Soccer Story

Soccer Story is a Legend of Zelda-style action RPG at its core, only with a magic soccer ball instead of a sword. So where you would normally kill monsters, you’re instead knocking coconuts out of trees by kicking a soccer ball at them. Oh, and instead of dungeons, there are soccer matches.

In the beginning of the game, you’ll be sailing through your main story objectives, perhaps ticking the checkboxes on some of the side quests while you’re at at. Knock over some trashcans? “Sure,” you say, “I can do that.” How about hitting specially placed targets to score coins (which you’ll need later in the game)? “Easy peasy,” you remark, with a confident smile.

And then you meet the Toddlers.

Soccer Story - Toddlers

The Toddlers are a soccer team, and they are actual toddlers. So you kind of assume that, since this is your first actual soccer match, and that because everything leading up to this point was gravy, that the game is going to let you keep your training wheels on.

But it doesn’t. The Toddlers are going to absolutely wipe the floor with you. If you can manage to actually get some kind of lead, all of a sudden the A.I. feels like it gets more aggressive, and you’ll have the ball stolen and promptly kicked into your goal within seconds. And even trying to brute force your way into the goal (by repeatedly attempting to shoot even when you don’t have an opening) wears your team out faster than it does the opponent.

Now, I initially thought this was a sick joke, that surely this was one of those battles that you’re supposed to lose so the game can make you feel that desire to prove yourself. But it’s not. You actually can’t progress further into the game until you win this one.

Soccer Story - 0-5

I admit, I hit a brick wall at this point, and it took me several hours — I mean that quite literally — to finally luck into a match where I came out on top. And then the game gets really fun and breezy easy again. Of course, everything you do at this point is just leading up to your first competition, the Soccertown Cup, where you’re going to have to face off against a team of elderly folks, who, much like the toddlers, are way more difficult than they seem like they should be.

After that, you head to the beach, and you’re going to run a bunch of errands for some beachgoers, which, again, is leading up to another tournament where you’re going to get absolutely smoked. And so on.

The thing is, this lack of balance doesn’t feel intentional to me. The difficulty level of the soccer matches feels like it comes from a completely different universe from the rest of the game. It almost seems like this game was made by two different development studios with vastly different ideas about who the target audience is.

Soccer Story

These difficulty spikes are also roadblocks to actually progressing through the story. If you are more interested in the soccer-based minigames (which are joyfully abundant in this world) than the actual soccer part, then you’re going to find the matches to be tedious and frustrating. I admit that I almost gave up at several points along this journey, but I like the other parts of the game enough to grit my teeth and power through the soccer matches.

It’s possible that I just suck at this game. Maybe my brain just refuses to adapt to the necessary mechanics, or maybe there’s some secret trick that I’m just completely missing (like maybe the equivalent of Mario Strikers‘ skillshots) that swings the balance back in my favor. But at the time of this writing, I’ve played for more than 11 hours, and I feel just competent enough that I can win maybe one match in 10. Thankfully, that’s enough to progress through the game, albeit at a snail’s pace.

Now, one last thing I should point out: I’ve been playing the game on Normal difficulty. You can turn it down to Easy, which completely sucks any fight out of your opponent. If you switch from Normal to Easy, it feels like your opponents all of a sudden were drained of their will to even live. They’ll move sluggishly and rarely try to steal the ball. Their shots will be way less accurate. They’ll pass less, and they won’t try to avoid you when you’re closing in for a steal. They simply stop trying. The difference between Normal and Easy is astonishingly pronounced.

Soccer Story - Winners

But if playing on Easy lets me avoid the frustration of way-too-difficult video-game soccer, then I guess that’s just who I am now. I have become the guy who plays games on Easy to get past the difficult parts. I have a Platinum Trophy in Dark Souls: Remastered, for the record. Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

Disclaimer: I was given a review code for Soccer Story on Steam, but the opinions expressed in this article are my own.

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