Platform: 3DS (eShop, £7.19)
Developer: Milennium Kitchen
Level-5's second 3DS collaboration has been a bit of a damp squib, to put it mildly. GUILD02 promised us reckless innovation from legendary developers like Keiji Inafune, yet brought us one of the most insultingly primitive shooters on the platform and a horror adventure without the brains or innovation to back it up. Disappointing was an understatement. It was with relatively low expectations, then, that I approached the final proposition: an anime-flavoured visual novel from the creators of cult adventure series Boku No Natsuyasumi.
Four hours later I emerged enriched, uplifted and thrilled that I'd spent time in good company.
Attack Of The Friday Monsters! is an intruiging little game, casting players as a young boy who moves to a sleepy Tokyo suburb with his parents who've set up a struggling dry cleaning business. Over the course of a few hours, you'll meet a cast of new friends, solve a mystery, help out your old man and gradually find your place in the new setting. Story, narrative and characterisation are the most important aspects of the experience, far overshadowing any traditional notions of gameplay. It's a small-town coming of age story like any other, except for the fact that enormous monsters from Japanese B-Movies turn up to ravage the city every Friday afternoon.
Much like a simplified traditional adventure game, you'll explore your new town, hang out with your new buddies and interact with the townsfolk to solve the mystery of the monster attacks. The suburb has been lavishly rendered in cel shaded faux-3D, sporting gorgeously detailed backdrops and scenery along with expressive simple character models. Though a few very basic puzzles require you to interact with a particular scenery element or NPC, efficient signposting and optional dialogue makes it relatively easy to work out what you're supposed to be doing next. Beyond some aggravating moments when screen translations throw you for a loop, thanks to the fixed camera angles, rambling through the suburb and outlying countryside is an absolute joy.
As you explore, you'll discover an embarrassment of glowing ' glims': mysterious fragments that reward you with a new collectible trading card once you find enough of each variety. This card game is the only real 'gameplay' that Attack Of The Friday Monsters! has to offer, a simple and totally optional matter of placing down five cards and having winners decided in rock/paper/scissors fashion. You can only play it with your three closest friends, serving solely as an excuse to introduce collection mechanics, but beating them does allow you to solicit extra advice and hints on how to complete a particular episode. Otherwise, the CCG just a distraction between finding yet another character to talk to and engaging in some lengthy dialogue. It's a story, an interactive novel, as opposed to a traditional videogame.
Everything hinges, therefore, on whether Attack Of The Friday Monsters! can deliver a worthwhile story. It does. Indeed, this whimsical tale succeeds for two main reasons: it's told well... and is worth telling in the first place.
Though you'll encounter some major twists and a little jargon from time to time (a basic working knowledge of 'kaiju' creature features or Power Rangers is recommended) during the engrossing overarching mystery, Attack Of The Friday Monsters! mainly focuses on the characters themselves; how they relate to one another, how they grow as people and how they face the bizarre situation in which they find themselves. Powerful simple themes of growing up, making friends in a new town and adults rediscovering their childhood optimism are placed front and centre, with the overarching narrative of mysterious monster attacks simply acting as a canvas upon which to tell some tight, well-paced human stories. It's the match of any classic coming of age film, and a summer fling perfect for players of any age.
Millenium Kitchen's writing expertise goes hand in hand with Level-5's painstaking obsession with pitch-perfect localisation, resulting in some exquisite dialogue. Characters interact naturally over the course of the narrative, using appropriate colloquialisms depending on their age, and are comprehensively fleshed out without the exposition ever becoming heavy-handed or obtrusive. Whether you're chatting with your nerdy best pal or an odd friendly bystander who might be an alien, Attack Of The Friday Monsters! does a fantastic job of presenting you with believable, relatable people to talk to, with all their flaws and fears. An omnipresent narrator also does a fine job of delivering pithy, witty backstory without ever overstaying her welcome. The fact that you'll remember key moments such as a put-upon father finding his verve for life, or children overcoming their insecurities, rather than great big silly monsters fighting each other is a testament to storytelling excellence, and writers knowing that sometimes less can be infinitely more.
Replay value is scant, while some game-complete content offers little beyond the initial four-hour runtime, but that's not really the point. Attack Of The Friday Monsters! is perfectly sized for what it is, and perfectly formed. It's one of the few games I'd recommend experiencing in a single hit over the course of a slow weekend rather than rationing out for full impact.
- Engrossing and uplifting storyline propped up by strong characters and themes
- Excellent localised dialogue
- Lavish artwork and backdrops
- Some confusing fixed camera perspective changes
- Card game is arguably wasted, relatively short 4-5 hour runtime
- Undeniably light on gameplay vs exposition: know this going in
The Short Version: Perfectly formed and perfectly portioned, this charming adventure is short and sweet in all the right ways. Like the best coming of age films, sympathetic characters and simple powerful themes make Attack Of The Friday Monsters! well worth your time, money and rapt attention.