Review: Home Run High24 May 2017 0
Review: Home Run High
Released 01 May 2017
Home Run High represents veteran developer Kairosoft's latest management sim. That genre description alone isn't exactly useful because of how prominent and prolific simulation games have become. From the highly detailed realism of Kerbal Space Program and Prison Architect to the more fantastical takes offered by Goat Simulator or SimAnt, there are enough niches and themes for days. Suffice to say, Home Run High has quite a bit of JRPG-style grind and a little less of its charm. It has captured and reduced the struggles of school and sport to a bite-sized simplistic game. The more I played, the more I liked it, but the segments of gameplay devoted to baseball are ultimately more about watching the game happen than making your team win.
Most of the game is spent overlooking the school grounds, where your students study, train and interact with the sundry buildings and objects you can build on-campus. The school environment becomes home base for scheduling monthly matches, tailoring your team's practice and training drills, shuffling around their positions and batting order, recruiting and swapping out new members for old ones, as well as simply keeping track of player stats and growth. The school is also where students learn, incidentally, and this fact is punctiliously acknowledged in-game by the end-of-term tests, which come three times a year. Your athletes need to be little scholars, too, if they hope to keep competing. The trade-off between training and studying sounds novel, but is controlled by a single slider and as far as I can tell, never actually results in any crises.
Players have stats for slugging and pitching, represented by red and blue icons respectively, as well as stats for HP (Stamina) and running speed. A generalist approach to team growth works up to a point, after which you really need to consider creating a star pitcher or standout shortstop. To this end, you can offer players one-time-use items to hasten their stat growth, or drill them in groups of three.
In addition to managing team stats, the player is also tasked with running the school successfully by managing its finances and resources, "Sport", "Fun", "Study" and "Nature". Money is spent on better facilities and objects, which replenish stamina or increase smarts while slowly generating funds and additional items. Enhancing the school's grounds eventually paves the way for a stronger team, whose wins will earn fame, fans and increased funding. Repeat ad nauseam.
The actual matches themselves showcase the game's weaknesses. Having been carefully groomed, your team will play autonomously with no chance for further decisions in the heat of moment aside from a handful of temporary stat boosts from the crowd's cheering. The matches take only a fraction of the time compared to the management aspects of the game, yet during them you are forced to become essentially a passive observer. I could bear this clockwork gameplay, maybe, and I could bear the black-box system the game uses to determine outcomes, but taken together they make for a bizzare simulation of baseball. Perhaps the most generous thing I could say of Home Run High is that is an acquired taste, and this faint praise would not exactly be as contempuous as the euphemism might suggest. My critique is bitter because I was cheering for the game to work, for its smorgasboard of options to become something coherent if not grand.
The game is not strategic or even tactical; the game presents you with the clear goal of building the best team you can, and the path to accomplishing this is pretty obvious. The grind and repetition in JRPGs works because its intricacies eventually become more transparent and let the player theorycraft, thereby wresting back some control from randomness and choosing from diverse builds. At Home Run High, I sometimes feel like I might as well be playing a Cookie Clicker clone, feeling fulfilled just because I've invested an absurd amount of time so far.
This is far from a bloodless experience; those clicker games are addicting, all right, and no joke. But I felt like the victim of a bait-and-switch, and my attitude further soured when I learned that my team's players would be graduating after only three years, just as they were about to get really good. Yes, it is undeniably true my school was growing larger and more impressive. Yes, I could phase in new blood and train them, thanks to my advanced facilities, more effectively in less time to keep making a decent showing. But I no longer felt that a bigger crowd of cheering fans or unlocking that next level of building was worthwhile. An exception to this would be the Summer and Fall tournament series, which while functionally identical to other matches are much harder and require qualification before entry. Still, endgame content should offer more than just increased difficulty. And because the game is seasonal, it isn't really engdame at all, but a kind of endless march in a cheerful setting than nonetheless resembled purgatory.
Sometimes punishing setbacks like losing half my team can create and sustain my interest: while clawing my way though Darkest Dungeon's dire challenges, for example. In Home Run High, it just feels like drudgery, like being condemned to attend high school over and over with only a slight power to change or even influence the outcome. Never mind the fact you can name your team, or that each member has personality traits and favorite foods which have piddling in-game consequences. The game showcases much of baseball and presents a dizzying amount of numbers to manipulate, but forgets to give its players the chance to swing the bat themselves.