‘Watch’ out, Pokémon
Yo-Kai Watch is a franchise that?s taken Japan by storm, producing multiple games, two manga adaptations, an anime, and a movie in just over two years. It?s got the same cross-media burst of popularity that propelled Pokémon into the spotlight, and has started to out-perform even that king of collectable, battling monsters?Yo-Kai Watch 2 sold almost a million more copies than Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire combined. But the booming franchise all started with a simple kid-oriented 3DS game: Yo-Kai Watch.
Despite the inevitable Pokémon comparisons, Yo-Kai Watch definitely carves its own niche, and isn?t just a Pokémon 2.0 with different monsters (though it did remind me of the somewhat-obscure Pokémon Ranger spin-off games). Players take the role of Nate (or Katie, if you go with the girl option), a kid who befriends a talkative ?butler? Yo-Kai named Whisper. Whisper gives the protagonist the eponymous Yo-Kai Watch, a device with a radar and lens that allows humans to see the spirit-like Yo-Kai living around them.
Many of the Yo-Kai are mischievous, using their powers to imbue humans with different effects in a process called ?inspiriting?. Forgot your papers at the train station? Feeling unusually hungry? Suddenly gained a ton of popularity? A Yo-Kai?s probably to blame. Most aren?t inherently malicious, and the same powers can be used for good or evil depending on the situation. Though there are a few out there that eventually try and take over the human world and must be stopped, most of the problems you?ll face are of the common, everyday sort and require a Yo-Kai?s help or a Yo-Kai?s defeat to solve.
Yo-Kai show up on your radar as you walk around town, with some not bothering to disguise their presence (swings moving invisibly on their own), some hiding in plain sight disguised as toys or mailboxes, and others tucked away underneath cars, inside ponds, and up in tree branches. Once the radar detects a Yo-Kai?s presence, you can seek it out by tracking its movements through your lens, triggering a battle or a conversation depending on the Yo-Kai.
Over the course of the main story, you?ll explore several dungeons where Yo-Kai walk around freely, including the underground waterworks of the town, an old mining shaft, a construction site, and an abandoned hospital. Each dungeon tells a story, gets you treasure, and ends in a boss fight. There are some crazily varied Yo-Kai bosses, too, from the pig who?s snuck into the bathhouse, a creepy, crazy heart surgeon, and a Yo-Kai so colossal, only his face fits on the screen.
There?s plenty to do beyond the main story, however. Some secret areas are cleverly hidden, with entrances that don?t show up on a map, no clues pointing to their existence, and rare Yo-Kai hidden at the end. If you?re tired of battling, the game offers side activities like catching bugs or fishing. And there are sidequests everywhere?so many sidequests?that require you to run all around town (usually picking up two or three more new sidequests in the process). At the end of each, you?ll unlock a short, cute video clip of Yo-Kai shenanigans, which help flesh out the personalities of each type.
Unfortunately, the abundance of sidequests highlights my biggest gripe with the game: the map. While there are arrows that will point you in the right direction for the main quest, figuring out where to go for a sidequest is an arduous process. A quest might, for example, tell you to look behind the flower shop?but where?s the flower shop? None of the buildings on the map are labelled. Selecting the quest through the quest menu will show you a general location, but only on the scale of the world map, which is the equivalent of trying to give directions to your local grocery store using only a globe. Your normal map, the one displayed on the bottom screen, will flag the sidequests, but only on the two most zoomed-in levels?at which point you?re right on top of your target anyway. Oh, and if the quest happens to be inside a building or anywhere not on the overworld, it won?t be flagged at all, unless you?re also already inside the same building.
Quick travel doesn?t open up until about three-quarters of the way through the main story, making the search for the random flower shop even more tedious. I left a lot of sidequests half-finished because it was more trouble than the reward was worth to figure out where to go, and at one point seriously considered breaking out the old-school pencil and graph paper to make my own map?with labels! And a useful zoom level!
If you don?t want to work on all the sidequests, there?s always the major challenge of befriending all two hundred-plus Yo-Kai in the game to complete the Yo-Kai Medallium. Some Yo-Kai evolve through leveling up, as one would expect, but others can be created through the wonderfully bizarre fusion system. Fusing two Yo-Kai together combines them into an entirely new creature with a higher ranking, but resets stats and a level that?s the average of the two. For example, fusing my level 30 Tattletell with a level 10 Lafalotta resulted in a level 20 Tattlecast. Experience point-granting orbs found throughout the game can be used to instantly advance one Yo-Kai a couple of levels, a helpful addition since it mitigates the level difference after a fusion and saves a lot of potential grinding.
