Yo-Kai Watch is Level-5’s biggest hit. The series has produced video games that have sold millions of units, lines of bestselling toys, a smash hit anime series, and some extremely popular manga. In Japan, people of all ages have been absolutely captivated by Yo-Kai Watch since 2013, but, for some reason, it’s just now gaining ground outside of the country. The first game, Yo-Kai Watch, has been localized and released in North America, and we’re extremely lucky for it.
Yo-Kai Are Real! – The Basics
The first thing you should know about Yo-Kai Watch is that it’s inhabited by Yo-Kai (as you may have guessed from the title). Yo-Kai are characters that are based on Japanese mythical beings called Yōkai. Yo-Kai aren’t ghosts, creatures, monsters, or anything of the sort. They’re just Yo-Kai, and it’s just kind of something that you have to accept about this world.
Yo-Kai are invisible, but they affect the human world in many ways. If a person is feeling unnaturally hungry, angry, sad, or talkative, they may be being influenced by a Yo-Kai (in this world, it’s called inspiriting). On a bug-catching trip, your character happens upon a mysterious machine called a Crank-a-kai, and you meet a strange Yo-Kai named Whisper, who gives you the eponymous Yo-Kai Watch. With this, you can see the Yo-Kai around you. You suddenly find yourself immersed in the world of Yo-Kai, and it’s incredibly fun.
Welcome to Springdale
In Yo-Kai Watch, you can play as either a male or female character. In the anime, their names are Nate and Katie, but you can name them whatever you’d like in the game. Your home is in Uptown Springdale, a cute little town that reminds me of Level-5’s Attack of the Friday Monsters (which you should totally play). It’s a cute little town with a lot of personality, and your environment just grows bigger as you progress through the game. You’ll explore Downtown Springdale, Breezy Hills, Shopper’s Row, Blossom Heights, and Mt. Wildwood, just to name a few.
Getting around is simple, whether you’re walking or riding your bike. While you’re running around solving problems and completing quests, you’ll meet some really cool NPCs. You have your friends Bear, Eddie, and either Nate or Katie (depending on which character you’re playing as), as well as the colorful townspeople who are quite good at being inspirited by Yo-Kai.
There’s nothing revolutionary about the way that Springdale is designed, but it’s packed to the brim with personality. That’s what makes Yo-Kai Watch so special, really – every little bit of the game is bursting with unique energy and quirky characters. I’ve played a lot of RPGs over the years, but I’ve never played anything like Yo-Kai Watch, and that blows me away.
Confrontation and Negotiation
When you meet a troublesome Yo-Kai, you’ve got two options – confrontation or negotiation. Sometimes, a simple chat or summoning a specific Yo-Kai can solve a problem. At other times, though, battle is inevitable. Yo-Kai Watch uses a really cool battle system that revolves around a wheel of Yo-Kai on the Nintendo 3DS touch screen.
You can have six Yo-Kai on hand at any given time, and three of them can be on the battlefield at a time. The Yo-Kai will use their standard attacks automatically, in a classic turn-based fashion. You’ll focus on targeting, using soultimate moves, using items, and purifying inspirited Yo-Kai.
If there’s a particularly tough Yo-Kai that you want to take down right away, you can make them a primary target for your Yo-Kai by using a pin to mark them. Basic attacks and soultimate moves will be directed towards your target. From time to time, you’ll see a shiny object floating across the screen. If you hit it with you targeting pin, you can earn some bonuses for your Yo-Kai.
As your Yo-Kai fight, they fill up their soul meter. Once it’s full, you’ll be able to unleash a soultimate attack. Every Yo-Kai has a different move, and it’s important to figure out which one is most useful in any situation. Some soultimate attacks are offensive (like Jibanyan’s epic Paws of Fury), and others are more status-based (like Baku’s Sleepy Smoke). It’s up to you to decide what’s best for the situation, and it’s a lot of fun to experiment with using different soultimate moves on different Yo-Kai.
Using soultimate moves isn’t just as simple as pressing a button, though. Each time you use a move, you’ll have a mini-game to complete on the touch screen. You’ll be popping bubbles, spinning wheels, rubbing away dust, cracking glass, and more – all to get that sweet, sweet soultimate attack that will (hopefully) devastate the Yo-Kai you’re up against.
By using the triggers, you can swap your three front-line Yo-Kai out for any of the other Yo-Kai you have on hand. If one of your heavy hitters gets inspirited or badly hurt, pull them out and let them rest for a while. If a Yo-Kai does get inspirited, you’ll have to purify it by completing a quick mini-game on the touch screen. Don’t worry, though – your Yo-Kai can inspirit your opponents as well.
As you can tell, the combat system in Yo-Kai Watch looks deceptively simple, but it’s actually incredibly deep. Your Yo-Kai will gain experience points after battle and after completing objectives, and they get stronger as they level up.
At a certain point in the story, you’ll be able to fuse certain Yo-Kai together to create even more powerful Yo-Kai. It’s kind of similar to the demon fusion elements in the Shin Megami Tensei series, but it has a lighter and simpler feel to it. You don’t have to be nervous about fusion, either – even if you fuse one of your favorite Yo-Kai, there’s a good chance that you’ll see them again soon, wandering around Springdale. This is awesome, because, without this feature, I don’t think I could have ever fused Jibanyan.
To progress, you’ll have to befriend Yo-Kai. This is what makes Yo-Kai Watch a bit different than other creature-catching games. Yo-Kai have their own lives to live – they don’t just hang out inside of your Yo-Kai Watch. Once you become friends with a Yo-Kai, they’ll give you a Yo-Kai Medal. You use these medals to summon your Yo-Kai, and they’ll be transported to your location so they can give you a hand.
