Review: Yo-Kai Watch for Nintendo 3DS

Find ’em and friend ’em!

I really wasn’t looking all that forward to reviewing this.

I took a brief look at what we had going on here, heard about it’s Pokemon-ishness, and thought to myself “yeah, probably not.” Not that I have anything against Pokemon; I do enjoy the occasional main line game periodically for a spell, even though I’m not a “catch ’em all” type, and I’ve really loved some of the spin-offs. But when I hear a game is like Pokemon, I all but start to tune out — even though some games with such elements have been known to surprise me.

Happily, this is one of those times. Heck, I think I like Yo-Kai Watch even more than your standard Pokemon game.

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The premise in Yo-Kai Watch is actually a bit different than Pokemon, as while the world is still filled with a wide variety of beings (over 200) with different unique quirks, personalities, powers, and so forth everywhere, this world isn’t built around them from the ground up. In fact, most people can’t even see Yo-kai, much less know they even exist!

While Pokemon make up a lot of flora, fauna, and so much more in their world, Yo-Kai are the physical embodiment of everyday problems who inhabit the world. What’s more, many of them are known to cause mischief. From parents fighting to bad driving to public displays of flatulence, Yo-kai often bring out the worst in humanity — often without even realizing it! But many are a friendly sort, and will even befriend you depending on the right circumstances.

While said circumstances sometimes involve slapping the taste out of their mouth enough times that they know the sound of one hand clapping, it’s not the strict prerequisite it is in Pokemon (Yes, there are going to be several comparisons. Get used to it.). Some will join with you after a battle, others can be persuaded to join during combat by offering them their favorite treat, though whether this works or not seems a touch random, if not arbitrary. Some who even joined up with the one you were after (finding one sometimes leads to them calling in back-up) will kick their friends to the curb and sign on with you. Plus, there are more still — usually rarer, more unique Yo-Kai — who join up as part of the story.

Oh, and then there’s the Crank-a-kai… well, suffice to say, there are many different ways.

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“Joining up” isn’t quite the same here, though. Yo-kai have their own lives… or afterlives… their own existences that don’t revolve around you, save for your buddy and Yo-kai “butler” Whisper. Rather than getting beaned in the forehead with a baseball-sized capture device, a Yo-kai who is interested in helping you out gives you a medal for your Medallium (a book for storing Yo-kai medals) that you can insert into your eponymous watch to summon them to your side when trouble is afoot.

But to face them, first you must find them. As noted, Yo-kai are not normally visible to the human eye, so your character (boy or girl) must use their watch as a sort of radar to detect where they’re located and a special lens to expose them. They generally aren’t too keen on this, and so the battle usually begins, though there are exceptions as dictated by the story — some of which are necessary for completing the main quest.

The overarching plot is sort of slow to develop, and chapters are kind of broken up into episodes, complete with their own title cards and “to be continued” notes at the end. In addition to pursuing the main story, you’ll also find numerous side-quests along the way (some of which can be repeated), rewarding you with experience points, items, and even short animated cutscenes of Yo-kai getting into mischief — often without battling!

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In fact, the whole adventure begins in a rather inauspicious way — with bug collecting, which is an amusing twist, given that such a thing is what led to the creation of Pokemon (and thus many of its successors) to begin with. Better still, the bug-catching mechanic is fun in itself, and though it’s used to help set the stage, it’s a pastime you can partake in whenever you’re around a tree or tall grass, and it extends to other hunts for items or fishing.

Most of this takes place in the large city of Springdale, which is amazingly Japanese despite its name — right down to even trusting kids to understand this stuff without “localizing” rice balls into donuts or hamburgers or what have you. It’s a surprisingly large and detailed city, with all sorts of nuances that make it a fairly believable place to explore. However, there seems to be more to this burg than meets the eye (and I’m not talking about robots in disguise).

One aspect I did enjoy about exploring and battling alike is that it’s possible to play entirely — or at least close — by touch screen. You’ll probably want to take the Nintendo 3DS in hand during more intense battles, but you can otherwise just set the system down like a small laptop and poke at the touch screen for long stretches. I am a little perplexed by how the running is triggered, which is kind of an issue due to the fact your character has to deal with a stamina meter when s/he does. Fortunately, they’re pretty quick to move at a normal pace anyway.

