Inazuma Eleven originally released in Japan and Europe in 2008 and 2011, respectively. The series has been popular in Japan, spawning two main sequels and several spin-offs in the form of a Wii series, a manga and an anime. Despite its popularity in overseas, the soccer RPG series has never reached North America…until now.
Inazuma Eleven is a role-playing game for the Nintendo 3DS via the 3DS eShop. Level-5 developed and published the game. Level-5’s soccer RPG has plenty of strengths. The sprites and art style of the game are fantastic, the story does a good job of drawing the player in and the score is delightful. It is the gameplay that feels a bit off, but even so Inazuma Eleven has an addictiveness to it.
Thing are grim for the Raimon Soccer Club. The Club is terrible. Their peers and teachers think they are a joke. If that wasn’t enough, now the school president of Raimon Junior High wants to shut down the club by forcing them to win a match against the best team, Royal Academy. Unless Mark Evans, leader of the club and grandson of legendary goalkeeper David Evans, can scrounge up enough students to compete against Royal Academy, his dreams are over.
As Evans receives the information about the upcoming match, he learns of a new student, Axel Blaze. Evans hears about Axel’s past as a star player on his old school’s soccer team, and he knows his club can be saved if he can get Axel to join. However, Axel refuses.
Evans finds other students willing to play but the first half of the match against Royal is a slaughter. During the second half, Axel comes to help the team and scores one goal. This results in a mysterious voice telling Royal to withdraw and concede victory to Raimon. The victory is short-lived because Raimon now has to compete in a major tournament. For Evans to live up to his grandfather’s legacy, he must practice and find more players to help Raimon Soccer Club win.
The plot on the surface is much like any underdog sports story. A down-on-their-luck team must find the temerity and talent to compete against an insurmountable odds only to have their fortunes turned around by a star player. However, there is more going on beneath the surface.
While Raimon Soccer Club may be terrible now, it was not always so. No, it used to be home to the legendary Inazume Eleven coached by Evans’ grandfather. The game is full of cryptic half information about the Inazuma Eleven. This mystery draws players into the story and the characters. Not only is there intrigue, but there is a sinister force conspiring against Raimon Junior High. Teachers, managers and other soccer clubs cavorting with black silhouettes of dastardly foes hint at something bigger than a simple soccer tournament at stake in Inazuma Eleven.
Inazuma Eleven’s gameplay is divided between typical RPG-style exploration and soccer matches. The best thing about Inazuma Eleven is how familiar exploring Raimon Junior High and the surrounding areas feels. Moving around Raimon as feels just like a normal RPG. Players run around talking to NPCs to find out more information, recruit team members, move the story along and find items hidden around the areas.
Shops are littered around Raimon where players can buy new gear and items. Players also can switch up a party of four, choosing from the ever-growing roster of characters to compete in random battles. Even the random battles feel like a normal RPG; players earn experience, level up and improve. Random battles even come complete with the requisite grinding, but that is where the similarities end.
The bulk of gameplay in Inazuma Eleven involves competing in various soccer matches. These matches range from short, random battles to longer full games. In soccer matches, players control 4-11 players depending on match type. Players use the touchscreen to control team members. When on offense, players can pass the ball between team members by tapping on them.
Moving toward the goal involves dodging and evading defending players to retain control of the ball. The success of defensive moves is determined by the level and strength of players. If a defending player is stronger than the offensive player, the offensive player will lose the ball, allowing the opposing team a chance to score. When on defense, players move team members toward opponents controlling the ball to try and steal the ball away.
Level and stats improve through random battles, training or official matches. The higher the level and stats, the more likely you will be successful in matches. Another caveat is elemental affinity. The game features a “rock, paper, scissors, nuke” situation where certain elements are stronger than others. Successful moves also take this into consideration. There are also special moves that can break through even stronger characters’ normal moves but can be defended with other special moves.
The official matches play much like a normal game of soccer where each team tries to score the most goals in order to win. Random battles are shorter and often feature a specific task to complete–usually scoring a goal. There is plenty of depth to gameplay, but there are issues. Since the game is a RPG, there is the necessity to grind out levels and random battles become a chore. Having to score a single goal every couple of steps becomes a hassle.
Gameplay is actual soccer so it should of course be determined by skill, but higher level enemies will always defeat you regardless of your personal skill level. Thus, grinding becomes vital and since it is all impromptu soccer matches, it becomes a bit dull. Random battles help you train and get better for official matches, but they are too many and too cumbersome to be so vital. If only the random battles switch between pick-up matches and a weird turn-based style combat that would help add variety to the level grinding.
Graphics and Sound
Graphics are mainly sprite-based with the occasional 3D model used during specific moments in the game. The sprites and environments in the game look fantastic. It is a shame developers generally favor 3D-based graphics on the 3DS because sprites look so much better on the system. While 3D models are not terrible, there are some figure issues when rending larger characters in 3D and certain animations involving other objects are rough. Luckily the game uses 3D models sparringly, so it retains a great visual style.
Yasunori Mitsuda composed the score for the game. The music is wonderful. It makes exploring very pleasant. The voice acting in the game is okay, but not the worst English dub ever.
Inazuma Eleven is an interesting game. It has many elements that would make for a top-tier RPG. The story has a good deal of intrigue and holds your attention. Graphically, the sprite-based style works extremely well and the music is fantastic. Gameplay has a good level of depth and is fun, but the strike against it comes from it being a RPG.
Since grinding experience is a necessary part of the game and the random battles wear out their welcome early, it hurts the overall experience. It is still a fun game and worth a look for any 3DS owner looking for a unique RPG experience.