On July 17, 2015, I offhandedly downloaded Soccer Spirits, a Korean mobile phone card game published by Com2us Corporation and developed by BigBall Co., Ltd. It was the latest of several card games I have played, meant to fill the void: Urban Rivals, Sword Girls, Rise of Mythos, Valkyrie Crusade, Chain Chronicles, and Devil Maker Tokyo.
Three days later, I began playing Soccer Spirits in earnest and was quickly hooked. The fact that I had a late start, as Soccer Spirits already had its first year-anniversary two months before, did not discourage me too much as I grinded my way up the ranks.
However, once I came to understand the mechanics and metagame, it became readily apparent that in spite all of its charms, my newest mobile app game had more than its share of glaring flaws.
Please note that this review will gloss over the basics, as there are a multitude of beginner guides available, in lieu of highlighting my opinion of what Soccer Spirits has done right and wrong. Furthermore, the Japanese version of Soccer Spirits is a whole other beast, one foreign to me, and hence will receive minimal acknowledgement.
Gameplay and Teambuilding:
As a game loosely based on soccer, the primary way to win in Soccer Spirits is simple: bring the opponent’s goalkeeper health down to zero. This goal (pun intended) does not change across the game modes, which means Soccer Spirits can become fairly repetitive. A lot of untapped potential for variation is thus left untouched: imagine a game mode requiring multiple goals to win or a time trial game mode!
Sometimes, achieving the ideal course of action requires consideration. Should I steal or block? Should I use this unit’s active skill now, or save it for later? Soccer Spirits’ decision-making element adds depth and complexities by building upon the predetermined win condition.
Players are generally free to construct their teams however they like. However, most theme teams have unsurpassable upper limits, certain mono-typed teams notwithstanding. The same is true for certain units, who may be simply outclassed by others.
Nevertheless, some players are determined to win with their favorite units, even if the general consensus labels said units as being unviable or suboptimal. This is notable because superbing and stat-boosting units takes time, luck, and valuable resources; investing in an unproven unit could render waste said resources.
The Scout System:
Without the Scout System, the already-lengthy grinding process in Soccer Spirits would be further extended, making it a godsend. It is a good idea that other mobile “freemium” card games should consider implementing. However, the Scout System is ultimately a lottery and should be treated as one, just as the Soccer Spirits subreddit is quick to remind players ready to funnel gold for scout rolls.
Speaking of which, while it is an element over which Soccer Spirits has little official control, the fan community is another amazing aspect of the game. Between a subreddit, a wiki page, multiple forums, several databases, and countless dedicated group chats, a great wealth of information exists; some of it even manages to be both useful and true.
Soccer Spirits can be confusing and poor choices may halt weeks or even months of progress, so these internet strangers could potentially save clueless players a lot of grief. There is also an official Soccer Spirits app page on Facebook, but this particular community, if the people participating in the comment section of posts can even be collectively grouped as such, is definitely not its selling point.
The value of the official (English) Soccer Spirits Facebook app page lies more in its announcements, specifically the sneak-peek previews of incoming patch updates. Even as a self-admitted spoiler hound, the patch previews are good because they generate interest and discussion. The (English) Facebook page also posts giveaways, art contests and, rarely, Facebook-exclusive events. This much is common fare for mobile games, but it shows that Com2Us is indeed trying.
Language and Voicing:
The comparatively wide variety of languages that Soccer Spirits offers deserves recognition. Aside from the native Korean voicing, there are English, French, Portuguese, Russian, German, Spanish, Simplified Chinese, and Traditional Chinese subtitles currently available on the Korean and International server, while the new Japanese server has Japanese voicing.
The voice-acting in Soccer Spirits is actually quite superb; the feelings of the characters, whether it be unchecked pride, anger, despair, or off-the-rails insanity, are well-conveyed. I have not deeply looked into the Japanese version, but as they have famous seiyū voicing the characters, I suspect the voice-acting there to also be of top quality. The sound effects are also nicely done and complete Soccer Spirits: it was unnerving when the sound effect for activating skills was gone for a brief period. On the other hand, the music is nothing special and merely listenable, which is standard fare for mobile games.
Graphics and Censorship:
Another element in Soccer Spirits that is typical of other mobile games is the superb animesque graphics. The original artwork illustrations are done by contracted Korean and Japanese artists. Just like the voice-acting, the character art can wildly range from cute to hot-blooded to menacingly sinister to downright raunchy, leaving practically no stone left unturned in addressing personal taste.
However, the creative artwork was involved in an incident which clearly demonstrated the communication problems between the developers and the players. The vast majority of art that depicted female characters suggestively underwent censorship back in late February. Amongst complaints about waifus being defiled forever, the players were in an outrage over how the censorship changes were belatedly tacked onto the patch notes, like an afterthought, without warning.
A late explanation and apology, which brought up stricter regulations as the reasoning, was given afterwards. (Personally, I think that the censoring, though poorly executed, was warranted: just because Soccer Spirits can be enjoyed with one hand does not mean the art should explicitly encourage that manner of playing.)
