Before getting my hands on Dodgeball Academia, I wasn’t sure if I was getting into an arcade-style dodgeball game or a JRPG. The distinction was tough to make, because the game blends the two genres together. The overall narrative and character-building play like a role-playing game, but combat consists of fast-paced dodgeball matches. It’s a fun, fantastical combination.
You play as Otto, a new transfer to the school who is determined to become the best dodgeball player in the world. But this isn’t regular ball-to-face dodgeball, it’s superpowered. That hook was more than enough to draw me into Dodgeball Academia.
Despite his look, Otto is a very likable character. This becomes clear as the game progresses and the protagonist draws fellow classmates to his side. He’s optimistic, encouraging, and has a never-say-die attitude that is endearing. However, his idle expression looks like an arrogant smirk. I always found that at odds with his positive attitude.
The look is on point, but the delivery is a bit off
Having said that, I love the character design and artwork in Dodgeball Academia. The art reminds me of the Cartoon Network shows of the ’90s — the golden era of the channel. As for the characters, the main cast is unique, quirky, and as colorful in personality as they are in appearance.
The differences between the various characters create interesting team dynamics and rivalries. I do wish that Pocket Trap, the developer, had explored these a little deeper. Actually, a lot deeper. A lot of Dodgeball Academia’s narrative is shallow. Particularly the side quests. You perform a number of irrelevant, mundane tasks instead of exploring the background of your team members or the history of the school.
The game’s world and the brief snippet you learn about the school’s history are so intriguing and loaded with potential for an epic manga sports story, which is clearly a genre that inspired elements of the game. At the front of the school, there’s a glowing golden dodgeball that spins eternally. It was smashed there by some legendary hero to end the dodgeball wars. Now, it awakens the dormant power of the students. I love that. And I kept waiting for the story to escalate to that level. However, it never quite reached the heights it alluded to at the beginning.
It’s like dodgeball, but better
The dodgeball gameplay, which forms Dodgeball Academia’s combat, is where the game shines. Your team can consist of one to three party members depending on the battle. The number of balls in play varies from match to match. Later in the game, special balls with status effects add to the fun. The rules for matches also change depending on who you are facing and where you are throwing down at.
Each student has a unique throwing technique and a powerful ultimate ability called a Balltimate. You can combine these in all manners of ways. The same goes for the enemies you face throughout the game. The trick to winning a match is to quickly figure out which techniques your opponents are using and then learn the timings to dodge or catch their attacks.
Good team composition and character builds will also help you, but these seemed far less important than the mechanics of dodging, catching, and throwing. However, I did enjoy setting up my team to make Otto an unstoppable powerhouse. Swapping characters just to mix up gameplay was fun too. I do wish the three professors assigned to the three attributes in the game (strength, agility, and technique) did a better job explaining what their stat does for your characters.
The early battles are easy enough and will help you find your feet on the dodgeball court. But once you know what you’re doing, matches become straightforward. I would have preferred Dodgeball Academia to throw more tougher matches my way. When battles did get challenging, I felt a lot more engaged, and victory tasted all the sweeter.
Some hits, some misses
I do think Dodgeball Academia has the makings of an amazing dodgeball brawler and I hope the developer decides to expand the franchise in that way. It has a versus mode, but it’s local only. Online multiplayer dodge battles would be incredibly fun and competitive. I think it would be a bigger hit than the recent dodgeball success story, Knockout City. It would see players reach new heights of technical ability. Plus, team composition and strategies would become a lot more interesting and important. Theorycrafting would become essential in a way that it wasn’t in the story.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed Dodgeball Academia’s battles, but the narrative doesn’t deliver the same engaging experience. The potential is there. Maybe, like many incredible mangas out there, it’s taking its time to get to the really good stuff and we’ll need to wait for a sequel to see the characters and story reach legendary heights.
If you’re into sports manga, dodgeball, and JRPGs, you’re likely going to love Dodgeball Academia. If you like one of those things, you’ll probably also get some enjoyment out of the game. You can pick it up now through Steam for PC or get it on Xbox Game Pass.