I picked up Attack of the Friday Monsters on the 3DS a who ago thanks to the recommendation of Patrick Klepek at Giant Bomb, and I finally got around to playing it last evening. Like Patrick, I've always been into low-key, experimental titles, and it sounded like Attack was right up my alley. I wasn't sure what to expect from it, and I'm not sure I would wholey recommend the game, but it's given me a lot to think about.
The idea is that you're a young boy named Sohta, growing up in the 70s, where monster movies were all the rage. Sohta's new in town, and is still making friends and meeting townsfolk. The game does a good job initially of setting up tone; the brightly colored world (with impressive hand-drawn backgrounds) and simplistic nature of the story helped put me in the mindset of a child. We also see some arguing amongst his parents, but Sohta doesn't quite understand what the fuss is about, as he only wants to play outside, and investigate some monster tracks found in town.
However, right away a few things about the game bothered me. The first is that the story is incredibly linear. For the most part, your only objective is to go to the point on the map where the next plot icon is. There are no monsters to fight, nor are there any dialogue choices. Now, if a story is good, I'm perfectly okay with following along, but there has to be something tying my actions in to the story. Even the Zero Escape titles have branching storylines, even if you're just reading along for the most part. Attack could have easily been a children's book or light novel and lost nothing.
There is one point where Attack tries to be a game, which unfortunately just drags the experience down further. Early on, you're introduced to a card battling game, which boils down to a slightly more in-depth version of Rock, Paper, Scissors. There's only a couple of times in the game where you are required to play it to progress, so it feels terribly out of place. Not only that, but in order to get stronger cards, you have to pick up gemstones that you find on the ground.
Whenever I was walking to the next destination on my map, I was forced to grab every last gemstone I could in order to avoid getting stuck at a certain point in the story. It's frustrating watching cutscenes when you see the glittering stone on the ground next to the characters, who sometimes walk away without letting you pick them up. In addition, each gem you pick up forces Sohta to stop for a moment and check what kind of card it's for. Now, an otherwise insignificant minigame became a constant nuisance, pulling me away from the story that I came for. If the point was to pad the game's runtime, it didn't do a good job, considering my playthrough was less than two hours long.
Unfortunately, even if you disregard the gem collecting issues and lack of interactivity, I still found myself frustrated by the storyline. At first I felt like I was wandering around, just going from checkpoint to checkpoint not doing anything of note. The idea that you're stepping into the shoes of a child with a big imagination is interesting, but I don't think this game handled it well . By the end, I didn't know if what I had seen was meant to be taken at face value. Intentionally confusing the player can be effective for games like Silent Hill or Spec Ops, but not for a lighthearted children's story.
In short, I'm not sure that I would recommend Attack of the Friday Monsters, but at the very least it's given me something to think about. I do applaud Level 5 for their attention to detail as far as art and music go, because it instantly sucked me into the game. Unfortunately, the card battling mechanics got in the way, and I found myself more baffled by the story than amused. The idea of seeing a story filtered through a child's imagination is an interesting concept, and I would like to see more developers try their hand at it.