The FIFA series have always been one of the games which can sit in the computer hard disk for a long time (at least, all season long) and you don’t tire of playing these silly little offerings that comes out on an annual basis.
I think that FIFA 97 really made it big in Malaysia when EA Sports first introduced the Malaysian league. Contrary to popular belief, we do support our national football team and we do give two hoots about the great Selangor or Johor (or whatever) teams of the past when the foreigners were here to ply their trade with names such as Abbas Saad, Alistair Edwards, Mehmet Durakovic and many more (including one Dutchman called Marlon van der Sander who turned out for Terengganu, if I recalled aright).
So, imagine the excitement when you could actually control Azman Adnan or Rusdi Suparman & Co in a full-fledged football game and get them to rub shoulders with the likes of Bayern Munich or Liverpool FC (in the virtual world). 3D graphics were also gaining ascendancy back then and games were beginning to look sharper and more colourful unlike the grainy 16-bit graphics or the early 32-bit systems back in the mid 1990s.
With the introduction of FIFA 98 with its previously unmatched scale of teams and players all in one compact disc, complete with national team call-ups and qualification for the FIFA World Cup 1998, and if you were both a football and video game fan – you could forget about your studies, your girlfriend, your spouse or your work. Best of all, the gameplay for these FIFA games were fluid, largely responsive and challenging to a degree. There was no better football sim back then – not even the acutely difficult (where AI goalkeepers zealously guard their posts and make point-blank saves which would make Gordon Banks real proud) but strangely entertaining Actua Soccer could hold a candle to the FIFA series.
That FIFA 99 was released soon after World Cup 1998 in France was opportune – that tournament was also one of the better World Cups in recent memory, I think as the ‘fat’ Ronaldo, Michael Owen, Dennis Bergkamp, Claudio Lopez, Zinedine Zidane, Brian Laudrup, Roberto Baggio all had a World Cup to savour. Norway also defeated a strong Brazil team; the draw-happy Austrians were finally halted at the final game against Italy but continued their curious streak of scoring in all three games only during the injury-time (but not forgetting the Belgians who drew all of their games and ended up not qualifying for the next round); the Dutch continued their penalty curse with Ronald de Boer and Philip Cocu both missing their respective spotkicks during the semifinal match with Brazil (who converted all of theirs); Takeshi Okada’s Japan finished dead last in their Group H but with respectable results of single-goal deficits. This became significant as FIFA 99 faithfully reproduced all the World Cup 1998 squads (though, with questionable individual player stats) for another football fest.
From the simple menu above, you could start an exhibition match right away, lock horns with an opponent in golden goal and more. However, the emphasis on club football is also apparent here – with the ‘European Dream League’ featuring Europe’s most glittering clubs (but with no PSV Eindhoven and Ajax Amsterdam).
The following are the screenshots from the game’s various menus-
The playable leagues are quite a handful as well.
What I liked best about FIFA 99 over FIFA 98 is not only the in-game graphics which saw a major overhaul from the players and stadia alike, but also the clean and unpretentious interface.
The following pics are from the in-game screenshots-
(Fabian Wilnis was still at De Graafschap Doetinchem whereas Ruud van Nistelrooy was at PSV Eindhoven in 1999!)
(Ruud van Nistelrooy scoring scorcher (offscreen), I recalled that I ran all the way near the touchline where you can see the Skint advertising boards and just tap the shoot button. Of course, the keeper was caught off his perch.)
(Gilles de Bilde of Belgium bowing to a crowd of garbage-looking spectators after scoring a goal against SC Heerenveeen)
(De Klassieker – Ajax Amsterdam against Feyenoord. After this FIFA 99, it seems that EA Sports has made heading the ball in favour of the AI so much that I’ve given up challenging for high balls ever since)
(PSV players ready to pounce upon the ball the instant after kickoff)
(Can’t remember what the goal was from – only remembered that it was from Denmark against Bulgaria)
(Denmark scores another goal)
(Usually, the goalkeepers in FIFA 99 are very adept at saving these shots. Notice the last gasp tackle from player no. 13…)
(i) The controls are simple enough – directional keys aided by the pass, shoot or lob action buttons. There are times when the game isn’t terribly responsive to your actions but these are rare.
