EA’s FIFA series is going through some changes. For one, it’s not FIFA at all anymore. The series has officially made its transition into the new EA Sports FC brand with its recently released 2024 installment. That’s not the biggest surprise on the horizon for soccer fans, though; The sport is getting a surprising new mobile game with a left-field tactics twist.
EA Sports FC Tactical is an upcoming free-to-play spinoff that turns football into Fire Emblem. Co-developed with KLab Inc, the studio behind anime sports title Captain Tsubasa: Dream Team, the mobile game distills all the action of FC 2024 into a turn-based RPG. Every play is its own little tactical battle that pits strikers against defenders.
It may sound head-scratching on paper, but it makes total sense in practice. In a quick hands-on demo of EA Sports FC Tactical, I quickly got a feel for how intuitive a turn-based sports game like this can be. A greater emphasis on mental strategy over controller-based action does a great job of highlighting the high-level decision-making that makes soccer such an impressive sport.
Before hopping into a match, players assemble a team using intuitive drag-and-drop controls. It’s there that it becomes clear that FC Tactical isn’t just your average soccer game; it’s a full-blown RPG. Players have stats, passive abilities, and special skills that make it feel more like building an adventuring party than a sports team. That’s the first area where I can feel KLab’s Captain Tsubasa touch coming into play.
I’d get to see that in action when diving into a match. At the start of each play, I’m shown an overhead glance at the field, where I can see my player icons moving around. The camera swoops into a familiar 3D perspective as soon as the player with the ball bumps into a defender. Time freezes at that moment, suddenly turning the action into a turn-based strategy game.
As a striker, I’m presented with a row of options. I can shoot, pass, dribble, or perhaps even unleash a special ability. Those options are presented in a simple UI that isn’t too different from something like Final Fantasy VII: Ever Crisis. I simply tap on a box to activate a move, though I’ll need to weigh my options first. Each ability has a number on it representing my stat in a specific skill. I need to weigh that against my opponent’s number to decide my best option. Skills also cost energy, which is a finite resource each individual player has. To win a match, I need to make sure I’m managing my stamina to the end and knowing the right moment to take risks. That gameplay loop carries over when I’m on defense, as I’m planning blocks instead of shots.
There are a few other factors to consider. If I’m shooting or passing, I need to pay attention to how many defenders the ball is going to go through. I’ll need to pass a skill check for each one, which can get tricky when dealing with three defenders. Moments like that make every single play feel important, turning soccer into a game of chess.
When I choose my move, time unfreezes and I get to see the sequence play out just as it would in an actual match of FC 2024. As an added touch, KLab brings a bit of its Captain Tsubasa experience to its animations. When I activate a special ability, my player lights up with colorful energy before unleashing their super skill as if they’re a character in an anime. It’s a nice touch that emphasizes the RPG at the heart of the experience. FC Tactical even takes some explicit notes from series like Fire Emblem, as it features its own “weapon triangle” to explain strengths and weaknesses in player positions.
While it’s all intuitive fun, there’s one question mark about the project: its use of microtransactions. The plan seems to be that FC Tactical will be a free-to-play game with seasonal updates and a battle pass. On top of that, it also uses an in-game currency that’s used to upgrade player skills. According to team members on hand at the preview, those points can be earned in-game or purchased outright with real money. A developer assured me that the system wouldn’t be pay-to-win, but I’m struggling to see how using money to make skills better wouldn’t fit that bill. EA notes that the all of these features are still in the works and subject to change, so I imagine there might be some tweaks to all of this before it launches.
If those microtransactions don’t intrude too much, EA Sports FC Tactical could be a creative genre mash-up built for those who want a more cerebral sports game. It puts me in the mind of a coach rather than a player, which is a change of pace I can get behind. I can’t keep up with the pros, but maybe I can outsmart them.
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