Review - Attack of the Friday Monsters! A Tokyo Tale
Level-5’s Guild series has introduced international audiences to a selection of interesting and rather unique games created by some of Japan’s most revered developers, with such titles as Suda 51’s Liberation Maiden, Yasumi Matsuno’s Crimson Shroud, and Keiji Inafune’s Bugs Vs Tanks being prime examples. The latest of which is Kaz Ayabe’s Attack of the Friday Monsters! A Tokyo Tale, a short and humble coming-of-age story that has made its way to the 3DS eShop. While it delivers a warm story, a fun little card game, and a neat look into the popularity the Tokusatsu (giant monster) genre enjoyed in its prime, AotFM isn’t quite as deep as a kaiju’s footprint but I certainly wouldn’t call ineffective either.
If the name Kaz Ayabe isn’t ringing any bells for you, you’re certainly not alone as Friday Monsters is the first of his games to make it stateside. Ayabe’s best known creation is the My Summer Vacation franchise, which has captured the hearts of gamers both young and old across Japan, with its warm sense of childhood enthusiasm and nostalgia for the adults and a provided a sense of whimsy and valuable life lessons for younger players. AotFM sets out to do the same but on a much smaller scale, since instead of focusing on a young boy’s entire summer vacation, the plot of Friday Monsters is focused on a single day; although, that day is pretty extraordinary.
This Tokyo Tale takes place in 1971 midway through the Tokusatsu boom that captivated Japanese television audiences of the era. One such loyal viewer is 4th grader Sohta whose life is about to get much more exciting when he learns that the quiet suburb he and his family re-located to isn’t as quiet as he thought.
It turns out kaiju are very real and have been appearing in the outskirts of the village every Friday afternoon, causing collateral damage in their wake. Upon learning this, Sohta rounds up the rest of neighborhood kids to embark on an adventure to discover where the monsters are coming from in effort to prevent them from taking their rampage directly to the village square.
In all honesty, completing the main story of Friday Monsters shouldn’t take more than 2-3 hours given that Ayabe designed it with a similar structure to that of a theatrical film. So the characters and plot aren’t given much time to develop as other games in the genre. It doesn’t quite develop as well as a film either since a portion of the focus is taken away from the plot and put towards the gameplay.
However, this doesn’t mean Ayabe failed to meet his narrative goal. Quite the contrary actually, as he managed to do a good job with what he had to work with.
The characters are likeable and brimming with charm and personality, and even though the player only gets to spend a short time with them, the lessons learned about trust, self-esteem, courage, making friends, and dealing with responsibility do ring true and will leave warm and fuzzy feelings in their wake.
And those are just the lessons the kids learn. The adult characters learn a few things themselves about dealing with disappoint, finding their life’s purpose, dealing with having to let their children grow up, and about reclaiming the confidence they had in their youth. While it’s a shame these characters are given even less development than the kids, the brief moments the player shares with them are written well enough that they will resonate with some level of poignancy and perhaps a tiny bit of self-reflection.
There’s also a sweet little connection made between the heroes of kaiju shows being written as the protectors of children and the fathers of the story.
All in all, it’s a good (albeit short) story that faithfully re-imagines the carefree days of childhood, while at the same time looks at the trials and tribulations of adulthood. And there’s also a giant monster fight and an old man who thinks he’s an alien…so there’s that too.
On the visual front, AotFM looks great. The anime-inspired 3D models have the same sense of warmth you’d expect from characters in a Miyazaki production, which only adds to the cutesy, feel-good attitude of the story. It’s also worth noting the characters are expertly cel-shaded and blend perfectly with the game’s hand-drawn backdrop.
Not to mention, developer Millenium Kitchen did an excellent job of subtly giving a great deal of life to characters who are (for the most part) stationary. Whether it’s the energetic and upbeat gestures of the children, or the more calm and stoic mannerisms of the adults, Ayabe and company did a fantastic job modelling human behavior. I especially like the way in which the adults keep a watchful eye over the kids whenever they’re nearby and how Sohta mimics the mannerisms of his dad, there’s just something very real about that. And it’s adorable.
I also really enjoyed the various monster designs that appear in the game in one form or another, as they’re very reminiscent of classic TV and movie monsters, with Ultraman and the various Toho properties serving as the obvious inspirations.
