Soccer Story is a charming RPG adventure that seamlessly builds a light-hearted and often silly story around something as simple as kicking a ball. A disastrous event causes soccer be banned unless sanctioned by the evil Soccer Inc. (with more than a few parallels to real-world FIFA), and our young hero’s father disappears during the disaster. A year later, a magical soccer ball crashes into the life of our hero. What comes next is an often silly and funny story about bringing football back to the world filled with anthropomorphic panda goalkeepers and an evil football corporation.
Players first head to Soccertown to use the magic ball. The city is a shell in itself. The stadium is cordoned off, graffiti goals are sprayed all over the city in an act of rebellion, and the evil Soccer Inc. referees are constantly monitoring for illegal five-a-side matches. Existing in this football-mad world is glorious, thanks in large part to its absurdity.
The main story puts Leo or Kai, depending on which twin you choose, on a quest to liberate Soccertown, recruit teammates, and win soccer matches before moving on to the next area. Once your team is lined up and you’ve caught the attention of Soccer Inc. by bringing soccer back to Soccertown, you’ll visit new areas for story missions and various side quests. You’ll visit a forest, a beach, the bizarre Zen Zone modeled after a mythical, cherry blossom-rich Japan, and more as you follow the formula to explore and liberate new territories. The soccer ball is fun to sprint around each area and rewarding to finally open a gate to a new zone. The zones never exceed their welcome greeting before moving on to the next.
The incentive to continuously explore and complete NPC missions is huge, but you never feel stuck, nor do missions feel boring. They’re fun and quick to make. Plus, talking to NPCs usually yields comedic one-liners worthy of a chuckle.
As you progress through exploration and quests, you will be rewarded with coins and medals, which you can use to improve your hero’s speed, shooting, energy and strength. Some missions will give you medals directly, and it’s important to seek them out for two reasons: they affect your players in games, and they affect your hero in exploration. As with any good RPG, it pays to improve your player’s stats.
Many missions incorporate soccer in fun ways, like shooting sharks to protect swimming kids or sliding crabs to rescue a stranded beachgoer. Shooting a ball at a bar mimics the real-life bar challenges players face on pitches around the world. And some quests are downright weird; At one point in Zen Zone, the game turns into a turn-based RPG as you battle giant mushrooms. These moments make Soccer Story far more immersive than regular soccer quests, and it never ceases to dive headlong into its madness. However, some quests, like knocking over coconuts, can be annoying as you run in circles in search of the ultimate goal.
Once you leave the adventures and missions, Soccer Story falters. Chaos and inconsistencies cloud the actual football games. Running around to attack players is exhausting and the shooting feels random. To increase your chances of scoring, you’ll need to break down goaltenders’ shields, which makes charged shots important but also opens you up to defensive maneuvers while standing.
Even after I upgraded my main character, the goalies blocked my best shots without breaking a sweat. Another time, a weak shot from across the field would float effortlessly into goal. This lack of consistency is confusing and annoying. Speed seems to be the only upgrade that matters as most upgrades don’t feel impactful on the pitch and losing a match after seemingly having an advantage is frustrating.
There’s a certain sense of control, but the matches can be so random as to be off-putting. I found a good rhythm of taking tight shots and pounding rebounds into the corners of the goal, which was more of a chore than fun, and I just wanted to get out of a game and back into real adventure. That doesn’t bode well for a soccer-based RPG. They also compete in numerous one-on-one matches, but thanks to its base formula, these felt more like padding than meaningful additions. The actual soccer portion of Soccer Story is just usable and frustratingly inconsistent, which sucks compared to the rest of the game.
While Soccer Story is a story about the beautiful game, soccer games take second place to story and exploration. The adventure and RPG aspect is a lot of fun, especially when soccer is so integrated into the world, but the weak soccer games prevent it from really being a great sports RPG. Fueled by its charming and humorous premise, Soccer Story offers a satisfying adventure and a different kind of soccer game, but one that doesn’t quite score a hat-trick.
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