Inazuma Eleven GO: Light / Shadow

Screenshot from Inazuma Eleven GO: Light / Shadow

Having made its début on Nintendo DS in 2011, the Inazuma Eleven series has become something of a surprise hit in Europe - spawning two sequels and even a Wii spin-off. Over in North America, the DS games have been long forgotten by Nintendo's localisation team, as Level-5's started from the ground up with a 3DS remake of the original title for that region.

Meanwhile in Europe, Inazuma Eleven GO is the first original Nintendo 3DS title in the series, marking a new entry point for newcomers, as well as a fresh makeover for long-term fans. With that said, the gameplay and general structure remains largely unchanged from previous iterations.

The overworld, while visually appealing to look at, isn't all that fun to explore. As Arion, a passionate football fan determined to falter the evil Fifth Sector's plans to rig all football matches, you'll spend far too long running back and forth through Raimon Junior High; and sadly, not too much changes throughout the twenty-plus hour story.

You'll have fun talking to fellow students, football fans in the street and your Aunt Silvia for the first few hours, but when you notice that these non-playable characters repeat the same dialogue - and when you re-encounter them repeatedly throughout the course of the game - you'll soon tire of interacting with all but the story-related characters.

Some characters will challenge you to a battle, which take the form of five-a-side football matches. It's through the games' battle systems that the Inazuma Eleven series differentiates itself with other RPGs. Rather than a turn-based battle of stats, a football match is played in real-time using the 3DS's touch-screen. You move your players by dragging a line for them to follow, while passing and shooting is performed by tapping a team mate, or a specific area of the opponent's goal respectively. Stats do still play a part here, with players gaining levels with experience, and special moves being learnt as they improve, but they never really add anything to the mundane task of actually playing the football match. When you go into a tackle, or take a shot, you'll be faced with a choice of two moves, yet somehow the difference between these two are never explained. In fact, after thirty hours of gameplay, it seems as though this choice only really affects the animation which plays upon selection; never actually impacting the gameplay itself, or indeed the outcome of performing said move.

Special moves and "Spirit Summons" do become more widely available as you progress through the game, although for the sake of a short five-a-side battle, these often feel like overkill. Yet the game somewhat pressures you into using them - and therefore using up your limited FP - when a simple chip shot would be enough to secure your victory. It does this by making each special move more powerful after a certain number of uses; which certainly prove useful in the end-of-chapter matches.

After the first few hours, in which Level-5 eases you into the gameplay, you'll begin to progress through the Saints' Way football league. Arion, alongside his buddies at Raimon Junior High FC, will take on a different opponent in a fully-fledged football match at the end of each chapter, each lasting upwards of fifteen minutes. For us, these league matches are easily the highlight of Inazuma Eleven GO.

Some of the more dedicated players - RPG fans in particular - should get a real kick out of the whole team management aspect on show here. There's options galore: you can equip your players with novelty boots and good luck bracelets. You can adjust your team's formation according to your opponent's play style. You can even recruit more players to join your team, purchase new movesets for them to learn, and micro-manage their stats with special training spots scattered throughout the game world. For such a quirky game as Inazuma Eleven GO, the depth is surprisingly immersive. And this goes deeper still when you can train up three additional teams to use in local multiplayer matches; while bonus DLC will sporadically push new characters to your game via SpotPass.

When it's working, the Inazuma Eleven formula really shines. League matches are a joy to play when it's you versus a similarly-levelled team, you both have your Fighting Spirits summoned, and it's a tie at half-time. The tension is gripping, and the relief when you score a winning goal in the final minute is up there with solving some of Professor Layton's trickier puzzles. However, the smaller battles with characters in the overworld are far too repetitive, and the game as a whole often feels more like an interactive story than a video game. Indeed, a beautifully animated story brimming with cheesy-but-likeable characters; yet a story that spreads itself too far over too little gameplay.

This review is based on Inazuma Eleven GO: LightInazuma Eleven GO: Shadow is the same game, with some minor changes to the characters and storyline.

Pro Tips

6 / 10