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As for the battle system itself, again, it varies quite a bit from Pokemon. The biggest difference is that Yo-kai don’t just sit around, waiting for you to bark orders at them; they show up to fight, and that’s what they do, all by themselves. They’ve got their own moves that they perform automatically, but you’re not just sitting on the sidelines cheering them on; fighting fills their spirit meter, and when it’s full, you can have them perform a Soultimate Move, which requires you to perform one of a number of actions on the touch screen that vary each time. One instance may have you tap the yellow circles that cross the screen, another tracing outlines, and another drawing circles in a spinning motion really fast.

They’ll also take different kinds of hits, so you’ll have to toss out a snack item to heal them (unless you want to risk giving it to the enemy on the off-chance they’ll join you, as noted above), or Purify them. Purification is more than just casting “Cure,” though.

See, during battle, you can have up to six Yo-Kai on a sort of turntable, with three facing the enemy and three behind your lines. When infected by an enemy’s Inspirit move, you can rotate the turntable to pull them out of the battle, allowing you to perform Purification, which is largely like performing a Soultimate Move — some motions even carry over, while others involve tapping the screen to “crack” the glass, for example. You’ll gain experience points for a successful purification, but there are also risks involved, as rotating the turntable to take them out might also take out another of your heavy hitters.

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That’s not even everything. From targeting certain foes or weak spots with a touch screen-placed pin to tracking wisps on the top screen for benefits, there’s a lot to keep up with — it’s no wonder the Yo-kai do their fighting by themselves! It’s very involved, and it can get so hectic that the battle can even end while you’re still putting your next moves into play.

Further setting things apart from Pokemon are that you don’t gain new attacks for Yo-kai, though you can power up those that you have through leveling up and even evolution, and some Yo-kai can even be fused to create new versions. There are also some small benefits to just how you arrange your Yo-kai on the turntable, with those from the same tribe (type) getting some benefits.

I personally found the battles to be more engaging than Pokemon‘s in just the right ways. In addition to how things play out, as listed above, things are more engaging in other ways. Specifically, whereas Pokemon likes to throw random encounters at you or have guys who like shorts block your way, battles in Yo-Kai Watch are largely on your terms. Most of the time, you need to find the Yo-Kai, and even if you accidentally come across one, you can leave it be just as easily. You go to the battles, rather than have them come to you.

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For everything I’ve talked about here with regards to the game’s mechanics, I’ve not even touched on how charming the game is. Level-5, who are responsible for the exquisite Professor Layton series and Fantasy Life, are the ones who brought us Yo-Kai Watch, so if you’re familiar with those series, you have some idea of the quality of the personalities you might expect on display here.

Without getting into spoilers — and that’s tough, by the way — I’m just going to say that Jibanyan’s story in particular really resonated with me in a good/sad way. “The feels,” as they say. Meeting him gave me all of them.

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Yo-Kai Watch is a very solid game with a fun world and enjoyable characters brought to life by some pretty decent (if not good, everyone’s scale seems to vary) voice acting. It might not necessarily excel in any particular area, but nor does it falter. There are some minor nuisances to be found, but the good definitely outweighs the bad.

It may seem a little simplistic in some ways to those who are older role playing game veterans, but it is aimed at kids. Then again, so is Pokemon, and adults enjoy that just fine. In any case, I’ve always preferred the more action-oriented battle systems of games like Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars and its ilk than the strictly menu-based style of combat employed by most role playing games like Pokemon, which certainly adds points in Yo-Kai Watch‘s favor in my book.

Personally, if you’ve ever been a fan of Pokemon — even, or perhaps especially a lapsed one — then you should give this a shot, as despite its seeming inspiration, it does a tremendous job of standing on its own two feet. And with the phenomenon it’s become in Japan, I think Jibanyan might be coming for Pikachu’s crown — an endeavor I happily support.

N3DS_YO-KAIWATCH_pkgYo-Kai Watch will be released for the Nintendo 3DS on November 6th, 2015 alone at a price of $49.99 and in a bundle with the Nintendo 2DS for $129.99.

A review copy was provided by Nintendo of Canada.

David Oxford is a freelance writer of many varied interests. If you’re interested in hiring him, please drop him a line at david.oxford (at) nyteworks.net.

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David Oxford

David Oxford is a freelance writer of many varied interests. If you're interested in hiring him, please drop him a line at david.oxford (at) nyteworks.net.