Level-5 / Nintendo
Nate was just looking for bugs, but he ends up finding a strange capsule machine. When he puts his money in, out comes a ghost Yo-kai named Whisper! Whisper gives Nate a device called the Yo-kai Watch. The Yo-kai Watch allows Nate to see all sorts of Yo-kai, and now Nate uses the Yo-kai Watch to investigate the strange occurrences in his town.
Some Yo-kai Watch fans see comparing this game to Pokemon as an insult, but the two series do have a lot in common. It’s no different than an animated children’s film being compared to Disney’s offerings or a burger fast food joint being compared to McDonald’s. This doesn’t mean the movie or restaurant are exactly like Disney and McDonald’s, but these two are just so popular that comparisons are easy to make.
Yo-kai Watch is about a boy (or girl) who gets a special watch and gains the ability to see spirits. Some yo-kai cause trouble while others are friendly. Nate can befriend yo-kai and gain their medal to summon them when needed. He then goes around helping people with their problems while also unraveling his hometown’s mysteries. The plot is fairly typical but charming. Both player characters have personalities, and I must admit to liking characters who speak better than silent ones.
The main game of Yo-kai Watch is rather short. It’s basically go here, fight a boss, go here, get a few things, fight again. The length is mostly dependent on how much you want to do. Do you want to go straight to the next required location? Or do you want to earn extra money and experience? It’s all up to you. The game may be challenging if you only do the main quests, but there are some fairly quick ways to get some powerful yo-kai and items within the first hour or two. (More on that later.) If you only do the required quests, the main game will be over very soon. Almost all battles outside of bosses are optional, and while the city is quite large, this is not an epic globetrotting adventure. Once you complete the main game, new quests are unlocked, but I found myself kind of bored once I had no real goal. Doing a quick event 20 days in a row to get a reward is not enough to keep me invested.
Unlike most RPGs, the game is set in a city, not a country or world. This may seem extremely tiny when compared to most adventure games, but the relatively small map actually works to the game’s advantage. Level-5 concentrated on making Springdale come alive. Cars will drive by even as battles rage on. Streets are lined with houses and buildings. Stores have restrooms. You can catch bugs and fish, and different areas house different ones. Springdale feels like a real city and not an abridged one. However, the game really needed an interactive map. Some things are marked, but the game would tell me to go somewhere and would have no clue which part of the city to go to.
Let’s move on to battles.
You set up a circle of six medals in advance. In battle, three yo-kai will be out on the field, but you can rotate them left or right to swap the others in. The order of your medals is very important. If you only carry around one healer, for instance, then there is one yo-kai that can never be on the field at the same time as your healer. Yo-kai also belong to different categories (tribes), and putting yo-kai of the same tribe next to each other will grant them a bonus. Each yo-kai also has an elemental affiliation. Yo-kai can equip items, but each can only equip certain ones. The cats wear bells but don’t use swords. So you need to balance your inventory with your team composition for best results.
In the city, you choose when to fight. Otherwise, in the “dungeons”, yo-kai roam the screen and will try to chase you. Most can be avoided with a bit of skill. No random encounters! Dungeons are also the only place where you can’t save anywhere.
During battles, yo-kai will act on their own. They will either attack, use a spell, boost their allies or debuff their opponents, guard, or laze about. Their attitudes determine which actions they are most likely to take, but this isn’t explained until well into the game. Attitudes also affect their stat growths. As the “coach”, you can charge up a yo-kai’s ultimate attack, choose an enemy to target, cure debuffed yo-kai, or use an item. Battles are pretty fast-paced, but you can also hold down the X button to speed them up even further. Random encounters can be often completed without doing a thing. During boss fights, you will probably be constantly busy. The game has some special locked areas, and you can find yourself in trouble if you’re unprepared. I can’t say I prefer either Yo-kai Watch‘s or Pokemon‘s battle system over the other. Pokemon is more like a chess match while this is more like a sports match.
As you might expect, there are a lot of yo-kai to collect. Not nearly as many as the modern Pokemon games, fortunately, so it’s more feasible to “catch ’em all”. They vary in appearance, rank, stats, and abilities. Some yo-kai join you as part of an event or as a result of fusion or evolution, but most yo-kai join you randomly after a battle. For a game about befriending yo-kai, this can be a highly frustrating experience. Some will join you right away; others will take you hours. Yes, this is true for most RPGs, but that’s generally item hunting, not the crux of the game. Supposedly one of the ways to increase your recruitment rate is to give them their favorite food. Unfortunately, you cannot choose who to target when you throw an item, so you have to try to quickly eliminate the other enemies onscreen first. Then you have to guess which is their favorite food type. You can waste a lot of money guessing what they prefer. Even if you give a yo-kai their favorite food, recruitment isn’t guaranteed. I pretty much gave up on the food since it didn’t seem to help. You’re better off hoping for the random affection boost during battles along with a yo-kai with the Popularity ability.
