(3DS eShop)

Inazuma Eleven (3DS eShop)

Game Review

Inazuma Eleven Review

USA USA Version

Posted by Morgan Sleeper

A Beautiful Game

In Japan Inazuma Eleven is an institution — a multi-modal soccer sensation spanning several sequels and spin-offs, a wildly successful anime adaptation, and even a collectable card game; it's also enjoyed a number of releases in Europe. It's captured hearts from Kyoto to Cádiz, and now Level-5 is aiming to complete that circumnavigation with the series' first release in North America and Australasia (with mainland Europe also receiving this iteration, but not the UK): an eShop update of the 2008 DS original where it all began. A genre-bending game that combines a classic, Pokémon-style RPG with tactical, touch screen soccer action, Inazuma Eleven was absolutely worth the wait; this is a unique and utterly charming gem that deserves a place in the starting lineup of RPG and football fans alike.

Inazuma Eleven puts players in the confident cleats of eternally optimistic Mark Evans, keeper for Raimon Junior High's ragtag and soon-to-be-disbanded soccer club. As you might imagine, Mark's not about to let that happen if he can help it, so together with a colourful cast of classmates — including a mysterious new transfer student with a swift kick and a secret — you'll embark on a quest to save the club, win the Soccer Frontier tournament, and unravel a few mysteries along the way. The story's quick-moving, genuinely sweet, and gloriously over the top; you'll start out in a familiar schoolyard setting, but it's not long before the first opposing team shows up on an enormous battleship, like a pee-wee delegation from the Galactic Empire, and things only ramp up from there. It feels very much like playing an anime, with central themes of friendship, believing in oneself and doing one's best; while it's certainly aimed at a younger audience — Persona for the post-primary school set — the characters are so appealing that the young-at-heart will enjoy the after-school special storyline as well.

Aside from its anime aesthetic and feel-good foundations, Inazuma's claim to fame is its gameplay: a hybrid system that switches seamlessly from overhead, overworld RPG exploration to soccer-based battles and back again. It sounds jarring at first, but it works beautifully in practice; roaming Inazuma-town is classic RPG comfort-food, with intuitive, single-hand-friendly button controls, and the soccer — aside from being a commendably creative implementation of the sport — is some of the most fun we've ever had with RPG 'combat'.

Once you hit the pitch, everything's controlled with the stylus; your players will move intelligently on their own, but you can tap to speed them up, draw paths for them to follow, and point out exactly where you'd like them to kick the ball. You can also hit a "time-out" button at any time to freeze the clock and plan out moves in advance by drawing out paths and plays — an invaluable aid that allows for fine-grained control and deeply strategic soccer action. In addition, each time one of your players comes up against a rival - -say, for a tackle, when intercepting a pass, or to take a shot on goal — time stops as you decide which course of action to take. Each scenario will let you select from two moves — a regular vs. sliding tackle, fake out vs. charge, or straight ahead vs. chip shot, for example — where one is the safer bet, and the other a high-risk, higher-reward proposition. Characters' elemental affiliations come into play here as well; every player has a type, either Fire, Wood, Air, or Earth, and each element has an advantage over another, so while a wooden defender won't have much of a chance against a fiery forward, an earth-affiliated midfielder will stop him in his toasty tracks.

As your characters level up by winning matches, they'll also gain access to special moves. These screen-filling, show-stopping displays of fantastical football have a huge advantage over regular moves in both power and jaw-dropping extravagance, from flaming, dragon-propelled, shots-on-goal to rocket-fuelled sliding tackles and even the Hand of God providing divine goalkeeping intervention. Special moves expend Technical Points, so you won't be able to pull them off indefinitely, but most matches will see quite a few of them shot off before the whistle, and they're a blast to watch — while most of the time the action takes place on the bottom screen, these cinematic specials are rendered in stereoscopic 3D up top.

To help give your team a leg up in close calls, you can do some spot-training on the side by spending Prestige Points (Inazuma's merit-based currency of choice) at designated locations around town: dashing on the track to increase Speed stats, running the stairs to increase Stamina, or kicking bugs out of a tree to power-up punting. These training exercises are cutscenes, rather than playable sequences, but they're fun to watch in a Rocky-montage sort of way, and their quick clip lets you get back to the action as soon as possible.

