Inazuma Eleven is a franchise of fantasy soccer JRPGs that spawned multiple anime series in Japan, where it’s definitely popular. Unfortunately, the series is almost unknown in the U.S., and even this Inazuma Eleven Strikers has been released only in Europe.
When I talk about fantasy soccer, I mean it. In the Inazuma Eleven series the young players don’t just kick the ball, but use special and extremely flashy techniques called “Hissatsu-waza” (literally “Killer moves”) in order to propel the sphere into the opposing team’s goal. That’s what makes the series special and, in many ways, absolutely hilarious.
The first noticeable thing about Strikers is that it’s actually not a JRPG like its Nintendo DS counterparts. Despite having been developed by Level-5, it has no story to begin with, and the RPG parts of the series have been overlooked in favor of a more immediate action approach that was probably seen as more appropriate to the target of the Wii.
The graphics of the game are definitely one of the elements that could attract Inazuma Eleven fans to this game, as they look quite a lot better than the DS version, depicting characters and matches in a quite crisp and colorful cell-shaded style that closely follows the character design of the anime series.
The game looks quite good for the standards of the Wii, despite the fact that it was originally released in Japan more than a year ago, on July the 16th, 2011. Cell-shaded graphics do tend to age rather well, after all, and Inazuma Eleven Strikers is no real exception to that rule. If there’s a game that could easily be defined as an interactive anime it would be this one.
The audio of Inazuma Eleven Strikers is adequate but not really exceptional. The soundtrack fits the theme without impressing excessively, but underlining various moments of the game well enough to prove pleasant. Voice acting is faithful to the English version of the anime, and the quality definitely isn’t bad, but it tends to be very repetitive on the long run. I’m not surprised if you’ll want to strangle the commentator and his five lines after a few matches.
If you know me, you probably also know that I’m definitely not a fan of localizations that change the original names of the cast with new ones, English or otherwise. Unfortunately, this game fits the bill perfectly, and the fact that all those Japanese middle schoolers proudly sport perfectly English names is disheartening to say the least.
As mentioned before, Inazuma Eleven Strikers lost all the RPG elements of its Nintendo DS predecessors. The heart and (rather hollow, to be honest) soul of the single player gameplay can be found in the clubroom mode, where you’re prompted to build your own team and lead it against several opponents in a variety of leagues.
“Soccer” (air-quotes are obligatory) matches are quite straightforward and intuitive. Each player can shoot, evade, pass, cross, tackle and call other defenders for support. They can also execute the aforementioned Hissatsu moves in four different situations depending on the character. They can be used to shoot, to tackle, to dodge and to block a shoot.
When executing a Hissatsu a short cutscene will play, showing the extremely flashy move before real time gameplay is resumed. I have to say that most of those cutscenes are absolutely hilarious and very enjoyable in their absurd execution, but unfortunately they tend to get old a tad fast, and after a few matches you’ll find yourself skipping most of them.
Using a Hissatsu consumes TP (technique points) that are stored in a gauge for each character and get replenished over time. The biggest problem with the gameplay is that the overbearing presence of those special moves tends to make the actual action flat. Shooting normally is incredibly ineffective (I literally never managed to score a goal without using a Hissatsu), so basically the whole point of the game is to hold the ball long enough for one of the strikers to gain enough TP to to execute an high level Hissatsu and then hope that it will score.
Once you defeat an enemy team you can recruit some of its players, and start to customize your own. The presence of hundreds of unique characters each with his appearance, personality and techniques is one of the best elements of the game, and you can literally build your team in an almost infinite number of ways.
You can also improve your players outside matches thanks to five training mini-games pulled kicking and screaming from the best anime tradition (if you haven’t ever seen Japanese youngsters running while dragging a tire tied to their waist you never saw a sports anime). They’re fun for a little while, but they do tend to get old rather fast. Their utility also extends to strengthening the friendship bond between different characters, unlocking a variety of cooperative Hissatsu.
Inazuma Eleven Strikers gives its best shot, surprisingly, when used as as a sort of party game with a bunch of anime-oriented friends, reminiscing the glorious times in which colorful characters from the land of the raising sun screamed the names of their attacks to the top of their lungs.
Competitive gameplay with up to four players and cooperative multiplayer where friends can play the manager or the coach offering support from the sidelines (by increasing the range and power of the various Hissatsu or by creating areas where TP are recovered faster) is simply hilarious, as it’s basically impossible not to spend at least a few hours laughing at the whole over-the-top flashy-ness of the cutscenes. This kind of experience is, besides the extreme variety of characters, one of the elements that could definitely justify a purchase.
Ultimately, unless you’re a big fan of the series or you really need a new party game to entertain your friends (that need to have a liking for anime and their tropes, otherwise the attempt could easily backfire), it’s hard to wholeheartedly recommend Inazuma Eleven Strikers. The presence in your family of a kid in his early teens might also turn the game into a good choice, as a younger audience will definitely appreciate its simplicity a lot more.
Its fun multiplayer, the hilarious cutscenes, the delightful depth of its cast and the fact that there’s literally nothing else like it on home consoles may still turn it into a meaningful addition to your Wii collection, but the removal of all story-driven and RPG elements easily identify it as a missed chance to bring the franchise to the Wii with its full charm.
If you want to try the full Inazuma Eleven experience (and if you are a fan of JRPGs you most definitely should), my advice is to get Inazuma Eleven and Inazuma Eleven 2 for the Nintendo DS. They have almost everything Inazuma Eleven Strikers offers and pair it with deep storylines and delightfully deep JRPG gameplay. The fact that they’re not region locked also means that, if you live in the US, importing them is a possibility.
Don’t get me wrong. While Inazuma Eleven Strikers can be fun, especially with friends, it simply falls short of what it could have been, and of what it is in the DS incarnations of the series.