Definition of irony: a developer committing the same crime as their game’s villain.
This review is based on the Shadow edition of the gameBlending sport with the JRPG genre doesn’t sound like a winning formula for a videogame series, but that is exactly the formula you’ll find in the Inazuma Eleven series. Released just in time for the World Cup, the most recent instalment is Inazuma Eleven GO, which comes in two different varieties, Shine and Shadow, and no doubt hopes to capitalise on the football frenzy currently gripping the world. However, those who pick up a copy will find themselves battling their way through a game which is more RPG than football game, and which will ingratiate itself better with anime enthusiasts than fans of the beautiful game.Inazuma Eleven GO is certainly aimed at a younger crowd of gamers, and only the most gullible of children will find its story believable. After the events of the original Inazuma Eleven, football has become so important in Japan that it is now heavily regulated by the shadowy organisation called Fifth Sector, and ruled over by the Holy Emperor of Football (no, you didn’t read that wrong). Fifth Sector so heavily controls the game that even match results are decided before kick-off, turning the matches themselves into little more than choreographed show pieces. Enter Arion Sherwind, Inazuma Eleven GO’s lead character, whose infectious enthusiasm for real football leads the team at Raimon Junior High to defy Fifth Sector’s orders and start a revolution.Will he score though?If you’re familiar with any of the more juvenile anime series out there, none of the story events will particularly surprise you. Once you’re done laughing at it – for us it started about a minute in, when villain Alex Zabel dramatically throws back his hood and declares it’s his destiny to control football – and can just accept it, the premise keeps things going nicely enough that you’ll rarely be bored. There are problems, however. While the associated anime and manga are supposedly “based on” the game, it feels more like they were developed alongside it. The result is that certain story events can feel choppy and disconnected. Characters will pop up, play a vital part for a chapter or two, and then disappear into the background. When this sort of thing happens, it feels like the basis for an episode of the TV series and never really works in the video game format. Furthermore, the story tends to dominate in a way it doesn’t need to. Not uncommonly, you’ll be given control of Arion after a cutscene only for the next one to start after you’ve taken two or three steps. Many of these scenes just show the team training for their next match, and could easily have been made into mini-games – even of the simple, quick time event type – to keep the player more involved. When the game lets you get into matches, things improve. In fact, it plays very much like a strategy RPG and is reminiscent of Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings – albeit with football instead of swords and magic. You control your players on the pitch using the touchscreen and stylus. Each of them have stats such as Kick, Catch, Block, and Speed, which improve as they earn experience and level up, and can use special abilities allied with different elements. Some of them can also use unique “Spirit Summons”, again in the Final Fantasy tradition of summons, which boost their stats and unlock a new set of abilities. All in all, the system works surprisingly well. There are occasional problems: sometimes you’ll tap a player to pass to them and nothing happens, and the AI for your defensive players will often leave them in disarray, but on the whole it doesn’t upset things too much.In Japan, footballers are allowed to bring giant snakes onto the field.Despite all this success with the gameplay, Inazuma Eleven GO also does its best to scupper it with a design mistake which, one can only imagine, is once again owed to the needs of the tie-in anime and manga. In the tournament matches which form the backbone of the game, a whole series of scripted events stand in your way before you can even start playing. These consist of completing a series of passes, or getting a character into an area of the pitch with the ball, or getting the ball over a certain line. As simple as this sounds, they always happen one after another, forcing you to complete three or four of these conditions before you can actually play, and can easily take you ten or fifteen minutes to complete. Even goals take place in these embedded story events, so that at times you’ll find yourself ahead or behind without even doing anything, and with a good portion of match time wasted. It’s difficult to describe just how infuriating this scripting is. Playing the matches is the best part of Inazuma Eleven GO, so when you’re not allowed to play it’s extremely frustrating. What’s more, it goes entirely against the message the game is trying to pass on. Raimon Junior High football team does battle against Fifth Sector and their careful regulation because they want to play football for real, rather than acting out scripted matches. It’s an irony that seems to have passed Level 5 by that they are committing the very same crime as Fifth Sector by scripting the game’s matches instead of letting you actually play them. It’s a real shame that the best moments of the game are ruined by refusing to give you control, and it very nearly destroys it. Away from the story matches, there are plenty of other things to do if you so please. You can participate in side tournaments, earning experience and new kit for your team, while trying out new formations and players. There are also football “battles”: five-a-side matches against enemy teams you’ll find lounging around the world. There are literally hundreds of new players to be recruited, either by winning these battles or by completing the conditions given on specially purchased cards. The main story can easily take up to twenty hours to complete, and if you feel inclined to do any of the extra material you’ll certainly get good value for your money. Furthermore, the two different versions of the game – Light and Shadow – contain different characters, moves, and plot points, so Level 5 have certainly done their best to provide lots of content. Inazuma Eleven GO is certainly pretty enough, and that makes it a pleasure to play. The colour palette is bright and varied, and the anime cutscenes which pop up from time to time are lovely to watch. The quality of the music is good enough that you’ll want to play with the sound turned on, even if much of the voice acting is a bit stilted. Unfortunately, lead character Arion is particularly annoying to listen to, and some of his lines will leave you banging your head against a wall. He has an irritating habit of referring to football as if it’s a person, a habit which actually irritates his teammates as well. It’s difficult not to feel embarrassed when you hear him declare: “You’re making football cry!”Football may be crying, but Arion’s dialogue is the most upsetting thing here.Ultimately, Inazuma Eleven GO is an enjoyable game when it’s inclined to let go of the reins.Even non-football enthusiasts will have fun playing it, especially if they enjoy JRPGs. That being said, the story has very little depth and the tone is very childish. Children who enjoy the Pokémon games and are looking for a slice of football fun should also enjoy Inazuma Eleven GO, which is cut from much the same cloth. It’s almost better than it is but it’s also almost worse; the scripting of story matches comes very close to completely ruining it. Overall, Inazuma Eleven GO is stronger as a JRPG than as a sports game, but should still provide children with the football excitement they are looking for during the World Cup.
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