In many ways, Level-5's Inazuma Eleven fits in the same locker as the Mario Golf series, or Punch-Out!!. It's a sports game (a soccer RPG, specifically), but only in the barest, most basic way. If a mundane referee tried to officiate one of the matches typical of Inazuma Eleven, they'd run up and down the pitch, blasting their whistle and screaming " Where did that dragon even come from?" before dying of an aneurysm.
In other words, don't let a lack of soccer knowledge stop you from enjoying Inazuma Eleven. All you really need to know is, the ball is round, and you kick it up and down the pitch. If you can manage that, welcome to the team.
However, even though athleticism and finesse aren't important, potential players need to be capable of stomaching anime-grade backstories about spunky underdogs, legendary grandfathers, and tormented soccer prodigies whose cool exterior masks childhood tragedy. Luckily, Inazuma Eleven's story is completely self-aware.
Self-aware or not, it's hard to dislike the game's main character, Mark Evans. His enthusiasm for soccer is contagious, even if you're not the type to give a second thought to the sport. You're driven to help him save his doomed team because he wants to give everyone the chance to discover how awesome soccer is. How can you say "no" to that?
Like most RPGs, Inazuma Eleven divides its time between walking, talking, and battles. In this case, "battles" refers to the many games of soccer you will play against other organized teams, as well as handfuls of random players looking to keep you in shape.
Outside of big, pre-scripted matches, most battles/games are short, sweet, and end when you perform a specific task, like taking the ball off the other team, or scoring the first goal. You can control players manually, though the player AI conducts itself decently and is a good choice for beginners.
Some players may find these random encounters tedious, but they're the best way to beef up your team. It's also interesting to engage in random battles that don't kill you if you lose (though Mark undoubtedly dies a little inside).
However, the game often does end if you fail to win the big story-driven matches. These do-or-die events are typically where you break out your players' special moves , like Mark's God Hand or Kevin's Dragon Crash. If you have qualms about summoning giant reptiles onto the pitch, you'll change your mind once the rival team's goalie literally warps space and time to stop the ball.
If you want a serious soccer game, or if you favor monster-slaying to sportsmanship, Inzuma Eleven won't do much for you. If you're open to the idea combining the genres into an experience that's solid and a bit silly, Inazuma Eleven will make you laugh and cheer. Ole ole ole.
- Visuals: Inazuma Eleven is actually a Nintendo DS game, so expect a lot of super-deformed sprites and static character portraits. The players' special moves are executed via cinema scenes, however, and look pretty cool.
- Sound: Lots of cheery music to play soccer by. The voice acting won't win any awards, but neither will it make you cringe.
- Interface: Navigating the overworld can be done via traditional controls or the stylus, and soccer battles utilize the stylus only. The game gives you a few seconds to take out your stylus before a match begins (and the match doesn't actually start until you touch the screen), so switching between the two control schemes isn't too much of a hassle.
- Lasting Appeal: There are tons of players to collect. Gotta scout 'em all!