Inazuma Eleven is as original as it is surprisingly good. This game, of which I honestly hadn’t heard of before clicking it in my DS, offers a unique combination of role-playing and a soccer game. Developer Level 5 has made sure lovers of either genre will find their thing here.
You start in a typical Japanese high school with all kinds of crazy characters that don’t go beyond the usual clichés but are fun worked out and appear to have a refreshing personality compared to what you usually get in RPGs. Of course the setting adds to that, just like the fact that combat doesn’t come with swords and magic but with dribbles, goals and dangerous tackles.
As you expect you can upgrade and change your team of nerds, passers-by, ambitious dreamers and fatties. There are dozens of characters to pick from with each their favorite position and way of playing. They go berserk for a new pair of shoes (no magic rings here) or other gear that will make them faster or better at kicking a ball, and they don’t even mind a couple of hours training to boost some stats. This will be necessary as the school wants to close down the soccer club as the team has been getting all but great results.
The games themselves are done four vs. four or eleven vs. eleven, depending on the importance of the encounter. The latter are therefore less frequent and function like some sort of boss fight. The way you play needs some getting used to in the beginning: you need to draw a line in front of your man with the stylus towards where you want him to run, or click to who they need to pass or kick.
Of course soccer comes with duels and each time an opponents comes to bother you, you need to choose between a daring but useful move (like a spectacular dribble or heavy tackle) or a safer but more succesful move. The same goes for the shooting at the goal or keeping the other team from scoring against you.
It’s here that special skills come into play that use some sort of mana-like energy next to the standard stamina everyone has. Strangely enough these skills are divided in more classic categories that have more to do with elementary powers (water, fire, … you know the drill). You won’t find it in Manchester United, but it works pretty well here and it gives the devs an accessible way to have you put up your team in a balanced way and get it adjusted depending on who’s on the other side of the field.
You hear it: this is actually a quite classic RPG that was transferred to the world of soccer, with an original combat system, beautiful and cute graphics, good sound and a very tight and deep gameplay and finishing. As always there’s plenty to read and discover (it remains a very Japanese game) and there’s no shortage of content or lifespan. Those that love RPGs on the DS and wouldn’t mind trying out something different this is definitely a game to have a look at. For those that love soccer and aren’t afraid of a new genre of games: this is the ideal opportunity!