The 3D is nicely used as it allows certain background items a chance to visually pop. But while it’s well used, it isn’t really necessary and doesn’t do too much to further engross the player.
Audio-wise, the game’s soundtrack isn’t the most memorable set of songs but they’re upbeat and pleasant and they certainly set the right cinematic tone Ayabe was going for. Although I will admit, the arrangement used to build-up the arrival of the monsters is a pitch-perfect and loving parody of the popular shows and films this game’s foundation is built on.
Much like the main story itself, the gameplay is somewhat lacking. AotFM plays like your typical adventure game but without the clicking around and random puzzle-solving part. Instead, Friday Monsters chooses to keep a much stricter focus on its story by making the majority of its main gameplay revolve around the conversations Sohta has with the various residents of the neighborhood.
These conversations will either give you an indication on where to go next or they’ll add some further development to one of the several sub-plots…or they’ll just provide a cute little one-liner that isn’t very helpful. But as I said before, the town’s inhabitants are charming enough so it doesn’t feel too monotonous. Not to mention the map will provide helpful indicators as to where to go and who to talk to in terms of finding clues and advancing the story (characters are indicated by color; plot-lines by number).
Speaking of breaking up the monotony, there’s the mini-game that’s not only being used as the game’s main selling point but will in all likelihood be the portion that players spend most of their play-through with: Monster Cards.
Monster Cards is a rock, paper, scissors style game in which two participants must lay five cards face-down. Each card is a kaiju of some sort representing rock, paper, or scissors. Each card faces-off against the corresponding card in the opposing hand. The winning card is determined by Roshambo rules or if the two cards happen to be the same type, then the winning card will be the one with the highest level. Whoever has the most wins out of five will take the hand.
In order to build and strengthen your deck, you’ll need to collect mysterious glowing orbs known as Master Glims, which you can earn by either finding them scattered about the neighborhood, by completing plot-points, and by winning rounds of Monster Cards. Luckily, building your deck will be an easy task and won’t take up too much of your time. Which is good, because having a decent deck is crucial if you’ll want to advance.
Which brings me to the most adorable and annoying mechanic in the entire game, the Boss/Servant system. If you win a round of Monster Cards, you’ll become the boss of the loser and in turn, he/she will become your servant (and vice versa). The boss will also have the distinct pleasure of casting a spell on the newly appointed servant and by that I mean reciting a cute little chant (which you can customize), which forces the servant to play dead until you give the order to arise. Such is the law of the playground.
Again, I think this a really charming idea, as it really seems like the type of thing that real children would dream up to make a game more fun. But here’s the thing; in certain instances, you’ll need to win a round of Monster Cards in order for your opponent to give you the information you need to advance the story. If you lose, they ain’t talking. Not to mention you’ll have to watch as Sohta falls victim to a spell with each loss, which is funny at first but the novelty can wear thin quickly if you happen to lose repeatedly.
Once the main story is done, there’s a bonus campaign dubbed Saturday. Its purpose is to tie-up the remaining loose ends from the main story and to continue building your Monster Cards deck. It’s a tad frustrating due to a conversation thread mechanic that replaces the helpful indicators from the main story. But the remaining story bits have satisfying endings and collecting more cards can add another hour or so to the gameplay. So it’s not all bad.
Attack of the Friday Monsters! A Tokyo Tale is a short but sweet tale about the whimsy, heartache, and humble triumphs of growing up and the feelings of nostalgia that come with age. While the story is somewhat rushed, the colorful cast of characters and the story’s positivity is enough to resonate with. It also helps that Monster Cards is there to provide a little something extra.
I’m giving it a Buy but with a warning. If you’re someone who isn’t too keen on games that focus more on story than gameplay or not a fan of card games, this isn’t the title that’ll change your perspective. But if you’re someone who loves adventure games or just someone looking for a short, feel-good experience that’ll take you back your childhood days, I’d recommend spending the $8 on what is one of 2013’s more unique offerings.
It only provides a 2-6 hour experience (depending on how deep of an investment you want to make) but it’s still cheaper than a movie ticket.
|Ryan Conway became the Weekend Editor at ScrewAttack after writing for the community news section for 20 months (14 of which he served as head writer). This lover of platformers, beat ‘em ups, and fighting games (and just about any other genre really) currently resides in a small town located in Nova Scotia.|