I want to thank Nintendo UK for sending us a copy of this game to review. I hope this game was a success for them and that we can keep this relationship strong and continue it into the future.
“Welcome to the world of Yo-kai Watch!”
Have you ever wondered who that was messing up your hair, or stealing your socks? Well in Level-5’s latest RPG these are the beings known as Yo-kai, strange apparitions based on Japanese folklore that are the latest in collectable monsters. The first Yo-kai Watch game just came out in Europe but in Japan it’s been nearly 3 years since this series exploded into the mainstream on a scale only relatable to the Pokemon franchise.
Seriously, when I was in Japan last year there was Yo-kai Watch merchandise everywhere. So, the big question most people had on their mind when this game released in the West was, will it be as successful over here?
Well I have my own thoughts on that which I will save for the verdict, however I will say one thing now: this game is ingenious in the way it appeals to children.
When you first boot up Yo-kai Watch your presented with the option to pick your gender and name, a common feature inmost monster collecting games nowadays. Depending on who you chose, your main characters are either Nate or Katie and their story begins with them catching bugs over the summer holiday for a school project.
When hunting in the woods they stumble across what is basically an ancient gashapon machine and end up releasing the ever-helpful Yo-Kai butler: Whisper! As a thank you for releasing him from his 200 year sleep, Whisper gives the player a Yo-kai Watch and introduces him to the world of the Yo-kai, the mischievous spirits who are plaguing the residents of this Japanese suburbia.
Now it’s up to the player to team up with Whisper and help the people of this city with their various Yo-kai related problems.
The story is pretty standard but the way that it feels different from other monster collecting games is the way that it is told. Every chapter feels like a different episode of an animated show. A problem arises for our main character concerning a new Yo-kai and they have to solve it. These problems can range from finding a lost ring for a friend to saving a city from a hoard of memory stealing Yo-kai. Every chapter feels distinct and separated with only some key plot-points retaining through-out.
This style of storytelling is one of the reasons I think kids fell in love with this game in Japan; there are clear beginning and end points for each story and it’s incredibly easy to follow along. Its also a good way to slowly introduce the player to certain Yo-kai without having to worry about how their presence affects the grand-scheme.
While the main story really isn’t anything groundbreaking it was still enjoyable and the interactions between Whisper and the player can be pretty entertaining at times. It does a good job of making me care about the residents of this city and motivated me to want to help them… even if took me about 5 to 6 hours to finally get interested.
This game certainly has a bit of a slow start with a pretty lengthy tutorial. However, once i was given the freedom to do what I wanted, with more options made available to me, I began to get sucked into this world.
So I bet you’re wondering how Yo-kai Watch plays compared to other monster collecting games like Pokémon? Well to be honest I believe it’s completely unfair to compare this with its competitors as Yo-kai Watch tries to take a much more friendly approach to battling and recruiting. Literally. In order to recruit more Yo-kai to your team you require no special contraptions, just food and friendly attitude.
As you wander around town, the titular Yo-kai Watch will begin to resonate with certain areas in the field and when you interact with these areas you are guaranteed to run into a Yo-kai. After catching them in your sight with the power of the watch a battle will take place and this is where the bulk of the game lies. During battle with a Yo-kai you might want to recruit you have the option to give them food and depending some factors the Yo-kai you just defeated may offer you his medal out of friendship. Befriending Yo-kai is the aim of the game here and it certainly makes the Yo-kai themselves feel more appealing. Rather than pitting animals against each other it feels like you’re fighting alongside a group of friends, which is emphasized even more by the fighting system.
The player can only carry around six Yo-kai at once but in battle they can fight with three at a time in a formation that feels like a mix of Pokemon’s triple and rotation battles. This adds a layer of depth to the battles as setting up the right formation of Yo-kai based on their type and nature is the key to utilizing your Yo-kai friends effectively. However, this is about as deep as the battle system really gets and this is both a plus and a negative in my book.
During battle, your three Yo-kai in the front lines will automatically perform actions based on their nature and abilities. Every Yo-kai can perform one of 5 actions during its turn: attack, guard, perform a technique, inspirit or just loaf around and skip their turn. What the player has to do is one of 5 things. The first is rotating the playing field to make sure you have the right Yo-kai out to fight the right type of enemy. Next is performing a Yo-kai’s super move, thirdly you can purify Yo-kai that get inspirited, there are also items that need to be used to heal your party or befriend enemy yo-kai and finally there is a targeting system which can be used both to instruct your friends on who to fight and also to burst special bubbles for a nice bonus. Managing all five of these is pretty simple which makes it incredibly easy for children to pick up and understand. However, if you are looking for some complex competitive battle system you probably won’t find it here. I didn’t dive too much into the more tactic based battle mechanics and found I had very little trouble defeating the enemies in my way. I won’t call it a cakewalk as that would be under-selling the game but I never found it to be too challenging either
And while I’m on the topic of complaints I am going to return to the befriending feature I talked about earlier as I am not a big fan of it. The likelihood of having a Yo-kai befriend you comes down to the quality of the food, what sort of food they like and everyone’s favourite gameplay mechanic: RNG. You can do a few things to increase your chance like having a Yo-kai with the ability popularity but without that it really is just a shot in the dark sometimes and I often found myself grinding through the same Yo-kai and burning through all my food supplies for hours until they would finally decide that I was a nice person to hang out with.
