(Please note that some sections of this will be pretty similar to my impressions of the Japanese version, I didn't think it was necessary to rewrite some things)
Well, there's been some delay and the World Cup has come and gone, but International Superstar Soccer 98 is here. And Konami hasn't dropped the ball with this one.
I immediately went into a game to see what was different. The player graphics are slightly refined, nothing major, but the engine has obviously been optimised because now, in addition to the 22 players, there is a ref and two linesmen (sorry, "referee's assistants"). You can actually see the officials blowing their whistles or raising their flags. There is also less slowdown in this one than the Japanese version. The biggest change in graphics is that the players are now realistically sized. What I mean is that instead of all the players being one size, now players like Romario are small and some defenders like Maldini are HUGE! The animations have been completely redone, and look much better than before. It looks as if Konami have added quite a few new ones too, because there is a greater variety than before.
The US version also has play-by-play commentary now by Tony Gubba, a BBC commentator. Gubba's commentary is quite good. He says a wide variety of things and so far there's only one phrase that he says repeatedly, and that's "He's heading the ball on". Also, a minor note here is that although Gubba is in both the N64 and PlayStation, his commentary sound sbetter on the N64. He doesn't say the player names like the Japanese commentator does either, instead he says the player number. One problem with the commentary though is the quality of the sound. His voice sounds muffled and almost like you're listening to Gubba on the radio. Although this might have been nice if Konami used a radio commentator like Alan Greene, they didn't, and it sounds... well, weird.
The AI in this game has been greatly improved. Although the goalies are still somewhat easy to beat, instead of letting in silly shots now it's more "realistic" as to what beats them. There is one particular curling shot that is the exception though, and leaves the keepers looking rather stupid. What's nice is how the keepers are more balanced. In the original J-League game, almost all long-range shots went in. In ISS64, only close shots go in. Now, in ISS98, you can score from far out, but rarely--just like real life. The opposing team in the US version also seems to be more adept at attacking. Whereas in the Japanese version I could hold teams to having one shot on goal at the most, the US version has teams charging upfield more than my defence would like. They also play intricate passing movements and like to cross a lot (which scares my defence probably more than Liverpool's). I did see one amazing little thing though: The goalkeeper parried a shot, and it landed right on the touchline. The player didn't touch it because he may put it out, and shielded the ball from the opposition for the 10 seconds that it took the keeper to come back and smother the ball. Amazing stuff. Your team also is rather intelligent, and they make some excellent runs off the ball. They've also tried to reduce the effectiveness of the through-ball by having your players run earlier and straying offside, which balances it out a bit.
There are a lot more moves in this one. By the way, the manual is slightly better than last year's, but it's still nothing great. I would advise Konami to look at the Japanese manual, which had screenshots of the players executing the moves the manual describes, and overall looks better. There are some nice additions, like chesting and controlling the ball, or a lobbed through ball, as well as better control for swerving the ball (hold Z or L and the direction now).
There is a new system for free kicks and corners. Now, in addition to a line on the ground there is also a line pointing upwards, to indicate the height. I misunderstood this upwards arrow at first. I thought that like the FIFA series, the ball follows that arrow exactly, but that arrow is actually something else. That arrow is actually meant to signify the "gradient" (for lack of a better term) of the ball, or the steepness of it's flight. It's hard to describe, but when you understand it, it is quite easy to use and brilliant for controlling free kicks.
There are also a number of little touches that make the game even better. For example, now you can select a captain and he will wear an armband to indicate this. And the team management has been revamped and is amazingly detailed. You can man-mark, move men around, define the areas the defenders should be in.... you name it, it's got it. Also, like World Cup 98, the new Tricolore ball in is the game. Of course, each player is detailed to look exactly like their real-life counterparts, but they also match their stats. For example, excellent dribblers of the ball like Ibrahim Ba or Denilson have much greater control of the football than normal players, and can turn faster than others--making them hard to tackle. Also, aside from each player being right-footed or left-footed (or ambidextrous), each player also has some "special skills". Christian Vieri for example is especially good at Heading, and Paolo Maldini is good at Sliding (ie slide tackling). For the most part they are extremely accurate (oddly Michael Owen is not rated in dribbling...), and if you don't understand any you can choose an option which will explain it fully. Another great addition is that of "roles". Your players aren't just divided into goalkeepers, defenders, midfielders and attackers anymore. You can assign them a more precise role now, like Defensive Midfielder, Wing Back, Striker, Winger or Sweeper. Better yet, the game will change the overall rating of the player according to the position you put him in. For example, if you chose Steve McManaman and put him as Sweeper, his rating will drop because he is an attacking midfielder and therefore won't make a good defensive player.
So far, the only problems I've encountered are the unbeatable curling shot and the fact that the game CRASHED ON ME once. I don't know what happened, but everything on the screen disappeared except the background when I tried to fool around with the formations. I can't repeat the problem so far and it hasn't damaged my Controller Pak, so it might not be that bad. But still... it's been a while since a game crashed on me without the "help" of a GameShark...
I am totally satisfied with ISS98. Although some people may think that they didn't add as much as they ought to, I don't think there was that many improvements needed to begin with. However, is it worth your money if you have ISS64? Well, that depends. If you are a big fan of football like me, I'm sure you will appreciate the changes. However, if you didn't like ISS64, there hasn't been any drastic changes so don't expect this to change your opinion. Also, if you are tight on money, are not a big football fan, or don't play ISS64 that much, ISS98 probably isn't worth the money. Although I think it is an amazing game, if you already have ISS64 I can't recommend using money to buy this that you could use to get Zelda or any of the other big holiday games. It is an incredible game though.