All yo-kai in your team will gain experience, and side quests and items will also give experience. These boosts make it much more tempting to alter your team throughout the game, unlike in Pokemon where it is generally better to stick with the same party. I liked being able to experiment with new yo-kai. I didn’t feel like I was forced to carry dead weight in order to raise them to a useful level.
There’s one big aspect Yo-kai Watch falls extremely short on compared to Pokemon: multi-player. You can only battle others through local wi-fi. Very disappointing. This really cuts into the addiction and replayability factors. The game also has an optional minigame where you can try to chase after bad yo-kai. These yo-kai are only around for a week. You must capture them three times (only once per day), and then they’ll give you…a letter or number. This letter or number will be part of a password, and passwords are up to eight digits long. So, at best, by yourself, you can get two pieces of a three- to eight-letter puzzle. The game wants you to discuss the clue you got with your friends, and together you can figure out the password. Yeah, no. Just go online and type in all the passwords. You can also go online for QR codes for coins for the capsule machine, and there is also a feature where you can earn prizes for taking pictures of people. Again, taking pictures of people from the Internet is a much easier way to get these bonuses. If you do all of these, you can get some valuable prizes early. If not, you can still clear the game, but you will probably just pretty much want to ignore all these since they’re all an incredible pain to do the “correct” way. I know Yo-kai Watch 2 does have online multi-player, so hopefully these other aspects improve as well.
I’ve already discussed a bit about the graphics. The atmosphere here is pretty amazing. You can operate the crossing signs, and the yo-kai even have a variety of victory poses. Yo-kai themselves range from the cute (cats and dogs) to downright ugly (butt-face, literally), but it is easy to see their visual inspiration. I do wish there were less palette-swaps though. As for the people, they look a lot like some of Level-5’s other titles, notably the 3DS Professor Layton games. It’s not my favorite style, as characters like Bear just don’t look good in 3D. The people really are secondary to the yo-kai though, as the yo-kai look better in this style.
The game also features some voiced scenes. The yo-kai will greet you when you join and make noises during battles. As much as I think Johnny Yong Bosch (of Trigun fame) is talented, I just don’t think he’s suited to voice a 10-year-old kid. It’s not too noticeable here since there’s not a lot of voice acting, but I do wonder why they didn’t have a woman do his voice. They could have even used someone like Veronica Taylor or Tara Strong who could easily pull off both Nate’s and Katie’s voices.
Yo-Kai Watch underwent heavy localization. Most names are changed to make it more kid and Western-friendly. It still has a its Japanese influences in food, places, and some yo-kai’s names. Obviously, “yo-kai” is a unique way to romanize “youkai”, but I am surprised they kept it at all. If you have seen the English dub, all names and voices are the same. Keita is Nate, Fumika is Katie, Jibanyan and Whisper keep their names, Sakura New Town is Springdale, etc. For those who don’t know any Japanese, names like “Jibanyan” will make no sense, but “Pikachu” makes no sense to English speakers either. Like in Pokemon, most yo-kai are given similar pun names to their Japanese counterparts. All signs are replaced with English text. I am glad Nintendo/Level-5 were content with getting an E-10 rating instead of trying to match Pokemon’s E rating. Otherwise, I’m sure some things would have been censored. I mean, there’s nothing really offensive (it’s only E-10, after all), but I doubt underwear fetching would be allowed in an E game. All in all, this is what you expect from a localization.
Yo-kai Watch is a charming RPG despite its flaws, and it’s easy to see why Yo-kai Watch is such a hit in Japan. This game and Pokemon are both similar and dissimilar, but if you enjoy one, there’s very little reason not to like the other. For best value, you probably want to be more of a completionist-type versus a “just do the main story”-type player. The lackluster multi-player aspect is a big downer if you want to find a 3DS game to play with a friend or child. The demo is noticeably harder than the real game, but it will give you a feel for Yo-kai Watch.
The sequel game was released in three different versions in Japan. A spin-off game along with many mobile games have also been released. Yo-kai Watch 3 is also due this year in Japan. None of these have been confirmed to be getting a Western release.
Disney “XD” is currently airing the English dub in the U.S., and the episodes are also found on YouTube. Lots of major retailers are carrying Yo-kai Watch merchandise. Viz Media is currently releasing the shounen version of the Yo-kai Watch manga.
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