Innovative game mechanics; over-the-top action; surprisingly compelling story; wealth of content.
Touch controls can be a little too precise; fouls are random.
Three years ago, Level-5 localized Inazuma Eleven in Europe on 3DS. Since then, future iterations of this quirky soccer JRPG saw release outside of Japan as well, but North American fans were left out in the cold. I often expressed that I’d love it if the series came to the United States, but after four different Inazuma Eleven games were brought solely to Europe, I started to lose hope. Yet, in an unprecedented move, Level-5 decided to announce and release the first Inazuma Eleven immediately on the eShop during the most recent Nintendo Direct presentation. Naturally, I was floored. I immediately grabbed my 3DS and purchased it without much thought. I’m glad I bought it too, because Inazuma Eleven far exceeded my high expectations.
Level-5 did a terrific job mixing both soccer and JRPG elements into a game that fits both genres perfectly. For example, the game doesn’t just feature typical exhibition modes like FIFA would; instead, it features a full-fledged story mode. Of course, this isn’t the next landmark in game storytelling. All the characters follow typical anime tropes, such as the overly enthusiastic protagonist and the obligatory character with a mysterious past, but the fact that it’s all written so well makes it a very compelling story. The number of hardships each team member faced managed to make me care about the soccer team itself, and the various plot twists had me excited to see the conclusion of the game.
In order to progress through the story mode, you’ll have to roam areas around your school and complete various quests given to you. Almost every time you receive a quest, an arrow will be placed on your map to make sure you don’t get lost. On the way there, you’ll encounter random 4-on-4 battles that are initiated by school clubs that want to test your soccer skills through a specific challenge. Most of the time, your objective will be to score the first goal against your opponent, but you may also be asked to just simply steal the ball or hold onto it for a specific amount of time. If you are victorious, your team members will be awarded with experience that will help them level up and prestige points that will let you buy healing items or equipment to improve player performance. If these JRPG parallels aren’t enough, there are also treasure chests scattered around the world that contain these items as well!
The gameplay truly shines during full 11-on-11 matches. All of the game’s soccer elements come into play through the game’s tactical moments on the field. Each of your players moves independently, but you can tell them where to go by drawing arrows with the stylus and pass by simply tapping the screen. In heated moments, you can call a time out to stop time and draw out your strategy on the touch screen.
As soon as multiple opposing players come into contact with the soccer ball or someone attempts to score, the game’s turn-based JRPG elements come into play. The number of team members in the vicinity, player stats, and elemental advantages or disadvantages will determine the odds of who wins the duel. You can slightly alter these odds by choosing between two different actions, such as a block or slide tackle, to attempt to put things in your favor, but each one comes with its own respective risks and benefits. For example, it’s easier to get the ball with a slide tackle, but you may lose control or get called for a foul.
Aside from options like this, you also have a set of unique special moves at your disposal for all situations. Think of these as JRPG magic moves that are vital in clutch situations. These special moves can range from something simple, such as a fast dash that steals the ball, to a ridiculous shot that summons a dragon to break the goalie’s defense. Each of these moves is beautifully animated and is truly a blast to use, effectively creating some of the most exciting moments in the game. They’re a big part of the reason why I found each soccer match incredibly enjoyable.
Although Inazuma Eleven‘s innovative gameplay is phenomenal, it’s bogged down a bit by the stylus controls. Selecting a character on the field to control can be tough because player input has to be precise at all times. I found that this didn’t happen too often, but it can definitely make for some frustrating moments in vital scenarios. Another minor annoyance I had came from the random fouls that the referees hand out. Some actions are more prone to fouls than others, but they all have a chance of fouling, which leaves each call up to luck and not skill.
That said, these are only minor issues that did not detract from the fun I had playing Inazuma Eleven. The soccer and JRPG mechanics blend incredibly well together and make a fantastic hybrid for fans of both genres. Between the lengthy story and the fantastic local multiplayer mode with a Pokémon-like trading system, there’s a ton of content to explore. If you enjoy either genre, then I highly encourage you to give Inazuma Eleven a shot.