Unlike the vast majority of the writers here at One Hit Pixel, I hate football (soccer to the American readers, which will never be referenced again in this review) simulators with a fiery passion. It’s why you’ll never see me play the likes of FIFA, PES, or even Football Manager. The last vaguely football related game I enjoyed was also my first football game: Nintendo World Cup for the Gameboy. It was bonkers, full of fouls that never went punished and had no offside rule. No football game has in my mind come remotely close.
Yet somehow I find myself really digging Level 5’s football RPG Inazuma Eleven Go: Light/Shadow.
Going into the game, I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to get it, what with this duo (Light and Shadow versions) being the fourth in the series. I’d needn’t have worried though as it represents the start of a new generation.
Match Fixing “makes football sad”
Imagine a Japan where the entire education board is judged on their football team’s skills. Now imagine that same Japan where a group known as Fifth Sector are match fixing en-masse, thus destroying all sense of competition in the beautiful game. Our young greenhorn protagonist – Arion Sherwind is beginning his career at Raimon High School, wanting to play proper football, but soon realises the corruption has a strong oppressive grip on the once successful school.
This brings up some fundamental questions into the world of match fixing, which given news stories regarding football controversies of late provides great commentary on the matter. It presents that “What if?” scenario that is so compelling. Even the back stories that play out with the Raimon High School team explore some situations that made me care about the players. Characters I initially found two-dimensional were provided with context. For returning players, there are nods to the older games, which depending on how you felt about them could be a mixed bag.
Conceptually, the story is sound, so it’s unfortunate that the dialogue is terribly clichéd and the voice acting hammed up. At various points in the game, Arion actually states that “you’ll make football sad”, to which the only in-game character with an issue with that phrase is the initial antagonist! Perhaps the main demographic is children, which makes the overly used exposition more forgivable, but most characters speak with stereotypical accents that are cringe-worthy.
Not your average kick-about
Games of football here are a little different due to the tactical RPG-like inclusion of skills. Instead of HP and MP, you have Fatigue Points (FP) or Technical Points (TP). They serve similar purposes to their HP/MP counterparts, but instead of dying or fainting on the pitch, a player just becomes lethargic when their FP runs out. Inamuza Eleven Go: Light/Shadow also uses an element-based system more akin to fantasy games, you can exploit a particular weakness by using the dominant elemental skill. Certain skills can be chained or used to block enemy skills, either adding or removing the power of a shot. You can also use tactics to cheat your way up the pitch, though this is only necessary against strong line-ups.
Given that this is my first Inazuma Eleven game, I had to research what was entirely new about it. From what I gather, the main new mechanic is the idea of Spirit Summoning. Certain players have a power within that allows for limited time use of unique skills for dodging, tackling, saving and shooting. These are generally more powerful than any other skill available and will usually trump whatever the other team does to try to prevent it.
Should two Spirit Summoners on opposing sides meet, they can do battle to reduce their stamina. Once a spirit’s gauge is depleted, it can’t be used for the rest of the match, while deploying them is limited by three. It’s a neat idea and makes the gameplay even more interesting and bizarre, really emphasising that sense of character the game has, but can kill all challenge.
A real grind
As for the structure of the game itself, there’s a lot of running around to story-points in each chapter; but you can go off the beaten track to buy kit for your team, teach your team new moves, or recruit new members. In order to make currency, you can opt to participate in tournaments or challenge NPCs to “Battles”. Tournaments can unlock new items depending on ranks obtained in matches that are decided by performance. Story matches are usually scripted affairs, though as you progress these objectives slowly drain away to allow you to play properly. Battles meanwhile are short matches where you need to either score a goal, get the ball, or keep the ball for a short time.
While it does provide the RPG element, this is by far the weakest part of the game. It feels like a massive grind whenever you need to get your team to a good enough level to challenge a “boss match” Grinding does give players the chance to use skills, which become more potent as you use them, but it takes too long to level up a skill. The campaign is a decent length and the number of tournaments on offer is enough to keep the invested motivated. The two versions have subtle differences, though it’s a little difficult without playing both to tell what those are.
Inazuma Eleven Go: Light/Shadow might not be the prettiest game on the 3DS, but it isn’t unappealing. Crisp visuals in-game together with stylish special move animations show its anime style well. Animated cut-scenes look great too, but the transitions could be less abrupt. The level of polish is akin to the Professor Layton series, but it isn’t revolutionary.
To say that even a football simulator hating cretin like myself can like Inazuma Eleven Go: Light/Shadow is an achievement. It has me vaguely interested in playing the rest of the series, though I’d probably miss the Spirit Summoning mechanic too much. When you’re actually playing football properly, the game is a blast and part of that is to do with the bonkers abilities. It’s when you’re not properly playing that brings the game down a notch, with a story that is conceptually strong yet poorly executed dialogue/voice acting saps interest, and grinding being a chore.
It may not have converted me to liking FIFA, PES, or Football Manager, but this casual Football-RPG has won me over, give or take.