In Level 5’s soccer RPG soccer matches can occur anywhere. Kids from other sport clubs challenge Mamoru Endou’s,team to bite sized battles while you’re peacefully walking on the map. There are two kinds of random encounters in Inazuma Eleven. Each one has a different path to victory. If you start with the ball you need to score a goal to win. If the other team has the ball all you need to do is steal it.
During random encounters you don’t have a full team to control. Only four players, Mamoru and the three others snaking behind him, are playable. This design choice is probably done to simplify and speed up the random encounters. Unlike real soccer matches, Inazuma Eleven’s random soccer fights can be completed in a few minutes. Before a match begins you’re given an opportunity to run and avoid the embarrassment of losing to another team. For me and my limited time with Inazuma Eleven running was not an option.
After you press start on the touch screen you have a chance to set up a preliminary strategy. When you have the ball you can draw paths for the three offensive players by dragging the stylus. The actual path distance is quite small so you can’t make a spiraling helix patrolling pattern or anything of the sort. I found blocking by placing your players in the path of the defenders was the most effective initial strategy. This tactic buys a bit of time so you can see where the computer controlled players are going before passing the ball to someone further on the field. You can tap any other player to pass the ball to them, but be careful if you tap an empty space you’ll kick the ball there which leaves it open for both teams.
If one of your opponents catches up to you, time freezes and you get to choose your defensive strategy. Do you evade or try a breakthrough? Once you pick a choice Inazuma Eleven switches from tiny 2D sprites to more exciting 3D battle scenes and you watch your player try to dodge a slide tackle by jumping in the air or something like that. A more effective alternative, if available, is to use a flashy special technique. Not all players have an evasion move, but I remember one character on an opposing team splitting into three that confused my defending player into letting him pass. Special moves drain up TP, Inazuma Eleven’s equivalent of magic points. You need to use TP wisely since it does not recover after matches. Feeding your teammates items like riceballs is one way to recover TP when away from a rest point.
Once you’re close enough to the goal you can tap it to take a shot. There are two kinds of shots, a straight shot and a lob shot. The lob shot kicks the ball up high while the straight shot is a swift forward kick. Both shots consume GP, a separate stat just for kicking goals which is used to alter the power of a kick. More power uses more GP. Like TP, GP can be recovered with items. A bottle of mineral water should do the trick.
Goalies get to choose between trying to catch the ball and knocking it out of the way with the punching command. Mamoru who plays as your goalie also has a special move called the God Hand. When you use this a giant, glowing hand appears and blocks any regular shot, but since it’s a special move it requires TP to use. Some of your team members have Shaolin Soccer style kicking techniques too like Goenji’s Fire Tornado. When he uses this move a short movie shows Goenji kick a soccer ball encased by flames and it whizzes past the goalie.
Why fire? Inazuma Eleven has a built in elemental system where fire beats wood, wood is stronger than wind, wind conquers earth, and earth quells fire. Each player and special move has an assigned element so you know right away if you’re in an advantageous position.
The random soccer battles in Inazuma Eleven are an innovative mix of twitchy line drawing and thoughtful menu selections. Thumbs up!
Images courtesy of Level 5.