Football Drama is arguably one of the most accurate titles for a game. Forget the melodrama on the pitch from those that follow the Patron Saint Klinsmann and his dying/diving swan technique; here, you have to contend with the media, fat cats and actual talking cats off the pitch.
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This isn’t the first satirical approach to the beloved sport, Behold The Kickmen was a very witty viewpoint from someone who had zero interest in the game but managed to hit so many home truths. As well-written as it was, the gameplay element wasn’t so much to cheer about.
With Football Drama, from Open Lab Games, the tone is also a satirical one, but perhaps from the viewpoint of football fans. They know how ridiciculous it has become, like an equivalent of WWE with a spectacle that surpasses the actual game. It’s a chimaera of a game; visual novel, deck-building lite, and management, and all of these elements fuse well.
There’s no one strong point of the game, the variety is refreshing and engaging and it feels like you could play this on your mobile – which apparently you can. Naturally, match day takes up the bulk of gameplay, which involves some strategy in a turn-based perspective. Once you’re done with the game, the next step is the media circuit, appeasing fans and the investors, somehow striking a balance.
The Thiefa League consists of 18 games in all, and that’s ample time to unravel the story. You play the manager, Rocco Galliano, tasked with taking Calchester Assembled through to… well, you set the goal. My IRL home team has an erratic history, so emulated that and aimed to avoid relegation. Obviously, the better the results, the likelihood of a happy ending, but as with modern football, it’s insanely fickle, and you’re only as good as the last match.
Everything in Football Drama scratches the surface, and it would border more on casual play than the equivalent of Football Manager. For starters, before each match, you pick one form of training – from dynamic positioning to set pieces; whichever you choose will boost your overall stats and increase the probability of winning a match. Alternatively, you could go with a spot of yoga or eff the regime and head to the pub.
Though you can see the adjustments to your stats after committing to the training and in-game by pressing the Y button, it’s not a detailed list, and you don’t have much influence over them. Forgive the football pun, but you have to wing it a little and hope your training selection (and in-game tactics) will work.
Once the match starts, there are three main controls, and they shift depending on whether you have possession or not. The B button tends to be the safe bet, while A is more heavy-handed. With the ball, B will hold up the game with passing; without it and you’ll mark your opponent. A, on the other hand, will take a risk and go balls deep into the other half or tackle without. Additionally, this setup modifies when shooting or defending in the box with a passive or active defence.
The third control remains the same and is the deck-based element. In reality, this is just a tactic to apply on the fly from distracting goalkeepers, feigning injuries, or changing up the formation. To mix it up a bit, you play these cards in-game and have to wait for the ball to go out of play for them to activate. Even then, your players may not follow orders.
This was probably the most inconsistent element of Football Drama from my perspective. In the early games, the team would do as commanded, and while there wasn’t any sign of a clean sheet, Calchester Assembled never lost either. Still, about game four or five, they started to rebel and not carry out actions. Perhaps this reflects the real-life, but it was a little inconsistent.
Perhaps that expectation of consistency comes to one of the key aspects of the game: Karma and Kaos. With each action you take off the pitch, your levels will change and unlock new directions. Karma tends to favour the easy-going individual, and while people like you, fans think you’re spineless. With Kaos, you’re disliked but feared and can improve your attack.
The key element besides savvy training and tactics is the strain on your team. Each time you play a ball forward, it takes a toll on fatigue, as you’d expect. However, if the players become overexerted, your option to use the A button – a.k.a. taking a risk – becomes limited. You’ll make ground; your players will tire, so you play the passing game and lose possession. As mentioned, Football Drama doesn’t have the scope of a full simulator, but the strategy is there, and you have to use it.
Football Drama is an enjoyable game. That interaction with the press and management is fun. It’s concise and not convoluted. Your options in the dialogue choices offer variety, and there are often consequences. There could have been a bit more interaction with the squad other than at half time for some pointers, otherwise, it was good.
In terms of presentation, the illustrations and use of colour were brilliant – so much so that I had to look up the artist, which appears to be Daniele Giardini. Check out their work. While the visuals are great, so too is the score and ambient jingles when improving stats – there’s something very stylish about the game that feels like it’s an app designed by ex-GQ staff.
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But more importantly, as a Football Drama game review, the gameplay stands up. Interactions already covered, the actual matches work well and for anyone else who’s a recovering Football Manager but wants something a little more lite while wearing expensive Italian shoes, consider this as one of the football games to get on the Switch.
- A balance of visual novel and strategy.
- Casual play for those without the time to play an in-depth sim.
- The in-game play is fun – even the replays.
- Gorgeous illustrations and colour usage.
- Plenty of variety.
- Strategies a little inconsistent.
- Not enough interaction with the squad.
- Can’t really dive deep into the stats.
- Match commentary repetitive.