Football-themed role-playing games aren’t anywhere near as rare as you may think. Captain Tsubasa, inspired of course by the manga, has been a mainstay of the Japanese video game landscape dating all the way back to the NES – and more recently Level 5’s strategy-style Inazuma Eleven has found worldwide appeal. Soccer Story takes a different tact, adopting an old-school Legend of Zelda-style over-world filled with secrets, and marries it with a simplistic arcade-style footie minigame.
You can play this minigame with up to three friends locally if you like, but it also plays a pivotal part in the plot, which effectively sees you restoring the sport of soccer to a town where it’s been outlawed. Even though the script is totally tongue in cheek, you’ll find yourself flicking through the text as fast as possible, as there’s very little from a narrative perspective that will keep you engaged. It’s all mostly window-dressing for a gameplay loop that revolves around you kicking a ball.
Far too many of the quests rely on looking for tells in the vibrant, voxel-based sandbox. Whether you’re collecting golden carrots or straightening out upended litter bins, the game leans far too heavily on Where’s Waldo-style puzzles. If you spot the solutions immediately, it’s not a problem; otherwise you’ll be running around in circles, searching desperately for the last remaining MacGuffin. This wouldn’t be a major issue if the world wasn’t massively gated off, limiting what you can do most of the time.
The football minigame isn’t fantastic either; computer controlled goalkeepers are outrageously agile, and the ball will often stop rolling at the edge of the box, which can’t be entered by forwards, preventing second chance opportunities. The art style is nice, though, blending Super Nintendo-style sprites with chunky 3D blocks; it feels like a spiritual successor to a 16-bit era RPG, in a similar – but obviously less effective – way to Square Enix’s HD-2D titles, like Live A Live.
But ultimately, this game misses the target. If you’re itching for some footie amid the World Cup, and you absolutely can’t stand sims like FIFA 23, we suppose you might eke some mileage out of it. Otherwise, leave this one on the bench where it belongs.