Sometimes, less is more, even as the entertainment medium tends to adhere to tropes that have been established over decades. High stakes drama is to be expected for roleplaying games, but in the deft hands of developer Pocket Trap, that same genre has been translated to the sporting arena, with Dodgeball Academia delivering a unique RPG experience with a healthy dash of charm and a propensity to not always take things so seriously.
You might not be saving the world from a catastrophe, but it does not take away the gravity of the adventure that awaits the trio of Otto, Balloony, and Mina. As the name suggests, this sports RPG takes place against the backdrop of the titular Dodgeball Academia, in a universe where a powerful, spinning dodgeball artefact can power a school, and the sport is everything.
As a newcomer, Otto is predictably a fish out of water in an environment that is full of power struggles, inane situations, and a whole lot of ridiculous fun. Putting together his motley crew, it is their ultimate aim to win the school tournament and write their names into history.
In order to do so, you are going to be doing quests, exploring the visually stunning school, and meet all sorts of characters that are well-realised even if they are familiar caricatures. Of course, you will also be playing plenty of dodgeball, and that is possibly the highlight of the entire Dodgeball Academia experience.
Rather than a more passive turn-based RPG affair, Dodgeball Academia puts the onus on players in an action-packed contest every time you take to the courts. Throwing, catching, and dodging are all part of the game, and quick reflexes are going to serve players well in more hectic battles.
Whether you are facing off one-on-one, or doing team battles with fallen foes surrounding you on the outskirts, the sport of dodgeball works perfectly for this particular form of combat and action. The further you dive into Dodgeball Academia, the more depth it reveals as well.
Charge attacks infuse elements like lightning or fire and become a formidable weapon in your arsenal, while Balltimate abilities can easily turn the tide in tight contests. It is always satisfying to have Mina strike the opponents with giant bolts of lightning, or have Otto fire an energy blast that deals massive damage to multiple foes. Balloony comes in clutch as well, providing support with a much-needed healing spell.
As you make more friends and enemies, everyone is going to be playing the game differently. Some will catch the balls as a form of defence, while others may just counter with a kick and send the ball flying back where it came from. Even the courts are going to keep you on your toes, with forest grass obscuring visibility, or have actual cars that can knock you down and make you vulnerable.
Players can also unlock more characters for the versus mode outside of the main story, which gives you a chance to enjoy the sporting goodness with a friend via couch play. It is this kind of variety that keeps Dodgeball Academia fresh despite its heavy reliance on these battles.
Making your way to the top of the dodgeball mountain is going to be a tough journey, but all that hardship is going to help make our heroes even stronger. Dodgeball Academia taps into the RPG side of things as your characters will level up, gaining improved stats, and even unlocking buffs to enhance their abilities.
There is also a good selection of interesting equipment, which works well in complementing whichever playstyle you want for the team. Like hanging out in the air and dealing damage from above? There are items that will give you more of an edge, or you can prepare for the long game by having equipment that strengthens your team after a certain period has elapsed. Discovering a variety of viable options and strategies is definitely part of the fun in Dodgeball Academia as well.
If you are after more rewards and experience, then you would need to keep on top of the many side quests that are found around the school in each of the eight chapters of Dodgeball Academia. Expect the unexpected, with scenarios ranging from helping out with science experiments to keeping complaining customers at bay by beating the hell out of them. Helping out the faculty and your fellow students is its own reward, but getting more cash for equipment and progress towards your next level makes it sweeter.
Dodgeball Academia is not only enjoyable and entertaining on the gameplay front, but its aesthetic flair and tone are right on point as well. Bright and colourful environments provide a fitting background for your animated characters to move around in, while the personality of each area shines through instantly.
The writing is quite sharp as well, breaking the fourth wall constantly as it pokes fun at the premise of a sports-RPG, but delivered in an endearing fashion that genuinely tickles. The fact that Dodgeball Academia would make a great animated show is evidence of just how well it is put together as a whole package. The added accessibility options when it comes to tweaking the difficulty and language are also big pluses.
With an interesting setup involving dodgeball and the drama of academia, Pocket Trap has managed to create a charming world that has interesting quirks and plenty of personality. Backed up by delightful action on the courts and characters that are likeable and distinct, this is a cohesive package that hits with a great impact, and deserving of more attention for the creativity involved.