Level 5 clearly know when they’re onto a good thing – we’re here again five short months after the last two Inazuma Eleven 3 titles hit our shores (Lightning Bolt and Bomb Blast, fact fans) to sample a third slice of the quirky football/RPG hybrid. In much the same way as the Pokémon series gave us mildly refined or updated versions with Yellow, Crystal and Platinum, Team Ogre Attacks returns us to Japan to once again lead Mark Evans and his friends in the Football Frontier International tournament.
The key difference here is that Team Ogre Attacks introduces a whole new time travelling narrative across the top of the previous story, with Mark Evan’s grandson Canon travelling eighty years back in time to help prevent the villainous Team Ogre’s ruthless plan from coming to fruition. That plan is of course to stop football from existing, as it’s seen to be a disastrous distraction for the youth of the future.
To be honest, the plot reminded me a lot of Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, which as a highlight (the highlight?) of Keanu Reeves’ career certainly isn’t the worst thing. In a world where a football can be helped into the net by a giant wolf or dragon it actually makes some kind of sense.
If you’re new to the series, the mechanics of the game have remained resolutely static from the original release on the DS in 2008. Unlike a traditional football game like FIFA you take control of your players via your stylus, drawing their movements whilst tapping to pass and shoot. When you meet an opposing player you’re offered three options, two of which are ordinary moves that rely on your player’s alignment compared with your opponents and work in a similar manner to Fire Emblem’s weapon triangle.
The third option opens up your special move menu, allowing you to unleash super powerful defensive or offensive moves which are easily the highlights of each game. It’s worth playing through the game purely to see all of the 350-plus abilities that can appear from the Meteor Blade V2 to the Fireball Screw, many of which will definitely raise a smile.
Inazuma Eleven has always had a good sense of humour, and Team Ogre Attacks is no different with plenty of silly behaviour and exaggerated anime moments. It’s all tied together by well produced cartoon cutscenes, presumably made by the same team behind the animated TV series, and all voiced in some very thick English regional accents. The accents really aid the humour and the likability of the game, though the fact they’re coming from the Japanese youth team is a bit odd.
It’s always refreshing to hear British dialogue, and Level 5 are amongst the best at such localisation, exemplified by their work on Ni No Kuni. Interestingly the series has never made it to America, which would explain why they don’t have the traditional US accents we’re so accustomed to, and also why it doesn’t spend every moment referring to the game as ‘soccer’.
Team Ogre Attacks is arguably the best version of Inazuma Eleven 3, as it delivers all of the previous content and overlays a new dynamic over the top of it. Fundamentally the game’s mechanics are unchanged, as are many of the encounters, which leaves the game as a tough sell to anyone that played either Lightning Bolt or Bomb Blast. While I was driven through the game to experience the extra content, and to see where things differed, the level of repetition is incredibly high. In a game which I criticised last year for failing to meaningfully evolve this third release almost borders on the ridiculous.
If however this was to be your first foray into the world of Inazuma Eleven, it’s easily the most complete and narratively interesting game in the series, with highly enjoyable game mechanics married to bright and colourful visuals. If you’re looking for a handheld RPG to fill that Pokémon shaped hole in your life then this could be the game for you, whether you like football or not.
Team Ogre Attacks should be the last of the Inazuma titles to look and behave as it does. In theory it’s an evolutionary point where the series has used every ounce of goodness up that it started with, and the next title will (or should) make a drastic leap to expand upon it. Or perhaps we’ll see the same game again in another six months time. That doesn’t make Team Ogre Attacks a bad game, far from it, but it’s best experienced by either those new to the series or the most die hard fans. If you fall into one of those camps you can probably bump the score below up a point or two.