Yo-Kai Watch Review

By Blair Nokes on November 28, 2015

Despite its new release and introduction to North American audiences, Yo-Kai Watch has been around for quite some time. The original game released in Japan in 2013, and since then has spawned a number of sequels, several Manga adaptations, an ongoing Anime series, and loads of adorable merchandise. It was Nintendo's plan to really pump up Yo-Kai Watch in the west as being the next Pokémon, without actually encroaching on the sales of their championed franchise. It appeared to have taken a while in Japan, but once the anime and merchandise finally caught up with the games, the popularity seemingly exploded with children across the archipelago. The vast majority of the series' demographic is predominantly children, in fact Forbes quotes that one of the main reasons children were more interested in this at the time was that there were no "weird adults interested in the games, unlike Pokémon." A funny way of seeing what can deter a child's interest, but unfortunately these "weird adults" are also those who have the money to ensure staying power with their franchise. And it shows; sales for the Yo-Kai name have unfortunately dropped more than a quarter of what they once had. Nevertheless, Nintendo was still adamant that the name and franchise could do very well in the west and, alongside the RPG-veterans at Level-5, have localized the game for western audiences. The question is whether or not it has enough to contend with Pokémon which has had decades to solidify itself.

The core idea behind Yo-Kai Watch is focused on the Japanese folklore surrounding the Yōkai "“ translated as a ghost, phantom or apparition. The use of Yōkai is quite a common device in many Japanese mediums, from Movies like Sadako of the Ring series, Anime like Princess Mononoke, and of course video games, like the Fatal Frame series. In Yo-Kai Watch, you are a male or female player, and you begin your adventure trying to find bugs for your bug collection. This serves as a simple tutorial for the game's main mechanic in searching for Yo-Kai around the map. While exploring the forest for what you're told is a very rare bug, your player comes across a mysterious capsule machine. After opening one of the capsules, you are greeted by your first Yo-Kai "“ Whisper. He bestows the player with the titular watch which allows you to see and observe other Yo-Kai. You can use the watch to befriend other Yo-Kai and use them in battle. The formula is quite similar to Pokémon, albeit you really don't have to worry about Pokéballs to capture. Instead, you can offer some food to Yo-Kai at the beginning of a battle, and afterwards the Yo-Kai will offer you their personalized Yo-Kai medallion, which the player can use to summon it at will. That will serve as then general premise of the game; the story itself is on the lighter side, but the interesting thing here is that the tales of the Yo-Kai, and hearing about some of their tragedies that either forced them into their particular place, or drove them to become Yo-Kai, are all pretty nifty, and even fall on the darker side especially when you consider who this game is mainly targeted towards. What I can only assume is the Pikachu of the series, the cat Yo-Kai Jibanyan, describes that he was hit by a truck. While the hunt for these Yo-Kai, and hearing their tales are quite engaging, I still feel like it was a missed opportunity to not have a more thorough storyline. Interesting little side-bit is that the design and concept of Jibanyan is most probably connected to a classic Japanese Yōkai, Nekomata "“ a two tailed cat associated with causing fires. This is reflected with Jibanyan's twin tails, with embers on either end.

The gameplay itself is a bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand, it is super easy to learn, and can be quite enjoyable to execute. The downside is that it's really easy, and doesn't really grow or build on itself in any meaningful way. The battle system incorporates a pie-wheel that displays a total of 6 Yo-Kai. The top 3 Yo-Kai on the wheel are the ones who are in battle, and can be substituted on the fly by rotating the wheel. This will play an important role when Yo-Kai are stunned or have any status effects that you need to "Purify." Purifying basically has you bringing your Yo-Kai out of battle and scrubbing it with the stylus. Yo-Kai in battle will automatically attack your opponents, so you really only have control of one function: Soultimate. These are individual Yo-Kai ultimate attacks that are performed via quick mini-games inside the Yo-Kai wheel. These vary from tapping bubbles on the screen, to spinning the wheel around, to tracing patterns correctly. Different Yo-Kai will have different Soultimate effects that either are aggressive, defensive or support for buffs or debuffs.

The game will have the player scour the map for quests that inevitably lead you to capturing more Yo-Kai. There are Yo-Kai that are essential to the game's story, and Legendary ones that can be obtained through various subquests. Yo-Kai can evolve into more powerful versions if they obtain a certain level, by combining them with certain items, or by fusing with other Yo-Kai. You can also purchase Yo-Kai through an in-game Gasha Machine by using in-game currency or Play Coins. Yo-Kai are categorized into 8 different types, or tribal groups. Naturally, different types have different strengths and weaknesses. It is worth noting that the way you organize your Yo-Kai types for battle will greatly affect the ease of some battles. Here is a brief rundown of each of the tribes, and their associated strengths. First up is the Brave tribe, specializing in attacks. Mysterious tribes utilize strong techniques to aide in battle. Tough Yo-Kai are the wall characters; able to block enemies with high defense. Charming Yo-Kai are classified by their cuteness, and also have higher speeds. Heartful Yo-Kai help soothe your friendly Yo-Kai in battle. The Shady Tribe alters status effects and can absorb HP. Eerie Yo-Kai excel at inspiriting or possessing enemy Yo-Kai. Finally, Slippery Tribes involve Yo-Kai that are harder to grasp or possess. It's a pretty standard arrangement of typing, not unlike what's done in Pokémon, but in a far more limited set.

The game's visuals are fairly nice to look at. In a typical Level-5 fashion, were given a gorgeous animated introduction. The Yo-Kai themselves are all nicely designed, and range from adorable to downright weird. The environment of Springdale is fairly simple in design, but the added ability to scan certain sections within the city is very neat. Yo-Kai will be hiding anywhere: in trees, underneath steps, under cars, or even under vending machines; and you're tasked with finding them. The English voice acting is nicely done and appropriately written for children. It's great in the sense that this could be a very good way to introduce a younger child to RPGs, but then again, Pokémon already does this, and still manages to throw in dialogue or humour that was intended for the older audiences that grew up with the series.

Final Thoughts

Despite my continual comparisons and preference to Pokémon, Yo-Kai Watch is still undeniably charming and when viewing what it is intended to be, and who it's intended to target, it serves as another good example of an introductory RPG for newcomers. Those who are more familiar with the genre may still get a sense of enjoyment simply out of collecting the Yo-Kai and learning about their tales and origins, but may be turned off by its rather linear learning curve. The controls, while simplistic, are effective and enjoyable. And as a companion to the anime, it's also a fun way to expand your involvement in the Yo-Kai world. Is it as big as Pokémon, as Nintendo and Level-5 aimed for? They certainly tried by mixing the release of a game, anime, manga, and toys as a way to cross-market to the children. But ultimately, I have a hard time getting behind the idea of it ever replacing Pokémon. Which is perfectly fine; it is fantastic to even have the option of one, the other, or both, and I'd be lying if I said I didn't enjoy my time with Yo-Kai Watch. It's similar to why Call-of-Duty-clones never sell as well as Call of Duty: because they aren't Call of Duty.

Charming Yo-Kai designs.
Genuinely interesting tales surrounding the Yo-Kai.
The wheel system is fun for both arranging your Yo-Kai and executing their Soultimate moves.
Main story isn’t as engaging as the stories behind the Yo-Kai.
The core gameplay never really builds on itself outside of what you initially learn.
The 8 Tribes are fairly rudimentary, albeit perfectly functional.
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