We're no strangers to dual releases in the Inazuma Eleven series, as it apes the money-spinning convention best seen in the Pokémon franchise; yet Inazuma Eleven 3: Team Ogre Attacks adds a third variation at a later release date. For fans of Inazuma Eleven 3 in either of its first two forms this is potentially more of a rather good thing, though going into extra time does leave this team looking a tad weary.
The first point to address is that, for those that have played either of the first two entries of Inazuma Eleven 3, Team Ogre Attacks will prompt feelings of déjà vu; large parts of this football / soccer RPG game remain the same, including the core of the storyline. You're still rehearsing to be in the Japanese National Team and trying to win the equivalent of the World Cup — the variety comes with additional cut-scenes and the tweaked elements to encompass the aforementioned Team Ogre. This storyline apparently references the Inazuma Eleven movie — we can't vouch for that having not seen the film — and so taps into an overall vibe of this title being an extensive example of fan-service.
It's a typically crazy storyline, in any case, with time-travelling villains fitting in with the series' habit of going for the spectacular. It all fits the style of the franchise nicely, and those that do enjoy sampling the Inazuma lore — or as much of it as the West actually receives — will get a fix; the issue is that the movie isn't commonly known here in the West. For those simply buying this game in the hope of enjoying more RPG over-the-top football madness, some of the references will fly over their head. It's an enjoyable romp, but also over-familiar and rehashed.
It represents questionable value, then, but what this title does deliver is a solid entry point for those that have considered the franchise before but resisted, or simply others that haven't picked up either Bomb Blast or Lightning Bolt last year. Should Level-5 — with assistance from Nintendo — seek to broaden the franchise's appeal in the West, this will at least link in to that aforementioned 2010 movie that was aired in Japan.
For those that have missed the DS entries and the preceding Inazuma Eleven releases on 3DS, the structure of this title may certainly appeal. The bulk of the experience is that of a top-down RPG, as you explore areas, follow arrows to progress the story and dive into its complex systems and upgrade opportunities. We've covered these before, and they do feel catered to gamers either young or downright compulsive, with countless hours possibly lost to scouting players for your team, upgrading items and equipment, collecting and learning new special moves and diving off into a variety of sub-tournaments and tasks. Those battling through the Extra Competition, the Tournament Match Mode — which substitutes individual match progression for level-based multi-team contests — will be playing a lot of matches; yet it doesn't feel necessary.
Adding such depth does cater to those "recruit 'em all" instincts that are encouraged, yet it's excessive padding. The simplistic nature of the gameplay is well suited to the target audience and genre, yet with each subsequent release the extra tournaments and routes outwith the storyline betray a lack of imagination elsewhere; it's the same activities with a fresh label. The action isn't compelling enough to make these exhaustive diversions worthwhile, and once again we were perfectly capable of progressing through the campaign without the need for additional players or more than the standard items and drops; the busy work simply isn't appealing.
Over the many hours of the main campaign, there does remain a solid foundation of enjoyable gameplay that tempers the progressively bloated experience. Some new areas and encounters do appear, and the plot drives you on to high-stakes, epic encounters. The main 11-a-side matches, as before played with the stylus on the touch screen, once again incorporate a mix of self-determination and scripting; particularly deadly opponents may take an early lead to lengthen the odds. The aforementioned déjà vu is an issue, making new segments a relief, but the combination of basic play with extravagant "special moves" once again contribute a memorable fusion of action and strategy. Team special moves, the ability to fire-up the team once per match, and various technicalities such as double specials — in which you combine player abilities when they're near each other — all add to the tactical thrill. The actual football may be slow-paced, but the real-time sense of battle works as well as it did in its various predecessors.
Random encounters in the overworld of 4 vs 4 are also present once again, providing the ranking boosts for the team; these can often be just a few seconds long once a strategy is formed, as opposite teams are predictable and easy to out-manoeuvre. There are occasions when they feel like a nuisance, yet it seems the frequency of encounters has been dialled back to more sensible levels. Many areas have other extras to explore, including shops, Special Training areas that let you redeem points for stat improvements, and a number of chests to find and plunder for useful items.
Throughout all of these matches you utilise your collectibles and recharge points to manage your team's various skill allocations. FP (Fitness Points) determine the pace and athleticism of players, TP (Technical Points) are the most valuable as they allow the well-known and impressive special moves, while the lesser-used TTP (Team Technical Points) allow special team moves. It's a system that's been well-honed over multiple entries and, combined with the refined football match mechanics, form the core of the game. Team Ogre Attacks may lack originality, but in the areas that count it doesn't go backwards.
There are also some welcome connectivity options that continue in this iteration, with local multiplayer an option — once again you can set separate teams for each aspect of the game — while co-op is possible in the Extra Competition route, making the obsessive player collecting a little less of a grind. StreetPass is also included for sending challenges to others, SpotPass content is promised, and those that have save data for previous entries can receive some extra goodies, which is one of Level-5's most repeated and welcome tricks.
Much of this, with just occasional examples, has been seen before, and the proximity and degree of story overlap with the previous Inazuma Eleven 3 titles make this a relatively tough sell for all but newcomers and enthusiasts. For those ready to try their first title in the series, this offers an enormous amount of content, even when dodging the excessive padding, and has enough flashbacks at key moments to avoid too much confusion; not grasping the intricacies or references throughout isn't particularly damaging, as the setting of school kids saving the world / universe / their future selves through football is suitably bonkers that details feel unimportant. Those absolutely immersed in the franchise will also get some kicks from recurring characters, the new Team Ogre segments and more of the same gameplay enjoyed before.
For those in the middle-ground, however, this simply doesn't offer enough. Not only is it recycling much from the previous Inazuma Eleven 3 iterations, but it's continuing the problems from those games. We complained previously that the earlier 3DS releases fell victim to a sense of malaise and franchise fatigue, as the same old mechanics and structures from the DS titles continued without clever evolution, but simply more depth. If the first game had a nice balance of gameplay design, this feels like more of the same but determinedly off-balance, with the developers simply piling on more variations and tweaks that simply puff it up; the series is losing its shape, becoming increasingly repetitive.
A reboot is needed, then, and the fact that we're onto another Inazuma Eleven 3DS title that is still essentially a DS port, with some minor bells-and-whistles thrown in, is indicative of its lack of freshness. If the visuals and recycled assets looked primitive before — the same-old loops of DS-standard music are becoming grating — then it's archaic now. Level-5 needs to freshen up the series or, if its releases in Japan have done that already, get that content to the West.
All franchises iterate on what's come before, yet Inazuma Eleven 3: Team Ogre Attacks pushes the boundaries of what's reasonable in that practice. There are extras that are enjoyable — the additional cutscenes and tweaked story, for example — but others that merely add to a sense of insipid repetition. For those that purchased Inazuma Eleven 3 last year, there's little reason to buy this; there's too much overlap and a lack of any real progression. Level-5 keeps piling on more of the same content, when creativity is required.
This isn't a bad game, however, and in fact simply continues the good that has come before. For those yet to try the series this is a good place to jump in as long as there's acceptance of DS-level presentation. With each entry underwhelming in comparison to the last this is a series in need of a fresh outlook, but scores enough goals to retain its — albeit weakened — appeal.