A football RPG for DS from Level-5? What craziness is this?
Inazuma Eleven is a strange beast of a game. At times it feels so familiar and then, in the next instance completely alien. The first time I played the game, I had the volume quite low and I could have sworn that I kept hearing Pokemon-like noises. The RPG aspect of the game is incredibly similar to Pokemon and flows quite well – as long as you are already a fan of this style of game. However, once the action moves onto the football pitch, things become less comfortable. The mechanics for playing “the beautiful game” do not feel natural.
I couldn’t help but have low expectations when going into this game review. To begin with, the game is based on an anime that I have never watched, or even heard of for that matter. But what was even worse was that the game revolves around football, a game that I have very little interest in. Would this be like a modern version of Roy of the Rovers?
Well, if the voices are anything to go by, yes! Seriously, the voice work in Inazuma Eleven is hilarious, but I can’t make my mind up if this is intentional or not. As I said, I have never watched the anime and I am not even sure if it has been dubbed to English yet, but if the same voice actors are used in an English speaking version of the show, then there will be plenty of parents suffering from fevered Mary Poppins acid-flashbacks. With cockney voices that would not be out of place asking if “you want your chimney cleaned, mistah?”, players will either find them comical and endearing, or just plain annoying. Personally, I didn’t find them too bad, but that’s just me.
Anyway, Inazuma Eleven is an RPG first and foremost and so needs a story to tie everything together. The player takes on the role of football team captain and goalkeeper, Mark Evans. The game mostly focuses around his school which seems to have clubs for every sport under the sun. With all of these kids that are interested in sports, filling a football team with the required number of players shouldn’t be too difficult. But as the game begins, that is exactly the problem. The football club will be shut down if it loses the upcoming match, and they don’t even have enough players to field a full team. So, one of the early objectives will see the player wandering the school and talking to other pupils in an attempt to find more members for the team.
Although the story starts with one foot firmly placed within the realms of reality, those of you looking for something a bit more fantastical will be pleased to hear that before long things take a turn for the weirder. The story is littered with cut-scenes that look as if they have come directly from the anime itself and a selection of characters that, through their own struggles with inner-demons, go a long way towards adding depth and fleshing it out.
The way that football has been integrated into this game is quite ingenious. As the player wanders the game world, either following their objectives or just actively looking for more players, the football element has taken the place of combat. Instead of random battles, the player will be faced with short mini-matches that where a requirement will need to be fulfilled to win, such as simply scoring a goal, and full on matches take the place of boss battles.
The actual football mechanic itself is where I think some players, particularly football game fans, will feel let down. The action is all controlled with the Stylus and will see the player tapping the screen to pass the ball to other players, pausing the action to draw a path for the players to take and double tapping for a good sprint. The problem that I found with it is that the action didn’t flow very well, and it was all a bit fiddly. Other gamers may well find it easier to get on with, but I found it frustrating.
Again keeping with the underlying Pokemon feeling, as the player progresses they will have the chance to recruit new players for their team. With more than a 1,000 players available in the game, there are certainly plenty to choose from, and they all have different stats or skills. They are also each categorised with an element which affects their strength or weakness against other players, and their special moves.
There is a fair amount to do beyond the matches themselves, within both the school and the surrounding town. With chests and training areas to find, and plenty of people to talk to, the game has a keen exploration aspect.
I think that collectors and RPG fans will likely get the most out of Inazuma Eleven. Despite the rather unimpressive football mechanic, the rest of the game is incredibly well done, as you would expect from Level-5. But I can’t help but feel that the combination of football and RPG may be a little too strange for most gamers to risk.