With the World Cup well underway and the final teams making it through the group stage, the world of Soccer (Football, but I'm a Yankee so whatever) has been set alight in ways that weren't possible for the longest time. As this is the first World Cup since the pandemic, it has gotten everyone talking about football once again. One of the biggest anime this season, Blue Lock, is all about soccer. As a New Yorker, seeing tourists in their kits and the occasional bar showing any number of games available, it's always great to see the sport mentioned even from those who are unaware of Soccer. One game aims to unite both Soccer fans and Football purists in a package that would attract even those with a mere passing interest. Is Soccer Story a dud or is it a part of indie's "Winning Eleven?"
Trick question, there are no full eleven teams here. It's all a five-a-side, 5 vs 5, winner takes all the glory whether it's the elderly or toddlers who stand in your way! I'm getting ahead of myself here, but essentially the plot for Soccer Story centers around a cataclysmal event known as "The Calamity." Not to be confused with the "Chaos Dunk" centered around Barkley, Shut Up And Jam Gaiden. This legendary fan-made RPG was one of the first to combine Sports and Role-Playing Game although the game felt more like a Mario RPG inspiration than one rooted in basketball.
Soccer Story dials down on the absurdity and keeps things grounded to a "feel-good made for everyone" approach. After "The Calamity," soccer is outlawed by a corporation aptly named "Soccer Inc." Only teams approved by Soccer Inc. can play soccer and compete in the coveted World C--Apple Cup. One day, a magic soccer ball appears before the protagonist, Kai, and they use said ball to experience the joy of soccer. Realizing that this is their chance to unite everyone through soccer (Not make a team called United), Kai goes through his hometown to start a team to compete across the map.
One of the first things I noticed was an option were two different "English" language texts; One that specifically says Soccer and the other, Football. The developers made sure to cover all of their bases, ensuring that one crowd isn't offended by the other in calling one term over the other. Now there's unity and everyone is happy for there is freedom of choice! However, in-game there are two NPCs with picket signs protesting the usage of the terms "Soccer" and "Football," with one saying the other is superior. Regardless of how you call the sport, the message of the story is easy to follow.
Kai can summon the ball at any time while also changing movement controls as they have possession of the ball. They'll automatically dribble, limiting their walking/running speed without it. However, they can also shoot the ball for high-angle shots and "pass" the ball for low-angle kicks. There are several interactive objects that can be destroyed with various kicks, but they are usually targets that are meant to carry on the game's progression.
An example of this is needing to kick upright several fallen trash cans or kicking the ball into makeshift goals all around town. Completing these objectives will convince the local players to join your team, but there are also mini-games that help boost your players' stats. There's a Rondo minigame, for example, where you pass the ball around your teammates and avoid getting tackled by the player in the middle. Targets and goals are spread across each region as well. Completing these objectives will earn the player coins and tokens that can increase their speed, shooting, energy, and strength.
Before you begin your first official match, you must complete several "fetch quests" relating to the aforementioned "hit X number of trashcans" or "hit X number of boxes." This wouldn't be a big deal were it not for the wide open spaces and no way to determine exactly where the next item is. Usually, there's something like a radar or an indicator on your map that would tell you where your next item for your objective is. The issue here is that there's not even so much of an audio cue to tell you if you're close.
This means oftentimes you'll be running around town, desperately looking for that last box to kick only to figure it that it was right in front of you in plain sight the whole time. It's a nagging issue that needs a simple fix for it to become a non-issue but it doesn't take away from the enjoyment and charm of Soccer Story. There are objectives that break the monotony such as solving puzzles and breaking into the old people's homes that are guarded by deadly infrared lasers. (Seriously) But this is where I feel the game shines; In its humor.
Soccer Story's actual gameplay is during the five-a-sides, where the goal is to, well, score as many goals against the opposing team in the allotted time. The various "fetch quests" the player has been given were nothing but training for the actual games themselves, which serves as a decent enough tutorial if the quests didn't repeat themselves in newer venues but with an added "twist." Regardless, you don't need to be a FIFA expert or Mbappé himself to perform well. The controls are as simple as a boost button, a pass button, and a shot button.
Using the left analog stick to aim your shot, you try to avoid the aggressive AI and light it up until the ball makes it past the enemy goalie. It's deceptively simple as depending on the difficulty level, the AI is relentless. There's nothing more humorous that Soccer Story provides than seeing a team of elderly former soccer players ambushes your team offensive as your poor Panda goalie gets pelted with shots. It's even more fun when a group of toddlers is doing it to you, although I had several draws because of the bullying AI.
Regardless, the matches themselves are fun and the competitive Ai makes the matches go by fast. If you are struggling there is an Easy difficulty, but the once fiery AI is now target practice. I wish there was a difficulty setting in-between, but this gets balanced out as you invest in upgrades for you and your team. Once you earn your first cup victory, you are then set out to travel across the map, challenging rival teams, and winning their cups as well. Of course, Soccer Inc won't let you get away with this easily. Slowly but surely, you're inspiring hope among others with a sport that was once deemed too dangerous.
To be fair, Soccer can get dangerous I mean I've seen players' entire legs get contorted in games. Overall, Soccer Story is a game that defines "genre-breaking," as it has a colorful cast of characters, an engaging story, and an in-depth system like an RPG. It also has gameplay elements similar to the sport that it's based on. With other similar "Sports RPG" titles well on the horizon like WrestleQuest, Soccer Story is a must-play for fans of the sport as well as anyone who wants to strap up their cleats in an interesting take on RPGs.
Soccer Story is now available on Steam, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Nintendo Switch, and is available on Xbox Game Pass.