Passions: Pro Evolution Soccer, the greatest football game of all time

One Japanese firm’s vision of the beautiful game is thriving thanks to fans

For the best part of the last 30 years, there were two main competitors in the area of video game football. In one corner stood FIFA, the behemoth with the vast budget, official licences, and slick presentation. In the other was Pro Evolution Soccer, which featured clunky menus, made-up players, and commentary that veered between the plodding and the absurd. But Pro Evo, the brainchild of a team of designers in Tokyo, had the all-important ingredient: magic.

At a time when gaming’s representation of the sport focused on outlandish pace, breathless action, and endless trickery, the Japanese game ploughed its own furrow, marrying deep mechanics to fluid animation that captured not just the look of the game, but the feel of it. It rewarded patience and intuition, instead of theatrical bicycle kicks and 40 yard volleys.

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Two decades have passed since its heyday, with FIFA’s commercial might trampling all in its path, but the series retained an adoring fanbase. Until recently, at least. Three years ago, the game’s publishers, Konami, hinted at a beautiful future, releasing a trailer for the first instalment of the franchise for the latest home consoles. It featured a rendered version of Lionel Messi and set the community abuzz. A year later, however, came devastating news. Konami shelved the plans to pursue a free-to-play model that could be booted up on mobile phones, with the company prioritising in-game microtransactions instead of the gameplay itself.

Was it a smart move? The bean counters in Japan no doubt think so. The game has been downloaded more than 700 million times, helping to contribute to Konami’s surging revenue and profits. Ask the Pro Evo purists, however, and there remains anger and a sense of betrayal. As any football fan well knows, loyalty and nostalgia wield immense power. If they are treated with contempt, the backlash is immense.

Thankfully, such emotions have been channelled into enterprising solutions. A handful of tech-savvy fans of the game have embarked on their own experimental projects to keep Pro Evo - or at least, an iteration of it - alive and kicking. One such title, Football Life, is arguably the best of the lot, having been driven forward by Fadi, a Palestinian-Jordanian designer. With the help of other so-called modders, the game is constantly updated and refined, and it has attracted a small but growing fanbase. Pro Evo is dead. Long live Pro Evo.

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