Inazuma Eleven is a charming RPG with a lot going on, but it doesn't offer a great game of football.
- Endearing story and characters
- Regular matches can be fun
- Satisfies the collect-'em-all urge
- The world of Raimon is interesting to explore .
- Early difficulty spike is horrendous
- Later battles can be far too easy
- Too often it feels like you're not in control of your players .
UK REVIEW--The concept of a football role-playing game isn't as outlandish as it might seem. Games like FIFA and Football Manager have been doing it to a smaller extent for years. The sport itself isn't dissimilar to a role-playing game either. Players train to raise their stats, managers recruit new members into the "party," and statistics fly fast and furious. The footballing world doesn't feature giant burning dragons or ludicrous conspiracy plots like Inazuma Eleven does--well, not the giant dragons anyway--but the marriage of football and role-playing game is definitely a logical one. The problem with Inazuma Eleven isn't that it combines two unexpected genres, but rather that it does very little to play to the strengths of either genre. It's pleasant, with an endearing plot, but it doesn't capture the thrill of football. There are a host of issues, ranging from fiddly controls to an erratic difficulty curve, compounded by the feel of repetition throughout. It may be charming, but that charm alone isn't enough to win you over.
Originally released in Japan three years ago, Inazuma Eleven is the first game in the series to make its way to English-speaking shores. It centers on the tale of one Mark Evans, a plucky goalkeeper and the leader of the Raimon Junior High football club. Mark really loves football. Sporting a look which falls somewhere between Chris Waddle and the Karate Kid, and with the voice of Luke Triton, Mark serves as a refreshingly upbeat protagonist surrounded by characters who just can't be bothered. It's a typical underdog story--lazy, apathetic footballers whipped into shape by circumstance and Mark's own determination. And the story plays out much as you'd expect from a Japanese role-playing game. Characters with names like Axel Blaze and Kevin Dragonfly find themselves caught up in a tale of conspiracy, intrigue, and suspicious maids. It's suitably silly, and from the outset it's clear this is not a realistic take on football.
The primary hook of Inazuma Eleven is building your team, recruiting new players, training them up, and then facing off against a variety of teams in both a national and a regional tournament. The collection aspect is reminiscent of games like Pokemon, but also of the Panini football sticker books, and Inazuma attempts to play on the compulsion to collect. The desire to fill your team roster (100 slots out of a possible 1,000-plus players in the game) is forced to stand alone here, though. There's little incentive to recruit more than a handful of players in regard to actually improving your team. Good players are either with you from the beginning or recruited as part of the story, so whether you make an effort to recruit a lot more depends on how interested you are in simply collecting things. Later on, recruitable players have more to offer, but again, it's not mandatory that you acquire them.
Actually playing football is initially a complex affair. There are numerous stats to consider for each player, such as guard ability, kick power, speed, and guts. They also have FP (stamina) and TP (mana) gauges. FP depletes the more a player performs basic actions, such as sprinting. TP is consumed by using one of the game's special moves. Each player also has an elemental label; air, wood, fire, or earth. This provides an additional strength or weakness against players of a different element and can also serve to power up special moves if the corresponding player element matches the move's element. Unfortunately, the complexity of the system appears to make little difference when playing through the story. You could spend hours tailoring your lineup to suit each individual adversary, but when you can quite comfortably win 5-0 with almost no thought, there's little point.
On the field, the action is controlled entirely with the stylus. You can direct players where to go, or they'll approximate the best path to take, although if you choose the latter option, they often run wildly away from the ball or stand still for no apparent reason. When engaging a player for a tackle or block, you're presented with one of two options; the first has a low success rate but often results in you retaining control of the ball when it does work, while the second has a higher change of success but generally puts some distance between you and the ball. There are also special moves which can be learned or acquired over the course of the game, with categories for guard, defense, tackling, and shooting. You can also tap a player to sprint, but making a mad dash for the goal never works. One-touch is the order of the day, passing the ball around the pitch until your striker is in a suitable position. In that sense, it's realistic and feels natural, but the lack of any more precise control leads to a strange feeling of disempowerment. Occasionally, especially early on, it feels as if you have little control over the outcome of the match. Particularly annoying is the fouling, as you often seem to get called out for a foul based on the whim of the game rather than any logical statistical calculation.