The Inazuma Eleven series is a smash hit in its homeland of Japan. Mixing football with Pokemon-style RPG mechanics developers Level-5 had crafted a truly unique and addictive formula. The series of DS titles have slowly started to make their way over to Europe over the last few years having taken a fairly long time for just the first one to become available. This version of Inazuma Eleven 3 however comes from a 3DS enhanced version of the game that originally in Japan was part of a compilation of Inazuma Eleven titles, separated for a European release much like the games of Guild-01 were, albeit keeping the full price tag.
Mark Evans and his cheery companions and rivals return to take part in the Football Frontier International championships, facing off against other teams from all over the world. Strangely this is actually smaller in scale than its predecessor which saw the team competing against space aliens. Players coming fresh into this entry might be left slightly in the dark as characters make a lot of references to events of the previous two games, although the core narrative is painted in rather large strokes. The story may be pitched a little young for those wanting something more serious but it never feels too childish for older kids or even adults to enjoy. In a similar fashion to Pokemon this third entry in the series comes in two flavours, Lightning Bolt and Bomb Blast. The only major difference between the two versions are the side-narratives taking part in other countries away from Raimon.
The game has a pretty strict chapter structure that mimics the format of many shonen anime serials, complete with next episode-style previews at the end of each one. Mark and his friends will advance the story in traditional JRPG-style gameplay and eventually the chapter closes with an epic Football match between Raimon and their current rival.
Matches are exclusively controlled with use of the touch screen and stylus. By drawing paths from a particularly player its possible to move several of your team around very quickly and paths can be interrupted by drawing a new one from the player. When two opposing players make contact on their path it's possible to then initiate a tackle or an attempt to bypass the defender. In order to shoot you must tap the goal where you want the shot to line up and then assign a strength or special move to activate as well. It can get a little fiddly moving around lots of players at once but the manageable pace of the game means that it’s never a frustrating experience.
Each different player has a selection of special moves that are unique to their role in the team, be it attacking or defending. The special moves are presented in a Dragon Ball-esque manner as players summon flaming demons or zip past defenders with incredible speed. However these moves can’t be repeated endlessly as they drain the player’s ability gauge. When players make contact or attempt a strike the game will pause asking if the player wants to do a standard move or a special one without knowing what the opposing player is going to do. If a striker performs a powerful dragon-assisted shot while the goalkeeper opts to just catch it with his bare hands the strike will knock out the keeper and smash into the back of the net. Should the two select a special ability then the higher level power and elemental advantage will overcome the weaker one.
General fatigue will also kick in after a while so players will need to make effective use of their consumables and substitutions to avoid the frustration of having their main striker waddle his way over to the penalty area with three defenders charging in to steal the ball. Even a spare goalkeeper should be kept on hand in case Mark loses all of his goal-stopping powers thanks to an aggressive opposing team.
There are certain scripted moments in some matches as the opposing team may net a goal very early or a surprising turn from one of you own team members might net one themselves without any player input. Younger players are likely to be challenged a lot more than more experienced ones by these unavoidable setbacks as there’s also usually a very specific team member or pairing of players that are then required to perform their super move to level the playing field or even take the lead.
While preparing for the upcoming matches players are left to explore Raimon and other areas in Japan. These moments of downtime play very much like a traditional JRPG with the control scheme being pretty much identical to that of Level-5’s Dragon Quest IX. The top screen displays the map while the action occurs on the touch screen. With this upgrade there isn’t any adjustment to compensate for the circle pad so players who want more refined movement will need to use the touch screen and drag in any given direction.
Although there’s always a waypoint leading to the current objective players can opt to explore their surroundings, which are largely the exact same as the previous titles. With a party of four in these sections the player will be randomly challenged to short football matches requiring them to score before the other team or gain possession of the ball. By gaining experience and levelling up individual players they can learn new special abilities. There are a huge number of extra recruitable players who will join your squad upon beating them at a short match. It’s also possible to purchase new kits for each team player to further enhance their core stats as well as consumables to heal players up although there are plenty of water bottles simply lying around without spending the money. As the game progresses these sections do become a little tiresome as you’ll more than likely just want to skip on ahead to the next big match.
Being an up-port of a DS title Inazuma Eleven 3 looks surprisingly decent. The sprites are nicely drawn even if they are limited in animation, with each character looking distinct from one another in a pretty large cast. The 3D models used when showing off up-close action on the pitch do look a little rough but the textures are far cleaner than they were on the DS. The 3DS’ stereoscopic screen is also rarely used thanks to the map being on the main screen most of the time. The voice acting when used is also fairly amusing with the characters making heavy use of British slang in a supposedly Japanese school. The soundtrack retains the familiar adventurous themes of the original games with updated productions and works quite well even if the dubbed introduction song is predictably quite bad, although younger players may appreciate it.
Inazuma Eleven 3 retains the addictive Football-RPG mechanics of the previous titles although it doesn’t really push the series in any new directions, or expand much on what’s already a successful formula. Despite the adventure being needlessly padded out in between the core matches, the game remains an incredibly fun title for players of all ages.