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Inazuma Eleven GO Strikers 2013
Originally, I’d planned to review Inazuma Eleven 2. It seemed appropriate and, as a sequel to Inazuma Eleven, it practically screamed for a review. However, there’s a spin-off series that rose up and tried to more closely emulate the gameplay style of traditional Sports games while still remaining true to what makes Inazuma Eleven so unique. The spin-off was titled Inazuma Eleven Strikers. Unlike the review of Inazuma Eleven, this review will call the sport “soccer”, so as to remain consistent with its Japanese name (given that this is a Japanese game review). Note that I will go over how various things work, but this is by no means a walkthrough or translation guide (though I will try to be descriptive should it prove helpful). I can’t read Japanese and have over 100 hours in the game, which is why I’m confident that at least 85% of this game will be accessible to the average user through a little fiddling and even more for those who are fans of the series. This should not discourage anyone from giving it a try, and if it does, there is always the original Inazuma Eleven Strikers, which is in English. In fact, because of the similarities between Strikers and 2013 as well as the availability of the original Strikers, I would even go as far as to say that this is a review of both of the games. So, if you have any interest in the games older English counterpart, this review is for you as well! Inazuma Eleven Strikers was released in Japan in July of 2011 by Level-5. Later that same year, a standalone expansion by the name of Inazuma Eleven Strikers 2012 Xtreme, adding new characters, moves, two new teams, and sharpening the mechanics. Strikers was released in Europe in 2012, despite the fact that 2012 Xtreme remains Japan-Only. Inazuma Eleven GO Strikers 2013, the sequel to Strikers and the major subject of this review, was released in Japan the following year.
Unlike its predecessors (or rather, its predecessor and its expansion), which used a tournament structure for its story mode (the tournament mode still exists, though in the Career Mode, though it is much less essential), 2013 instead uses an almost Mario Party-esque world map for the entirety of the story battles. In both cases, I use the word “story” lightly, as Inazuma Eleven Strikers has no story to speak of. In place of a story is a single player mode which, for the sake of this review, will be called Career Mode. In Career Mode, one is given Raimon’s Soccer team consisting of the players that it had at the end of Inazuma Eleven GO. At this point, there will be no other available teams or players. One unlocks more characters through the main mode of the game, which will be called Adventure Mode for the sake of the review.
From Top-Left to Bottom-Right: Exhibition Mode, Career Mode, Tournament, Mini-Games, Settings, and Online Play.
Adventure Mode is split into three different worlds, each one encompassing three different difficulties and different time periods. The lowest difficulty follows Inazuma Eleven 1 and 2, the medium difficulty encompasses Inazuma Eleven 3, and the final difficulty encompasses GO and GO 2, with the map portraying various areas and battles that stand in the way of the heroes in the games (so, in a sense, this is something of a Story Mode, but due to the lack of essential characters and lack of difficulties, Adventure Mode is really the more appropriate term). These worlds can be challenged in any order, but to beat all of the worlds, keys must be found, often retrieved from a previous world. The game can be pretty easy, especially if one chooses to play the second or third world and work backwards. I found this easily worked around by playing against the first team, buying their members, and playing with them instead. It was still relatively easy, but I found that, going forward, the game can present a decent challenge.
As the player traverses each map, they will encounter a number of teams and players, each of which will challenge the player to their own types of battles. In the case of teams, they will always request standard Soccer matches. As for the players, they will challenge you with mini-games. And there are a lot of teams and players. To put it in perspective, 2013 has more players than all of the teams in Strikers and 2012 Xtreme combined. As such, Adventure Mode will keep you busy for a while.
Of course, this isn't without payoff. Those familiar with GO will recognize the starting team for this game as the Raimon team (Raimon being the middle school that the protagonists of Inazuma Eleven hail from) for the aforementioned game/show. By defeating teams and scouting them (scouting, in this game, being the process of buying players with points gained from winning matches), one can create their own personal team. I’ll hark back to what I said at the beginning about why I said that the lowest difficulty is best played first if one’s looking for a challenge. The GO team is stronger than the original Raimon team and quickly outclasses the rest of those on the lowest difficulty not long after (for reasons that will be touched on later). It doesn’t help that Career Mode is already pretty easy regardless. As such, by buying the first team faced on that difficulty, the game will balance out (for the most part).
Player traversing the map of Inazuma Town, the lowest difficulty
Outside of Adventure Mode is the Clubhouse, which serves as the hub for Career Mode. Here, one can customize just about anything about their team, from their moves to the name to what they wear. Some of the functions can be used from Adventure Mode, and as such, the real draws of the hub are team customization, Tournament Mode, and Scouting. Customization is pretty self-explanatory; it allows the player to change the team from its fine points. Until the post-Adventure Mode, the most used function here will most likely be the Formation, which allows one to change their team’s hissatsu, key players, formation, players, etc.
