Level 5, developers of the Professor Layton series and Ni no Kuni, released their sports RPG called Inazuma Eleven for the DS in 2008. After picking up steam in Japan, it was translated and released in both Europe and Austrailia approximately three years later. Gaining enough popularity, the game franchise has gone the way of the Pokemon games. With tons of sequel games, an anime series and a few movies. But it was only until February 2014, that North America finally has an official release of this growing game franchise, thanks in part to the re-release of the first three games in Japan. Was it worth the wait? Let’s take a look at the re-release of the first game that started it all.
As an RPG, a good story is paramount for keeping players invested in the characters and the world of the game. Set in a modern day Tokyo, the story focuses on the soccer club of Raimon middle school and its captain, Endou Mamoru (Mark Evens in English).
A passionate soccer fan, Endou wants more than anything to make his team the best that they can be. When the all-star soccer team from a rival school annouces they will be playing against his team, Endou is given a harsh reminder of how much he and his team will have to improve. With the help of his team-mates and a new transfer student, Endou will finally be able to participate in the Football Frontier Tournament of his dreams and make his team the best in the country.
For peoplewho are familiar with anime style games, there are bucket loads of Shonen elements in this story (ie, power of friendship, over coming adversity) which can get a bit cheesy at times. But much like with other Level 5 games, the characters are fun and charming enough that its hard not to care about them. Endou’s enthusiasm is contagious and its hard not to have fun playing along with him as his story unfolds. Even though this is a typical underdog story, there are plenty of twists and turns to keep players invested.
Part of the silliness that is tied to both story and gameplay is how much it exaggerates the sport of soccer with the inclusion of special moves (which must be seen to be believed). Though instead of being a drawback, I personally find this to be one of the game’s strengths due to the fact that it is one of the main aspects that seperates this series from other sport RPGs.
Compared to the original, not much has changed in terms of gameplay. Working with a full team of characters, you level them up, cutsomize them, improving their skills set and playing official soccer matches. Using the DS stylus to direct team members on the field, using them as defenders, midfielders or forwards to try and score points against the other team. Penalties such as fouls and offsides can occur if the player isn’t careful. Player formations can be altered in the game menu to better suit your play style.
As captain of the soccer club, it is important to increase your ranks and have plenty of team members to rely on. The recruitment system such as scouting and the connection map are imperative to locating new team members and expand your roster for upcoming matches. Every character on the team, whether they be part of the story or recruited, are customizable in terms of equipment, uniform and what special moves they can learn. Training points and a training center can be unlocked later in the game to assist in raising specific stats for individual players or even the whole team.
Just like in the previous games, there is a online multiplayer mode where you can challenge other players with your customized team in friendly matches.
Easily the most noticable change to the game as a whole. The character sprites have been completely redone, made to fit with the capabilities of the 3DS.
The game menu’s have also been altered to better suit the player’s needs. These updated visuals make the animations much nicer to look at. There are several animated cutscenes in-game which don’t seem to have changed much from the oringnal save for the fact that they have a new voice cast.
Speaking of the english cast, while they not perfect do a good job in their performance of portraying these endearing characters (which is more than I can say for cast of the dubbed anime episodes that are available to watch on the eShop).
As a fan of the original games, I can’t express how pleased I am that it has finally been released for North America. Inazuma Eleven is a charming RPG with a fresh battle system that will keep you entertained even long after you’ve beaten the main story. As this is the first of a trilogy, time and sales will tell if the re-made sequels will be released as well. But with such an entertaining game as its first installment, I believe that it is only a matter of time before more games of this series receive their first North American release.