PN Review: Inazuma Eleven
If there is one thing in life I enjoy the most, it has to be sitting down on a comfy chair with a good rpg to pass the time. So when Level-5’s Inazuma Eleven made its debut on the 3ds eShop, I was curious to check it out. Originally released on the Nintendo DS in Japan, Inazuma Eleven is a sports rpg that uniquely blends the exploration and leveling systems of traditional rpgs with the fast paced action of soccer. It’s a unique take on the rpg genre, with middle school kids taking the place of warriors and special technique shots in favor of casting spells. While soccer may seem like an odd thing to revolve an rpg around, the talented folks at Level-5 found a way to capture the spirit of rpg combat by turning a simple sport into an all out battle.
Of course, like any good sports tale, Inazuma Eleven is an underdog story at its core. The game follows the transformation of the Raimon Middle School Soccer Club as they go from a barely function soccer team into a competitive force to be reckoned with. You play as the soccer obsessed goalkeeper and captain of the team, Mark Evans. Faced with the threat of shutting down the school’s soccer club, Mark must use the skills in a secret soccer technique notebook left to him by his grandfather, so he whip his teammates into shape in order to keep the soccer club and his dreams of winning the Soccer Frontier Internationals alive. While the story may seem simple, the game does touch on some darker issues some middle schooler’s may face such as love, loss, and the feeling of inadequacy. It adds much needed spice to the story, and makes the characters far more likeable and interesting. Add some great voice acting and anime style cut scenes, and you have a story worth investing your time in.
Although the game may have originally been released on the DS, the 3DS re-release features enhanced graphics that look much cleaner and sharper than before. The bright colors and excellent music also make Raimon Middle School and the surrounding areas very enjoyable to explore. While not all the in game text is paired with voice acting, the parts that include it are very well done. While the soccer games are played in a 2D top-down perspective, if your player clashes with someone on the opposite team, the game will zoom in and show them in nicely rendered 3D as they duke it out over possession of the ball. It may seem simple, but it really adds variety and it meshes well with the game’s 2D visuals. Overall, the game has a crisp and colorful design that pairs well with the excellently animated cut scenes.
While the game may be crisp and beautiful, the gameplay is where things get a little bit muddy. There are two types of gameplay to Inazuma Eleven, the first, similar to any standard rpg, lets you guide Mark and a few of his teammates as you explore areas on your map, find treasure, and speak to plenty of people at the school and in the city. As you explore an area, you may be challenged by your peers to short 4 vs 4 soccer matches where the object may be to score the first goal or simply gain control of the ball. These serve as the game’s random encounters, and will help you level up your characters. While initially they are needed to strengthen your wimpy team, as the game progresses they become a nuisance as conserving your team’s energy for a big game becomes a greater priority than level grinding. Thankfully, the game’s random encounter rate isn’t very high, so it doesn’t become a huge frustration.
The second part of the gameplay takes place in the soccer matches against rival teams. These are full on soccer games that utilize all of your teammates in an effort to beat the competition. All of the action during the soccer segments (Whether it’s a 4 vs 4 or a rival school match) is controlled with the stylus, and you’ll be drawing paths for your players to follow, tapping to pass the ball and give your players a boost of speed, and managing your player’s positions on the field. While the touchscreen controls are very responsive and easy to pick up, the A.I. of your computer-controlled players is very unhelpful. Many times during a match, I would see my teammates standing still, oblivious to the world around them as the rival team would zoom by, laughing in my face.
The game really forces you to actively control many characters at the same time, and when the ball is flying around the field at a breakneck pace, it can be a little overwhelming. Manual positioning of your players during halftime is critical as well, because the game likes to automatically clump them together resulting in poor field coverage. Each of your teammates have several stats that dictate what skill set they excel in, (shooting, passing, dodging, etc.) and an elemental affinity that gives them power over one elemental type and weakness to another in a rock, paper, scissors like mechanic.
When one of your teammates clashes with someone on the opposing team, the game freezes and all players involved will have their stats displayed on the top screen so you can decide whether to dodge, charge, slide tackle, fake out, or use a special technique depending on whether you are on offensive or defensive with the ball. After you have made your decision, the game plays out a short cut scene of the action and you see whether you were successful or not. These decisions are made very quickly, and they don’t slow down the gameplay at all. Using special techniques will almost always net you the desired results, but they will cost you some of your player’s TP, or technical points, so they must be used sparingly. On the other hand, as your teammates run across the field will eat up their Fitness Points, known as FP. Use a certain teammate too much and their FP will drain, resulting in a team member who is tired and unable to play effectively. The gameplay is fast, intense, surprisingly deep, and fun in a unique way, but the learning curve is rather steep and some players may find themselves getting extremely frustrated with the game before they get used to the mechanics.
Inazuma Eleven is a unique sports rpg that has plenty going for it. With excellent voice acting and stylish animated cut scenes and colorful visuals, the game is very easy on the eyes. The story may seem a bit cliché’ at first, but the characters are interesting and add plenty of spice to the narrative. There are nearly 1,000 playable characters for you to find and recruit in the hopes of crafting the ultimate soccer team, and local multiplayer is certainly a nice addition. The game play however, is both the game’s biggest asset and hindrance. The mechanics of the game really need to be mastered in order to play the game effectively, and while they certainly make the game interesting and challenging, they can also take awhile to learn which may stop many people from playing. If you enjoy soccer, or the game’s unique style sound interesting to you, it may be a title worth picking up. If you’re looking for something that’s easy to pick up and play, then you may need to look elsewhere. Inazuma Eleven, exclusive to the 3DS eShop, scores a 6.5 out of 10 from Pure Nintendo.