Attack of the Friday Monsters: A Tokyo Tale is a game that will resonate with old and young alike, with its embodied qualities being pure, not forced. The following piece argues, however, that a key disconnect prevents the interactive story from achieving full composure.
Growing up in the 90s, kids were trained to be fickle. Digital pets and trading cards vied heavily for the attention of school-aged children, and many (myself included) will tell of the hypnotism surrounding this commercial whirlwind.
One “movement” I found myself helplessly obsessed with was Crazy Bones. Next to Pokémon cards, they were the hottest thing. I still remember demolishing someone in a game for keeps, while neighbourhood kids cheered on and made a mini-sideshow of the affair. Or maybe it was me who experienced crushing defeat? Anywho, one of us got in an enormous fit over it, and our parents had to get involved – let the record state that I was on the receiving end, not the instigator.
Attack of the Friday Monsters: A Tokyo Tale takes me back to these days – maybe not the fights, but certainly my childhood and the early manifestations of my collecting phases. In this interactive story, the main character – a young boy named Sohta – finds himself in the new surroundings of Fuji no Hana, joined by his parents who are trying to make a go of their dry cleaning business.
It starts out with a few errand runs, but these quickly fade into the background as Sohta makes friends (very quickly, I might add), and the foursome go on a pre-weekend adventure to bide time until the time slot for their favourite television program – which just so happens to be the same time when creatures the size of buildings emerge from hiding.
Much to my glee, Attack of the Friday Monsters captures this early period of enthusiasm well by featuring its own “90s fad” element: Monster Cards. While not a full-on trading card game in the traditional sense, duels here are for keeps. The prize? Your opponent’s willpower.
Who controls whom?
I’m sure I used Crazy Bones (and other token crazes) to volley chores or other responsibilities, but here it’s a matter of being another’s personal genie. Strangely, there’s a gaping disconnect in the role assigned to the card system. You as the player are never demanded to actually do anything, and so it is less out of necessity that you engage in card duels, and more purely a dubious blockade.
If I feared losing my collection to the likes of someone I barely knew, I would bypass competing altogether. I treasured them that much. Monster Cards lack that legitimate thread of consequence and are thus treated as extraneous and disposable. It represents the game’s one missing link.
Why this is so can be better discerned through the main character’s larger role. The allure of the game world comes from the fact that much of Sohta’s adventurous personality and imagination are projected outward – try to dissect what that means for the surroundings and the events that take place in the game.
As you examine the finer details of the world around you, an image is reinforced of Sohta being the creator of his environment – not the visitor, as is established at the outset.
He doesn’t have to look far for a mystery; just up the road is a set of mysterious footprints that indicate a foreboding presence. His lack of trouble in meeting the creators of his favourite show is enviable, with him even being welcomed into the official club. Police take him seriously over a certain discovery, and he is trusted to keep a not-so-well-guarded secret. Late in the day (on Friday, to be exact), monsters you’d reason to be majorly enlarged versions of action figures come to life and threaten the safety of the small community. Earth isn’t safe from alien activity, either, and Sohta is even imagined to be an unlikely candidate for protecting the planet.
That last one did it for me; I was sure a “dream ending” was in store once that came to light. The only thing that betrays this dreamscape is the lowly status of the parents, but even this has a hidden story behind it.
Again, Sohta writes the rule book, for all intents and purposes.
And you know, I’m not sure if it’s because I can see a lot of myself in the boy, or if it’s because things aren’t blown completely out of proportion, but the timeline and the various goings-on aren’t entirely beyond belief.
The entire composition points to a time when comic book and other fictional heroes took over in the absence of parental instruction to impart moral messages. A time when kids dabbled in riddles and rhymes; when companions turned trips to ordinary local venues into learning experiences; when hunches paved the way for day-long searches and unexpected discoveries; and when matters we now see as trivial guided after-school activities.
The game’s entire core caters to unbridled imagination – wild, though still lacking in breadth – so of course Sohta wants to take on this role of protector and saviour, as portrayed on television. And certainly how the developers have integrated these fantasies without the links coming across as disjointed has contributed to a less senseless affair.
Its spirit of innocence would have been far more relatable, had the role of Monster Cards been treated with far more gravitas.
Crazy Bones. Tamagotchis. Pogs. We now see them as inflated fads, yet they developed in us a desire to not only hoard and collect, but also gave us reason (for some, a push) to interact with others our age. Attack of the Friday Monsters may be highly approachable in its format and progression, but for all its attempts to project the spirit of innocence and imagination onto the game world, this is one aspect of unfinished business that prevents it from fully translating the familiar conditions it aims to ground players in.