Attack of the Friday Monsters: A Tokyo Tale review

Game Info
Platform 3DS
Publisher Level-5
Developer Level-5
Release Date TBA

Attack of the Friday Monsters: A Tokyo Tale is full of oddities, the biggest of which is the world in which the game is set. It's simultaneously alive, wondrous and surprisingly insubstantial.

The amount of challenge or friction presented by Friday Monsters' brief, madcap campaign is negligible; its eponymous, battling kaiju aren't playable characters. The real heroes of the story — a group of kids living in the sleepy Tokyo suburb Fuji no Hana — are small compared to those monsters. Their adventures focus on schoolyard games and gossip, not on battles of intergalactic importance.

But Friday Monsters' infantility is rewarding in a way that giant robot combat rarely is. The game's elementary school sensibilities invite you to be imaginative in a world already full of imagination. I didn't just play as a kid; I felt like one too. It's transportive and nostalgic to a degree typically reserved for viewings of The Sandlot and readings of old Calvin and Hobbes strips.

Attack of the Friday Monsters has been billed as a life simulation game, though it's a bit thin for the genre — it could be more comfortably described as an open-world interactive novel. The storylines of each of Fuji no Hana's residents are told in a series of concurrent quests, but they progress in a linear, completely inscrutable order. One minute, you're learning about the lost love of the baker; the next, you're hopping over to check in on the TV station owner, with little transition in between.

There’s not much game but Attack of the Friday Monsters is a top-notch work of virtual tourism

Some of those residents — namely the younger ones — will challenge you to a card game before allowing you to progress in their personal plotline. The game (which represents the only real competition present in Friday Monsters) is fairly clever: Each monster-themed card belongs to either rock, paper, scissors or a hybrid of two of those. You lay five cards across from your opponent's five cards; before they battle, the winners are decided, and each player has the opportunity to swap the positions of two of their cards. After the shuffle, the true winner is crowned.

It's a cute game made even cuter by virtue of the fact that the winner of each match becomes the "master" of the loser and can force them to fall to the ground by casting a (player-customizable!) magic spell on them. What’s decidedly un-cute is how you earn more cards: a needlessly repetitive process of collecting matching "Glims" scattered across the world. Hardcore collectors may find this satisfying; to me, it was a needless disruption.

There’s not much game to play, but as a work of virtual tourism, Attack of the Friday Monsters is top-notch. It has a way of making you feel like a part of this fictional town, like a beloved neighbor to its residents. Its superb writing, narration, art and sound design bring it to life in a way that few full-price games are capable of. It is also extremely weird, from stem to stern; if you're a purveyor of odd games, Friday Monsters is going to scratch that itch for you in a big, big way.

each character is developed into a fairly unique and memorable friend

Erratic as it may be, the story told by Friday Monsters is a wonderful one. Every Friday, Fuji no Hana is — according to 10-year-old protagonist Sohta — visited by towering monsters, a spectacle met with weekly viewership from the town's younger residents. Like many elements of the story, the presence of these monsters is up to interpretation. Are they aliens? An optical illusion? Props in a television show filmed in the town?

When they aren't debating their monster-origin theories, Fuji no Hana's children (who very nearly outnumber the town's adults) participate in appropriately childish endeavors: communing in secret hideouts, swinging on playgrounds or ranking the relative cuteness of their classmates. Despite the game's short length (its main storyline lasts a little under four hours), each character is developed into a fairly unique and memorable friend, and the overarching monster mystery is surprisingly gripping.

Wrap Up:

Attack of the Friday Monsters is a welcoming, wonderful game that's over too soon

Attack of the Friday Monsters: A Tokyo Tale is not nearly big enough to hold the amount of affection I harbor for it, which isn't the worst problem for a game to have. Its eight-dollar price tag is a welcome invitation to live, albeit briefly, in the world Millennium Kitchen has invented — but after the credits rolled, and after I polished off the last few quests in the post-game chapter, I was sorely disappointed that I couldn't pay a bit more to play a bit more.

Attack of the Friday Monsters: A Tokyo Tale was reviewed using a final "retail" 3DS download purchased by Polygon staff. You can find additional information about Polygon's ethics policy here.

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