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Hands-on Preview -
Inazuma Eleven
Previewed on 10/9/07

Screw this, let's make a soccer RPG

The theme song for Inazuma Eleven is the first thing that strikes the player. It's an upbeat melody that combines a party atmosphere with the sound of referee whistles. The logo on the top screen is a lightning bolt behind a soccer ball, with the Japanese text Inazuma Eleven above it. There are three options in the Japanese demo I played: Game Info, Story, and Two-Player Mode. Not having another player nearby, I chose Story.

Players see a short introductory video of a school. A bell rings, and our hero, the spike-of-hair-over-the-forehead Endou, is introduced. He is immediately visited by two classmates: Natsumi, our heroine in a pink school uniform, and Shishido, who most closely resembles Carrot Top. The two classmates run off, and players are given control of Endou inside a classroom. All control is done by the D-Pad, and the camera can be rotated a few degrees in either direction via L and R. There's a map on the top screen, but no indicator as to where the character is on it.

Endou stares out a window and sees a walkway lined on either side by soccer players, standing like soldiers, foot atop a ball. What is presumably an opposing team enters the walkway, looking more like a group of castaways from an anime than a soccer team. Endou stops staring at the window, and the students nearby him all join together. You’re quickly joined by another member, and soon you have a line of four students following you. The party heads outside the school and meets up with some others outside of the soccer pitch. The group forms a circle. Looks like it's game time.

As soccer part begins, the biggest question of all is answered: how the heck does a soccer RPG work?

The game on the field is controlled entirely by the stylus. Touching a player and drawing a line commands where he will go. Tapping a location tells the player to kick the ball to that spot or player. The RPG element comes when two players make contact. Say, an opponent is barreling down the field with the ball, and a line is drawn to move one a player character, so as to intercept the attacking opponent. Upon contact contact, three options appear at the bottom of the screen. On the left and right side are your free moves, usually something like tackle or a slide kick. In the middle is a special move that costs points (each character has HP and special move points). These moves are like a typical RPG in that they cost points, but are usually far more effective. One character, for instance, puts up a wall that blocks an opponent's shot from going past. Likewise, in the attack zone, one can use special attacks to gain a better chance of scoring. Using too many abilities comes with an interesting side effect. My character who was using the wall defense eventually became too tired to run at top speed, making the only way of him effectively moving the ball was with a pass.

Those are the mechanics, but, at least in this early version of the game, doesn't play very intuitively. The DS is a system known for unique games with natural-feeling controls. Inazuma Eleven is certainly unique, but natural it is not. The pacing of a match feels off because the player is making some decisions, like player movement, in a split-second, as one would any other sports game. But adding the RPG elements slows the game down considerably, and the mix of speeds makes the game feel off. Players are required to micromanage characters so that one will have someone open to pass to, while at the same time having to think about where to move the player with the ball. All the planning can be thrown out in a second if one of an opponent catches up, though, and that can take some of the fun out of it.

Level 5 makes it clear throughout the demo cart that this is version 1.0, and that the game is subject to change, but it seems pretty far in development at this point. It remains to be seen if tweaks to the "battle system" will happen, but the gameplay does feel like it needs to be tightened up. No release date has been announced yet.

For those curious, I lost the game 1-0. I never stood a chance.


-Ryan Mance