Anyone jumping straight into Inazuma Eleven 2: Blizzard / FireStorm having come straight off the back of its predecessor will immediately feel at home, with happenings actually feeling a little too familiar at first. However, after settling gamers into the format of top-down adventuring and touch-screen tactical football antics, the real twist kicks in, with a story arc that only Level-5 could concoct. Rather like seen in the recent Professor Layton tales, the developer's head honcho, Akihiro Hino, has a penchant for the unusual and bringing in a football team called Alius Academy that seem to sport alien abilities, wreaking havoc and destroying various other football training grounds around Japan, is definitely akin to the crazy tales found in Professor Layton and the Lost Future and Professor Layton and the Spectre's Call. However, it is the sort of yarn spun that wraps players up and draws them ever closer to the game's tasty core.
Once more players are tasked with shoving their hands into the padded gloves of Mark Evans, the young goalkeeper and captain of the Raimon High football team that ended as Football Frontier tournament champions in the first adventure. This time he must rouse his team-mates to push themselves beyond their previous limits to overcome the new menace. The main purpose of this new adventure is to protect teams from around Japan that are terrorised by Alius Academy, with the threat of complete annihilation on the cards should the opposition either lose or forfeit the match for fear of losing.
Evans and company must traverse new locations, extending their reach much further than previously, impressing fresh teams to attempt to lure some of their key players to join forces with them for 'the greater good.' The mechanic from the first game is back, with random battles in the field taking the form of three-on-three football matches, where the aim is to either regain possession or score the first goal, and main fights being full games against tough opponents where clever tactics need to be employed. Drag the stylus across the touch screen to draw paths for players around the pitch, tap the ball at the right time, choose from numerous special shots and defensive abilities, and get ready to become a football champion!
The first game was fantastic for its time, but was delayed so much in Europe that it had been surpassed by many other RPGs, including the Level-5 developed Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies, and although Inazuma Eleven 2 is a little tardy in its localised release, it has still progressed in leaps and bounds, with the story being more engaging, the interaction with other characters proving more worthwhile, and the range of locations to visit more thrilling than before, being filled with much more variety. As with the previous games, the production levels are superb, with more voice acting, plenty of anime clips, a great segue between each chapter that gives an overview of what to expect in the upcoming 'episode,' and the stunning return of Yasunori Mitsuda on the soundtrack side.
Collecting more than 1,500 characters, trading with friends to gain the full quota across both FireStorm and Blizzard (with 150 unique characters in each, as well as their own special abilities, teams to battle, and special moves), and playing against up to three other friends using local wireless is more thrilling than before (playing against those with the original game is also possible). Add in the usual slew of meaty quests, intuitive user interface for menu navigation and keeping track of current objectives, and the charm of the original shines through even more thanks to the new additions ("Even players changing positions mid-match?" Of course!). Inazuma Eleven 2 takes the brilliant concept of bringing the worlds of football and RPG adventuring together, packs in a wealth of extras, and even includes a barrage of post-game content to keep players going for longer. Level-5 has once more delivered a sterling effort in this addictive series.