Inazuma Eleven is not a new game. That's the overarching theme here. It's not a new game in the literal sense of the phrase, and it's not a new game in the more mechanical sense.
North America finally has its own version of the original Inazuma Eleven. It released last week right after the first Nintendo Direct presentation of 2014. This game was once a Nintendo DS title from Level-5 that dropped in Japan back in 2008. Pencils down, that's nearly six years ago.
What we have here is an eShop update of that original title, complete with a minor 3D flourish and some changes to character names and stats.
The biggest blessings and curses for Inazuma Eleven stem from its age. This portable RPG is showing a lot of wear and tear, especially since so many of its mechanics feel older than 2008.
However, that age also harkens back to a simpler time for RPGs. Level-5 produced an outstanding sports anime-like title with this game, and it sold like gangbusters when it first dropped in Japan.
It's a shame that we had to wait so long for it, but it's finally here to please a very specific audience.
Have You Ever Watched a Sports Anime?
Inazuma Eleven presents a simple and predictable storyline. If you've ever watched even part of a season of any sports anime, like Major or Slam Dunk, then you'll probably have a firm grasp on how Level-5 delivered this genres functions.
A small high school with a floundering soccer club has one player with crazy ambitions. The entire game takes place through that player's perspective as he adds members to his club, learns insane special moves for use in battle and during games, and pushes through a plot filled with overused twists.
Yes, if you've ever watched a sports anime, you'll see every single one of Inazuma Eleven's plot beats coming from a mile away. That means all of the in-game twists and reveals are some of the most predictable we've experienced in a long time.
You'll face, and this pretty much happens throughout the entire game, an opposing soccer club that makes use of special moves centered around a single theme. Maybe they're occult members or wild animals. You'll have to figure out how to counter their specials while producing specials of your own.
But it's all incredibly scripted, mean marque battles are little more than moments set up to meet qualifications for proceeding. You can't win a game by simply shooting and scoring. No. You have so set up characters with specific plot points in order to win, which can make fights very frustrating.
We'll get to that, though.
The story is cliche, but it's fun. Just like pretty much all sports anime. Watch an underdog with insane talents turn a tiny club into the best in the world. It's all very wrote, but those who enjoy the genre will enjoy this entry.
Get Your Stylus Ready!
There are, essentially, three basic ways to battle in Inazuma Eleven. This is a soccer game, so playing full blown matches is the biggest and longest forms of "combat."
These matches will either happen as major story moments that typically end chapters or as friendlies that you can request. You can only ask teams that you've already played to have a friendly match, so consider these as ways to grow.
Soccer is played by using the stylus to control your team and the circle pad to handle the camera. Players will move on their own based on what predetermined formations and tactics you set up in the game's menu. You can alter these routes by drawing paths on the screen in front of players. You pass the ball by tapping the screen. You shoot the ball by tapping the goal.
Every interaction between opponents comes up as a paused choice. If you're on defense, for instance, you'll engage in an interaction by running up to an opponent. The game will pause and you'll be given a choice. Do you slide tackle, tackle or use a special? The choice is dictated by your player's element (it's like rock, paper, scissors) and strength.
This pause and choice system is how you do everything in Inazuma Eleven. It's how you shoot, how you defend and how you maintain possession of the ball.
It's also present in the other two modes of combat. As you're exploring the town between objectives, random battles break out in typical RPG form. These battles either ask you to score a goal or take the ball from your opponent. As you walk around, you'll have four players on screen at once. Use all four and their abilities to either score or regain possession.
And that's it, really. You'll level up your players and, thus, your team. You'll need to grind a bit in order to beat chapter ending soccer clubs. You'll collect and buy new equipment and snacks in order to boost stats or regain energy. You'll learn specials, either through plot or finding manuals in the game.
It's all very, very rinse and repeat. There's a steep learning curve at first, especially thanks to an early unwinnable battle, but once you figure things out the game is very easy to conquer. It's simple, it's fun, and it wears a little quickly. Thus is the plight of this early RPG system, one that has supposedly been improved tremendously in the Inazuma titles that have dropped since.
What good is a sports anime without ridiculous characters, right?
Inazuma Eleven's system for building your soccer club creates an opportunity for you to scout players and make friends. Unfortunately, and I believe this has been tweaked between releases, the players you scout will never be as good as the core, plot-driven characters that make their way onto your team.
Nevertheless, scouting is still fun.
It all requires friendship points, something you earn through full games and battles. You'll meet team level or plot beat requirements in order to unlock more scouting options. You'll explore the town in order to meet kids while scouting them, satiate their needs and welcome them to your club.
Much like the battle system, making friends in Inazuma Eleven moves from complicated to fun and finally to boring. Once you've done it for eight hours, everything will start to feel a little too same-y. That's really the problem with this entire game. It's almost too simple once learned, and that keeps it from teetering from amusing into thrilling.
You'll make friends, build your team, dismiss certain players and constantly work towards leveling folks up. Once that has lost its luster, the game sort of peters out.
Inazuma Eleven would have been a much more enjoyable experience if it were either modernized or I was playing it back in 2008.
Inazuma Eleven would have been a much more enjoyable experience if it were either modernized or I was playing it back in 2008. Its mechanics feel too simple for my liking, and it grows stale a little too fast.
However, it has all the hallmarks of a really strong franchise and a wonderful sports anime. The cutscenes are great, though the voice acting is not, and the cliched plot points are exactly what you'd expect from the genre.
It's a lengthy game, though its quickness to boredom hurts its price point. This will cost you $19.99 to download, and that's your only option since its North American release is stuck in digital form for now.
I liked this game. If the later titles are localized, which I'm hoping they will be, I'll be picking them up as well. This series is popular for a reason. It's fun in quick bursts and packs a silly story that genre fans will love.
If it sounds like your idea of a good time, it will be. As Inazuma Eleven finds its fanbase here in the States, it should do very well for them.