Unlike the DS and 3DS titles (the 3DS titles, at the time of writing, are Japan-only), the game plays out in a similar manner to other games in the genre. Well, a semi-similar manner. Prior to a match, one can change player placement, formation, as well as other strategic movements. Once in a match, the player takes control of whoever has the ball on their team. The goal of the game, as well as most of the rules in the game, parallels that of real Soccer: get the Soccer Ball into the opposing team’s goal. Unlike the handheld games, it would be more appropriate to liken the game to something such as Fifa or PES than Captain Tsubasa, as I did in my previous review. The player is given several options when in control of the ball. Apart from running, they can use their player-specific ability (which varies depending on the player's element, gender, and body type) that basically acts as a charge that overcomes any player they come in contact with if timed right. Apart from that, they can sprint, pass the ball, and shoot. When the player is not in possession of the ball, they can freely switch between the players on the field. The game tries to give the player control of players within a specific range of the player in possession of the ball, which can be very helpful (especially in the faster-paced moments of battle) but, at times, it can be frustrating as you might have to switch characters several times to get to the character you want to control, and by that point it might already be too late. Apart from that, the player in control can call out to other players to stop the player in possession, Slide Kick, Tackle, and Sprint. With this, it becomes immediately apparent that Strikers is a far more fast-paced counterpart to the main series.
But, of course, if you know what Inazuma Eleven is then you know what really sets it apart: the hissatsu. “Hissatsu” is often translated out as “Finishing Move”, “Special Move”, etc. (They’re just called Special Moves” in English localizations) hissatsu are a big part of what makes the series what it is, and they play a huge part in this game, though in a different way than they do in the games. Hissatsu are special moves that allow players to manage on the field. There are four types of hissatsu: Dribble, Block, Shoot, and Catch. Each hissatsu type functions as their name would imply. These special techniques largely serve as Inazuma Eleven's badge of honor, boasting incredibly unrealistic, ridiculous ways of traversing the field, stopping forwards, and protecting against/scoring goals. Each hissatsu has an element, as do players. While a player may have access to one hissatsu that is stronger than another, element is also important in choosing a hissatsu as, similar to Pokemon, there is a sort of Rock-Paper-Scissors about the game. Wind beats Earth beats Fire beats Wood beats Wind, and similarly to Pokemon, players that use hissatsu of their element can use them with more power than those of a different element.
Shoot hissatsu can be used from any point on the field, they don’t have to be Long Distance Shoots like in the handheld titles. This is a nice change, because it opens up some strategies that were more difficult in the games. For instance, let’s say that one team is playing against another team, the former being mediocre in terms of stats and the latter having a good goalkeeper with good goalkeeping hissatsu. The former team tries out their best shoots (yeah, at least as far as the anime is concerned, they’re called “shoots” rather than the expected “shots”), but they’re caught. It looks like they’re out of luck, but then they have an idea. They make some changes to their team order, line up their forwards, shoot with the first and chain hissatsu from the other forwards and, with the added power, break through the goalkeeper’s strongest catch Hissatsu. This cannot be exploited, however. All hissatsu require the player in question be fully charged (this is indicated by a bar next to their portrait and, when they are fully charged, a ring that surrounds the user).
That segues perfectly into the first addition that is absent from the game’s English predecessor. Chain Shoots, that is, hissatsu shoots that can be used when the ball passes by a player with a chain Hissatsu, on the same team as the original shooter, add a great strategic facet to the game, giving underdogs a chance and ultimately making the game more dynamic and tension filled very much mirroring the feel of the show. Along with this, there is another new addition in the form of Keshin Armed. Keshin, often referred to as Avatars by English speakers (and, officially, Fighting Spirits in the European GO games), are manifestations of the user that can be evoked by a player. Keshin were introduced in Strikers, but they were only made available to a very small number of guest characters. In 2013, however, given that the game covers both GO and its sequel, a staggering number of characters are able to use Keshin (even the original protagonist, Endou Mamoru). So what is Keshin Armed? Keshin Armed is a technique that allows Keshin users to fuse with their Keshin and wear them as armor, thus making their hissatsu much more powerful.