(ii) The difficulty settings are the standard three – amateur, professional and world class.
(iii) You may customize your formation(s), strategy and player rosters before the game commences in the league or competition. Otherwise, you’d have to manually adjust these settings yourself
(i) Attacking – always use a very high attacking formation. I favoured the 4-2-4 or the 4-3-3 formations a lot. The 4-2-4 system is quite sound as the defense is not compromised and the midfielders would not be choked in midfield. Besides, your two wingers would be able to track back a lot and function as midfielders, just in case. I’ve played with five forwards before with Chelsea and came away with a mighty big scoreline in my favour. Of course, the back line was superbly marshalled by Marcel Desailly and Franck Leboeuf. In any case, your two middle forwards should have both high pace and acceleration (above ‘11’) to have great scoring chances and at least ‘12’ and above in shot accuracy and shot power to score goals. Your wingers are often thwarted by the opposing defenders and often lacked the staying power to run the full length of the pitch to goal, so I’d just keep them there to supply crosses and such.
(Gabriel Batistuta and Claudio Lopez combining speed with attacking flair to score Argentina’s goals against a resilient Yugoslavia side.)
Of course, there is also the possibility that using a regular formation may result in a glut of goals but I’d always set the strategy to all out attack. Here Japan’s Shoji Jo scores his team’s third goal playing alongside another striker and backed up by a three-man midfield-
(ii) Defending – Tackling oncoming attackers are quite easy and I’d favour the soft tackle rather than the sliding tackle which, if executed wrongly, could end up getting that player dismissed. Still, your defenders would have to be blessed with pace as well to keep up with the attackers. Good heading attributes are also a must for defending against corners and freekicks.
(iii) Scoring – The easiest way is to outpace the enemy defenders. You could also try to nutmeg them or leap over their tackles. Once you have gone past the D-area and just into the penalty box, you may want to shoot. Another trick is that during corners, just aim high and into the side where the goalmouth is and during a mad scramble, one of your guys could just score from nowhere. Be prepared to soft tackle to win the ball and shoot. It doesn’t work all the time but it’s rather easy to pull off.
(Austria’s Andreas Herzog evading a challenge from a Norway player)
(iv) Subbing the slower guys for faster ones – If you are controlling a team full of fast players, then this would not be a problem. However, with regard to an average to above average team, regardless of the player’s default playing position, always try to have the faster players operating on the flanks rather than in the middle in midfield but always have the faster players in the centre for forwards to push for goals. For instance, in the chart below, Austrian players Roman Maehlich and Harald Cerny should be playing in the left midfield in place of Andreas Heraf and/or Markus Schopp. The rest of Austria’s subs are crap. I’ve no idea what Maehlich’s and Cerny’s original positions were and whether it is correctly represented in FIFA 99 (which I suspect that it doesn’t) – but I’d always put the faster players, just in case a goalscoring opportunity comes along.
FIFA 99 may be an old 90s decade game and lacked many features which are only implemented in later editions of the series, such as unlocking rewards which may not help in the staying power. Besides, many of the players in the game have since retired and the current crop of gamers may have difficulty trying to relate to them.
There are also many inaccuracies with the player’s stats and playing positions – such as that for Holland. I did not know that Jaap Stam was a leftback before and clearly Arthur Numan should be the first choice in that position. Giving Numan an ‘8’ for speed is also blasphemous. Did these people at EA Sports do their research and homework? Marc Overmars is a left winger, Ronald de Boer enjoys playing right midfield. Edgar Davids is a central midfielder, not a right midfielder. Geez…
For those who grew up with football in the late 90s, this game is a blast – for those who were still suckling milk at the time of this game being conceived, it would be very hard to finish even one match. This game has aged badly, but still serves up a decent game of football from time to time.