Inazuma Eleven (Nintendo 3DS) Review

By Jacob 20.04.2014 4

Review for Inazuma Eleven on Nintendo 3DS

Inazuma Eleven is a series of soccer/RPG hybrids that has proven to be popular in Japan. With multiple sequels, spin-offs, and even a manga, it's come to be a force in the RPG landscape. Despite this popularity in Japan though, the series never found its way to the States. Level-5 has finally remedied this with a release of the original DS title that started it all...now on 3DS eShop. This download version comes to Nintendo's handheld with confidence and polish, presenting a unique spin on a classic sport.

The 3DS eShop has seen numerous retreads of old DS games, many of which showcase a varying level of effort. There are full overhauls, such as Etrian Odyssey Untold: The Millennium Girl, and then there are more minimal updates like Devil Survivor: Overclocked. Inazuma Eleven on 3DS falls somewhere between these two, with smart upgrades to some areas while leaving other elements as they were back in 2008.

The result is a game that feels surprisingly modern despite some signs that it started its life on more modest hardware. The full width of the top screen is put to use, and the cut-scenes are sharp and in full 3D. Even the fuzzier aspects, like low-resolution art and sprites, still hold up well today given the general excellence of the design.

In complement to the solid visuals is a truly rousing soundtrack that never fails to be pleasant and suiting. The music fits the game and the style like a (goalkeeper's?) glove, and that's really the best compliment that a soundtrack can be given. Every song is perfectly weighted and helps imbue the game and story with a bouncy spirit and even genuine pathos where appropriate.

It might be surprising to find a competent story in a sports game, but remember that Inazuma Eleven is infused with the heart of an RPG, and thus the accompanying story is wide in scope, covering themes of childhood innocence, camaraderie, betrayal, and bullying. The story even manages to throw in an over-arching legend and shadowy mystery. It will touch the player with its dialogue and sweet moments, while at the same time keeping people's attention with the levels of intrigue.

Screenshot for Inazuma Eleven on Nintendo 3DS

The campaign follows Mark Evans, the keeper and captain of the Raimon school soccer club. He faces crisis early when the school threatens to disband his team if they can't manage to win some matches. Like in all good sports movies, he immediately sets out to motivate his teammates to work harder while at the same time luring a ringer to join the squad and inject some much needed talent. As alluded to earlier, there's more to this story than first meets the eye, and the game manages to take common tropes and spin them for some satisfying surprises.

Occasionally, the story forces its way into the gameplay in ways it really shouldn't, though - as in making the player use certain members they might not rather use. There are also some questionable decisions in terms of when certain events take place - for example, before one match, a training centre is opened that allows the player to grind for extra stats. The game actually forces the player to go through this grinding centre at least once, the implication being that robust stats will be needed in the next match. Not so; the 'gimmick' with the next match is that all stats are reduced to one single point. It's a "What the heck?" moment that detracts from the level of polish on display in the rest of the title.

These moments are the exception though, and generally the story and gameplay are not at odds with each other. One might question how a hybrid of RPG elements and soccer would work, but these doubts should be laid to rest. Level-5's system is robust, relatively easy to understand, and highly entertaining. Even those who have little interest in soccer will find themselves having a blast.

How does this gameplay work then? First of all, the player traverses the entire world from a top-down perspective. Here, in the over world the player can travel from different locations, from the school grounds to a shopping district, a subway station, a beach, and others. There are numerous locations that give the game world a varied, full feel.

Screenshot for Inazuma Eleven on Nintendo 3DS

After exploring the overworld, fetching items, and talking to NPCs, the player will eventually be forced to engage in a chapter ending soccer match. This is where the real fun begins! The player's soccer team will take the field and play will ensue on the bottom screen. At first it seems like fairly straightforward soccer - the player passes from teammate to teammate, working the ball down the field in the hopes of scoring a goal.

