Inazuma Eleven 3: Lightning Bolt Review

Fantasy football is the name of the game as the popular series continues on 3DS

Inazuma Eleven 3 Lightning Bolt Review  Everybody Plays
14th October, 2013
Game Info // Inazuma Eleven 3: Lightning Bolt
Inazuma Eleven 3: Lightning Bolt Boxart
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Level-5
Players (local wireless): 1 - 4
Online Multiplayer: None
Subtitles: Full
Available On: 3DS
Genre: Role Playing Game (Real Time Battles)

FIFA 14 may be delighting footie fans across the world at the moment, but thanks to the sheer diversity of the world of videogames there’s also room for a, let’s say, ‘different’ take on the beautiful game: Inazuma Eleven 3. Authentic teams and strips? Nope. Realistic physics? Nope. Is it even anything like a traditional football game? Definitely not. But that’s all part of Inazuma’s oddball charm, as it wraps its football in typically bonkers anime style, with the result being a curious little football RPG that manages to be both compelling and addictive, despite a few flaws.

Inazuma Eleven is another one of those games that started off its life as a Japanese oddity. Originally released on the DS in Japan in 2008, developed by the same studio that brought us Professor Layton, the series quickly found a sizeable fan base, going on to spawn both a manga and anime series, which brought the games to fame over here after the show found a home on CITV. With several DS and Wii sequels and spin-offs released over the years, this isn't the Inazuma boys' first spin around the block, with the newest instalment taking tips from the recently released Pokemon X and Y.

Coming in two flavours: Lightning Bolt and Bomb Blast (each essentially the same but with slightly different subplots - so you'll have to buy them both if you want to play 'em all), the game casts you as soccer superstar Mark Evans, as you try to gain a place on the Inazuma National team and lead them to victory in the upcoming championship. Of course, nothing goes quite according to plan, and you’ll be swept up into mysterious goings-on before you know it. If you’re new to the series, the story can be a bit confusing initially, as it seems to rely quite heavily on bringing back characters from earlier games and referencing previous storylines. It’s easy enough to get up to speed, though - just be aware it’s not the most straightforward of games to jump into.

Inazuma Eleven 3 Lightning Bolt Screenshot

FIFA would be so much better with moves like this.

We’re trying to keep the football puns to a minimum here, but Inazuma Eleven 3 really is a game of two halves (sorry). On the one hand it’s a fairly straightforward role playing game in a similar vein to Pokémon, or the earlier Final Fantasy titles: there’s a world to explore, items to collect, characters to talk to, a story to unravel and random battles that are initiated by simply exploring. It’s here that the other ‘half’ of the game comes into play. Rather than a traditional turn-based battle to gain experience points, you instead engage in a brief touchscreen-controlled kickabout. When we say brief, we really mean it too: these mini matches usually only last a couple of minutes at the most. You’ll be presented with an aim to begin with, such as scoring the first goal or scoring within a certain time, as well as the option to rearrange your squad. The Pokémon comparison comes in to play again here, as if you win your match there’s a chance that you’ll be able to recruit a player from the losing side to your ranks. How well your team performs and how likely moves like tackling and dodging are to succeed depends on each player’s level, so you’ll need to play lots of matches to make sure you’re up to the challenge of the bigger teams.

Essentially the same as the 5-a-side games, these large scale matches are more closely related to events in the story, and as such last longer and provide more opportunity to tinker with your formation and execute special manoeuvres. Inazuma’s matches are a bit frantic, at times hard to follow and worlds away from ‘proper’ footie games certainly, but we had a lot of fun with this aspect of the game nonetheless. Drawing players’ paths directly on the touchscreen feels natural, and there’s a degree of strategy involved too, as certain moves are more likely to succeed than others, while arranging your team in the best formation is important as well.The controls are simple enough: tap the screen to pass to a teammate, draw their paths with the stylus and select special moves from on-screen menus. It’s all very intuitive, but the gameplay is so fast that it can be hard to keep track of your team, especially at first.

Fun as the actual football matches are though, sadly the ‘adventure’ element of the game is a basic and linear experience. In order to advance the plot you’ll frequently be told exactly where to go, who to talk to and what to do, all the while being badgered by large, on-screen arrows. While this is useful for younger players or RPG newcomers, we found that the hand-holding gets a bit excessive after a while, and we’d rather have had a bit more freedom to explore - although perhaps this is more a personal preference than a game breaking glitch.

Inazuma Eleven 3 Lightning Bolt Screenshot

By rolling around on the floor at the first sight of a breeze, no doubt.

Despite occasional animated movie sequences that could have been pulled straight from the cartoon, Inazuma Eleven 3’s presentation is a bit lacking. The graphics are bright and colourful, making it easy for younger fans to follow the action, but there’s a lack of polish here that reinforces the fact that this is essentially a spruced up and re-repackaged DS title.The tiny characters would be pretty much interchangeable were it not for the cartoon style portraits that handily pop up to indicate who’s talking, and their stiff animation is limited to a few frames. All the action (even the animated ‘movie’ sequences) is confined to the 3DS’ smaller lower screen, meaning that the upper 3D screen is left displaying a static map for the majority of the game which seems a bit of a waste. Scoring a goal or unleashing a special move triggers split-second 3D animations on the upper screen, which actually end up being more distracting than anything, and don't actually serve any real purpose. It’s safe to say that the 3D effect can be disabled for Inazuma Eleven 3 without missing much, as the feature isn’t utilised in any meaningful way.

The voice acting is a bit problematic too. While the voices are faithful to the English dub of the TV series and likely to appeal to fans, it’s of a typically ‘Saturday morning cartoon’ variety which had us reaching for the volume slider very early on. Most characters speak in very broad regional accents, both in text and spoken dialogue, which could make some text hard to read for younger players. More annoying still is that not all of the dialogue is spoken. Certain exchanges are voiced, but great chunks of text are left as words on the screen which makes for a disjointed experience.

All in all, Inazuma Eleven 3 manages to overcome its problems and deliver a solid, if unremarkable, experience. There's fun to be had here as the story is compelling enough, and the game does have hidden depths when it comes to hand-picking your team, levelling up your players and trying out various over the top special moves against rival teams – provided you’re willing to put in extra time (Another one! - Ed). If you’re looking for something a bit different then Inazuma Eleven 3 is well worth a look, just don’t expect anything too spectacular.
StarStarStarEmpty starEmpty star
It’s a funny old game
  • +
    Simple enough for younger players to enjoy the story
  • +
    Fans of the series will love it
  • +
    Hidden depths for dedicated players
  • -
    Quite outdated, and doesn’t make use of the 3DS’ capabilities in any significant way
  • -
    Character voices will have you reaching for the volume slider
  • -
    Very linear experience
3/5
Parents! Looking for more info? Check out our quick parent's guide to Inazuma Eleven 3: Lightning Bolt for all you need to know!
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