Folks, I Don’t Think I Get How Soccer Works

Listen I know there’s a whole thing with nerds and not knowing stuff about athletics. We refer to sports as “sportsball,” we pick on our friends in fantasy sports leagues for basically playing D&D but with football players, and we act like touching grass would literally kill us. But for me this has always been social posturing; realistically I know how sports work. I played football and basketball as a kid, and I have to imagine that while certain popular penalties or plays are different now the rules can’t have changed that much since the 90’s and early aughts. I can explain how downs work in American football, I know how many players are on the court in a basketball game, and even for sports like tennis or baseball that I didn’t participate in directly I still at least comprehend the scoring system. But the time I have spent playing Ganbare! Super Strikers has convinced me that I do not understand how soccer works.

There’s this rule – a penalty, specifically – called “offsides.” It sounds to me like going out of bounds in American football or in basketball. The ball leaves the space it’s allowed to be and the game moves forward with an appropriate penalty for the offending team. That is apparently not how offsides works in soccer. Instead, it seems to activate when you’ve got a kicker close to the goal, there’s no one in their way, and so you pass the ball to them. To me, it just seems like – ya know – passing. I feel like it is generally a good idea to give the ball to your unguarded teammate who is closer to the goal than you are. The other team left that opening, they get punished for it. Seems simple enough and yet for some reason it’s an illegal play?

What’s super weird is how Ganbare! enforces it. There’s no consistency that I can find. Here are two specific scenarios: one where I expected to get offsides but didn’t, and one where I did but it didn’t make sense. In situation one, I had a player who was on the third column from the left, so relatively close to the goal horizontally speaking, but was standing on the top row of the map. In other words, he’s very far away vertically. On the same column I had another player who was centered and definitely closer to the goal. He would have to kick the ball fewer tiles to get a point. As soon as I made the pass I regretted it, expecting offsides to kick in. But it didn’t. I had meaningfully reduced the number of tiles between me and the goal with no players on the other team close enough to interfere but the penalty didn’t activate. In the second scenario I had two characters who were equidistant from the goal and were simply facing it from different angles – one straight on while the other was in a corner. The number of tiles the ball would be away from the goal wouldn’t change if they were to pass. The only reason I did pass, in fact, was to handle the ball to the player with the higher “shoot” stat. But it counted as offsides. At this point, I am hesitant to ever pass the ball at all, which kind of seems backwards for a team sport but how would I know, I guess?

Excuse me, do what to the opponent?

And don’t even get me started on some of the other weird rules in this game. Like one time this guy kicked a soccer ball towards their teammate and when I went to block, my player got frozen in a block of ice. Or the time one of my guys tackled the enemy player so hard all his clothes came off. I’m pretty sure both of those things are illegal, but the game just keeps going? The refs don’t even SAY anything? It’s ridiculous. I absolutely do not understand how soccer works.

…wait. I’m being told that the ice and the nakedness are just “part of the video game” and “not an actual part of sports.” Hmm. Well this article is really going off the rails, huh?

In all seriousness, I’ve gone from only playing one match of Ganbare! to being about 33% through the game, which has given me ample opportunity to see some aspects of the game I think are cool as well as running into some stuff that kinda stinks. The offside rules really, truly do baffle me and I cannot reliable avoid activating the penalty unless I just never pass the ball again. But there’s some other weird stuff with passing too. When you use a passing ability to inflict status problems on opponents (like making them “naked,” which actually just strips off their accessories so they lose the stat bonuses from them), the impact is only successful if the opponent is positioned between your players. This is in spite of the fact that they can block from anywhere adjacent to the receiving player, not just if they are on the path of the ball. Or there’s the fact that when you pass and your player doesn’t kick the ball hard enough to complete the pass, instead of stopping short of the target, you hit your teammate super hard and they pass out? There are a lot of little quirks in Ganbare! that don’t seem to follow any logic I can pick out.

I’ve started getting around these passing problems by not passing to people and instead passing to spaces. You can kick the soccer ball to any empty space in your passing range with little risk of not making it there successfully. Enemies cannot move during your turn so the rival team can’t go and pick up the stray soccer ball. By kicking to an empty square through a clear path, you avoid spending the points on a special ability to deal with opponents and you avoid the chances of getting blocked or failing your pass roll and bonking your teammate in the head. They just walk over to the square where the ball landed and go on about their business. Not every scenario creates an opening that allows this approach, but it is one way in which I have been able to make the strategy of Ganbare! work for me instead of against me.

If I passed directly to my teammate here, the pass would almost certainly be blocked. By passing next to the character, I can have him pick up the ball and continue on without risking losing possession.

Now admittedly I’ve had a lot to complain about with this game, but I’m continuing to enjoy the process of playing it outside of these few aggravating issues. There’s a lot of strategy to how you approach each match, carefully managing the energy levels of your team so they can be in the right position at the right time while still having the stamina to perform for an entire match. The various statuses in the game do add an interesting element where you need to carefully manage your units so they don’t get afflicted. Having two teammates frozen at a time, for example, absolutely sucks and really limits your ability to protect your goal and get the ball to the other side of the field. But when you have half the enemy team unable to use special abilities or stripped of their useful equipment, the edge you get makes a huge difference.

There’s a decent amount of challenge involved, too, as some matches have special conditions that are quite difficult to fulfill at the same time. For example, one team I played against had the conditions “win the match,” “don’t use special abilities,” and “don’t let the other team score.” To get all the objectives (and therefore all of the useful equipment from the match to give my team new powers) I ended up having to play through three different times. The first match I managed to win but the opponents did get a goal and I had to use abilities. The second match I focused on never using abilities regardless of whether or not I won, and the third match I focused on protecting my goal as fiercely as possible. By the end, many of my team members had gained a couple of levels and learned some new abilities, plus I had new gear in my inventory to spread useful skills out even more. When I got to the next match, it turned out I needed every bit of practice I had gotten as the opponents really pushed me to use all of my resources to come out on top.

So maybe I don’t know shit about soccer, but thankfully my knowledge of tactics games is there to protect me. By playing to the strengths of my party members, learning tricks to get around difficult situations and conserve resources, and then playing aggressively with abilities at critical moments, I’ve been able to score my way to the semifinal match of the first season. Ganbare! definitely isn’t my favorite thing I am playing right now but it’s a nice way to spend some free time while challenging my brain. So I’m planning to continue making my way through it – even if offsides don’t make any damn sense.

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