Also new is an interesting (yet limited) mechanic known as Mixi-Maxing. Mixi-Maxing is essentially a temporary fusion of two characters. In 2013, this mechanic is applied to only thirteen players, and the fusions are predetermined. Once a player has met the right requirements, they can hold the A button (depending on the controller in use) and their character will start to glow. After they are given the cue, the player releases the A button and the player will transform- both aesthetically and in other ways. Mixi-Maxing has a few benefits. First, they can use hissatsu at any point in time without having to wait for their meter to charge, which can be useful for quickly moving up the field and scoring a goal. Stats are also raised when one is Mixi-maxed, and the user also gains various moves from the merger. The kicker is that the transformation only lasts for one, two, or three hissatsu uses, and when a player is Mixi-Maxed, they are unable to use Keshin or Keshin Armed (with one exception). In the handheld games, the feature is far more expansive, allowing for any player to Mixi-Max with any other character, and involving a few variables. In Strikers, however, the function is limited to use only by those who canonically have Mixi-Max capabilities. This is unfortunate, but it isn't too big a hit to the game.
Duels are also gone. Instead, Offensive and Defensive hissatsu can be activated anywhere on the field as well. Once activated, Offensive hissatsu create a ring around the user (if they have the ball), and anyone that touches the ring is hit by the offensive Hissatsu. Defensive hissatsu are used in a similar manner for one that doesn’t have the ball. If a player uses a defensive hissatsu on someone with an offensive hissatsu or vice versa, the player that was hit by the ring can choose whether they want to duel or not (so technically, they are still here). Should they choose to do so by pressing the button prompt, the stronger hissatsu will prevail. A similar process takes place if two opposing rings meet. This is essentially a means to make the gameplay feel more real-time and seamless, which is appropriate for a title that is trying to emulate more traditional Soccer games.
The left picture shows a Keshin summon, while the right shows the new Keshin Armed.
Each character has a set of stats that dictates how efficiently they play in their various positions. These stats are: Kick, Guard, Control, Speed, Body, and Catch (in that order from top left to bottom right). Stat levels can range from E rank (being the lowest) to S rank (being the highest). As players gain experience, their stats grow naturally. However, through experience, each player has a cap as to how far they will progress naturally. Should you want them to progress further, you will need to use books that increase specific skills, though even upon using those, there is a cap to how high certain players’ stats can go. There is another stat that is not grouped with the others called TP. TP are the points expended to use hissatsu. Unlike the other stats, this does not have a rank. Rather, it goes up in point intervals and grows independently from levels, only stopping once the cap is reached.
The stats are pretty self-explanatory. Kick increases passing distance and the strength of shoots and shoot Hissatsu, Catch increases goalkeeping capabilities, Guard strengthens Goalkeeping and Defensive Hissatsu, Speed…is speed, Control makes dribbling and keeping the ball easier, and Body strengthens Offensive Hissatsu. Different players have different stat caps, and generally those caps are tailored to fit the player's role. For instance, Raimon's star striker, Gouenji Shuuya, has a Kick cap of S in some of his forms and A in others. This is because he is a forward. Contrast this with Raimon's stonewall, Heigorou Kabeyama, whose kick and speed stats don't go as high but has an uncapped Guard stat. This makes for a good bit of balancing.
Zanark Avalonic Mixi-Maxes with Cao-Cao, temporarily giving him access to new moves and allowing for more variety in his role.
There is one final part of Career mode that needs to be touched on: The Camp. Players are multi-faceted beings, and they aren't static. As they play, they grow stronger, with each player having two to three levels to them. Keeping in line with the stats, a player's abilities grow as they level. Statistically, it is unlikely that a player will max out any of their stats through leveling, but their stats do grow from doing so. To max out a player's stats, one will need to use manuals that can be found in Adventure Mode or bought from the store. Of course, stats aren't the only benefit to leveling. Apart from stats, players can also gain hissatsu, Keshin, Keshin Armed, and Mixi Max from leveling. This is important, because once a hissatsu has been unlocked for one person, it becomes available for all of the players in the game that have access to that specific hissatsu. What's more, since the players are all part of a team, they have relationships with each other. While the relationships may seem trivial, they are also the key to unlocking hissatsu, as well as generally making players stronger.
Now what does any of this have to do with the Camp? Well, I previously mentioned mini-games, which, in Adventure Mode, can be used to defeat various opponents. In the Camp, however, they have a different function. Mini-games here can be used to strengthen players. Each mini-game has a different growth spread, with some prioritizing experience, others friendship, and the various others prioritizing TP growth. This can be a fun and quick way to unlock that move that you're striving for without going through an entire match, especially if you have friends to play with you. Apart from this, you can challenge defeated teams to Friendly Matches. Herein lies the bulk of the postgame fun. After you complete Adventure mode, difficulties unlock. Challenging a team to a Friendly Match on Hard is far more difficult than any other challenge you will face in the game, which is great for those who find the game to be easy. The game's A.I can be pretty sporadic in terms of behavior throughout the game, and that remains true here. Despite this, don't be surprised if the NPC team manages to create an incredible shot chain and render your defense useless.