Of course, in order to level up or fuse Yo-Kai together, you need to befriend the Yo-Kai in the first place. This has a chance of happening after winning a battle with a Yo-Kai in the wild. Annoyingly, though, for a game that?s got a major collection element, there?s no way to guarantee that defeating a Yo-Kai will result in a friendship. Tossing a Yo-Kai its favorite food in battle will up the chances, but it can only be done once per enemy Yo-Kai per battle. Sometimes, you can fight a certain type of Yo-Kai a dozen times in a row in hopes of befriending one, dishing out that Yo-Kai?s favorite food every time, and not get lucky a single time. At other times, a random encounter you weren?t even trying to get will ask to join up with you. If you?re hunting a rare Yo-Kai or need a specific one for a sidequest, it can be really frustrating to encounter one and have no way to guarantee recruitment.
If you?re just going through the story and aren?t worried about completing the entire Medallium, though, there will still be a good variety you can use from random ones that join up and others you?ll meet along the way to form your party. Each individual Yo-Kai can also be improved by giving them books to change their personality traits, which results in practical effects like making them loaf around less and focus more on the battle. This means that you don?t have to recruit dozens of, say, Blazion, to find the perfect one?you can just improve the one you have.
The battle system itself is a mix of a semi-turn-based RPG and constant minigame. You can have six Yo-Kai in your party at once, arranged on a rotating wheel with three in front at a time. The Yo-Kai have basic attacks that they?ll automatically perform every round, dealing a small amount of damage, healing, or guarding automatically depending on the type of Yo-Kai and its personality. You can?t just sit back and let them do all the work for you, though. Special, more powerful attacks called Soultimate Moves must be manually triggered and are pulled off by completing a small minigame, like tracing three sets of lines or spinning a wheel. If you take too long to complete the minigame, foes can knock your Yo-Kai out while they?re preparing. Yo-Kai can also use their inspiriting powers in battle, affecting enemies and allies with status effects. Each turn advances automatically without a break, so you?ll need to pay attention to the battle, constantly rotating the wheel with your six Yo-Kai, swapping them in and out of battle for healing or attacks, playing more mini-games to purify their status effects, using items, and pointing at different elements in the background (like specific enemies or weak points on a boss) for your Yo-Kai to target. Boss battles especially can be intense affairs of frantic tapping, spinning, rotating, and target management, and it definitely keeps you engaged and involved in a way that wouldn?t be possible without the touch screen.
My two complaints with Yo-Kai Watch, the map system and the randomness element in recruiting Yo-Kai, are both pretty big ?quality of life? issues. But despite those flaws, Yo-Kai Watch is a good adventure, filled with interesting character designs, an involving battle system, a world with tons of hidden nooks and crannies to explore, and plenty of content that keeps going long after the main storyline (the final rank of your Yo-Kai Watch doesn?t even open up until after the credits roll). It?s full of endearing quirks that make it memorable, like an unusually vehement opposition to jaywalking (complete with little buttons you can push to activate the crosswalk at most intersections). It?s definitely oriented towards kids, and its spooky spirits probably won?t be putting Pokémon out of business any time soon, but Yo-Kai Watch is a ton of fun.
|Developer: Level-5 ? Publisher: Level-5, Nintendo ? ESRB: E10+ – Everyone 10 and up ? Release Date: 11.06.15|
Yo-Kai Watch is a kid-oriented, lighthearted game packed with quirky characters, secret areas to explore, and bizarre Yo-Kai to befriend. The unwieldy process of recruiting Yo-Kai to your team and an incredibly unhelpful map bog the side content down a bit, but the battling system is unique and fun and there?s always more to discover.
|The Good||Crazy, quirky characters and a whimsical minigame-oriented combat system make battling with your Yo-Kai a lot of fun.|
|The Bad||There are a million sidequests, and the map will be absolutely no help in trying to find them all?especially when you?re running everywhere on foot with a limited sprint meter.|
|The Ugly||That one pig Yo-Kai in the bathhouse. He?s wearing old man underwear!|
|Yo-Kai Watch is a Nintendo 3DS exclusive. Review code was provided by Nintendo for the benefit of this review.|