Review: Attack of the Friday Monsters takes us back to a time when giant monsters were king
There was a time when giant monsters (Kaiju) ruled young boys' imaginations in Japan, thanks to a stream of various Tokusatsu shows, like Super Sentai (or Power Rangers in the west). These shows took various real-life catastrophies, like pollution, and put them into monster form so kids would be able to relate. Attack of the Friday Monsters! A Tokyo Tale takes us back to that time, and puts players in the shoes of a young boy with a rather wild imagination. Or is it all real?
Attack of the Friday Monsters is a relatively simple game in its design. The majority of it is spent playing as Sohta, wandering around town, conversing with friends and adults, and completing various tasks. The other much smaller and relatively optional part is the card game component, but I'll get to that later.
Sohta's yearning for exploration and seeking out answers stems from being the new kid in town, and the fact that this town is anything but ordinary. Every Friday night, monsters known as Kaiju come out to battle on Monster Hill, leaving behind giant footprints that add to the mystery and intrigue of what's really happening.
The game succeeds in its relatively short tale thanks to its fantastic use of atmosphere. It's not a tale of grand superheroes, kids with special powers, or evil villains threatening to take over the world. Rather, Friday Monsters relies on slower paced storytelling, focusing on relationships between Sohta and his parents, friends and adults. It's not overly serious in tone, but does have a few touching moments. Sohta's parents especially embody this as they're both struggling with personal issues, like his father struggling with his dry cleaning business and having low self esteem.
The kids' obsession with giant monsters goes further in a relatively simple card game that relies on a rock-paper-scissors mechanic. While exploring, you'll come across shiny specks on the ground, or Glims. Collecting seven of the same colored Glim will award you with a certain monster card. The game has you choose five monster cards and set them in a row against your opponent. You're then told your chances of winning based on the rock-paper-scissors mechanic and allowed to switch around two cards, which will hopefully help your outcome. Its simple design is somewhat disappointing, as that's the only part of the game which actually feels like a game. These matches can be over in mere minutes, so a little depth would have been appreciated.
Cards of the same kind can be upgraded by being fused together, resulting in a stronger card with a higher number value (in case of a draw), but even with this mechanic, it feels slightly unnecessary, especially since playing the card game is largely optional, aside from when the storyline requires it. If anything, the card game teases that it's an actual game within the game, but never fully delivers on that.
The biggest draw is the game's mystery. It's never really clear if what's happening is real or not, whether the entire thing is based off of Sohta's sadness and frustration related to his parents constant fighting, or the monsters are actually real. That will ultimately have to be deduced by each player.
The fantastic story is complemented by the gorgeous art and sound design. The small suburb environment is all hand-drawn, with objects near you floating above the rest of the background, though each character and animated object in the game is rendered in 3D. The music is flawless as well, providing some high-tension tunes when the kids discover something new and alien to them, but then reverting to somber piano scores when the emotions start to flow.
Attack of the Friday Monsters! A Tokyo Tale will have you hooked thanks to its mysterious storyline, and will leave you with a sense wonder. It's charming and gorgeous and won't take up more than three hours to finish. More interactive visual novel than actual game, it's a love letter to a time when giant monsters and heroes ruled kids' TVs and imaginations.