Inazuma Eleven is a wonderful and innovative RPG series for Nintendo’s DS. It’s based on an eponymous anime, so you can imagine the cartoon weirdness, giant eyes and anti-gravity hairstyles on offer. (You know the kind of thing, sabre-sharp spiked hair that could probably comfortably support a sausage on each point. You could then wander about elegant soirees as a walking hors d’oeuvre display for the guests, should the fancy take you. Much like a hedgehog, the living buffet table of the animal kingdom.) It’s a tantalising fusion of two seemingly disparate concepts, indeed the sports game/RPG genre is almost an oxymoron. But it’s an effective combination nonetheless, and it’s unfortunate that the games are still relatively unknown. As yet, they have still never made an appearance in the US.
This is mainly due to the fact that the sport in question is soccer. Plainly, this pursuit has never achieved a shadow of the popularity it has in other parts of the world, so localising the game would constitute quite the risk. If we put this axiom aside, though, lack of a ball-kicking fanbase shouldn’t be too much of an obstacle. Personally, I have absolutely zero interest in soccer. (I have amusing childhood memories of being asked what team I supported. When I answered that I didn’t, the resultant facial expression of my classmates was priceless. Imagine how somebody would respond if you’d nonchalantly remarked, “my balls grow under my armpits instead of swinging between my legs as nature intended. Do you want to see?” That face.) Even so, it quickly became one of my most-played titles, as it lends this seeming paracosm of the sport an incredible appeal that defies logic. My insider knowledge of soccer stretches about as far as those nets on either side of the pitch aren’t for taking a dump in, so it hardly takes a connoisseur to enjoy the myriad of mayhem on offer here.
Most fans of RPGs, whether they have a favourite team tattooed on their hairy forearm or are too lazy to even watch sports on TV without hyperventilating, will find much to enjoy here. The matches themselves are controlled by simply directing players and aiming the ball with the stylus. Special moves allow you to summon ghostly hands to ensnare an incoming opponent, stop the ball with a preposterous tidal wave, and some form of spinning madness that brings Looney Tunes’ Taz violently to mind. Suffice it to say, if they pulled these kind of shady shenanigans in real soccer games, everyone would watch it religiously. In addition, there’s all the stats and elemental business that rabid RPGers want to make sweet forbidden love to. It’s surprisingly deep and tactically nuanced, with players having advantages or disadvantages over opponents depending on their elemental allegiance. A wood player, for example, would be sure to shit, just a little, on seeing two fire players charging his way in perfect unison.