Review: Inazuma Eleven
Posted 25 Aug 2011 at 05:34 by Ashley Jones
|"Inazuma Eleven's strength lies in its flexibility - it is as big as you want it to be...with hundreds of recruitable players each individual's experience of Inazuma Eleven can be unique."|
It may have taken a few months but Inazuma Eleven is finally out in the UK. When it was discovered that the UK release would be held back Nintendo stated that it was done in order to coincide with the anime being shown on television and it is clear why - clips from the show itself are used fairly often.
Inazuma Eleven itself is an unusual game and a difficult one to describe. It is based on the anime (that was developed alongside the game) and combines football with the RPG genre. In some ways it is reminiscent of the old Game Boy Mario Golf and Mario Tennis titles and in others it is similar to Pokémon, although likening Inazuma Eleven to these titles is in no way meant to undervalue how unique it truly is.
The title has a strong RPG element that sees you trying to build up the school's near-defunct football team to win the Football Frontier tournament, all spear-headed by enthusiastic goalkeeper Mark Evans. In the game you collect items, explore new areas and recruit new members and the story slowly unfolds, being told in such a manner that feels natural rather than forced.
As you progress you build a reputation, get new ways to develop skills and learn new special moves. The plot does suffer from being awfully convenient most of the time (if you need a particular move to face off against a team the plot leading up to that match will drive you in the direction) but enjoyable all the same. I have only seen a few of the episodes but as far as I can tell the plot of the game follows that of the anime and presumably it does throughout.
One thing that gets particularly grating however is the English cast. While its understandable that Nintendo would include them, as after all the game and the anime are a product of our synergy-focused times, the cast seems to have been picked from every CBBC programme you've ever watched. With some terribly British accents it all becomes a bit too much at first but thankfully spoken audio soon becomes replaced with written text for the most part and of course there's always the volume control.
While you move around the map using the d-pad matches in Inazuma Eleven are played using the stylus. Players run automatically, although you can tap them then draw their direction if you wish, and you are given options at certain times. For instance if two players clash and you are defending you can either chose to charge or feint, or alternative use a special move. If you are attacking the other team you can chose to either tackle or perform a sliding tackle, or again use a special move. When you get near a goal you can tap on the net and then chose shoot or chip shot and then set the power and of course chose a special move.
One of Inazuma Eleven's most unique aspects is the special moves the characters can perform. These are over the top element-inspired moves that can either be used to attack or defend and the storyline sees the characters develop these moves, either alone or in partnerships. They are reminiscent of special moves found in the Mario sporting titles as of late in terms of spectacle but are more strategy-based and often pivotal to winning matches.
Inazuma Eleven's strength lies in its flexibility - it is as big as you want it to be. You can race through the story (although it would still take you a good 30+ hours) and not bother recruiting new members or trying to increase you statistics. However, you could quite easily spend a great number of hours improving your team, recruiting any of the hundreds of players or even just engaging in a rematch with a team you've played before. The choice is completely up to you and with the hundreds of recruitable players each individual's experience of Inazuma Eleven can be unique.
You can level up in a variety of ways during the game. As you traverse the map you will encounter random battles, from other clubs and societies at the school, and engage in four-on-four matches with the goal to be the first one to score or to get the ball off the other team. You can also level up individual players in particular areas, such as defense, attack etc, in specific training areas, or level up the whole team in one area in a purpose-built training area that sees you take on a number of four-on-four battles in a row followed by a full match to finish. Items such as special bracelets or shoes can also be given to individual players to increase their stats in specific areas, a staple of the RPG genre that works well in Inazuma Eleven given the outfit-based nature of football.
Of course there are plenty of RPG elements for fans of the genre to enjoy. Each character has FP and TP, which is essentially their health and special move 'health' levels respectively. You can replenish these with items such as Water Bottles, purchasable in the school or found lying around in that wonderfully RPG way, and naturally as you level up they increase. You can chat to NPCs to find out information, explore the map (although you're directed by the story in terms of which areas are open but once they've been opened you can explore at your leisure) and much more. Inazuma Eleven does a great job of balancing the sporting and RPG genres and really provides a great experience in both.
While Inazuma Eleven allows you to compete against friends, or even trade players with them, unfortunately it does not allow for multiplayer matches over the Internet. You can play locally against friends but it is a shame in this day and age that they are still ignoring online gaming in such a multiplayer-driven title such as this.
In terms of graphics the majority of the game is displayed in an ¾ overhead 2D manner, as seen in the screenshots in this review, that provide a nice vividly colourful display. In addition to this Inazuma Eleven features cut scenes directly from the anime series, although the saturation appears to have been turned down a bit but this is presumably due to the DS' cartridge sizes and the fact the game is pretty big as it is anyway, and cel-shaded in-match cut scenes. When a player is tackled, a special move is used, a goal shot is taken or a goal is defended it cuts to the cel-shaded style seen to the right. This can at times feel like its interrupting the flow of the gameplay, particularly as it cuts to it when someone takes a shot at the goal, briefly cuts back to normal and then to the shot of the goalkeeper's reaction, and personally I much prefer the look of the sprites anyway. However, it is a good way to highlight the dramatic moments of a game and helps to make watching the match more interesting.
Overall Level-5's Inazuma Eleven provides a great mix between a football game and an RPG game. In fact the RPG element is so strong it could be enjoyed by individuals who do not like football, although getting them to play the game in the first place will be difficult. The studio, already famous for Professor Layton, has shown that they can make a great game with a wide scope and Inazuma Eleven is no different. From the storyline to the game mechanics there really is a lot here to keep you coming back.
Level-5 has already released a number of other Inazuma Eleven titles on the DS and Wii in Japan and hopefully if this one sells well they will consider localising it. While the title was originally released three years ago in Japan it just goes to show that there is still life in the DS even after the 3DS has been released. Now if only I could get the theme song out of my head, which, trust me, you'll be singing from the moment you first play!
N-Europe Final Verdict
A great football game, a great RPG and a wonderful mix. If you like football or RPGs its for you. If you like both, and maybe even anime, then it is a must buy.
Strong RPG system.
Grating English accents.
Lack of online multiplayer.