By Laura . March 15, 2014 . 9:30am
My first exposure to Inazuma Eleven was the anime. That is to say, I never actually saw the anime, but I’d heard about it from a friend who was a die-hard fan, so I knew a little about what it was all about. That’s why, when the Nintendo 3DS game went quite suddenly from the classic tale about a boy and his soccer team striving for the Nationals to a superpower death match with a soccer ball caught between two opposing teams, I wasn’t taken by surprise.
What I appreciate about Inazuma Eleven is that, despite all of the fantastical events happening around the students, the story still focuses on the main conflict. Mark Evans is a boy with a passion for soccer. His team, unfortunately, is not quite as passionate. The situation becomes so dire that unless the team wins their next match, they will be disbanded. It didn’t help matters that they hadn’t practiced in forever or that their opponent would be the reigning National champions, Royal Academy.
I remember that I was pretty intimidated at first. Inazuma Eleven does a good job in taking time to build up the suspense and illustrating both the main character and his team’s trepidation at taking on these elites. For example, you have to find characters to join your team, and drag one out of a locker. One even quits in the middle of the game.
However, the game doesn’t just rely on sprites holding sometimes-voiced conversations to build character and atmosphere. Royal Academy’s arrival, for example, is emphasized with a fully animated cutscene where a literal battle cruiser, surrounded by ominous purple fog and housing the team, trudges into view. An entourage of students then march out like soldiers as they dribble their soccer balls (and if that isn’t the most ridiculous thing you’ve ever heard, that’s OK because the game throws a lot more at you later) as a red carpet rolls across the field before the Royal Academy soccer team itself finally appears.
As amazing as the presentation in Inazuma Eleven is, the game plays just as well. Inazuma Eleven is, after all, first and foremost and all crazy supernatural and superpower happenings aside, a game about a soccer team, so it is a major plus that the controls for playing soccer are fluid and intuitive. I’ll admit that, at first, I was intimidated at first by the aspect of controlling eleven players all across the screen with merely a touchscreen at my disposal, but I soon realized that the game’s AI has a fairly good handle on the positions of the characters not in my view. This localized framing really helped me to concentrate on the intricate movements of the players who had the ball.
In Inazuma Eleven, your players are controlled entirely using the stylus and touch screen. You draw lines where you want the players to run and you tap where you want players to pass or shoot the ball. When a player encounters the opposing team, a menu pops up, giving you a choice between taking an action, taking a riskier action that has more chance of fouling, and using a special move.
Special moves are learned by leveling your characters, learning from other players or manuals lying around, or continuing through the story of the game.
These are the flashy moves that are the signatures of Inazuma Eleven—the flaming spiral kick, the immobilizing hypnotisms, the enormous golden hand blocking the goal and so on. Special moves require TP to use, so you can’t spam them to overpower every single encounter you have.
There are a lot of “points” in this game. One of the few things the game doesn’t do well, however, is explaining many of them, especially the stats and how they determine the success rate of your actions unless you go into the electronic manual. The most important and unique points are the Prestige Points (PP), Friendship Points, Fitness Points (FP), and Technical Points (TP).
As stated before, TP is consumed for special attacks. PP is essentially the currency in this world. You can use it to buy items, heal your team (because they won’t recover between matches), and also to boost a player’s stats to some degree. FP are used up when you take a riskier action, such as a Slide Tackle as opposed to a regular Block. When this value decreases below a certain threshold, your player will be too tired to run anymore.
This is why a team above the initial eleven (the number of players in a full team, with no benchwarmers) is advisable in longer games, and that is where Friendship comes into play. Inazuma Eleven comes with a fairly complex web of players you can recruit, and expanding your contacts on the Connection Map using Friendship points helps open up new options. These players can be just as good or better than your initial team, and you can stock up on 30 of these 1000+ choices.
One of my favorite aspects of the Inazuma Eleven is the customizability of your team. You can change the positions of almost every character, their stats to some degree, and the players you have on your team. You can choose to train through random-battle-like encounters called Battles (as opposed to matches) or run away with relatively small repercussions. Alternatively, you can train using the Friendly Match option, where you can play friendlies against any team you’ve encountered before. This gives you a major boost to your EXP as opposed to the smaller increase from playing Battles.
The game never felt like a chore—even the Battles have a 15-second time limit—and I enjoyed just running around the world just to see what I could unlock. I also looked forward to every subsequent match to see how the story would unfold next for the characters and what tricks the next team had up their sleeves. Overall, it amazed me how much and how quickly I was drawn into the world of Inazuma Eleven despite not actually being a fan of the sport of soccer itself.
Food for thought:
1. I love the soundtrack to this game—I never even got tired of the field music as I spent hours running around the school yard. The English audio was actually really good, too.
2. One of the quirks of Inazuma Eleven is that it is entirely situated in the bottom screen, so almost all controls in both the menu and overworld can be done using the touchscreen. It also accommodates both left- and right-handed people during games.
3. Unfortunately, this also means that the stereoscopic 3D capabilities of the 3DS are severely underused. Half the time, a 2D map is being projected in 3D. At least most of the special moves can be seen in 3D, since those are shown on the top screen.