Eleven-times the soccer fun… if you’re not a big soccer fan.
With a name like Inazuma Eleven, I know what you’re all thinking… you’re thinking, “Why are you starting your review with such a stupid joke premise, Kevin?” And you’d be right to, so instead, let’s start with what this isn’t: It’s not the eleventh game in a series; it’s not a reference to the year 2011 (or for hard-nosed RPG players, the years 1011 or 10,011). There’s a number in there because of the squad you’re trying to build—the Inazuma Eleven, the same name as the legendary team from 40 years ago… in their universe, of course. Not ours. Just to be super-clear.
You play as that growing squad, a collection of bright-eyed and cleat-wearing anime characters with very Anglo names. The biggest players are the dedicated goalkeeper Mark Evans and the aloof star striker Axel Blaze. With their respective playing abilities they set out to build a team for the Raimon school (where classrooms exist but are never used and almost no one mentions “school stuff”) that can take on their archrivals Royal Academy—the team that’s won the championship 40 years straight. The champions right before them? Raimon’s own Inazuma Eleven.
So with the help of players like Jack, Nathan, and Kevin (who, like me, is a soccer star only in his own mind), they set out to prove that their club is worth keeping… oh yeah, did I mention they’re on the brink of being disbanded? That’s right: This a re-telling of that film classic Major League, only with children and a sad lack in sexual tension because, you know, they’re like twelve-years old.
I enjoy my RPGs, but I don’t generally play too many sports games. I can only think of one, maybe two, reviews I've done about putting the ball-pucks in the goal-holes for Home Down, World Bowl victories (grand dunk!). I enjoy some sports games, and with the way this cheesy, childlike-but-not-childish story is told, it reminds me a lot of stories like The Sandlot with precocious kids playing for the sake of playing and pursuing their dreams. The visual is even reminiscent of days-past, looking like a soft-filter version of old SNES-era RPGs in the overhead world outside of battle, then PSOne-era 3D characters in the actual soccer matches. The animations are a bit funny with their never-changing facial expressions, but the little cut-scenes of special attacks are still nice.
The way the battles and matches play out reminds me a lot of my first time through The World Ends With You: a steeper learning curve than I anticipated, taking place (nearly) entirely on the bottom screen and requiring stylus-on-screen action. Eleven requires it for bouncing between players, laying out routes for some to follow to set up for future shots on the goal and then positioning shots on the goal itself. While most of the time it works without trouble, there are occasions in the heat of the game where the flaw of “too small of a tappable box” is exposed; it can be easy to try and move a player, then instead pass the ball prematurely or worse, not tap it at all, wasting precious seconds of play execution. Maybe if the sprites were larger it wouldn’t be a problem, but then it could be harder to move the camera around the field to set up other plays, and… yeah. They should’ve worked harder to making that movement more consistent.
There is an element system involved here as well. Each player is assigned one of the four elements—air, wood, fire, and earth—none of which seems to make a noticeable difference in the way offense or defense works. It’s okay, not terrible, but it doesn’t matter. Maybe it’s because I’ve figured out some basic tactics that have allowed me to win almost every battle and match now without much effort. The game is remarkably easy once you get used to it; I won a few early matches five-nil without a problem. But those little extra monikers are all but meaningless. I didn’t even need the once-per-match, “fire up the troops” call to raise my spirits and stats for a limited time. Again, sure it’s nice to have some extra depth, it’s a shame it’s not very deep.
I could make a lot of soccer metaphors, like “this one’s a slam basket” or “corner kick something-something," but it’s not necessary. What I thought at first was a cheesy kid’s soccer RPG is actually a fun experience, even with the touchscreen learning curve. It’s the kind of classic-era role-playing that feels a little outdated (and it is… this was originally launched on the DS) but holds up well. For any fans of those old RPGs, this should be a fun throwback for you. For kids, it’ll be a fun introduction to the genre. For everybody else… what the hell, it’s still a fun way to waste some time.