In some regards bigger than Pokémon, Yo-kai Watch has been absolutely massive in Japan. Level-5’s franchise has games, manga and a TV show. All are doing exceptionally well.
Even its spin-offs crowd the sales charts with the most recent Yo-kai Watch Busters slowly approaching a ridiculous sum of two million copies sold in Japan alone.
Nintendo had to work with Level-5 to bring this thing to the western world, right?
It took long enough, but they’re finally doing it. Yo-kai Watch arrives in a matter of days for the Nintendo 3DS. The original game has been localized for international release, the TV show is lined up and Nintendo’s hoping for another Pokémon-esque craze.
I’ve been with Yo-kai Watch for almost two weeks now. While I don’t think it will catch on like Pokémon, I do think there’s something special with this strange Japanese ghost hunting title that both kids and adults will enjoy.
Heck, I’m enjoying it. I want more. That’s the good news for Yo-kai Watch. It’s fun.
What is Yo-kai Watch?
It’s a good question, really. There are lots of layers to Yo-kai Watch that will be lost on those living outside Japanese culture. Yokai are Japanese spirits. They’re ghosts, sort of, that catch the blame for major problems and minor annoyances.
According to Japanese folklore, these yokai are everywhere. My favorite example, and one that actually shows up in the Yo-kai Watch game, is Nurikabe. Nurikabe loosely translates to lacquered wall, and this yokai basically stood as a wall in people’s paths, blocking them from getting home at night.
In Yo-kai Watch, players assume the role of a young boy or girl. They find the Yo-kai Watch with its Yo-kai Radar and Yo-kai Lens, and they’re able to see these everyday troublemakers in plain sight. They’ll battle the yo-kai, become their friends and add them to their collection, not too dissimilar to Pokémon.
This is a top-down RPG where players will explore areas, confront yo-kai, complete quests and push the story along while fishing, catching bugs and, of course, hunting for yo-kai.
Those are the basics of this game that started a craze in Japan. How well does it all actually work?
A battle system that balances ease with complexity.
At the core of the actual “game” of Yo-kai Watch is a really unique battle system. Battling is sort of the center part of this game, though it gets lost in all of the chatter, exploration and quest solving.
It’s sort of hard to explain, so stay with me here. Essentially, the battle screen is split into two, obviously, as this is on the 3DS. The top screen shows three of your yo-kai and up to three of your enemies, though that count changes in boss battles. The bottom screen shows your yo-kai party and four separate options.
Yo-kai will fight on their own. You can have up to six of them in your party at once, and connecting several of the same Tribe (think type in Pokémon) will activate stat bonuses. As these yo-kai automatically fight, it’s your job to rotate three of them in and out of battle out once by spinning the wheel on the touch screen.
From there, you can feed them items to boost stats, befriend enemy yo-kai or heal their conditions. You can target specific enemy yo-kai or weak spots. You can Purify, basically, sick yo-kai by spinning them out of battle and tapping the Purify option. Finally, you can activate their Soultimate move when their meters are charged. That’ll start a minigame and unleash a strong attack of status changer.
On one hand, the Yo-kai Watch battle system is really easy since yo-kai will actually fight for themselves. It’s passive as you can literally watch a tough team take out weak yo-kai without touching a single thing. Battles get active, however, when you need to actually help your yo-kai, activate their specials, target weak points and spin the wheel to keep the right yo-kai out at the right time.
Surprisingly, there’s a learning curve here. Yo-kai Watch‘s battle system isn’t simply a rock, paper, scissors style weakness matching affair. You have to think about the yo-kai you have in your collection, how their attacks work and what style of conflict you’re looking to maintain.
Battles seem to stay fun for a little longer than they do in other more passive turn-based, line-fighting RPGs. I never really got bored with these wheel style, and it let me more passively clear sections I was stronger than. It works.
Yo-kai Watch delivers a fun, easy to play, tough to master RPG that I found just as exciting as it is relaxing. I want more of this series.
You kind of have to let your inner child embrace Yo-kai Watch for what it is: this is a game and franchise meant for Japanese kids. If you can have fun with that concept, you might really get some strong mileage out of Yo-kai Watch.
From what I understand, the sequels are even better than this original game. I just hope it’s not too long before Nintendo and Level-5 localize all the other titles already out there in the wild. I need to catch these yo-kai!
Disclaimer: We received a retail copy of Yo-kai Watch from Nintendo for review.