Sometimes it seems like Nintendo has a moment of clarity. The clearness with which they realised that pairing the release of the newest game in a popular football franchise with the start of the 2014 World Cup would be a good idea is astounding. In some ways it makes you wonder why they can’t quite apply the same clarity to their digital rights management or what franchises they really need to bring to bear on the Wii U (hello Pokemon and Metroid). At least with the timing of Inazuma Eleven Go, and a successful showing from E3, the Japanese giant is showing the glimmers of wakefulness to what it takes to succeed in this modern gaming landscape, like, erm, marketing.
The watchful amongst you will have noticed that Inazuma Eleven has been here before, twice in fact in the last twelve months. In both those instances it was apparent that while Level-5 still had a fantastic formula in place for the series with its anime football RPG collect em’up (A.F.R.P.G.C.E.U. for short), the mechanics and the graphics were starting to look a little shabby when placed next to modern 3DS titles like Pokemon X/Y.
Inazuma Eleven Go is the next evolution of the series then, and one which aims to make all of the improvements that fans have been looking for in one masterful stroke. The question is whether or not in doing so, they’ve damaged any part of what made the series successful in the first place.
Level-5 aim to make it clear that this is a fresh start from the outset, with the action taking place some ten years after the events of Inazuma Eleven 3 and featuring a new generation of Raimon football players. Fortunately they haven’t dispensed with all of the beloved characters from the franchise as they reappear as adults throughout the game, offering help and advice to the younger players over the course of the storyline. The story revolves around the sinister Fifth Sector who now control every aspect of football, including deciding the scores of the game prior to them even happening. Your aim as Arion Sherwind is to lead the team of Raimon and overthrow these dictators, returning football to its original principles.
The cast aren’t the only thing that has seen a refresh, with the graphics seeing a huge upgrade as well. The locations and characters are now fully 3D, replacing the 2D sprites that have been the mainstay of the series since its first outing on the DS in 2008. The graphics engine is used to power both the cutscenes and conversation sections as well, both of which look fantastic. The graphics actually have more clarity than those found in Pokemon X/Y, though admittedly the areas have less scope than those found in the Pokemon game.
The cast are all clearly recognisable though and distinctly benefit from the enhanced visuals both on and off the pitch. Unlike some recent 3DS releases the game plays out fully in 3D with no discernible loss in performance. However, there’s no real benefit to playing with it on, and transitioning between the oft-appearing 2D text overlays and back to the 3D graphics is unnecessarily fussy.
The fundamental mechanics of the game remain unchanged, with players leading the Raimon football team through the story whilst gathering new teammates to their cause. Games play out using the stylus, with encounters between players triggering RPG battle options where you can perform both standard and special moves. They have however made some new additions to the formula, with the most obvious being the ability to summon ‘fighting spirits’, almighty beings that can utterly change the course of a game. The characters have also gained a weightier sense of motion which seems to lend itself to more accurate play.
Alongside that Level-5 have also seen fit to implement a real world dynamic to the game by adding the offside rule. This is not only an odd choice in a game where the special moves allow you to create mystical fog or grow a giant hand, but also simply doesn’t function properly, with the computer calling offside when there’s no one even close to being offside. It breaks the on-pitch action up, and doesn’t sit well with the overall feel of the game. It’s not the only step backwards for the franchise, with the game’s training spots which you use to upgrade particular stats now being influenced by a rapidly spinning wheel which you have no real control over, potentially wasting your hard-earned points.
One improvement over the previous entries in the series is that the random battles have been done away with. You’re now able to see on the map characters who will offer you a game, meaning that you can choose to ignore them when you’re simply trying to travel from one location to the next, or head for them if you’re aiming to level up. It hugely improves the flow of the game, particularly as the random battles were too frequent in previous instalments, and often boring to boot as they were far too easy. The difficulty has definitely been ramped up for this entry, as opponents put up a genuine challenge, though using your special moves or fighting spirit is still almost certain to guarantee victory.