The Match Of Your Life

HIGH Winning the first match! Then the second and then…

LOW Winning the tenth match. And the eleventh…

WTF Not being able to have any kind of relationship with the players.

Football (Soccer, to Americans) management simulations are a niche genre for sure, but they’re genre that has had amazing staying power, and they’ve never really left the market since the early ’90s. But what if we were to hybridize that management gameplay with the narrative of a visual novel? The answer is Football Drama.

Created by the Florence-based studio Open Lab Games, Football Drama is a love letter to the world of football. The player will inhabit the shoes (or rather, the pipe) of manager Rocco Galliano. He’s assigned to run the Calchester United for a whole season, but forget about stats, buying star players or even learning their names — this is about the story.

After starting, the player is thrust almost immediately in the flow of the gameplay, which alternates between events that take place during the week (meeting someone from the cast of colorful characters) and the sunday match.

As a football trainer, Rocco will have to deal with the media (who will always try their best to misrepresent what has been said), the president of the team and his wife. Usually the player is allowed to make a couple of choices regarding what to say, or whether to do things like pay to have prostitutes service the players. (This is really in the game!) Unfortunately, there is almost no relationship with the team members themselves — a bit of a weird decision considering that it could have added a lot of potentially-interesting narrative choices.

However, Football Drama isn’t strictly narrative, as there is definitely some football to be played here.

Unfortunately, the matches are where most players will either embrace Football Drama or get bored and give up. Basically, the player gets a bird’s eye view of the field where small circles will represent the various team members. The player’s controls during the match are limited to choosing between (basically) attacking and defending, with the first requiring quite a bit of stamina. To avoid overworking the team, the player must balance between these options and choose the right actions at the right time.

As long as that balance is maintained the matches are fairly easy, and mostly smooth sailing until the end of the season. The proceedings, end up being a tad repetitive, with the commentators even saying the same things over and over. To spice things up, the player can use cards which are gained (usually) by picking choices during the various story encounters, and these cards are enriched by Daniele Giardini’s (Still There) beautiful artwork.

A bit like a deckbuilder, the player can use these cards during the match, which offer dubious strategies like “faking fouls” or “the off-side rule”. It’s not really required to understand what these actually mean since what the cards really do is give a temporary boots to the overall team stats, which are a help in case the match isn’t going the way we’d want.

Football Drama is a strange beast. On one hand, the designers’ great knowledge and love for the sport is clear from the first minute. On the other, it likely won’t hold much appeal for players who are more interested in the narrative or choice-driven side of things. This one is strictly for those who fall into the Venn diagram overlap of ‘football fan’ and ‘visual novel fan’, I think.

Rating: 7 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by Open World Studio and Demigiant and published by Open World Studio. It is currently available on Switch, PC, iOS and Android. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on Switch. Approximately 5 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: The game is rated E10+ by the ESRB, and contains Alcohol Reference, Use of Tobacco and Violent References. I would also say that it contains mild sexual references in the text and some salty language. I would personally recommend it to a teen-and-up audience, given some of the topics contained.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: This game does not feature spoken dialogue. Text cannot be altered or resized. (See examples above.) There are no audio cues needed for play. This game is fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: The game is controlled with the A and B buttons used to attack or defend, while the other buttons to show other details during the match and to play cards. It is not possible to remap the controls.

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