As far as the music is concerned, there are only two original songs in Strikers 2013: the opening and ending themes. Apart from those, every other song in the game is pulled from the show. This is hardly a con, there’s enough music in the game to keep from the audio from being grating. Of course, this is hardly a problem at all seeing as the composer for this game is the prolific Yasunori Mitsuda, known for his work on games such as Chrono Trigger, Xenogears, and Chrono Cross. Suffice to say, the music in Strikers is fantastic, with this entry introducing several songs from the newer GO games (composed by Shiho Terada). Since the first game, the tone and scale of the music in Inazuma Eleven has changed and grown drastically. But even so, I feel as if I undersold the music in the original Inazuma Eleven.
Inazuma Eleven is a game about soccer. Sure, they have predicaments like aliens threatening the planet and government plots to create super soldiers, but these events don't take place in mystical lands filled with monsters and rogues, they take place in a contemporary world where soccer just happens to be played in a hyper-dimensional manner. As a result, Mitsuda had to conform to this idea, because it was certainly unlike anything that he'd ever composed for before. But there is one thing that Inazuma Eleven and Mitsuda have in common, one thing that makes him the perfect fit for this game: he knows how to make the mundane exciting. Inazuma Eleven has often been described as the soccer game for the non-soccer fan, and I would agree with that. So it stands to reason that a game about a bunch of kids playing soccer to win a tournament would be mundane, and that's because...well, it is. But Inazuma Eleven and Mitsuda meet this in different ways, and it is through this mesh that the presentation (which I will go into later) really shines. The first game takes place in average places around town (school, shopping district, home neighborhood, etc.) and involves training to learn the move that will take down the next adversary, with teams randomly facing you to make sure you are up to snuff to take on the tournament. It's a fun, campy game about kids with a dream, and that's why a song like this works so well for the battle theme. But what makes this truly work is that the music is rarely completely campy, and it never really tries to completely emulate what Inazuma Eleven already presents itself as. Mitsuda injects his own sense of intensity into the pieces, greatly complimenting both the goofier moments and the intense hissatsu techniques. And this holds true for all of the other songs in the game. The emotion behind the tragedy of Gouenji's comatose sister is only made more powerful by the somber score Mitsuda presents, managing to be both subtle and grand. And the awe and sense of foreboding presented by the towering Teikoku Academy is easily magnified when their aggressive and incredibly fitting theme plays.
Then comes Inazuma Eleven 2, where aliens seem to have arrived from Aliea Academy. What seems like a goofy concept makes for easily the darkest (and arguably best written) entry in the original trilogy, deciding to focus on character and human problems rather than being a campy journey to the top, and creating stakes that help the player relate to the characters' struggles. It is an almost unexpected paradigm shift for the game that allows the composer to release himself from the chains of innocence and paint the soundtrack with a flourish of emotion. And it is this that really becomes the games' staple. The game has more intense music to mirror the strife of the protagonists as well as the fear of facing the unknown. And the music only mounts.
The reason I feel that this needs to be focused on is because when I reviewed Inazuma Eleven, I didn't get it. Inazuma Eleven's music is a fantastic mesh of atmosphere and emotion, but it was so different from what I was expecting from Mitsuda that I had a hard time comprehending it. Now, I could go on and on and link to every Inazuma Eleven song there is; the game has fantastic music. That remains true for 2013, as the music from the games is in the 2013 (with all of the DS themes having been excellently re-orchestrated). Shiho's music from the GO games is different from Mitsuda's, noticeably. Shiho's music is reminiscent of the style of the original trilogy, yet it is clear that it wants to remain at least partially independent, so as to present the idea of a "new beginning"; the idea that GO is a new start from the series. This works well, and it is very easy to identify GO's music when compared to the original trilogy's. Much like the Mitsuda's works in this game, Shiho's songs are orchestrated, and while they may not be up to par with the works of his predecessor and he doesn't really drive emotion to the same extent, Shiho still manages to make fitting renditions that fit the gameplay.
Of course, how can I talk about the audio without talking about the voices. And this one’s a doozy. In the intro, I said that this would be a review of the original Strikers as well as 2013, and as a result I’ll be talking about both of the English and Japanese audio. One of the bigger draws that fans of the handheld game will surely enjoy is that all of the hissatsu are voiced, as well as general actions on the field. This makes the game feel lively, and hearing the voiced moves really helps to emulate the aesthetic of the game while mirroring the intensity of the anime adaptation- in the Japanese version at least. In Strikers (the English version, specifically), the voices are pretty lackluster. They lack the enthusiasm of their Japanese counterparts and aren’t all too well voiced to boot. Sometimes the voices are unfitting, laughably so.
What’s more, the commentator’s voice is pretty lax in English, while in 2013 he’s lively and sometimes his calls can be pretty rather specific. Though I’ve never found the voice of the commentator to be annoying, and I’d assume most fans of the sport or…well, most sports wouldn’t, his high-pitched Japanese voice as well as his lackluster English one can be a bit grating. This is considering that you will be hearing him a lot and that he will be repeating things quite a bit. But for those who do enjoy commentators, he does add some life to an already thrilling game.
Finally, there are the graphics and the presentation. I want to take a second and recount a very short experience I had with Inazuma Eleven. The DS games are the source material for Inazuma Eleven, and everything related to it is expanded from them. The DS Inazuma Eleven games are what I played first, so you can imagine how different it was for me to step into Strikers, because I had never seen the anime adaptation, which is where a number of the voices come from (as, in the DS games, hissatsu aren't voiced). It was really exciting, because it added a lot of power and intensity to moves when they were used. But for the longest time, I avoided the anime. I avoided the anime because I knew how anime adaptations of games tended to be, and Inazuma Eleven's episode count went into the hundreds. So I avoided it like the plague. I assumed that it would be the type of show with a lot of problem solving during games and drawn out battles, things that were absent from the games.
So one day, for whatever reason, I watched a single episode of the show. It was an episode called "Aphrodi, The Strongest Assist!", featuring a match between Raimon and Diamond Dust. And as I watched, my expectations for the show were utterly shattered. It was not at all the type of show that tried desperately to follow in its games footsteps, and at the same time, it didn't forsake it. It remained faithful and served to present itself as something of a companion to the games. The anime showed me a side of Inazuma Eleven that I'd never noticed before, as the games didn't have the means to truly do so, being on the DS as they were. It showed me that Inazuma Eleven is, more than anything, about spirit. Its name refers to several things, one of them being the spark that it tries to light in the viewer when a player finds resolve and unleashes a new hissatsu or overcomes their own self struggle.
This is why, more than in most games, I feel that the audio and the visuals are incredibly important to the experience and, similarly, why I would actually give Strikers and Strikers 2013 different scores. Inazuma Eleven isn't the prettiest game on the market, and the players faces seem to be painted on. But this doesn't stop the game from blowing the player away with its presentation. What the game doesn't have in its technical art style it makes up for with pretty much every other visual aspect. Backgrounds, stadiums, and other constructs are beautifully crafted and filled with life. The field itself is pretty bland, but this is excusable as the game actually manages to show off more of the stadium than any other Inazuma Eleven game, making the choice of venue seem more involved.
But what more important is there than the word that has been dropped several times in this review: hissatsu. The director for the Inazuma Eleven games deserves a reward, because not only do the moves look great, but they are captured in ways that they can maintain the intensity of the game, despite the fact that when a hissatsu is initiated, it creates a cutscene that would otherwise disrupt the game's speed and flow. In fact, the direction actually helps to make the game more intense. What could be more nerve racking than a giant ball of fire born from a big bang quickly descending upon your feeble, tiny goal? It is because of the excellence that these moves bring audio-visually that truly gives the game its personality. It engages the player by making the determination of those on the field synonymous with the person behind the screen.
All-in-all, Inazuma Eleven GO Strikers 2013 and its prequels are a successful attempt to integrate Inazuma Eleven with the mainstream idea of a Sports Game. At the same time, Strikers still manages to be Inazuma Eleven, and while some features such as Mixi Maxing were stripped down in the transition, they hardly detract from the experience. Though the game may not look the best, and despite the cheesy voice acting in the English version, its pros far outweigh its cons (except maybe that latter one, depending on the player). And despite all that has been explained, the game is really simple, far more so than its handheld counterparts. Though the concepts might be a little hard to grasp, especially for the casual player, it shouldn't take long for even someone foreign to Sports Games or Inazuma Eleven to pick it up and have a good time, with a little bit of practice. As a result, I would say that any and every Inazuma Eleven fan needs to have this game in their library, and non-Inazuma Eleven fans should give it a shot. Even if you're not a fan of the handheld titles, this title has the appeal to reach far and attract those that might otherwise shun it to the series. The music is masterfully composed and the game is wonderfully directed, making for an engaging experience that is sure to grab the player and not let them go until the match is over. With 2013 building on the rougher mechanics of its predecessors while still adding on and making the experience feel fresh with its plethora of players and new play mechanics, this one is certainly worth looking out for.