that aided in promoting the game as a true soccer simulator. Konami and PES faithful complained that EA had stolen the intellectual property of the PES games and implemented it in FIFA but these accusations were not provable and ended with many PES fans jumping ship to begin endorsing EA Sports FIFA. Even if it isn't proven, it is undeniable that PES laid the groundwork for soccer simulation (and many other sport sims too).
In 2013 Konami restructured the studio and Takatsuka was relieved of his duties. The reason given was that he had become frustrated with figuring out how to take the game forward and was no longer on the cutting edge of the technological advancement in video games. After the shake-up the PES franchise regained some of it's previous stability. A return to the basics of the game proved a masterstroke as fans came flocking back. A new game engine named the "Fox Engine", developed by Hideo Kojima, saw PES return to the form of it's glory days in the 2000's.
The X-Port is long obsolete but the editing options and online community for PES are alive and strong. Even in the 2017 release of PES there are still licensing issues that rear their ugly heads. For example, there is no German Bundesliga in the game, which is a real head scratcher to some, but the PES faithful rather like it this way. (They can create custom file versions that bring the league, teams and players into the game regardless.)
Today there is no doubt that EA Sports FIFA is the bigger, more widely accepted game but PES fans will still argue that the Konami soccer sim is the superior game to play. Either way, the future of PES looks secure and fans are anticipating great things from the franchise in the years to come.