Attack of the Friday Monsters! A Tokyo Tale
3DS Download | LEVEL-5 / Millenium Kitchen | 1 Player | Out Now | $7.99 / £7.19
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22nd July 2013; By KnucklesSonic8
If your first thought after learning of the title was "Little Shop of Horrors," I'm right there with you. Attack of the Friday Monsters! A Tokyo Tale sounds like a nightmare, I must confess -- albeit a cheesy one. But it isn't quite what'd you think it to be. In reality, Attack of the Friday Monsters! A Tokyo Tale is more soft than it is jumpy; devoid of mania and dramatic happenings, just as it is lacking in a climactic edge. To tell a heartwarming story, it builds a digestible framework, one where a lack of intricacy helps foster a warm air. LEVEL-5 is certainly no stranger to such ideas, what with Ni no Kuni amassing much critical acclaim. But with Attack of the Friday Monsters!, its direction has in some ways led it astray, with its decisiveness drifting both in a storytelling sense and in its physical design.
The game environment draws much of its strength from the main character -- an energetic, adventure-seeking boy named Sohta. The youngster's father and mother work hard in support of their dry cleaning business, while Sohta sets out on after-school adventures with his group of buddies in the small town of Fuji no Hana. One day (a Friday, to be exact), his dreams of becoming a hero seem not so out of reach. Initially the day begins like most, running errands and later meeting up with his friends. But as the day develops and Sohta searches for answers to rather trivial mysteries, he crosses path with a strange fellow and even learns of a town secret that challenges his perception of the world around him.
The journey isn't lavish by any means, which goes double for the methods associated with its development. Players tackle a list of mysteries enough for a five-page diary entry, with there being no stringent guidelines on how and when they are accomplished. This openness allows you to explore town and assign your own order of importance, but in terms of plot development, there are what you might call "main events" that form a trail, eventually culminating in the very showdown referenced in the title. These include visiting the local broadcasting facility, examining large-scale footprints, and a few key encounters with family members and strangers.
Giant monsters and a meteor crash site notwithstanding, Fuji no Hana is generally a peaceful town, and so Sohta and his posse are naturally carefree in their demeanour. The game doesn't reach too far into their school relationships, though it does establish that Sohta is new in town and largely unfamiliar with the scenery. For all the player knows, their friendship is joined by a common interest in monsters -- particularly the fantasy kind, as relayed through the hit show that takes up the Friday evening block. In fact, the kids are quite involved with the show's main merchandise -- trading cards. Rather than being obtained through a convenience store, Monster Cards are earned after collecting seven Glim (sparkling jewels coming in different colours). Once enough cards (5) have been gathered to form a standard-sized deck, players can begin challenging NPCs to Monster Card Battles.
The battle system is accessible and painless, with a pinch of strategy to offset the luck factor. Rivals must line up five cards in a row, separated by an equal number of circles. Two circles are then flipped over to reveal the current winner for two of the five column battles, providing temporary standings that each player can alter using a single card swap. The player to go second has the added benefit of having a third circle flipped over, allowing them to evaluate how the swap their rival just made fits into the entire picture, and then how they can either cancel out such a change or sway the game in their favour. The winner in each cross-battle is determined by a rock-paper-scissors mechanic, with each card belonging to one of these classes (or sometimes two). Tiebreakers are determined by card strength, and this numerical value can be increased by combining multiple versions of the same card prior to battle.
Where the game goes wrong is not in the actual process, though some may find the limits on control make for uneventful duels; rather, it is in how this element plays into the overall scheme. Battles act to unlock conversation barriers, removing your rival's reluctance to provide needed information. But the whole execution is awfully simplified, even poorly-thought-out. Losers are "forced" to be the servant of the winner, but this is without inflicting any real consequence on or posing any threat to the player, seeing as the effect can be reversed simply by winning a re-match. As a result, the entire exercise feels moot (even though that isn't perfectly true), and this recurring lack of impact quickly makes for wonky direction.
This would matter less if the interaction that prevails throughout was more genuine in pull. It becomes clear there is a moral to the story-driven affair, with the conversation-focused quests theoretically contributing to a worthy payoff. But to be perfectly frank, the game's efforts in this regard are foiled by another host of factors -- length being a considerable one. While short length isn't in itself a determiner of lasting impact, reaching the game's finish around the two-hour mark left me wanting more, and it made me realize that although my attention deviated little, things moved along much too quickly. By the end of it all, I felt like asking the game the same question that was asked of one of the characters: "Where's your sense of adventure?"
Those of an older crowd will be largely stone-faced as they interact with characters, failing to find any morsel of growth or reason to probe further into the lives of these characters. Even with the gentle perspective the game chooses, the character development here is accelerated, and most times even flat. Some of the more intriguing exchanges are quickly pushed to the side, and not all those that have a meaningful lesson behind them are remembered once the curtains fall, which speaks to the game's weaknesses in attempting to sell this aspect.
Impact is also lost over the game's careless attitude towards audio design -- which, in all fairness, seems more limited to resources than a lack of thoughtful planning. The soundtrack does have a gem or two that evoke emotion, but it's often out of place or used with the worst timing. One of the best compositions is a splendid fit a fight against two gargantuan foes, but its early use is when your path is blocked by the neighbourhood bully. He's identified as "Bad Kid," but he's more of a grump than a menace. Still, he's certainly not deserving of such a sharp backdrop. The sound effects often help paint scenes by inserting evidence of life and movement, so it's not that the audio is a severe disruption; just that it is not used skillfully.
Less wishy-washy is the visual production, which is easily the point of attraction here. The animation work isn't quite Studio Ghibli level, but even so, the hand-drawn atmosphere is very, very charming. Character designs are healthy-looking, with just enough facial feature detail and garments that nicely reflect the quaint setting. The town is represented in a 3D space, but each area is divided up into individual scenes with different vantage points like a point-and-click adventure. One final thing to note is that while it is a good visual aid in some places, the game's 3D effects are often forced and aren't strong contributions to the presentation.
Overall, even for an afternoon or evening outing, there's a little too much hesitation on the game's part for it to be viewed as more than a juvenile experience. Its family-friendly story and easy-to-follow design make it ideal for younger audiences, but the need for engaging development isn't well-supported with unified story and design elements, and much of its thematic delivery is lacking. I enjoyed the time I spent with Attack of the Friday Monsters! A Tokyo Tale, so I won't hold back from recommending it. But I still wish it spread its wings more.
20/30 - Good
Gameplay 6/10 - Interaction suitable for advancing story but also lacking, character development not successful, cards serve a questionable role
Presentation 8/10 - Charming atmosphere, lovely animation work, forced use of 3D, quality sound effects and music but often not used effectively
Enjoyment 4/5 - Good translation of vision, approachable delivery of themes but impact isn't all there, progression feels rushed, story still enjoyable
Extra Content 2/5 - Bonus content for owners of previous LEVEL-5 software, short length is a notable drawback, leaves you wanting more
Equivalent to a score of 67% (percentage score is approximate and based solely on the previously stated rating) - Our Rating System