Level-5 is well known for its handle on the Professor Layton series, but it also holds the gaming rights to the soccer anime Inazuma Eleven. But does the game, out now for the Nintendo 3DS, hold up to the award winning manga though?
Inazuma Eleven is about a school soccer club that isn't really passionate about soccer and is on the verge of being disbanded. The only person on the team who even remotely cares about keeping the team together is the soccer captain and goalkeeper Mark Evans; Mark is the heart of the soccer club and the glue that keeps them together. Through his passion, he is able to rally the team and bring in more members to save the club. With his grandfather’s book of soccer secret moves, he and his team battle their way up the ranks of high school soccer clubs to play in the Soccer Frontier Internationals. However, there is a higher power at work behind the scenes trying to stop Mark and his team from becoming the new champions.
Inazuma Eleven is pretty much two games in one - on one hand you have a sports game and on the other you have an in-depth RPG. Most of the game is played within the RPG element where you walk around the world, mostly the school, and have the option to find treasure chests full of items, recruit new members to the team, or simply progress the story. Within the RPG element of the game, NPC'S will give you information such as your next objective or where to find a new recruit for the team. While traversing the map, random battles may occur in which you can find yourself engaged in a soccer match in order to gain experience points and friendship points. Gaining experience allows members of your team to level up and increase their attributes as well as gain new special abilities. Friendship points are a spendable currency used to scout new members.
The downside to these random battles though is that, you only gain experience if you win; which makes a lot of sense. However, the game offers the option to run from the match before it starts. What it doesn't tell you though, is that by doing so you will lose experience points as well as friendship points. So the only way to not get shafted in these battles is to win and it can be pretty difficult if you haven't leveled up your characters. Kind of a catch 22.
The sports game element comes around only through random battles, practice games and story progression. One of the biggest differences between the RPG and the sports side is that you must use the touchscreen in order to play when in soccer battles. Aside from setting your team lineup and defense formation, the sports element is, usually, a standard soccer match. Get the ball and score more points than the opposing team before the clock runs out. At first, it appears to be a "lead your team anywhere on the field and quickly dominate the opposition" type of formula, but after a bit of time you'll notice it's less interaction and more wait and see.
What I mean by this is that, you don't really have much freedom or control of player movement but rather lead them in the direction you wish for them to go. The AI designates the best area for a player to stand depending on the formation you chose in the beginning. When near the ball, you tap a player (preferably the closest to the ball) with the stylus and drag in the direction you want them to go. If you collide with an opponent who has the ball you have two options of stealing, if you have the ball you have two options of defending.
The game also has an element system in which each player has an element that revolves around them - Fire, Water, Wood and Wind. The element system adds a level of strategy to the game but not enough that you really need to remember it. It pretty much goes that if your element is stronger than the opponents then you have twice the chance of a successful defend or steal. Players also come with a gauge for Technique Points or TP. TP allows players to use their special abilities to turn the tide of the match in their favor, or just to keep the pressure on. While playing, characters will start to sweat to show loss of stamina, and they will run slower and perform worse because of it.
Inazuma Eleven isn't a bad game, but it isn't necessarily a great game either. It teeters right on the line unsure of where to fall and that is where the problem lies. Touchscreen controls can be unresponsive at times, there's no clear acknowledgement of when something works regarding the elemental feature or the player stamina. Inazuma Eleven isn't a bad game, but it could use a little more work before it's ready to face the champions. 2 TOV Stars out of 5.