Attack of the Friday Monsters: A Tokyo Tale
The nugget of an awesome game lies at the core of Attack of the Friday Monsters: A Tokyo Tale. Designed by Kaz Ayabe of Boku no Natsuyasumi fame (a peaceful, slice-of-life game series that was never released outside of Japan), Friday Monsters is pretty, quaint, relaxing and unique, but significantly lacking in gameplay depth and plot coherency.
Things begin interestingly enough. You play as Sota, the fourth grade son of Fuji no Hana’s (a small town on the rural outskirts of Tokyo) resident dry cleaners. Immediately upon taking control of Sota in the interior of his parents’ house, the game’s charm and disarming nature become apparent. Sota’s house is presented, like all areas in the game, as a pre-rendered backdrop, but unlike the flat, sterile backgrounds common to early PlayStation games, the environments here are densely detailed and warmly inviting. From the rhythmic churning of an old washing machine to the organized clutter of dishes, books and other knickknacks, Sota’s world is a gritty and believable snapshot of a time and place, unhindered by the 3DS’s lack of HD fidelity, handheld nature or any other potential limitations of the system. The story starts out on the right foot as well. It’s the early 1970s and something strange is happening in Fuji no Hana. The first hour and a half or so of the game (about half the time it takes to complete the main story) sees Sota bouncing around town, running errands for his parents, hanging out with friends and investigating the “Friday monsters,” massive Godzilla-like creatures that come out on Fridays and terrorize the townsfolk. During the first half, the plot is genuinely intriguing, with the distinction between what’s actually happening in the town and what’s going on in the kids’ collective imaginations deviously unclear.
Certain plot points in the game’s second half, however, muddle things up and steamroll over any of the subtle themes built up until that point. The last half also feels rushed, with several characters being pushed aside and important elements of the story totally glossed over. After the main plot wraps up, you are given a chance to return to the town and complete unfinished sub-quests, but none of these clear up the incoherent nature of the game’s final half. One gets the feeling that with a larger budget and more time, Kaz Ayabe and team could have paced the game more efficiently and tied up some of the egregious loose ends. It must also be noted that the “videogame” aspect of Friday Monsters is quite simplistic and hardly utilized throughout the game’s central narrative. As Sota runs around town, moving from scripted scene to scripted scene, he can pick up Monster Pieces, or “Glims,” as they are translated in-game. Collecting a certain number of these unlocks various cards, which are then used in a monster battling mini game. This mini game is nothing more than a marginally more complex version of janken (rock-paper-scissors), which, despite being overly reliant on luck, is remarkably easy to win. All-in-all, the card game isn’t very fun and is, mercifully, barely present over the course of the game’s three hour story. So Friday Monsters is a disappointment then, with a last half that squanders most of the intrigue built up in the first hour or so, and a mini-game that might as well not even be there. Still, Fuji no Hana is a lovely place to explore, with charming shops, sparkling creeks and plenty of other delightfully-detailed, and quite authentic-looking, little areas to see. Play it for the laid back narrative and faithful recreation of 1970s rural Japan, not for a deep monster-battling system or a well-told story.