You spend years in the gaming industry and yet it still has the capacity to throw a curve ball – or in this case perhaps a banana shot is a more apt description – in your direction. What with any number of hugely hyped, mega developed titles on the radar it can be easy to overlook the little guy, easier still when it turns out the little guy is a port of a Japanese release some three years old, but if you did you’d be making a mistake.
Inazuma Eleven, or ‘Lightning’ Eleven to give it its literal translation, is a title which gives football the J-RPG treatment – not the most obvious of bedfellows I’m sure you’ll agree. Laced into the boots of maverick goalkeeper and captain of the school football team, Andy Evans, the game is all about levelling up your players, controlling their occasional tantrums and playing your way through to football league stardom.
This isn’t quite like the beautiful game we know and love though, players are capable of unleashing the kind of power shots that would have Cristiano Ronaldo hanging his head in shame and the assortment of super abilities don’t end with shots. Andy himself is capable of deploying the ‘God Hand’ goalkeeping technique for example to stop said rockets in their tracks.
Rival teams are just as weird and wonderful themselves, each based around bizarre themes, such as the Occult team whose players benefit from ghostly assistance and even the ability to mesmerise the opposition into inaction – you know, a bit like Barcelona manage week-in, week-out.
Matches play out with heavy reliance on the touchscreen so don’t be expecting an alternative to your FIFA or PES habits. Whether in a battle (four player in your line-up) or a full match (eleven players), the direction of your team is much the same. Tapping on a player and drawing a line will have that player running to your beat (whether on the ball or off it), while when in possession tapping on an empty are of the pitch will have your player passing into space.
The limited assistance will at least have the player nearest the ball run into its path, but on the whole it leaves you largely to you own devices. The RPG element comes in when a defender clashes with an attacker whereby a rock, paper, scissors kind of system is utilised meaning there’s a 50/50 chance you’ll get the better of your opponent.
Added into the mix, just to complicate matters, are elements assigned to each player (water, fire, wind, earth) which have advantages and disadvantages versus each other while, finally, you can always resort to your special techniques which can turn the game on its head if used at the right time but consume ability points thus limiting their usage Confused yet? You will be.
The on pitch action is the games best and most exasperating feature, taking a particular amount of dogged persistence to get to grips with. That your team’s players can be easily confused with the opposition doesn’t help matters, nor does the relative shortness of matches and your team’s relative inability to score at first – special techniques not being learned and unlocked until players have reached certain level.
That said, there’s nothing quite like Inazuma in full flow and the smug satisfaction taken from scoring is if anything heightened by the amount of effort that goes into creating a chance in the first place.
Off the pitch there’s plenty going on too, what with the mental plot twisting and turning and about a 1000 potential players to discover. There’s even a rudimentary scouting system on offer and multiple areas to explore as each is gradually introduced. Andy himself is a decent enough protagonist, his mission to build the grateast football team ever oddly gratifying and there’s even the odd super star player like the Akira-haired Axel Blaze thrown into the mix.
That Inazuma Eleven has already spawned sequels and a spin off TV show in Japan speaks of its indelible quality. A football based RPG might not be the most obvious choice for fans of either genre, while the kids’ cartoon approach might put off hardcore footy fans. Give it the time it deserves however and you won’t come away disappointed.