This game make me sad for so many reasons. Not because it’s bad – it’s really, really not – but more because it’s a real shame that so few people are going to experience a title that is one of the sweetest, most wonderful slices of gaming that I’ve experienced in a long time. I’ve seen so many dissenting voices on gaming forums immediate discount it – too short, too expensive, not actiony enough, too twee. I nearly passed it by myself, the filter of public opinion almost too persuasive to ignore, especially when gaming time is at such a premium. Also, eight dollars? I could buy a pint (plus tax plus tip) of terrible Canadian beer for that. The App Store dollar standard has certainly moved the download yardsticks. How ridiculous.
Attack Of The Friday Monsters! A Toyko Tale is one of a set of experimental 3DS download titles by Level-5, the Japanese publisher better known for the Dragon Quest and Professor Layton series. Each of these games has had a different focus, from the frantic Mecha shooting of Liberation Maiden to the creepy spaceship adventure The Starship Damrey, and each is designed to be an easily digestible chunk of concept gaming. Friday Monsters is a creation by Japanese designer Kaz Ayabe, who is well known on his home soil for creating gentle adventures that explore childhood, friendship and exploration. He hasn’t strayed far from this formula here, but the result is so glowing with youthful sparkle that it’s hard to not be completely taken in by it.
Set in the Tokyo of 1971 that is more growing rural town than the modern metropolis it eventually becomes, the story follows Sohta in his quest, initially, to deliver some dry cleaning for his mother. This soon turns into a gentle mystery in a world where giant, Godzilla-style kaiju appear every Friday, which so happens to be the same day that the local TV station shows its hit global monster fighting action show. Sohta is new to the area and has to meet all the residents, young and old, who slowly give him clues as to the origin of the Friday monsters.
These characters are the soul of the story. Each has their own character, history and motivations, none more so that Sohta’s parents whose scenes create such familial warmth that they weigh heavy and tangible. The cast of children that quickly become Sohta’s peer group is written with surprising warmth and insight, their excitement over the emerging kaiju mystery so bloody infectious it makes you want to unpack your toys and head for a field. Your interaction with them is heightened by the game’s basic battle system (if it can be called that) – Monster Cards. This never gets any more complicated than rock, paper, scissors (with a simple stat-based stand-off in a draw), albeit with beautifully designed kaiju cards that can be combined for higher stats as you collect them. Victory means that you can be the “boss” of the other person, enabling you to cast a simple spell of (customisable!) mixed gibberish that always ends with your “slave” falling over until being told to arise. Mostly pointless? Yes, mostly. Endearing as hell? Oh, God. You have no idea.
The settings are explorable static watercolour postcards that would make Studio Ghibi blush. The system’s 3D capability is used perfectly – completely non-essential but, when turned right up, causes each frame’s layers to stack out in beautifully glorious slices. The small town quickly becomes familiar and homely, main streets and back alleys and hilltops and train underpasses forming your playground. In the distance, the smokestacks of future Tokyo rumble closer as the train regularly sweeps past the town. When the stunning orchestral soundtrack is not playing, sound is often just the chirps and sweeps of nature, sometimes broken by a Japanese radio softly playing in a store. It’s a dreamily idyllic place, more so for what seems to be the adults all conspiring to make the children’s imaginative conclusions appear not only possible but probable. Just as you think you’ve worked it all out, there’s a twist in the tale that solidifies their crazy ideas even more, until you’re left unsure what is real and what is pure childish fantasy. But, by that point, the thrill of adventure has been so fantastic, so effective in removing us from the bills and responsibilities of modern adult life, that you’re happy for it to be the latter, forever. How wonderful to be given that innocence again.
Four hours later, the adventure ends somewhat abruptly with a few final revelations and the promise of more to come. It’s perfectly fitting with the TV show theme, but you’re left hoping against hope that it’s not just empty stylistic frills. For Attack Of The Friday Monsters is an interactive Ghili-quality 3D movie, for less than the price of a cinema ticket, that truly made me fall in love with gaming just as I was wondering if my hobby was leaving me behind. I’d pay five times the price for more of that, and I feel truly sorry for those haven’t got the imagination to see past the length and price of something so genuinely special.