Level-5 saved the best for last in its final Guild02 release with Attack of the Friday Monsters! A Tokyo Tale. Designed by Kaz Ayabe, this is a short, very sweet interactive story about a little boy who lives in a small town where mysterious monsters appear on Friday afternoons. The game takes place in rural Tokyo in 1971 and lives on the nostalgia of the period, when tokusatsu — live-action monster shows — were popular among children.
Though the game has been billed as a “Tokyo life sim,” it's more appropriately classified as a light adventure game/interactive novel. The gameplay itself doesn’t go deeper than a card game (which is really just a glorified “Rock/Paper/Scissors” exercise) but to criticize the game for its simple gameplay would be missing the point; Attack of the Friday Monsters! A Tokyo Tale is a lovely, memorable experience that captures the essence of classic coming-of-age films, while never being derivative or boring.
Players control Sohto, a little boy who has just moved to a rural Tokyo village where his mother and father run the dry cleaning shop. His parents don’t seem to get along very well, and Sohto notes that his father seems sad and disappointed in his life. On a Friday afternoon, Sohto goes out to do an errand for the shop and meets some of his classmates, including the nerdy A-Plus, goofy Ramen, know-it-all girl Akebi and more. They teach him about Monster Cards, a popular game based on their favourite TV show, and tell him that real monsters come out on Friday nights to battle right outside town. Most players who are paying attention to the story will quickly figure out what’s really going on, but it takes a few genuinely surprising turns that turn the game’s world on its head.
Most of the gameplay involves running around town with the Circle Pad and interacting with various characters, playing Monster Cards against the other kids and collecting “glims.” Glims are the game’s only collectible; seven of the same type creates a Monster Card. The story is broken up into “Episodes,” but not in the traditional sense; the gameplay is not interrupted to transition into new episodes. The system calls to mind the Professor Layton series, where several mysteries arise throughout the game and are resolved as the player progresses.
Monster Cards, meanwhile, are — as suggested above — a fancy version of “Rocks/Paper/Scissors,” with each card having one of the three attributes, along with levels and strength points to break ties. Playing Monster Cards is required of the player, as characters will hold back information unless you defeat them, but it's very simple and easily mastered. Breaking down the title’s gameplay doesn’t really do it justice, though; the characters and world are so charming and engaging that simply exploring and interacting with characters is a pleasure.
The adventure is visually and aurally pleasing, as well. The character models are smoothly animated in 3D against pre-rendered, softly coloured backdrops, while the music, fully orchestrated, is cinematic and melodic; the sung theme song featured in the game’s opening and closing is catchy and cute.
The experience can take a little less than four hours to complete; there’s not much to do after it's finished, but players can continue to challenge townsfolk in Monster Cards and collect more glims. And for owners of any Guild01 titles, a special Bonus section is unlocked from the start, featuring concept art. It’s not much, but adds to the artisanal feeling that Level-5 has captured with the Guild series.
Level-5’s latest is a truly unique offering on the 3DS — it’s mostly nonviolent, heavily rooted in Japanese culture and nostalgia and has terrific production values. It’s not recommended for adrenaline junkies, and the Friday Monsters aren’t exactly the Kaiju from Pacific Rim, but for anyone looking to spend a few hours watching an excellent story unfold, Attack of the Friday Monsters! A Tokyo Tale won’t disappoint.