Finally, it’s here! Western audiences can now celebrate Yo-Kai Watch, which has already cemented itself in Japan as a Pokemon-esque phenomenon. So, what the hell is it? Well, it’s another monster collecting RPG that borrows from [and pokes fun at] other games of the same nature. I’m talking Pokemon, Digimon, and Monster Rancher. While some may discount this as a cheap imitation of Pokemon, Yo-Kai Watch actually does something fresh and unique with a game style we’ve seen done a thousand times. So, let’s get into it!
The basic plot run down is pretty simple. You’re a kid that stumbles upon a capsule toy machine in the middle of the woods while looking for bugs. It houses a yokai named Whisper, who is released upon your character placing a coin in the slot [because seriously, what kid can resist a toy machine?]. He becomes your butler, of sorts, and the two of you quickly realize that the city is overrun by mischievous yokai, which you can see [and stop] thanks to the help of a nifty watch.
It’s pretty straightforward from the get go. The story progresses as you fulfill mission requirements, most of which revolve around, “Hey, I heard about this thing we should go investigate; it sounds like a yokai is causing this trouble.” One always is, and you battle your way through areas, sometimes solving light puzzles along the way, until you reach a boss. Some areas are locked away until you upgrade your watch to the necessary level. I’ve played about 15 hours of the game and definitely haven’t beaten it yet. In addition to the main story, there are tons of side quests from NPCs you can partake in, which often send you across the map. There are things I love about Yo-Kai Watch, and some things I find quite annoying. So, I’ll start by discussing the good.
The good thing is, Yo-Kai Watch is a wonderful game and an absolute delight to play. Like I said earlier, it feels fresh and unique, especially in a time where Pokemon feels mildly stagnant and formulaic. [Yeah, I said it. You know it’s true.] What I really enjoy is the bizarre battle system that YKW utilizes. You have six yokai as part of your team, all of which are placed on a rotation wheel. You have three out at any point in time and they can be switched in and out at any point in time by spinning the rotation wheel. Here’s where it gets weird. All yokai have four basic moves they can use in a battle, but here’s the kicker, they do it all on their own. Think of it like Pokemon for Dummies – the game assumes that the yokai know what they need to do in battle, along with when they need to do it. So, imagine if Pikachu just knew when it should be using quick attack without you having to tell it. Now, this sounds like it might be a bore, like the game just basically plays itself… and in some instances, it can. If I’m fighting some lower class yokai, I let my team handle it on their own because they know what should be done. In most case though, you need to pay attention to what’s happening or you’ll get your ass handed to you. While your yokai are attacking, there are things you, as the player, can be doing. All yokai have a soul bond attack they can use, which is pulled off by playing a mild mini-game of sorts. So, you might spin a wheel, pop some bubbles, or trace a few lines. Those attacks can do a variety of different things depending on which yokai you’ve used. For instance, my one will give my team a speed boost, which another will head smash into an opponent. Knowing what they do and how to use them is key, especially in boss battles. You other option is to target the opponent, which plays a key role in boss battles. They all have a weak spot you’ll have to target in order to beat them. Or in a regular battle, you may want to knock out a particular yokai first. Then you have to purify yokai if they become inspirited, which ends up draining their health. You have to rotate them out, and then play another mini game akin to a soul bond attack. Your final option is to use items. You can also use them on your targeted opponent in hope that they’ll like it and befriend you at the end of the battle (I’ll talk more about that in a second).
So, a battle looks something like this. You start with your three out, and you have the option to rotate or use an item before engaging in the fight. Once you start the fight, you have to pay attention to how your team is fairing, and make efficient decisions based on what’s occurring. Sometimes, you won’t have to even do anything. Other times, you’ll be switching team members out to purify them and pulling off soul bond moves to deal some damage. The last boss battle I did involved a spider yokai. He planted himself on the ceiling to hide his weak spot, which was the only play he could be dealt damage. So, the trick was to target his feet and attack until he lost his grip and fell to the ground, where I could target said weak spot and go to town. In the meantime, I had to make sure my team wasn’t taking unnecessary damage from his inspirit attacks. In fact, his opening move inspirited the three I had out, which caused me to do some rotation purification for the first minute or so of the battle, thereby throwing off my entire initial strategy. That was a good 10 minute fight and pretty intense. It’s not like Pokemon where everything is turn-based and you can kind of think about what you want to do. This is all in real time, and your decisions are on the fly. It keeps you on your toes and keeps battles interesting.
Unlike Pokemon, you don’t catch yokai. You can befriend them though, but it happens at random. If there’s a real trick to this, I haven’t figured it out. Some you’ll acquire from the story itself, but otherwise… I can’t figure out a pattern. You can give the opposing yokai something during the battle, which will increase the chances of them liking you, but I haven’t figured out the real secret to it. I’ve mostly just wasted valuable items. Also, unlike Pokemon, aside from a few areas, there aren’t any random encounters. Unless you actively go looking for battles, you don’t have to worry about running into them.
Some yokai will also evolve if they hit a certain level. Others can be fused together in order to create a more powerful combination. And there are a few super rare ones that you can obtain by fusing certain yokai with items. Some items can also be fused. Everything’s kind of a surprise when it happens, as of now, so I think it’s pretty exciting to see what I get when I fuse.
What I really enjoy though is how light-hearted and stupid some of these designs are. Plus, lots have really stupid names that seem to make fun of Pokemon. For instance, there’s a Koffing-like yokai named Coughkoff. I also enjoy how anime is becoming more mainstream here, as are their quirks. Yo-Kai Watch is definitely a Japanese game and I love that no one tried to dumb it down for a Western release. Instead, it seems as though we’ve embraced it weirdness.
Now, here’s what I hate. The map is kind of huge, which would be fine if areas were appropriately labeled for you, but they’re not. I often find myself getting lost or confused as to where areas are. It would be a lot easier to navigate if you could point to a place on the map screen and it would tell you what that place was.
This leads me to the secondary issue. You can have multiple missions active at the same time, and that’s great. Unfortunately, you can’t switch which one you’d like to be the primary objective, so it’s constantly set on informing you where the story objective is located. The problem with that is often times, you need to upgrade your watch to a higher level in order to access the area that will advance the plot. Upgrading the watch involves completing various tasks; most revolve around beating yokai in back-alley/hidden areas. And if you don’t know where those are, finding them involves a very annoying “walk everywhere until you accidentally stumble across them” process. I’m currently having this problem.
As of yesterday, I’ve discovered that I now have access to a warp system for fast map travel. I was beginning to wonder about this. The bad part about it is that you have to find the warp points and activate them in order to use them, whereas in Pokemon… you just have the ability to fly to places you’ve already been.
Some areas can only be accessed during certain parts of the day, which can slow you down. At least, until I realized I could just go home and sleep until the time I need. But again, that involves running across a large map and going back home. Or it did, until yesterday when I discovered I could finally warp there.
Aside from the mild map kinks that can slow you down, Yo-Kai Watch is a lot of fun. It refreshing to play a monster collectathon similar to Pokemon and have no idea what I’m doing. It feels like the first time I played Pokemon as a kid and I was confused as hell. It’s kind of goofy and definitely aimed at kids, but it’s not so kid oriented that it can’t be enjoyed by adults. I also have to remember that while this is the first game in the series, Japan has already gotten two sequels. It’s entirely possible that the kinks that slow me down have been resolved in the newer titles. Seriously though, why aren’t you playing it?