The latest RPG from LEVEL-5, Yo-Kai Watch, launches in North America today! Nintendo gave us the opportunity to play through the game ahead of the release, so find out what we thought in our review.
When Yo-Kai Watch ended up in my hands about two weeks ago, I knew almost nothing of the game. I had heard it was supposed to be something like Pokémon though. And while I’d never particularly liked Pokémon before, I was still intrigued by Yo-Kai Watch for some reason.
That’s not to say that I was never interested in Pokémon. I’ve tried to like it many times over the years with different titles, but it always ends in little success. It just never hooked me like it seemed to for everyone else around me, and I’d end up quitting before even reaching the fifth gym.
So, I set off into my journey with Yo-Kai Watch being skeptical, yet hopeful that I would enjoy this one. And it turns out, I was right to be hopeful.
The world of Yo-Kai Watch, as you might expect, is full of Yo-kai hidden everywhere for you to find. They’re oftentimes mischievous spirits whom roam around and interact in daily human life, but are only visible by a select few with the Yo-Kai Watch item. Ever had your socks going missing all the time without any real explanation? That’d be a Yo-kai in action.
After meeting your friendly Yo-kai butler Whisper, you set off on an adventure helping your fellow humans from the devious acts of Yo-kai. The story is structured as a series of objective-to-objective missions in each chapter, usually ending in a boss battle. In the eleven chapters, you’ll explore the world helping out people, battling Yo-kai, and well kind of saving everyone.
Oh yeah, speaking of that world? It’s fantastic. The actual size isn’t the highlight here, with only about 4 main areas comprising the city, but what’s there is packed full. There are dungeons, secret back alleys, a sprawling underground sewer system, bugs and fish to catch, and hidden items everywhere. While you’re heading from objective to objective in the story, it’s hard to not end up somewhere else entirely on the way, and that’s not a bad thing.
There’s a massive amount of sidequest requests to complete as well across the world. Unfortunately, while the sheer amount of them may be impressive, those side quests are nothing too special in most cases. More often than not, they’re little more than a typical basic fetch quest. Still, there are some hidden gems, and the amount of content is something to note.
But perhaps one of the most interesting and unique aspects of Yo-kai Watch is the battle system. You see, you don’t actually control every individual action of your Yo-kai. For the most part, they battle automatically and pick their moves for themselves.
Instead, your main interaction in the battle comes in a different form. You’ll throw a target pin, purify Yo-kai, activate Soultimate abilities, move the wheel to swap Yo-kai in play, and use items. What on earth does all this mean? Let me explain.
First, the target pin — this pin can be used for more than just simply choosing an enemy to attack, although it is used for that too. In boss battles, you may use the pin to attack specific parts of the enemy to weaken them, like a Zelda game. Or you might shoot a wisp floating by in the air for a bonus prize.
Next, there are the Soultimate abilities. While I did say that you don’t control every individual move, you do control activating each Yo-kai’s special Soultimate ability. These are each creature’s most powerful attacks and are activated by completing a short minigame on the touch screen. You might have to trace a few lines, pop some moving bubbles, or spin the touch screen. The game doesn’t pause or anything while this is happening either — so be quick or your Yo-kai could die while you’re busy with the minigame.
And sometimes enemies inspirit your Yo-kai, knocking them out of performing any actions. To cure them, you’ll need to perform another short minigame just like the Soultimate abilites. But to cure a Yo-kai, they must be taken out of current play.
This is where the design of the watch comes in. Each of your six Yo-kai take a spot in the watch displayed on the touch screen, but only the top half of the watch is actually in play for a battle. That means that only three Yo-kai can be involved at a time, but all it takes is a spin of the watch as a wheel to change which ones are active.
It’s a great aspect of the battle system and means swapping out who is in battle is literally a quick swipe away. You’re constantly moving the wheel to adjust who is in play, while performing all the other battle tasks. Someone is almost dead? Move the wheel in a split second and let another Yo-kai take their place while you use an item to heal them.
When you add all these aspects together, the battle system is actually a lot of fun. Even though you’re rarely actually controlling your Yo-kai’s direct moves, all these tasks in real-time keep you plenty busy in battles.
