Second Opinion Review: Yo-Kai Watch

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After launching in Japan way back in mid-2013, Yo-Kai Watch has finally launched stateside. Having previous experience playing some of the Japanese version, it is such a joy for me to finally play it in English. Virtually everything that made the game so popular with Japanese players has arrived fully intact. Developer Level-5 has crafted a portable role playing game with a distinctive personality and enough colorful monsters to grab 3DS owners this fall. Is it as good as rival monster series Pokémon?*

(*Trust me, there’s going to be a lot of Pokémon comparisons in this).

To the uninitiated, Yo-Kai Watch is a role-playing game that casts you as a youth in search of the titular Yo-Kai. As either Nate or Katie, you’ll team up with your Yo-Kai butler Whisper to uncover the secret Yo-Kai behind everyday problems, and even to settle quarrels among themselves. Together with your growing posse of Yo-Kai friends, you’ll continuously bring peace to the city of Springdale.

Boss battles with giant Yo-Kai and a variety of side quests help to shake up the main plot progression. Periodically, instances of Terror Time change the pace as you’ll have to avoid detection from a giant Oni Yo-Kai. Get caught and you’ll have to start over, losing special items you collect during Terror Time in the process.

The first thing you’ll likely notice about Yo-Kai Watch is just how good looking it is. This is one of the best-looking games on the 3DS.  Why, this game’s presentation puts Pokémon to shame. Unlike the 3DS Pokémon games, this one’s in full stereoscopic 3D and has no frame rate issues. There’s voice acting at parts and even hand-drawn cutscenes. Better yet, the music is just as good as the graphics, capturing a ghostly ambiance.

It helps that Yo-Kai Watch is accessible, much in the way Pokémon is and more. For those with less reading comprehension (namely small children), there’s a map on the bottom touch screen pointing where you need to go at all times and pointing out side quest locations and towns people to talk to. All the interface is bright and colorful, helpfully attributing where every menu item is. Level-5 seems really good at crafting handheld games with outwardly-deep game mechanics against a colorful accessible world (see also: Fantasy Life).

Compared to Pokémon, Yo-Kai Watch is much more story-driven. The whole game is divided into portable-friendly chapters, with each one focused on the problems created by the Yo-Kai Of The Day. The story’s whims of you are constantly changing too. The quests range from locating your friend’s parent’s engagement ring in a lake to finding an old man’s underwear  in a bath house (yep). No matter what, the main story is bent heavily on you making friends with Yo-Kai.

How do the Yo-Kai themselves fare? It’s no secret that characters like Whisper and Jibanyan are the series’ de-facto mascots. Whisper is a cheeky butler-type ghost while Jibanyan is a cute cat and two tails with a tragic backstory involving a truck. A lot of the other Yo-Kai are winning too, like Mangimutt (a dog with a Japanese businessman’s face) and Tattletell (an old lady with spider-like arms). I find the Yo-Kai have their own special appeal next to Pokémon, and as I played I couldn’t wait to see what was next.

Unfortunately, not all designs are winners. A lot of the Yo-Kai look like repainted versions of others. Prepare to discover multiple variations on Jibanyan (it’s like Malibu Stacey and her new hat). And just like Pokémon, there are going to be Yo-Kai designs that people are going to hate (the cheeky Cheeksqueak, seen above, has already been a popular target of derision).

With monsters like Yo-Kai comes the ability to command them to do your bidding. I also enjoy the game’s battle system. Like Pokémon, you still have a team of six, but these battles are real-time and the Yo-Kai act on their own accord, attacking and defending as they want. Even though battles are autonomous, I enjoyed the active strategy for keeping your Yo-Kai strong and alive by rotating them in and out as it kept my attentions. When you’re not letting the battle play itself out, there’s the Soultimate attacks, a powerful move that has unique animations for each and every Yo-Kai. Compared to Pokémon, which have multiple attacks over many critters (especially true of the earlier pre-3DS games), this approach gave the Yo-Kai a unique personality between them.

So Yo-Kai Watch sounds like an interesting, solid game right? It certainly and yet it’s not entirely perfect. If I had one major problem with the game, it’s the system in which you “capture” Yo-Kai. How many times does it feel random and out of your control? It means you’ll go for long stretches without obtaining a single Yo-Kai, particularly if it’s one you’re looking for. You can remedy this somewhat with food you can toss at them, but even that feels like a crap-shot. Pokémon’s system of weakening the Pokémon’s health and throwing a Pokeball is much more intuitive and immediate. Yo-Kai Watch’s approach is annoying in the lack of control you have.

On the other hand, navigation is somewhat hampered by tying running to an energy meter. When it runs out, you’ll slow down to an exhausted crawl until it refils. Ultimately, it’s a hassle for moving around quicker. To be fair, it does lend a bit of strategy to the earlier-mentioned Terror Time segments, but it’s antiquated when you consider that Pokémon has a run button without energy drain. Fortuitously, you’re given a bike early on in the game to speed around town much faster.

The gameplay loop of Pokémon is the main reason I keep coming back for nearly 20 years. Unfortunately, Yo-Kai Watch doesn’t have that. With such a stringent focus on “Point A to Point B” and the lack of satisfaction when hunting down the Yo-Kai, I felt like I was constantly being hurried. Yes, it’s good to have a multitude of side-quests, but they feel like filler most of the time. If not for the extra experience you gain, they’d be more annoying. Also of note is the game’s multiplayer mode. I didn’t get to test it as it’s for two person Yo-Kai battles, but I do know it’s disappointing that there’s no way to trade them or even battle online (local only).


 

Yo-Kai Watch is not a Pokémon-killer, but with no major Pokémon game this year, fans of pocket-able monsters might want to pick it up. I’m more than happy we Yanks finally get to see what all the fuss is about. The game’s phenomenal presentation is offset by sometimes-frustrating design choices (like not having control over how you capture Yo-Kai), but that is pretty subjective in the grand scheme of things. With different combat and a story focus, it’s different enough from Game Freak’s portable powerhouse to warrant a watch.

Review copy provided by Nintendo

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Second Opinion Review: Yo-Kai Watch
While Yo-Kai Watch's first game is not quite Pokémon-level material, it makes for a worthwhile monster-battling substitute. Misses the mark in the depth department, but makes up for it with its charming presentation.
Pros
  • Excellent Graphics/Music
  • Yo-Kai characters full of appeal
Cons
  • Catching Yo-Kai too random
  • Battles not terribly deep
8Overall Score

About The Author

Editor-in-Chief (Former)

A man with a plan. My favorite video game franchise is Pokemon, but his favorite video game is Resident Evil 4. I can also tell you trivial cartoon factoids.