With so much to keep track of, the soccer system certainly takes a bit of time to 'click', but once it does it's an absolute joy — regardless of whether you have any particular love of the actual sport. In fact, part of what makes Inazuma Eleven such a treat for RPG veterans is that it's one of the few games in the genre to really throw you for a loop, where you won't be instantly familiar with how 'combat' works before you even begin. It's a genuinely new experience, and it comes with a learning curve — even early-game skirmishes are engaging and tough — but mastering it is a reward in itself.

You'll have plenty of chances to perfect your game, as in addition to the full-length, eleven-man, story-advancing soccer showdowns, you'll also be challenged to random, four-man skirmishes by all manner of comically-named clubs as you make your way around Raimon and Inazuma. Instead of actual matches, these are quick skill-tests with a specific victory condition: get the ball off the opposing team, score the first goal, or keep possession until the clock runs out. They're a great way to hone your skills, as well as being fun in their own right, and in a nice change from the RPG-norm losing them won't send you back to the last inn, town, or Pokécenter you visited — you'll just carry on as you were, a few Prestige Points lighter but none the worse for the wear. That little detail makes a huge difference, helping to keep frustration levels low, encouraging exploration, and - in our experience - making the random encounters much more enjoyable; rather than worrying about being wiped out on your way back to the clubhouse, you can concentrate on improving with every encounter.

Losing a big match will send you back to the save-select screen, however, and that's where one of the game's few issues comes up: winning these isn't always as straightforward as you might expect, and some matches are more or less scripted for plot purposes. You'll still need to score more goals than the other team, of course, and you'll need all the stylus skills you can scrape up — but sometimes victory requires you to score with a particular player or a specific move, often at or after a certain point on the clock, all in service to the story.

Early on especially, when you're still learning how to handle the finer points of football, it can be difficult to juggle these dynamic win conditions while still playing well enough to actually win, and the constraints can feel a bit unfair. If you do lose a big game — as we did, repeatedly, in a certain early matchup — the sting of failure is compounded by having to sit through unskippable pre-match dialogue scenes every time. Still, objectives are easy enough to figure out if you've been paying attention to the dialogue, and we absolutely appreciate what these scripted setups bring to the narrative and character development.

Speaking of characters, there's certainly no shortage of them in Inazuma-town. True to the 'gotta catch 'em all' spirit of portable role-playing's best, Inazuma Eleven features over a thousand (!) different characters to scout and recruit, through the wholesome conceit of expanding your friend network and making personal connections. Each potential player is unique, and the wonderfully weird, Layton-esque character designs bear a distinct Level-5 hallmark. Unfortunately, not one of them is female; Raimon's soccer club doesn't seem to have discovered co-ed sports until the second game in the series. Once you've assembled your dream team, you can take them on the road over local wireless multiplayer, with friendly matches and player-trading evoking fond memories of Link Cable days.

Inazuma Eleven rests on a rock-solid gameplay foundation. It's got great pacing, enjoyable random encounters, and plenty to tinker with; between the strategic soccer battles, rock-paper-scissors type-advantages, and huge number of recruitable characters, it feels a bit like a friendlier Fire Emblem in football boots. And even with all that, the fact that it's so much fun to play comes down to the simple fact that it's absolutely packed with heart. With a glass-half-full hero and his infectious, unconditional love for the game, a fist-pumping anime intro and anthemic theme song, a lovely little world to explore, and an inspiring, can-do spirit that runs through the entire experience, Inazuma Eleven is an incredibly charming game from start to finish.

It's also a game that first came out almost six years ago on the Nintendo DS, but while it certainly sports some graphical relics from an earlier age — including plenty of jaggies and some particularly fuzzy sprites — it looks better than you might expect, with a colourful, cartoon style that's big on personality. It also features a few neat effects that make the most of its sprites-on-3D style, like the ability to rotate the overworld camera with the shoulder buttons for an appealingly isometric perspective. Most importantly, it feels like native 3DS software: the game fills the whole top screen, the anime cutscenes are sharp and crisp, and even though most of the action takes place on the touch screen, there's stereoscopic 3D throughout much of the game, from map screens to special move shots — though not in the random encounters, which seems like an odd oversight.