The boss battles bookending most chapters of the game’s story is definitely where the battle system shines though. These battles are far more lengthy and exciting than you would expect from this sort of game.
You need to stay on top of targeting the correct parts of the boss, while purifying cursed Yo0kai and activating Soultimate abilities at the right time. And don’t forget to move struggling Yo-kai out using the wheel either, or use items. Juggling everything can be quite the task when there are no pauses in the battle. It’s all quite exhilarating and a highlight of the game for me.
So, if you couldn’t tell already, I’m actually a big fan of the battle system in Yo-Kai Watch. At first, it came across as confusing and overwhelming, but in time I began to love it. Keep in mind though that I’m definitely more of a ‘casual’ player when it comes to a game like this. Understandably, some more dedicated players may not be able to get over being unable to control every single move.
And going back to the world, even just the act of searching out Yo-kai to battle and befriend can be a blast. Unlike say Pokémon, they don’t simply just appear out of nowhere while you’re walking.
Yo-kai hide in all sorts of places around the city — under cars and vending machines, inside trees, or even up on street lights! By following the gauge on your watch in the top right of the screen, you can find exactly where Yo-kai are hiding. Once you’re investigating a location, just hunt out the hidden Yo-kai using the stylus on the touch screen and keep a lock on them to enter a battle.
And like Pokémon, there is a certain urge to “Catch ’em all!” in Yo-Kai Watch. There are over two hundred Y0-kai to collect after all, but the process for doing so can be a little cumbersome. Essentially, you collect Yo-kai by befriending them, and food items can be fed to them increasing the chance of friendship.
But different Yo-kai prefer different food, and so there is bit of a trial and error process to figure out which food is best for each Yo-kai. As far as I could tell, there is no real way to figure that out other than simply feeding a Yo-kai and judging their reaction.
Personally, I did not find this aspect of the game enjoyable at all. It simply just turned me off from even trying to “Catch ’em all!”, and left me frustrated at times. Perhaps I’m just not “getting it”, but I would consider that a fault of the game if it’s not clearer after 35 hours of gameplay.
Sometimes you can find bugs and fish to catch as well when investigating areas for Yo-kai. It’s a nice and enjoyable distraction to the regular gameplay, but unfortunately serves little purpose. The feature is mostly just used for those side fetch quests mentioned earlier.
Another side gimmick worth mentioning is the Crank-a-kai, a fun little capsule machine that accepts both in-game coins and system Play Coins. Just pop in a coin up to three times per day, and a little capsule will come out with a Yo-kai or item! It’s nothing big, but a fun little diversion I enjoyed every day.
There’s a PvP multiplayer battle mode too, but it’s unfortunately local only, so I couldn’t test it with only one copy.
And while I usually don’t put much focus on graphics in a review, Yo-Kai Watch is quite an impressive title in that regard. Both the various environments and characters look great, and the world is completely 3D. You can even shift the camera angle with the L and R buttons, like in Fantasy Life.
The Bottom Line
Yo-Kai Watch is a pretty solid RPG for the Nintendo 3DS, despite a few minor flaws. It’s charming and genuinely fun to play, with a decent story and a great world to explore in the process. And with two more sequels in Japan, I have a feeling it won’t be long until I’m warped back into the world of Yo-kai soon. This is going to be a big franchise for Nintendo going forward.
What I Liked
- Great world to explore with lots of hidden areas and items to find.
- Genuinely fun and unique battle system.
- Fantastic boss battles that really make use of the battle system.
- Environments are charming and well designed visually.
What I Didn’t Like
- Somewhat confusing and oftentimes frustrating system for collecting Yo-kai.
- No online in the multiplayer mode, what year is this?
Yo-Kai Watch releases on the Nintendo 3DS today on Friday, November 6th in North America with a European release set to follow in 2016. The MSRP is $34.99 in the United States, and $49.99 in Canada. Buy it on Amazon US / Amazon CA here.
Full Disclosure: Nintendo of Canada provided a retail copy of Yo-Kai Watch to Animal Crossing World for review.