The collectible creature genre has been a big part of the handheld gaming landscape for years now, largely led behind the long running Pokemon franchise. Many other franchises have tried to make a dent in that market, but few have succeeded the way relative newcomer Yo-Kai Watch has. Two and a half years following its debut in Japan, the series has finally made its way to the US with the game that started this new sensation, simply titled Yo-Kai Watch.
As the first entry in what has now become nearly an annual series, Level-5 had a lot of world building to do to establish this very unique and different universe. Rather than being creatures that everyone collects to fight with one another, Yo-Kai are actually ghosts that can only be seen with a special Yo-Kai watch, which your male or female protagonist will be given at the start, in very familiar fashion to fans of this style of game.
Even from the very beginning, the charm of the characters is very apparent with the introduction of the first Yo-Kai named Whisper, who will be your trusty companion. Managing to be very helpful without feeling overbearing, Yo-Kai Watch succeeds in an area that can easily destroy the entire experience. This is something that sets this game series apart from Pokemon, as the Yo-Kai themselves have a lot of personality, especially in their introductions, such as with Jibanyan. Rather than just being near carbon copies of one another in disposition, with only different move sets in the game, these not only attack differently, but are very distinct, while often playing a part in the story itself.
The character designs range from cute and cuddly looking animals to the more grotesque, as well as even human looking creatures. These fit very well into the colorful aesthetic of Yo-Kai Watch, even if some are certainly more memorable than others. Beyond just the character and Yo-Kai designs, the backgrounds and game itself also look really solid for a handheld, while managing to perform very well in action.
Similar to other games in this genre, the key to Yo-Kai Watch is collecting creatures that can then be used to battle, but the latter is nowhere near as simple as it should be. The actual finding of them can take some getting used to, as you must utilize the radar on your watch in essentially what becomes a game of hot & cold, with it reacting strongly when one is close. There are occasionally times where the Yo-Kai may find you instead, such as if you break a traffic law by jaywalking in a certain area, which is a neat little eccentricity that adds something very unique, even in a minuscule way.
After coming across a Yo-Kai, it is possible to have them choose to join your group simply by defeating it in battle, but typically you will need to butter it up with food. Depending on the Yo-Kai, different foods are more effective and with some luck that Yo-Kai will ask to join your team after. This takes out almost all requirements of skill beyond the use of the food, which many times doesn’t even work, instead making it a game of chance.
The combat itself feels very luck based at the start as well, with a lot of it being done by the computer. You have the ability to have a team of up to six Yo-Kai that are controlled with a rotating wheel, where three are in battle at one time. This wheel can be rotated at any time during battle, which certainly does add a level of strategy to the battles, as you will have to move those who become Inspirited, or unable to attack. Only three adjacent to one another can be out together, so placement of the Yo-Kai is vital for success in the tougher battles.
The actual fighting is rather uninvolved in the regular battles, as the Yo-Kai attack strictly on their own with all basic attacks. You do have the option to change targets or more importantly activate Soultimates for each of these, which require a recharge period after using. These are activated through little mini-games that can grow very tiresome due to repetition. However, while these battles seem more passive, they do get much more interesting and addictive the deeper into the game you get, especially in the boss battles.
Yo-Kai themselves have a lot of personality
These boss battles take the combat system even further by requiring much more strategy. While you can likely survive most regular fights without thinking too hard, the boss fights up the difficulty and really showcase the true potential of the gameplay system in this game. These more involved fights are hopefully the direction that the series takes moving forward.
While similar in many ways to a series like Pokemon, Yo-Kai Watch takes a very different approach to the way the story is progressed. Rather than it feeling more open-ended upon exploring, Yo-Kai Watch utilizes a variety of different missions throughout the game. The map is marked with these missions, as well as the various side missions that you can also pick up along the way, which is a good thing due to the sometimes hard to decipher map.
The side missions found in Yo-Kai Watch are split into two different categories, Requests and Favors. While not always part of the main story, Requests often provide fun little side stories that help to open up a world full of likable characters and unique Yo-Kai. There are also Favors available in the game, which can be done more than once. These add more depth to the game, and while they are not too special, they still help to provide a lengthy experience that doesn’t feel overly dragged out.
The rise of Yo-Kai Watch in Japan has come rather quickly and the series definitely has a chance to make an impact in the US as well, largely due to the unique characters and likable world that kids will love. The mostly luck-based Yo-Kai capturing and hands-off battle style could certainly use some work, but there is no doubt that Yo-Kai Watch is a solid blueprint for the future of this already ongoing franchise.
- Available On: Nintendo 3DS
- Published By: Nintendo
- Developed By: Level-5
- Genre: RPG
- US Release Date: November 6th, 2015
- Reviewed On: Nintendo 3DS
- Quote: "While the battle system could use some work, the charming world of Yo-Kai Watch features a solid blueprint for the future of this already ongoing franchise"
- Personable characters and Yo-Kai
- Strategic boss battles
- Looks and runs well
- Luck-based capture system
- Mostly hands-off combat