Yo-Kai Watch is the biggest gaming franchise you’ve never heard of. Over 10 million units in the series have been sold worldwide, while its characters have already been been immortalised in anime, manga and on film.
Still, you’re probably wondering, “What the hell’s a Yo-kai?”.
Well, they look like animals, they can be befriended and trained to battle each other, and often they evolve into other Yo-kai. So far, so very Pokemon, but Yo-Kai Watch is no mere clone of that catch ‘em all classic.
This cutesy game revolves around real-time battling, with Yo-kai choosing whether or not to buddy up with you. There’s no monster slavery to be found here. In fact, it’s one of the most charming titles to grace the Nintendo 3DS in recent years.
The story of Yo-Kai Watch follows an 11-year-old boy who discovers a strange capsule machine in the woods. By putting a coin in the machine, he inadvertently frees the Yo-kai Whisper, who’s the game’s version of Casper the Friendly Ghost. If such unabashed tweeness has you coming out in hives, then brace yourself. Things are only about to get more adorable.
Whisper gives the player a Yo-kai Watch (geddit?), which gives you the power to see the Yo-kai that inhabit the real world. Ever tripped on thin-air? Heard a strange creaking noise in your house? Sworn that you didn’t leave your keys on the table? It was most likely the work of a Yo-kai. Or you were rambunctiously drunk.
You see, Yo-kai are able to possess or inhabit a human with varying consequences. Throughout the game, you must stop them from making people forgetful or hungry. Most Yo-kai are just being playful, but others have ill-intentions.
Fight! Fight! Fight!
Once you’ve found a Yo-kai hidden up a tree or underneath a car, you’ll enter a battle and it’s here where the game really differs from Pokemon. Mainly, because battles are passive.
Instead of selecting the moves that’ll show a feeble Yo-kai what for, you play the role of the strategist: planning the positions of your Yo-kai, activating special moves and curing your Yo-kai of being inspirited. Quickly you’ll find the preparation of a fight becomes more important than the actual combat. There’s surprising amount of depth for strategy nuts to dig into.
Rather than using a simple rock-paper-scissors combat system, where a fire-breathing Charizard can toast a grass-loving hippie like Venusaur alive, Yo-Kai Watch allows up to three Yo-kai to fight simultaneously and you can switch between your party of six at any time. As a result, you can choose a Yo-kai who focuses on attack, while another replenishes the health of the team. At least you can when the going gets tough.
Fighting against lower-levelled enemies sees you taking a back-seat, which isn’t fun at all, but boss battles are tense and fast-paced. Unlike a typical turn-based game, you’ve barely got time to plan your attacks, target the enemy’s weak points and adapt your strategy to overcome their strengths.
It’s incredibly satisfying to see outsmart a foe with your grey matter rather than just button smashing them to hell. For a game targeted at children, Yo-Kai Watch can be pretty taxing.
Alas, the same can’t be said for the game’s missions and side quests. These are fun at first, but soon become repetitive with little variance between the fetch quests, battling and hide and seek encounters that make up your dalliances away from Yo-Kai Watch’s central plot. Once you’ve freed one townsperson from being inspirited by a Yo-kai, you’re pretty much done with the concept. By the tenth time this happens, you’ll begin to resent their carelessness.
Gotta befriend ‘em all
Fortunately, collecting and training up your Yo-kai is both extremely satisfying and ruthlessly addictive. You see, as with our own ticker, food is the way to these creatures’ hearts. Offering up their favourite treat will increase the likelihood of them approaching you post-battle to ask if they can join your team. Manners are important when it comes to wrangling mythical beasts, you see.
However, even with food affecting the odds, a lot about befriending a Yo-kai comes to down to luck. Pursuing a specific Yo-kai can be extremely trying. I spent two hours in pursuit of a Yo-kai called Chansin after throwing a banquet of seafood its way.
Was this worth the effort? Probably not. Would I do it again? Well, there are a lot of Yo-kai left for me to befriend, with a whopping 236 featured in the game overall. Don’t judge.
Each Yo-kai has its own assigned rank, ranging from E to A, with a special S rank for the elite. These ranks correspond to the one that’s attached to your Yo-kai Watch, which can be improved by completing tasks. It’s a smart way to engineer level progression, but it also means you rarely feel out of your comfort zone. Mercifully, each beastie’s rank appears on your radar when you’re trying to track them down, which is helpful for avoiding low-levelled Yo-Kai. There’s no Zubat ambush to be found here.
Butt of a joke
Despite the many layers of strategy in this game, Yo-Kai Watch’s youthful target audience is evident from the cheesy puns, the story’s Y.A. themes and the Yo-kai Cheeksqueek, who looks like a small boy with a butt as a head. His special move is ‘stinky smog’ when he emits a cloud of green gas from its mouth. Seriously. Most Yo-kai designs are charming, but there are a few that’ll make you cringe.
While these juvenile shenanigans can still raise a smirk as an adult, they’re certainly not for everyone. A more significant shortcoming is the game’s pedestrian difficulty curve, which often does a disservice to the layers of complexity behind its combat. Aside Yo-Kai Watch’s boss battles, you’ll likely breeze through its standard combat.
Yo-Kai Watch verdict
It’s easy to see why Japan has fallen head over heels for Yo-Kai Watch. It’s a fun and captivating adventure, set in a town that’s bursting with life.
If you can look past the fart jokes and moderate difficulty level, then this game tackles some interesting themes through a child’s perspective, while being delightfully entertaining. And when the combat system is at its most taxing, you’ll really be invested in planning your battles. Granted, side quests can become tedious, but the engaging story and creative Yo-kai designs will keep enticing you back into its entertainingly ludicrous world.