When Yo-Kai Watch finally landed in North America this year, it came with some pretty monster expectations. The game became a cultural phenomenon in Japan, launching tons of merchandise, anime series, spin-offs and cross promotion.
Yo-Kai Watch has grown to become a nearly inescapable success in Japan, so bringing it worldwide was just a matter of common sense. And with it, the game brings a fun sense of adventure, cute characters and an original spin on turn-based RPG gameplay. Will the cultural spark of Yo-Kai catch on? That remains to be seen.
Many parts of Yo-Kai Watch mirror another popular handheld, monster collecting RPG series on Nintendo’s handheld system. The Pokemon comparisons are inescapable when looking at this game, and as a lifelong fanatic for that series, I approached Yo-Kai hoping to not tread familiar ground.
Thankfully, in almost all aspects, Yo-Kai Watch presents a fully original, fleshed out and fun overall experience. Compared to Pokemon, Yo-Kai Watch brings innovation that the older series hasn’t seen in years. Its gameplay mechanics feel fresh and engaging and the story it tells is instantly charming, if not very safe.
Yo-Kai Watch isn’t interested in limiting itself to our world, it boldly creates its own. Sure, the streets and sidewalks of Springdale look like ours, but each and every space is stuffed with secret spirits waiting to be found.
A big part of the fun in Yo-Kai Watch is tracking down and befriending the titular creatures. The game throws you into the action quickly; you’re introduced to the friendly specter, Whisper, who catches you up on the hidden world of the Yo-Kai.
You can convince these creatures to do battle with you in a variety of ways. Some will join your party if you simply talk to them, others request certain items and some have to be defeated to become allies. Each and every creature in the game has its own unique charm, and you will want to take the time to meet them all.
However, it is hard to ignore the fact that a lot of the spirit of Yo-Kai Watch is, unfortunately, lost in translation. Many of the creatures, quests and characters are drawn from Japanese culture and mythology.
It’s a real shame to see silly things like rice balls referred to as “sandwiches” showing up in the game’s dialogue. Likewise, some of the quirks of certain Yo-Kai will probably go straight over the heads of many American players.
The game’s dialogue is also overly-cheesy. Sure, it’s very much a game aimed at a younger audience, but many great games handle that balance without alienating older players. At times, the dialogue in Yo-Kai Watch is outright stupid and feels extraordinarily dumbed down.
But what the plot sometimes lacks in complexity, the gameplay tries to cover up. Doing battle with your new friends always feels like a thrill, especially when you don’t know what to expect from the enemy. There is a good amount of variation in the game, helped by the multiple classification systems for the Yo-Kai.
Each creature has its own class and nature for moves. Some may use quick, light attacks while others go for greater damage but move slowly. Learning which is which and how to pair up your creatures provides great fun in battles and keeps the game feeling fresh.
Yo-Kai can also fuse together, level up and go through a number of changes over the course of the game. There really is a lot to try out when it comes to the battle system, and it can all be picked up fairly quickly.
Soultimate moves are another entertaining aspect of this game’s battle system, one that provides for the most active and exciting bursts of gameplay.
Triggering these “ultra” moves will require an ingenious use of the 3DS’ hardware. Some use the touch screen, others require you to actually move the system. Few games take advantage of all of the 3DS’ control mechanics, so this is always nice to see.
Learning the hidden tricks of the battle system is fun and rewarding, as is exploring the main overworld. It’s a shame however, that the main game ends up running its course so quickly.
The gameplay turns repetitive after a while, as most encounters start to play out exactly the same way. For all its fresh ideas, this game can’t avoid the same grind-y” requirements that plague so many others.
Still, Yo-Kai Watch makes for a good time on the 3DS. It might scratch the itch of a long-time Pokemon fan, and will surely delight younger players. This game doesn’t rewrite the formula and will likely not go down in history as an all-time great, but it’s a fun, worthwhile experience.