Of course, there's a twist here. Being an RPG, there's a vast array of stats underpinning every team member's abilities - speed, ball control, grit, and so on. When a player comes into contact with a defender, these stats manifest themselves in the form of mini RPG battles on the field. On the defensive side, one has multiple options to attack the person with the ball when contact is made, while the player in possession, too, has choices with which to counter. Just like in any RPG, the decisions made by the player along with the stats will determine who comes out of the scrap with possession of the ball.

It gets zanier from there: the further one progresses in the game, the more each teammate levels up, the more ridiculous special moves are made available. Specials can range from Dragon Crash - complete with an over-the-top cut-scene featuring flames and dragons (of course) - to God Hand, which unleashes a massive hand that seems capable of blocking any opposing shot attempt. Naturally there's a limit to how often these moves can be performed. Each player has "Physical Points" and "Technique Points" - the former affects the player's ability to participate in the match at full strength, the latter functions like magic points that are used every time a special move is performed.

These special moves with their elaborate cut-scenes are fantastic and really give the matches energy. It's not just a matter of back and forth footie either, as these are epic magic battles on the pitch. A minor complaint would be that the inability to skip the cut-scenes can slow the pace of play a bit when in the heat of things. There are also fouls that are inexplicable and maddening. Perform a move - no problem. Perform that same move again and suddenly a referee may call a foul. This appears to be at random; a better system would at least set some parameters for the player to keep in mind.

Screenshot for Inazuma Eleven on Nintendo 3DS

Despite these niggles though, the matches are well presented and the imagery lends excitement to the proceedings. In many ways the OTT staging reminds of how the Street Fighter-like production of Phoenix Wright aids in that series' appeal. There is real joy in watching Axel blast a Fire Tornado kick straight through the opposing goalie for a winning goal in the final seconds. Playing wouldn't be any fun, though, if the control scheme couldn't keep up with the action, and Level-5 has done as good a job as could be expected making the chaos manageable on the 3DS Touch Screen. Each teammate's general path finding is CPU controlled, leaving the player mostly to make decisions on where to kick the ball or what special moves to perform.

The player can also take direct control of teammates by attempting to draw routes, but this sometimes leads to accidental kicks at inopportune moments - in general it's best to delegate the route choice to the computer. This aspect falls short of the success achieved elsewhere, but working around this doesn't prove to be a major problem. Overall, this gameplay system simply works pretty darn well. It's fun, it's fast, and it may actually get a typically uninterested American audience to take a real look at this soccer thing.

Screenshot for Inazuma Eleven on Nintendo 3DS

Cubed3 Rating

8/10
Rated 8 out of 10

Great - Silver Award

Rated 8 out of 10

Inazuma Eleven surprises in just how well it pulls off its ambitions. It's not perfect, but darn is it fun! Even for non-soccer fans, there's a lot to like here. An interesting story, an excellent soundtrack, fun gameplay, and tons of value - gamers should strongly consider Inazuma Eleven when browsing through the 3DS eShop.

Developer

Level-5

Publisher

Level-5

Genre

Turn Based RPG

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  8/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date TBA   Australian release date Out now   

Comments

The formula certainly hasn't changed drastically over the course of the DS releases, but they are still really fun to play through.

Jacob, what about the voice acting? Is it still a dodgy cockney-accented boy that does Mark Evans' voice? I wonder if they just used the UK audio track...if so, it's the same actor that does the British Luke in the Layton series.

Adam Riley [ Director :: Cubed3 ]

UNITE714: Weekly Prayers | Bible Verses

I read that the reason that this didn't get a new eShop release in the UK is because it doesn't use the normal voice acting of the British versions...leading me to believe this is indeed the alternate one made for the American audience. Worried about a backlash from UK fans that have been used to the original audio of the series, I guess, which is why it still got released in other European regions. So I heard, anyway.

That's quite interesting - perhaps I should have checked the US trailers...but I'm just being lazy and thought Jacob could confirm Smilie

Adam Riley [ Director :: Cubed3 ]

UNITE714: Weekly Prayers | Bible Verses

Lol sorry I'm slow -- yeah it's definitely American voices (at least I can't recall any UK accents -- you'd think those would stick out to my American ears!). Not that the voice acting is very extensive, though.

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