Platforms: PC, PlayStation, Xbox, Nintendo Switch[Review code provided]
Soccer Story takes place a year after The Calamity, a disastrous event (think ‘Chaos Dunk‘, but less apocalyptic) which led to the abolishment of The Beautiful Game. Soccer Inc. says its for the good of the people – that football is dangerous – but the reality is that they instigated the event in order to gain a monopoly over the sport.
However, when a magical football crashes through your window, you embark on a journey to bring football back to the people and become the Saviour of Soccer. This journey will see you slide tackling a number of obstacles and opponents in a light-hearted hybrid of RPG adventure and football sim.
Soccer Story has a charming old-school aesthetic that blends blocky 3D models with pixel art. The game is colourful and pleasant to explore, with a relaxing, mellow soundtrack that reinforces the comfortable vibes.
Gameplay is split between exploring the world and playing in matches. During exploration the player can summon their magical ball and freely kick it about in order to score goals, hit targets and solve a variety of simple puzzles. The abolition of football has led people to find all sorts of flimsy excuses to kick a ball around, and the game is eager to show you as many of those excuses as possible.
Mini-games, side quests and ambient challenges reward you with coins and tokens that can be spent to level up your team’s skills. You’re encouraged to explore and help people out in order to bolster yourself and keep up with the competition.
Of course, bringing football back will require playing football now and then – this is what all the questing you get up to is about, after all. Unfortunately, it’s also the weaker half of the game.
Functionally, Soccer Story‘s matches play like a retro football game. You can pass, you can shoot, you can tackle and… that’s about it. Matches are four minutes long, and the rules are entirely stripped back – no going offside, no throw-ins, etc.
This simplicity could work in the game’s favour, but the balance doesn’t feel right. I’m not very good at football games at the best of times, but the medium AI doesn’t give you a chance to figure things out. Your opponents move fast, pass the ball like it’s a hot potato, and rarely miss a shot. In my first match I lost 9 to 1.
Meanwhile, the opposing goalie will block almost every shot you take, regardless of which difficulty you choose. It’s hard to tell how much influence you actually have on your shots, but it feels like your player aims straight at the goalie every time. Scoring quickly starts to feel more luck based than skill based.
On the other hand, turning the difficulty down trivialises most of your opponents. Their reduced stats mean that you’ll easily bully them; you can walk right up, take the ball and then easily outrun them with your superior speed. From there you can freely pelt the goalie with shot after shot until they decide to let a few in; once you have a lead, you just play keep-away. It’s an obvious (and effective) strategy and it quickly gets boring.
That being the case, you might decide to tough it out and accept that you’ll fail now and then. But failing anything – matches, mini-games, etc. – means you’ll have to run back and repeat dialogue over and over until you succeed. Naturally, this starts to get old fast.
Speaking of which, let’s roll back to the ‘exploring and adventuring’ part of Soccer Story. There’s plenty going on in the world – each area features many sidequests, challenges and so on. These activities make full use of the game’s core shooting mechanic, usually in fun and satisfying ways – although the fiddly nature of aiming with an analogue stick sometimes makes moving targets and timed challenges frustrating.
Unfortunately, a lot of the objectives are hidden – and I mean hidden. Finding all of the targets in an area frequently means scouring the full zone over and over and over again. There’s a frustrating lack of guidance (which sometimes extends to the main quest as well). I got bogged down in these easter egg hunts constantly.
Compounding the problem is that getting anything done is very back-and-forth in nature. The game is loaded with fetch quests, and while the map isn’t huge it’s still too big to be expected to walk back and forth (sometimes across the whole map) as much as you do. Even at full speed you aren’t especially fast, and there’s no fast travel.
On top of all this, the game is a bit buggy. On more than one occasion I couldn’t turn in a quest because the dialogue prompt stopped working. After losing the first match I had to reboot the game several times to get past frozen dialogue, and at another point I got stuck in terrain and had to quit to free myself. However, these are problems that can be ironed out over time with patches.
Ultimately, Soccer Story has the foundation for an interesting game, but it falls short of being compelling. By no means is it a bad game, but there’s too much tedium; too much wandering around, too many samey quests. The writing tries to be quirky and charming, but the story is shallow and the humour is hit-and-miss.
However, if you’re the sort of person that enjoys scouring every corner and ticking every box, Soccer Story has plenty of that to offer in it’s 10 or so hours of playtime. It also offers a free play mode and local multiplayer, so if you do enjoy the football matches you can play those alone or with friends at your leisure. It’s a nice bonus.
Soccer Story nails an appealing retro look and feel, but drops the ball when it comes to gameplay. With much of the game being taken up with repetitive fetch quests and obscure target hunts, things quickly get tiresome. This loop is only broken up by the occasional football match, which – depending on your taste – might be even less appealing than running back and forth all day.
Still, the core mechanic of kicking the ball about is enjoyable, and issues with balance and bugs could be patched out over time. If you have more tolerance for busy-work, you might enjoy the game a lot more than I did.