To get Yo-Kai Medals, though, you have to get a Yo-Kai to like you. This is probably the hardest part of the game. Sometimes, you’ll get lucky and a Yo-Kai will approach you for apparently no reason. Most of the time, though, you have to bribe Yo-Kai with various items to attract them. You’ll have to target the Yo-Kai you want to befriend, and then use an item that they’ll like.
The trick is finding out which items they like. It’s a process of trial and error, and it can get pretty frustrating when you’re not using some sort of guide. Eventually, though, you’ll start seeing patterns, and things will get easier. It does make finally befriending a Yo-Kai extremely satisfying, but it’s definitely an element that could have been made easier and less frustrating.
Requests, Favors, and Stories
Like most RPGs, Yo-Kai Watch includes a ton of quests for you to complete. They come in three forms: requests, favors, and story missions. Favors, marked by orange flags, can be completed as many times as you’d like, which is helpful when you want to gain some XP or earn some quick money. They’re mostly missions that require you to go to a certain area and collect a certain item or defeat/befriend a certain Yo-Kai.
Requests are marked by blue flags, and they can only be completed once. These tend to have more of an impact on the gameplay than favors. For example, you’ll have to upgrade your Yo-Kai Watch a few times to be able to handle all the Yo-Kai in the game. The things you have to do in order to upgrade come in the form of requests. They also generally have more of a story to them than favors. Favors generally don’t provide much background – you’re just asked to complete objectives. Requests, though, usually have a story attached. One request has you searching for evidence that the Yo-Kai Noko actually exists, while another has you trying to stop a string of robberies by finding and defeating the Yo-Kai responsible. I spent most of my time with Yo-Kai Watch completing requests, as they tend to be the most fun and interesting quests in the game.
Story missions are the things that actually move the game’s plot along, and there are far fewer of these than there are requests and favors. In fact, the game makes sure that you can’t rush through the story without stopping along the way to check out some requests and favors. Sometimes, a story mission might be locked behind a door that requires a Yo-Kai Watch of a higher rank than the one you have – this is a sign that you need to start completing some requests and earn your way to a better watch. It can get obnoxious when you’re excited to continue the story, but you have to spend a few hours hunting Yo-Kai to get into the area where your quest starts. However, the side-quests are more often fun and interesting than bland and boring, so it didn’t bother me too much.
Some events are exclusive to nighttime or daytime, so definitely keep that in mind. There are also events that are somewhat random, like Oni Time. Oni Time is a maze-type game that takes place sometimes when your character leaves or enters an area. Time stops, and dangerous Oni appear throughout the area. You have a limited time to get to the exit (a door that returns you to your dimension, free of Oni), and you must avoid getting caught. If you explore a bit and try to be stealthy, you might find some things worth checking out, so don’t immediately leave if you can help it. This is a fun mode, but it can get annoying when you’re already in the middle of a quest. Luckily, Oni Time generally doesn’t last too long, and it doesn’t happen too often.
The Sights and Sounds of Yo-Kai Watch
If you’ve ever seen the anime based on Yo-Kai Watch, much of the music in the game will sound familiar. If not, don’t worry – you’ll still be able to enjoy it. It’s light music, full of cute, catchy melodies. It’s easily compared to the music of the Pokémon series. It’s relaxing and fun, and it’s the perfect soundtrack to Yo-Kai Watch. The voice acting in cutscenes is great, too. When you boot the game up, you’ll see an introductory video and a theme song video that are just as high quality as the Yo-Kai Watch anime.
Visually, the game doesn’t really take any risks or break any new ground, but it still looks great in 3D and 2D. The Yo-Kai all have interesting designs, and I never got tired of discovering new Yo-Kai or seeing my old favorites pop up again and again. Again, there isn’t anything super exciting about the way that Yo-Kai Watch looks, but it looks just as good (if not a bit better) than the other RPGs that grace the 3DS.
The Yo-Kai Cam
Before you load your game file, you can play a bit of a mini-game called the Yo-Kai Cam. Basically, it’s a camera app that takes a picture and then places a seemingly random Yo-Kai in the frame before giving you a message based on the Yo-Kai that pops up. When you snap a Yo-Kai, you can see that Yo-Kai’s medal in-game. However, you don’t actually have access to that Yo-Kai – you’re just able to see it’s picture and more information about it. Every so often, you’ll get an in-game reward for snapping a certain number of Yo-Kai, and every day there’s a new “target” Yo-Kai that, if snapped, will net you a cool reward. Usually these are coins to use in the Crank-a-Kai, trinkets that can be sold for a good amount of money, or items. The problem is that there’s really no way to make an impact on the Yo-Kai that appears on the screen. You might get the target Yo-Kai by taking a quick picture of a friend. Other times, it might take dozens of pictures to finally get the one you’re looking for. It would be cool if your facial expressions or environments affected the Yo-Kai Cam, but for now it’s a frustrating (though, at times, addicting) distraction from the main game.
Yo-Kai Watch is unique. It’s not perfect, but it’s incredibly unique. It’s not a Pokémon clone or another annoying monster-collection RPG. This game is full of personality and heart, and playing it just makes me smile. There’s nothing like Yo-Kai Watch on 3DS right now (at least, not in North America), and if you’re looking for something light, fun, touching, and incredibly addicting, then you won’t regret picking up Yo-Kai Watch. Hardcore gamers will get lost in the amount of content included (collecting all Yo-Kai and finishing all quests will easily take over fifty hours of gameplay), while more casual gamers can enjoy the cute aesthetic and charming characters. No matter what games you normally play, I think that you’ll be able to find something to love in Yo-Kai Watch. Hopefully the game will do well here, and we’ll see more Yo-Kai watch in North America very soon. For now, though, I think I’ll go and spend a few more hours in Springdale.