Kairosoft’s devilishly strong yet straightforward structure for their Story series has been championed by the hooked and balked at by the ill-informed. The Japanese-based indie developer has confined their reach to mobile platforms, making good use of the Android and iOS technology to produce bite size games that you’ll rack up the hours on. If you’re familiar with any of their games, it’ll be the superb-borderline-satirical Game Dev Story, which positioned you as the head of a videogame developer and featured many little wink-wink, nudge-nudge moments aimed in the general direction of the videogame industry.
Game Dev Story laid the groundwork for Kairosoft to build a franchise, which has since spawned the likes of an F1-inspired Grand Prix Story, the Tiny Tower-like mall building sim Mega Mall Story and a resort management game Hot Springs Story. One of the more recent offerings – and the one I’ve been wanting since I first played Game Dev Story – is a football management simulation, Pocket League Story. Kairosoft’s formula for their games fits the ball of a skimmed-down Football Manager ‘Lite’ game, where you take control of a club and build it up through the ranks from a home town team to the world stage. As your club expands and improves, you invest your earnings and experience earned in a variety of areas including the team itself, along with the training facilities they use and the skills they need to beat the best.
As with any of these games, you need some time to ease yourself into the particular strategies and style Pocket League Story employs. The formula from the prior games remains expectedly intact but the minutiae is where this individual game differs from the rest: the five player disciplines for example require you to focus different training methods on different players depending on the position(s) they play. As your club grows and you acquire new players – and coaches – to boost the team you’ll have to adapt to fit the formation that fits the bill best and the style of play you need to beat your opponents.
The tactical element that proves to be the real divider between the good and the great is building a team that can take on any opponent that plays any style. You’ll have a choice between Normal, Offensive and Defensive when choosing from the array of formations available to you before your next Cup or League match but when in the game there’s an extra layer as you need to decide whether you want your team to play Long Passes, Dribble or a Normal balance between the two. Opponents won’t always play the same style so it becomes important to size up your team before the match begins to give you an edge – which can be vital.
Several factors can determine a match outcome: club support can help if you have more fans, your team having a better rating in any of the five key areas (Kick, Speed, Body, Technique, Keeper) can prove the difference on the pitch and having your players play in the optimal positions can ensure that you get the most out of your players; even the game’s Aura option which can be activated for an individual player to make them momentarily play a lot better can be absolutely crucial. These may sound like simple things to remember but what’s clever about Pocket League Story – and indeed any of the Kairosoft games – is that the little things stack up and micro-managing effectively can have a very large effect on your career and overall performance.
Pocket League Story does offer a decent amount of options to keep your eyes on – your finances won’t be so much of a problem if you nail down the basic structure for winning and master the expensive Negotiation mini game, but ensure you always have the money you need to pay the team you build – but a few of the features seem poorly balanced in the grand scheme of things. The Support metre that determines your fan support level fills up too fast to matter, and the emphasis on the Heart & Mind research points over Strength and Skill coupled with the three player limit on dedicated training methods means that until the latter levels you can’t improve your player stats as much as you’d like (especially when you find these players become ineffective when you bring in the necessary Exceptional and Superstar players that can achieve the important S position ratings).
All of your choices come to a head at the official end game scenario, where you achievements get analysed and your leaderboard point score gets totalled. Like previous Kairosoft games, Pocket League Story sees you build over the course of a certain numbers of years: in this case, it’s a tad disappointing that you only get eight years that are scored officially. After the eight year mark, the game lets you carry on with the team you’ve poured hours into – and trust me, it will be hours – but because you’re now playing beyond the marked end game you feel like what you do after that point isn’t worthwhile, even if you’re not too fussed about the scores.
There’s an emphasis on achieving as high a score as possible for your efforts yet you don’t pay much heed to this until the proverbial final whistle when the score matters. You may want to keep playing to see where your efforts lead – there are five Leagues in total and plenty of Cup competitions to play which I can pretty much guarantee on your first playthrough you won’t unlock before the end game moment – but for the most part you may like to just start from scratch and see if you can do any better. Balancing finances, research points and the most beneficial uses for them both for first-timers efficiently will take some time and the eight year cycle seems too short (more so when you compare the year total to previous Story titles).
Perhaps it’s a good thing that little features like penalties, real-time substitutions, player fatigue and injuries aren’t present here: those familiar with football management games or even well-versed in the FIFA career modes may wonder why they don’t have these features momentarily, but with so many things to watch and control you probably won’t miss them much. Pocket League Story is often charming enough to make you see past little problems: the quasi-samba match music and hotel lobby-style music during intervals produces a calming effect. The almost trademark Kairosoft smile-inducing aesthetic is back in full force too; it plays its part in helping to avoid succumbing to tedium watching the quick matches play out.
Pocket League Story is yet another Kairosoft game that makes good use of their winning formula. Were it not for a few balancing issues and the game time shorter than expected this would have been my favourite Story game yet: it’s still a great little piece of time-stealing software though and further affirmation that Kairosoft’s a one-trick pony that can win the Grand National… which reminds me, I’d like a horse racing game from them next.
Or a war strategy game. Or a cinema management game. Or an arcade management game…
Version reviewed: Android 1.0.4.