You'll win nothing with kids
Garnering something of a cult following, the Inazuma Eleven series has offered a light hearted - if tardily localised - football themed RPG experience to DS gamers for a few years.Now, the Level-5 title shifts to Nintendo’s latest handheld with the third in the series, and the transition proves even smoother than the studio’s other effort to migrate a franchise, Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask.
This is thanks in no small part to the fact this game was a DS release too.
As such it shows a general disregard for the stereoscopic gimmickry; something even Nintendo seem willing to eat humble pie over, as highlighted by their new 3D-less portable, the 2DS.
The 3D enabled top screen is used predominantly for the map features and even inventory management. Rather than shifting everything that might have utilised the prodding of the stylus to the bottom screen, they remain up top and distinctly unworthy of three-dimension-ifying (new word alert). As mentioned, this is in essence a DS title at its core, albeit with some sharper sprites.
As an introduction to the series, it suffers a bit, due to the returning cast, but those familiar with the animated cut-scenes of the Layton titles will be pleased to see the same employed here, and they prove a welcoming factor.
Third time luckyThe two versions of the game, Bomb Blast (reviewed here) and Lightning Bolt deviate in terms of some story points and which special moves and teams are exclusive.
There is no end of characters populating the world, eagerly at hand to give helpful hints and words of advice. However, the story is a who’s who of Inazuma Eleven, harking back to previous instalments liberally throughout the set-up. Name dropping accompanying flashback images won’t aid newcomers without context (I only dabbled in the preceding titles and felt a bit lost) and the long pre-amble to any real action can be a touch off-putting. The feel is very much the third of a trilogy, tying together the playful drama of prior arcs; everyone’s back, and this time they’re uniting.
A new kit, a new dormitory, and the challenge of representing Japan at a renowned youth tournament.
It’s the novelty of mixing together RPG elements and a tactical football mini-game that makes Inazuma strangely addictive. The isometric viewpoint and talkative population offer up that old-school feel, and it’s easy to lose yourself in the inanity of exploration, searching every nook and cranny, opening every chest that sits around like an incongruous nod to gaming tropes of yore.
You have basic levelling, but Prestige works as your currency, usable at shops to buy items such as food to replenish energy, as well as kit to boost the core stats of Kick, Body, Control, Guard, Speed, Stamina and Guts. You can also sell any unwanted bits to fill your wallet.
The array of equipable items for stat buffs and energy-fueling food stuffs make up the majority of your pickings from chests, but the former category adds depth. This is an RPG after all, and accompanying the de facto use of experience points and levelling is Fitness Points and Technical Points. Fitness Points are necessary for movement, get low and you’ll slow down, Technical Points empower you to use special moves, whilst the fluid nature of the squad dynamic means you’ll collect friends - not just story based but also from performing certain non-narrative tasks - and must ultimately lose some as your squad cannot be over-populated. With 100 slots to potentially fill, those with a catch ‘em all addiction will be able to elongate the game significantly, especially with some figures who require a cryptic password, for which you receive no initial clue.
It's a squad gameEnlisting supplementary players isn’t for the faint hearted though, as the story-based personnel you’ll be in charge of are more ready for battle. Those keen to grind will be happy to boost the stats of the myriad interesting folk picked up along the way, but for many the instant appeal of ready-made team mates of a decent level will be the preferable route. Luckily there are plenty of battles to be had; whenever you’re out and about others will be looking to challenge you. These random encounters will have different criteria for winning, there are four in total: score first, keep a clean sheet, keep possession and win possession.
The football sections play out like a cross between subbuteo and a card battle. In real time you aim your direction by drawing a line, then tap to place a pass into the path of a team mate. Sweeping and prodding the stylus to indicate movement in simplistic motions, but then choosing the correct option to challenge your opponent when an encounter - or Command Duel - pauses the game. It’s a stop-start affair that, far from evaporating the atmosphere in the pauses, can get surprisingly tense. It’s a pretty unique mix of simple mini-game and RPG elements.
To see whether you’ll win a Command Duel you must check Form values against your opponent. An elemental theme of four categories - each betters one but is bested by another - comes into play and, in tandem with stats, this’ll decide a player’s Form value. Once the Duel is triggered, you’ll be offered two options, split into easy left-or-right choices; left will have a lesser chance of success, but a higher chance of retaining the ball, whereas right’s vice versa. As with everything else in Inazuma Eleven, on its own it’s simple, but the myriad layers in unison create depth.
As all good console football gamers know, the mini screen showing player position is a vital tool to forward planning and gaining a tactical advantage. As you get better, details like formations and tactics start to unveil themselves, and once you get the hang of one touch football you’re well on your way. In a Pokemon vein, enlisting players and poring over subtle differences is where the satisfaction comes, a light hearted cartoon aesthetic covering some interesting tactical mechanics, at the end of which lie the special moves that offer an over-the-top visual flourish. If anything, the special moves have hit such a level that they’ve gone beyond the absurd and really have nowhere to go; they’re the one element that newcomers will find more instantly appealing than old hands, as they’re still fresh to them.
Otherwise, it can all be a bit daunting for the new player, what seems a simple isometric viewpoint football themed RPG is surprisingly stat heavy, and unless you’re invested in the characters, and know them instantly by the haircuts adorning their oversized head it can be tough in the heat of a match to tell at a quick glance who’s who, as kits can be frustratingly similar. It reinforces the fact that this is really fan service with minimal evolution, a continuation in every sense, but with Level-5 behind development that’s far from a criticism.
'66 World Cup
- Interesting crossover
- Animated cut-scenes
- Fun factor
Any other tournament
- Assumes some prior knowledge
- Pre-teen story
Inazuma Eleven 3: Bomb Blast ReviewInazuma Eleven 3 combines a simple mini-game appeal and youth-oriented story with card battle game depth, old school RPG charm and some fancy cut-scenes. It doesn’t make great use of the 3DS, but considering the gimmickry that might have been shoe-horned in to the detriment of the core gameplay, it’s of great benefit to the title that this is merely a 2DS game with a different sticker.
A continuation of previous titles, like Level-5’s Layton series, it offers fans what they want, more of the same. In any other genre that might be considered poor form, but Inazuma is such a unique mixture of elements that there really is no direct competition.
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