The soundtrack, meanwhile, has aged beautifully. The overworld is accompanied by a range of wistful, whimsical melodies, playful and pensive in turn, while a rollicking battle theme sets the tone each time you unsheathe the stylus. The voiceover — recast in American English for the game's New World début — is very well done, and always welcome when it kicks in for important scenes. Not everything in the game has been localised for its transatlantic trip, however, so unsuspecting Americans may spend a few extra minutes searching for a room on the wrong "first floor". Happily, Italian, French, and Spanish language options are also available, each fully voiced and of similarly high quality to the English dub.

Conclusion

If the phrase "soccer RPG" has you the least bit intrigued, lace up your cleats and grab your stylus — Inazuma Eleven's masterful mix of lighthearted storytelling and over-the-top soccer is fun, fresh, and surprisingly deep. But perhaps its greatest trick is that you don't need to love the sport to enjoy the experience; for RPG fans raised on a steady diet of turn-based combat and a strict future/fantasy dichotomy, Inazuma's soccer-based battles and schoolyard setting are a breath of fresh air unlike anything else in the genre. Football fan or not, if you're looking for a charming portable adventure packed with memorable characters and creative gameplay, Inazuma Eleven will bicycle kick its way right into your heart.

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User Comments (32)

unrandomsam

#1

unrandomsam said:

Could a code bought from say gamesrocket still be redeemed on a UK 3DS ? (I was under the impression the codes were for the whole region which is why people can buy them from game.co.uk).

Starwolf_UK

#2

Starwolf_UK said:

@unrandomsam For other games not available in your countries eShop you get an error when trying to redownload them (software unavailable) so I would imagine the same would happen here. This is exactly the reason why I never signed up for a Nintendo Network ID.

I would try contacting gamesrocket first to explain the situation before you buy as it is likely you will need a refund if it does not work. Then again the download needs to start for the code to be redeemed (I found when my SD card was full I redeemed Mario & Luigi and it did not appear in my download history so I cleaned up the SD and re-entered the code).

Melkac

#3

Melkac said:

Ah yeah, Inazuma Eleven! I completed it a few weeks ago. Such a great game.

I only completed the main story though. I was becoming too addicted to it >_>

datamonkey

#5

datamonkey said:

Goddamit for what reason has this not been released in the UK?

I'm getting really fed up with Nintendo gaming and its limitations...

Peach64

#6

Peach64 said:

It's already out in the UK on the DS. I hate region locking too, but there's really no reason to moan about this when you can pick up the DS cart for almost nothing and play it on your 3DS.

I just wish Nintendo UK has actually marketed the series as it's a great
game.

Starwolf_UK

#7

Starwolf_UK said:

@datamonkey Level-5 think we want the bad British dub that the cartoon that hardly aired anywhere had and since this game does not have it (they made something up about download size limitations) we can't get it:
http://level5ia.com/inazumaeleven/uk/
Contact level 5 about it (I did a while ago, they never even replied. charming, certainly made me think twice about about supporting their products).

Speaking of dubs, I think this download game has a different English dub to the episodes on the US eShop so it is like "oh dub inconsistency for America no problem, Britain big problem. Ireland no problem"

TwilightV

#9

TwilightV said:

I like the game, but I probably would have given it an 8 for it's age, and because it's clearly superior sequels exist now.

MagicBox

#10

MagicBox said:

There's really no way to say this without sounding picky, so I'll just say it.

All those different language options and they can't be bothered to give us the original Japanese audio track? As someone who was really, really looking forward to hearing Junko Takeuchi as the main character, I can't help but be disappointed. I'll still probably get this down the line because I really want to play it. But for right now, my backlog is so huge that I can afford to be a little selective over things like this.

datamonkey

#11

datamonkey said:

@Starwolf_UK - Thanks for the info.