Miscommunication, Balancing Issues, and the Cooperative Defense System:
The communication issues also come into the forefront when it comes to balancing. No, releasing notes from the developers as a form of damage control fails to suddenly make everything all right. In my opinion, the developers only superficially care about Soccer Spirits‘ balance. They rely heavily on the players’ opinions, which tend to make themselves known when something is either game-breaking or ineffectual; in fact, whether a unit is nerfed or buffed can be predicted, to an eerily accurate degree, by how much whining is being done by the player base.
Unfortunately, for better or for worse, the developers have a penchant of sitting on their hands, letting weeks or even months pass by before they implement bug fixes and balancing. It took two months to patch the Double Attack Bug, eight months to “nerf” Miho, and five months to water the overly-buffed William down from One-Kick Man to a-still-top-tier striker.
Utterly idiotic concepts were also introduced as a pathetically veiled, roundabout way to nerf William. The Cooperative Defense System, which seems to solely operate according to Murphy’s Law, is universally reviled and will likely plague Soccer Spirits indefinitely. Duran, the flawless pay-to-win backline totem, was a mistake.
Even when they finally admitted William was too strong and nerfed him accordingly, Leventor was heavily buffed; Isillia only knows how long he will be able to run unchecked. On the other hand, some units are overnerfed, necessitating players to overhaul their team rosters to replace the defective unit with a new one.
The Recall System:
The innovative recall system was created to help combat extreme balance changes, but the revamped version is disappointingly inferior. Even the latest recalls, which gave the opportunity to trade in Luka or Silla for alternative season “Assist” units, were a mixed bag. No one can deny that, due to their sheer utility, Silla and Luka were everywhere in PvP.
However, reducing the effectiveness of assists in general was quite questionable; thanks to the bone-headed decision of buffing the effectiveness of heals in PvP, matches potentially take tens of minutes to complete. Moreover, on account of their still huge utility, Silla and Luka continue to see much usage, as their alternatives consist of either inferior season one assists or heavily power-creeped season two assists.
The Draw System:
Of course, Season 2 units, including assists, can hardly be called widely-available. While the five star draw rate is generous enough (when compared to other games), the mileage draw for a guaranteed season 2 character is outright daylight robbery; at least it is meant as a bonus gift, or consolation prize, for unlucky players rather than a regular reward.
In any case, it is blatant that the balancing is meant to increase the incentive for players to spend. Unfortunately, that is just how things are for freemium games. Comparatively speaking, Soccer Spirits is actually on the generous side.
Events and Storyline:
Similarly, I would criticize the random nature of the recent events, but the unpredictability was purposefully done. In a similar vein to the scout and draw system, the Events’ rewards are randomized to entice players with the possibility of experiencing the fleeting pleasure of hitting the jackpot. Be that as it may, the Events themselves could use a little more story, because they currently have none.
In fact, the storyline in general could stand much improvement. I am not talking about improving the quality of said storyline, as I recognize that it is exceedingly common for mobile and browser-based games to have subpar stories fashioned as excuse plots. Soccer Spirits‘ storyline is mildly entertaining at best.
No, I mean picking up the storyline from where it left off and finishing it. The stealth update, which finished Chapter 8, is a good start, but for crying out loud, even Valkyrie Crusade has put in more effort in the storyline. Maybe this, along with all the imbalances, will be addressed with the next major patch, but after how the overly-hyped Club Matches failed to meet expectations, I sincerely hold my doubts.
Risk/Reward and Evaluation:
The way I see it, Soccer Spirits is desperately trying to balance risk versus reward by providing a variety of choices. This notion was mentioned when the recall system was remade, but it can readily be applied to the game as a whole. It provides one explanation, besides monetary greed, as for why the recall system was given a makeover and why William was subject to quite a few changes over the past half-year.
In regards of applying the risk-versus-reward concept in evaluating Soccer Spirits, I would have to say the negatives outweigh the positives. In a nutshell, the useful Scout System, the helpful-intentioned community, fantastic art, riveting voice-acting and relative freedom available in teambuilding is overshadowed by game-breaking bugs, awful balancing, poor communication from the developers to the player base, the increasingly noticeable pay-to-win advantage, and the unanimously detested Cooperative Defense System.
As such, I do not recommend Soccer Spirits to anyone, even to individuals with lots of time and money to spend. In fact, it would be best to avoid mobile games in general. Go enjoy games on Steam instead, where the goal is not to milk the players dry of their money, time, and happiness.
With all of my nay-saying and criticism, the question of why do I continue to play Soccer Spirits may arise. Truthfully, I play it less and less with each passing week. However, what makes me stay is the club I am a part of, the memes, and the salt of other players, as well as the time, effort, and even a little money that I have sunk into Soccer Spirits.
The biggest reason, though, is that I feel my team is on the cusp of achieving greatness. Soccer Spirits, for all its flaws, is very much the same way, and whether it will obtain glory or continue its downward spiral is a judgement best reserved for the future.
(Joshua Fu, the author of this guest post, also operates a YouTube channel where he posts some of his Soccer Spirits matches. You can check out a playlist of his videos by clicking this link. – The Gemsbok)
Recalling Soccer Spirits: