“These Go To Eleven.” (Inazuma Eleven)

It’s been an odd experience for a North American fan of Inazuma Eleven. Is it okay to even say I’m a fan? For some time I lacked any sort of meaningful connection to the games. Is it possible to be a fan of something you’ve never experienced?

I suppose I just could never help myself, Inazuma Eleven always seemed so promising. When first announced, it seemed its release here was eventual. The DS was home to a bevy of odd games, what was so strange about an role-playing soccer game?

But it never came to be. I came close to importing the UK version of the first DS game (itself released three years after the Japanese launch), but finding a reliable retailer became hard, despite our shared love for throwing the letter U into random words.

So guess what happened last week when Inazuma Eleven finally hit our shores? I exploded. Guts were everywhere. The hype train hit me so hard I ceased to exist.

My soul, through sheer will, rebuilt my body so I could indulge in this Level-5 treasure (albeit a weird, repackaged, and remade treasure from 6-years ago).

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What grabbed me immediately was its perfect blending of Pokémon, Mario Golf: Advance Tour, and Super Mario Strikers. Those three games are the kings of their genre, and Inazuma Eleven cherry picks the best of each. It nabs Pokémon‘s team building, expands upon Mario Golf‘s open world, and rivals the high-flying antics of Mario Strikers.

What Inazuma can claim as its own is a daring take on the game of soccer. Using the stylus, players oversee 11 characters as they battle it out against an eccentric team of enemies (ranging from horror themed hooligans to mathematical menaces). With the ball in your teams possession, players can pass it along to a teammate or take a shot at net. What you’ll find is that this match of soccer players like any RPG; when the opposition comes barreling down on a teammate, the game pauses and presents a few options. A number of factors come into player at this stage; each player has an element assigned to them (fire, wind, earth, and nature) which is strong and weak against another type, as well as the typical stats you’d expect from a game of this genre. If challenged, you can choose from feint, charge, or a special attack. Once your selection is made, the events sometimes unfold on the top screen with an in-game cinematic.

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It all seems like a bit much at first, but it didn’t take me long to wrap my head around it. I’ve always been one for adventurous control schemes, with Kid Icarus: Uprising being my favourite. These controls offer a lot of flexibility though, so it’s not just about dragging and tapping. Just before you make your decision in those battles I mentioned, you can tap on the screen where you’d like to place the ball should you win the engagement. As well, as you tap the screen to pass the ball to a teammate, tapping a second member will automatically have the ball placed to them when the first pass is complete. You can really take control of the field, and if this all seems daunting, you can pause the onscreen action with a “timeout” and plan your team’s routes at a less frantic pace.

Your on-field actions are important, but just who is out there is important as well. Inazuma‘s cast of playable characters is quite large, set apart by their attributes, special moves, and playing position. A great aspect of gathering these players is through scouting. Here you can pick and choose the players you’d like, filling in whatever holes may exist in your lineup.
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Off the field, Inazuma Eleven casts your team as the members of a beaten and bruised soccer club. Despite the protagonist’s cheerful attitude, the rest of Raimon High thinks very poorly of him and his kind. Despite an abundance of much sillier clubs, the soccer club’s poor performance means your fellow students wouldn’t piss on fire to put you out. How’s that for motivation? There’s many areas to explore, and plenty of folks to talk you (even though they hate your guts). Best of all, many of them spout nonsense!

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It’s still surprises me that I’m actually playing Inazuma Eleven. I’m interested in seeing where Level-5 takes the franchise here. The games are very story driven, so it seems unlikely that we’ll immediately jump to one of the proper 3DS sequels. But honestly, I’ll take what I can get, especially when it’s this refreshing.

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