That is literally the most crazy reason I have ever heard for not releasing a game in a region. I'm actually a little shocked!

Melkac

#12

Melkac said:

...Wait, there's an spanish language option? For the NORTH AMERICAN release?

I swear to god, if that option is for south america and Nintendo didn't use the original japanese names for it, they made a terrible mistake...
Errr, I'm glad the remastered version exists...and I really shouldn't be talking about it here...

defrb

#16

defrb said:

Download only? ouch that hurt.
Theres not much space for devolpers to get into soccer games these days.
Really intresting serie, it grows bigger and better every time.
At first i did not take the serie to serious but wow, what a progression they make, really awesomeness,
Think i get it, if its only to support their awesome project.

BenAV

#17

BenAV said:

I was too curious and bought it when it came out, and haven't regretted it at all as I've really enjoyed it so far.
Nice to see it scoring well.

thelastgogeta

#18

thelastgogeta said:

@Starwolf_UK
Downloadable game size constraints is a lie. I guess as a Brit, I can't know how big this download is as a remake of a DS game but can it be bigger than Senran Kagura's two huge plots (14,626 blocks) or the "Inazuma Eleven 1-2-3" 3DS collection which has 6 versions of the Japanese games in the name (14,615 blocks).

LordGeovanni

#19

LordGeovanni said:

I am in the USA and all I have to say is that even though this is Download-Only, I will be getting this. (Already have the $, I just want to beat Bravely Default first or I will never get it done!). My reasons?

  • This game was available on the DS, which meant that if I was able to get it imported, I would have a chance to play. I DID. I found some relatives over in Italy and found a few things that I asked them to send over to me.
  • With sales, they may bring over the other Inazuma Eleven games!
  • I will celebrate the World Cup by playing this the ENTIRE time!
  • It is actually in my $-cap for Download-Only games. $20 is my limit. Otherwise I feel as though it is a waste.
  • Encouraging sales of DS games on the 3DS may bring GBA and DS VC onto the 3DS and not just the Wii U.
  • It is SOCCER RPG. What in the world do you think of when you hear "Nintendo"? Exactly things like this! "Middle-Age Plumber that grows on Shrooms, Spits Fire because of Flowers, Flies like Superman because he sticks a feather in his cap, and RIDES Dinosaurs." Compare: "Bunch of Middle-School Children end up earning Superpowers (Sort-of, the Techniques seem like it!) in order to protect their school and Soccer team from being destroyed by other Schools. As an RPG!"

Edit: Wow! I am sort of low on caffeine when I wrote this so it hurts my eyes to read. The message stands true, however!

FrostFlare

#21

FrostFlare said:

This game somehow got me eternally hooked on soccer (or football, depending on your location). The drive to punt a ball over the fence is almost unbearable!

Jahir

#22

Jahir said:

@Melkac I think I didn't get what you meant in that first paragraph, Mexico is in North America so spanish dubs should be alright... Right?

This game looks great and its mix of genders seems really unique (wich is something I really apreciate). As someone said earlier, it's the perfect game to play for the next World Cup... If I only had the funds.

Philip_J_ReedStaff

#24

Philip_J_Reed said:

Morgan, this review encouraged me to take a risk on it. And my goodness I'm in love with this game.

You're absolutely right that it can be frustrating before it clicks. I must have lost that first "real" game three or four times, and each time it felt tremendously unfair. But then I figured out the controls a bit better, and started to understand some soccer terminology, and now I can't believe how great the game is.

Love it.

Dodger

#27

Dodger said:

I think I will pick this up with the money I have left over from Tomodachi Life. Does it have a free play mode? Where you can just jump in and play soccer?

zipmonStaff

#29

zipmon said:

@eleccross Definitely! Shoulder buttons are only used for swinging the camera around on the overworld (which isn't ever necessary) and cycling through menus, which can also be done on the touchscreen :)

eleccross

#32

eleccross said:

@zipmon Yeah, every time I see a game I want to play I ask about the shoulder buttons on Miiverse but people just give it a yeah and don't respond 85% of the time so it's pretty hard. I'm hoping SSB on the 3DS will have a special edition 3DS and I'll get that.

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