Outside of the battling and collecting, which really is the main focus of the game, you have the overworld to explore which I actually quite enjoyed. The advantage of having a smaller map and its episodic storytelling means that you end up becoming very familiar with the game’s world and by the end of it I knew the town like the back of my hand which made side questing and Yo-kai hunting much easier. Speaking of side-quests there are a LOT which is perfect for training your Yo-kai as well as befriending more. While most side-quests bring something new to the table they all follow a similar fashion: either bring item A to person A or bring Yo-kai A to person A or B.This is fine for the way the game is structured as the various different Yo-kai used in these missions allow them to remain interesting.
Their is a type of mission I don’t like however and that is the bug-catching mission. In Yo-kai Watch you can not only hunt Yo-kai but you can also hunt bugs and fish. My problem with these missions is that finding the right insect can sometimes be just a case of awful RNG, with some barely showing up at all and with a very small and hard to judge catch wheel. I wasn’t a fan of this and ended up giving up trying to catch the various bugs and fish although it is not a feature that really detracts from the game as a whole, but I do wish it was a bit better.
Just like other monster collecting games, your Yo-kai will level up and evolve over time. Not every Yo-kai can do this however and the actual pool that can seems to be quite small. There are multiple levels of evolution however as your Yo-kai can not only evolve via leveling up but also by fusing two Yo-kai together, or by fusing a Yo-kai and an item. These last forms of evolution are not available to you straight away and become a bit pointless later on into the game but they can be a quick way of getting some strong Yo-kai early on.
One other unique gameplay mechanic is known as Terror Time. Sometimes randomly you will enter Terror Time where a giant Oni will stalk you around the area it activates in while you try and find the exit while getting various secret chests. But make sure you’ve got your sneak on, because you’re gonna have to watch out for the Oni’s reconnaissance Yo-kai because as soon as they spot you that Oni will home in on you and he will not give up.
Overall the gameplay of Yo-kai Watch isn’t very deep which is great for a young audience and really works to appeal to that crowd. The game is filled with lots of polish and the various side-quests will definitely keep you going for hours.
Speaking of polish…
If you like Level 5 and their style of game then Yo-kai Watch will not disappoint. Out of everything in this game the presentation is probably what I enjoyed the most. The game oozes style from all its sides so let’s tackle this bit by bit.
Focusing on the actual artstyle, Yo-kai Watch has this very cartoony and child-friendly style to it. Everything is made to look simple and appealing with bright primary colours and easy to understand symbols making it clear where everything is and what is important. What I really enjoyed about how the game is shown are the little details. The fact that you character takes off their shoes when entering a building. That they wear clothes that appropriately match the weather and even when the game punishes players for walking across a crossing without waiting for the green signal. These are all little things that most games would just ignore, but it really shows how much care went into this game that Level-5 really went that extra mile for authenticity.
The music in the game is the high quality that I have come to expect from Level-5. It also really fits the overall tone of the game. I didn’t find any of it annoying or unfitting throughout my whole game, except for maybe that intro song. It is a bit cheesy even…for my tastes.
Just like everything else in the game, Yo-kai Watch tries to make you feel like you are playing a cartoon and all of the presentation works in harmony to produce a high-quality experience. But it’s not all perfect. I have two negatives with the presentation and one is not really the fault of the game considering that it comes from Japan. This game screams Japan to an extent more-so than most other games out there. While the localization really tries its best to remain really authentic to the source material, while making it still accessible for a Western audience, there is just some stuff that does not work as well over here.
I am fine with the setting being suburbia Japan and I don’t even mind that the collectible comic strips have to be read from right to left. No, my problem was that knowing what food to give each Yo-kai in order to befriend them felt like a massive stab in the dark. I’m sure to a Japanese audience this isn’t as major a problem as they may be aware of what folklore the Yo-kai are based on and know what food connects the two. Heck, I did know some of them myself. But the vast majority of times I was just picking a food item at random and wasting it because it didn’t work. I would be fine with this if there was any hints at all in the game to what Yo-kai like what but I feel like the only hint Level-5 eft was one that failed to translate over in its Western release.
But that is a very minor point. The more pressing problem for me are the Yo-kai themselves.
While I do have my collection of Yo-kai that I really enjoy, about half-way through the game I begun to realize that a lot of the later Yo-kai ended up just being palette swaps of each other. I wouldn’t have minded this if it only happened a few times but it happens a lot and to me it made a lot of these Yo-kai feel less special. Less unique. That said, there are Yo-kai that I do feel are very appealing, especially the ones that play somewhat of an important role in the story. Neither of these problems are major detriments to the game though, it’s really just a matter of personal taste for the Yo-kai designs and that’s fine. It’s just that for me, I was a bit disappointed.
The presentation is absolutely top-notch, both visually and from an audio standpoint. It really is a great game that started a bit slow but eventually hooked me when all of its feature began to become available.
It’s not perfect, it relies a bit too much on RNG at times and some of the Yo-kai are pretty uninspired but if you have a child, whether it be a son, daughter or younger sibling, then I completely recommend this game. It’s designed to hook children and it really succeeds.
Yo-kai Watch may not be as big of a blockbuster over in the West as it was in Japan, mainly due to some unfortunate cultural differences that can’t be avoided, but it’s certainly a success so maybe it will be just a matter of time until Jibanyan and Whisper get their own Macy’s Day Parade balloon.