Aug 15, 2013

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Attack of the Friday Monsters!: A Tokyo Tale Review

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There’s a certain kind of person that will love Attack of the Friday Monsters, warts and all. That person has watched every Godzilla film, has memorized all the themes to Power Rangers, and has rows of Ultraman merchandise lining the walls of their house. They read manga, watch subtitled anime, think painted backgrounds in JRPGs are just the best, and appreciate the Japanese perspective on the mundanity of everyday life. That person would also have tapped into their inner child, a perspective from long ago in their lives when things were more wondrous, exciting, and mysterious.

Now those people most definitely exist – I think I can list one off of the top of my head – but, thing is, crossing just one of those interests off of the list will drastically reduce your capability to truly enjoy Attack of the Friday Monsters. I, for example, can doubtlessly squeeze into much of those criteria – I love the “kaiju” genre of films from whence Godzilla beckons, read manga, and I watch subtitled anime. But I can only tangentially appreciate the perspective of a child, I don’t have anywhere near as soft a spot for Megazords or Voltron as I do Gamera and King Ghidorah, and I’m extremely iffy on story-based JRPGs. Had all the cards fallen into place and the fates aligned, why, Attack of the Friday Monsters could’ve walked out of this review with a perfect score and a glowing recommendation. Instead, I’m here to warn you: Attack of the Friday Monsters has legitimate, fundamental flaws that, depending on your interests, may be well impossible to overlook.

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But I’m getting ahead of myself, aren’t I? Let’s start from the top: Attack of the Friday Monsters: A Tokyo Tale is pegged as a “life-sim” in which you take on the role of young Sohta, a ten-year-old boy who has just moved to a new town. We’re told that, on Friday, the monsters attack the city – an attack that is broadcast on television as part of the prospering “hero show” genre birthed in Japan in the 60s and 70s, in which the kaiju genre was injected with a bit of uplifting heroism: brave men and women would go head-to-head with massive, rampaging beasts. You know, like the kind of show Pacific Rim wears as influence on its sleeve.

Sohta is a bright, excited wee lad, and it’s fairly easy to relate to his “troubles” early on. He has errands to do – his family runs a dry-cleaner – and he really doesn’t want to do it but his mother certainly insists. He’s a wide-eyed youngster with a heart of gold, and as you make your way out to the streets of his new city, you’ll find his reactions to the situations he faces and people he meets absolutely true to the behavior of a kid. Things like giant monsters “attacking” and playing cards with his new friends, he understands perfectly. Things like, say, two adults having a feud, or the relationship between a father and his teenage daughter, fly way over his head. His naivety runs opposite in correlation to his innate need to poke, prod, and explore. He is, to put it bluntly, a child.

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Providing that bygone sense of wonderment beyond logic is by far the game’s greatest achievement. It’s a shame that the gameplay – for what one can call gameplay – doesn’t hold up to the same standards set by the execution of its storytelling. Wonderfully painted backgrounds, a stellar orchestral soundtrack, a witty script, and a varied and grounded cast of curious characters are all here, but to get to those things, you really do just, well, walk. Walk around. And press buttons to interact with people. And that’s basically it. If I had to judge Attack of the Friday Monsters solely as a game, I’d . . . well, okay, there is plenty of exploration to do, which is entertaining. And you can collect pieces of cards to play card games with your friends. And there are rudimentary puzzles to solve, albeit none of them particularly lengthy or engaging. So, then, no. What passes for “gameplay” is an utter shame. It does, however, benefit the story that Attack of the Friday Monsters so expertly weaves – the titular Tokyo Tale – but you’d have to be a very particular breed of gamer to overlook the glaring fundamental flaw that the gameplay in this video game is devoid of depth, meaningful interaction, or player urgency.

But what the game does do is great. The peculiar brashness and intimacy of childhood romance; the very real anticipation attached to what are more than likely fictional scenarios, beasts, robots, and characters; the confusion – and, ultimately, realization – attached to concepts all but alien to adulthood; the rules and fierce hierarchy of the playground; so much as belonging when your body and mind are yet to grow into their full potentials. Tthe story explores all of these things, deftly, deeply, and with glorious confidence, and heart. It’s all presented expertly, with lush visuals being filled in by spectacular use of ambient sound effects, and a score worthy of a feature film. You will likely be attached to Sohta and his charming friends – though your connection to kaiju films may well help your understanding of some of their more childlike fascinations – and when things happen that I shan’t spoil because that would be outright cruel, I wager you’ll get back that player urgency that the gameplay itself fails to provide. The story is, unlike, say, Bioshock Infinite, self-aware of its own limited impact, and restricts itself to a modest running time.

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Once the game ends, having completed all the “episodes” (incredibly short-form quests, essentially), you’ll be greeted with a bonus day, Saturday, in which you can go around and collect all the battle cards you may have missed (they have very, very nice art on them), challenge your friends to the battle-card minigame (it’s just rock, paper, scissors with a deck of five), and talk to the characters to see if they have much more to say (they don’t). But really, the game is over in all but three and a bit hours – the perfect length for what is essentially a handful of episodes of an anime show in a slightly interactive form. I can’t forgive that the game is so empty on the actual interactivity front – it would go against my nature, I’m afraid. But the way the game handles its narrative is as tight as any game in this genre could hope to be. And there is an argument that could be put forth, I suppose, that the player-controlled nature of Sohta does, even if only just, aid the narrative’s ability to put its viewers into the “child’s” perspective. That would invalidate every movie that has ever been written with a child protagonist, but the argument is there to be made. Not by me, but perhaps by you.

I can’t recommend this game to everyone, but there are those of you that will absolutely eat this charming, delightful, brisk and engaging little Tokyo Tale right up. It is, if nothing more, a perfectly little aside for the other games in the Guild-02 collection – the exploration and unease of the unknown in Starship Damrey, and the helplessness of feeling small against restless aggressors in BUGS vs. TANKS! If you can pick up Guild-02 as a whole (as apposed to separately in the eShop like a chump), consider Attack of the Friday Monsters the Portal to its Orange Box – a complimentary little side dish that absolutely justifies the existence of collection alone. However mechanically bankrupt, the charming, fascinating, and downright heartwarming story told in A Tokyo Tale is well worth experiencing . . . if you happen to be the kind of person whom it can speak to personally.

Attack of the Friday Monsters!: Tokyo Story
Platform: 3DS
Genre: Adventure
Release Date: July 18, 2013
Developer: Millennium Kitchen
Publisher: Level-5
ESRB Rating: E for Everyone
MSRP: $7.99


6.5
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About Andrew Deavin

I was born, and then I did some stuff, and now I'm on the internet. I'm a pretty cool guy, or, so my friends tell me.