Pacific Rim Meets Miyazaki: Dive Back Into Childhood in Attack of The Friday Monsters! A Tokyo Tale for 3DS
What is Friday to you? Is it the last day of the work week, or maybe the first? Maybe it's right in the middle? Maybe it doesn't really mean anything anymore, once you're out of school. Until then, Friday is truly the best day of the week. It's as much a day as it is a feeling at that point. Think about finishing school and abandoning your knapsack at home as quickly as possible, heading over to a friend's house, or loitering around the neighbourhood like you owned every square foot of it. Maybe you jumped rope, or played soccer, or threw your marbles, trading cards (god forbid, your Pogs) down on the nearest stoop.
No matter what we did, Friday was probably the closest thing we had to absolute freedom.
Even if you didn't grow up in anything resembling the small, simple Japanese towns that Level-5's new Nintendo 3DS game Attack of the Friday Monsters! A Tokyo Tale evokes, there's something about this game that's sure to coax nostalgic sentiment out of just about anyone. The cozy, painterly scenes make this world feel like one plucked out of Hayao Miyazaki's notes -- a Studio Ghibli project that could have been but never was. The story is entirely in line with this as well; a coming-of-age slice-of-life peppered with the surreal in the form of aliens, heroes, and kaiju far more colorful than anything you'll see in Pacific Rim.
The game starts with a brief note about the transition that Japanese creature features made in the 60s and 70s, moving their focus away from monsters (or kaiju) which usually carried an environmental angle, towards the sleek and modern heroes that saved the day. We soon learn that every Friday evening monsters appear just outside of town, and the local children gather on the hill (alongside the local tv crew) to watch.
This is ostensibly what the game is about... But this is far from an action-heavy romp across the fields in a suit of gleaming (vintage) mech armor. Most of your time in the game is spent winding your way through the dusty streets of your town and passing over narrow footbridges, zig-zagging down hills and along burbling streams, running errands for your family and neighbours, playing with your friends and collecting pieces for the Rock-Paper-Scissors inspired monster cards battles they're so keen on.
The cards are a fun enough diversion, but they're also a pretty minimal part of it. Winning card battles will get you information (and will help you complete the bonus episode at the end of the game) but you could probably finish the entire game with only two or three battles under your belt.
Make no mistake, this is an adventure game -- a warm and sleepy one at that.
It's also important to bear in mind that Attack of the Friday Monsters! is part of a collection of games (Guild 01 and Guild 02) released at the same time. These are not full-price games because they are short, and in some cases almost experimental. It won't take you more than a few hours to finish, and given the game's $7.99 price tag that may not be thrilling to hear.
As my friend put it, this is in many ways the kind of game that would have legions of assholes on the internet arguing that it's "not a real game" if it had been made by a genderqueer indie developer in Montreal. Instead it's published by Level-5, well-known for their incredibly popular Professor Layton franchise, so the worst slight this game seems to be facing is a mystifying degree of media apathy. Last night, when I was deciding whether or not to buy it it was incredibly difficult to find any critical coverage. Press releases were all over the place of course, but reviews and first looks were few and far between. And honestly, that is a real shame.
Is it worth buying? If you know what you're in for then yes, absolutely. Even though I'm definitely not a fan of this style of adventure game, it won me over on sheer wit and charm. Even if it barely filled my evening, I'm certain that the experience of playing it will be with me for some time. I just want to steep in it. It's a sweet and entertaining story with beautiful environments, and even the music and sound design on par with what you would expect from the enchanting animated movie experience this game might have been if it had sprung from Miyazaki's head instead. If you play this one, dim the lights and play it with headphones and 3D enabled. You won't regret it.
All that being said, if you're looking for a slightly less sedate experience you're probably better off exploring the other games that Level-5 released alongside it (or even games previously released under the Guild umbrella) all of which currently in the Nintendo 3DS e-Shop.
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Iris Ophelia (@bleatingheart, Janine Hawkins IRL) has been featured in the New York Timesand has spoken about SL-based design at the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan andwith pop culture/fashion maven Johanna Blakley.