Yo-Kai Watch is the latest monster-collecting RPG from publisher Nintendo and developer Level-5. It’s already seen countless comparisons to Game Freak’s long-running Pokémon series and for good reason. Yo-Kai Watch is aimed directly at the Pokémon demographic, but how does it stack up against such an iconic franchise?
Yo-Kai Watch has already become a very popular franchise of its own within Japan, with an anime, games, manga and animated movies and we’re now starting to see them trickle into the west. The game follows either Nate or Katie, depending on which gender you choose at the start. While out looking for rare bugs, trying to compete with friends, you choose to explore the forest and eventually find a mysterious capsule machine. Upon feeding the machine a coin and receiving one of the old capsules, you’re greeted by a Yo-kai named Whisper, the Yo-kai butler. Whisper then explains about how Yo-kai can be found everywhere and anywhere and are usually the cause of many mischievous happenings. You’re then bestowed a Yo-Kai Watch, a device that allows you, the wearer, to see Yo-kai, using the watch you’re able to befriend Yo-kai to help you fight against the more fiendish Yo-kai in Springdale.
I have to admit that I have become very tired of Pokémon offerings as of late and the constant comparisons between the two may have initially put me off Yo-Kai Watch. Thankfully though Yo-Kai Watch feels like the breath of fresh air that Pokémon has needed for years, but hasn’t delivered. While the story is very simple it does feel more engaging and impacting on your experience of the game compared to the bare-bones story that Pokémon delivers. The game is split up into chapters, that mirror some episodes within the anime series, and gives you a lot more character-driven story. The premise may be simple in that each chapter will feature a main quest and possibly a boss battle to end on, but you feel like progress is being made. Rather than walking from generic town and generic town devoid of personality. That said Springdale is a joy to walk around, it features multiple areas with interesting places to visit.
The main focus of the game is of course to collect the Yo-kai that inhabit Springdale. They can literally be found anywhere, under cars, in trees and even under vending machines, and your handy watch also features a radar that will inform you when you’re close to one. The great thing about not having to constantly fight enemies when trying to get from one place to another is that you can choose to progress the story faster. There are also places, such as alleyways, where you can find multiple enemies to fight if you want to grind or build your collection. Outside of the main story, there are requests and favours that the town’s people offer and are usually simple, fetch an item for reward, type quests. The best thing about these though is that they also give out experience which is great for those looking to avoid needless grinding.
The battle system takes a little getting used to; it’s certainly not your everyday turn-based RPG battle system. If at first, you feel it’s not for you, don’t give up straight away as it does get really fun. I’m a huge fan of classic turn-based battle systems, but I just can’t help but love what they have done with the Yo-kai battle system. Basically in battle, your Yo-kai will automatically be duking it out with your enemies on the top screen. On the bottom screen, you have a circle, made up of up to six different Yo-kai that form your party, and on the outside of this there are four different options for Soultimate, Target, Purify and Item. Now you can move the inner circle that contains your party and switch around which three are currently in battle. When a Yo-kai’s soul gauge is full you can use its Soultimate attack, a powerful attack with unique abilities depending on your Yo-kai. Once selected you’ll proceed to a mini-game including either, spinning a circle, tapping gold or tracing patterns once successfully complete your Yo-kai will unleash their attack. Next is Target which allows you to target a particular enemy or even target random souls that float on the screen to earn items. Purify is interesting as some Yo-kai can inflict statuses on your party members stopping them from attacking. To cure this you need to switch your party members then tap Purify to enter another mini-game involving rubbing away smog or tapping to break glass which then allows you to use that Yo-kai again and even earns to extra experience points.
To actually befriend a new Yo-kai can be rather random, with some Yo-kai asking to join you straightaway and others taking multiple battles to get. You can improve your chances of befriending a Yo-kai by throwing food at it during battle. Different tribes have particular favourites and throwing the right food can boost your chances of befriending that Yo-kai. Different food types can be found by receiving items after battle or from various shops in Springdale. It can feel rather tedious at first if you’re big into collecting monsters and it’s certainly not as simple as Pokémon but it can be really fun.
Pokémon is always being praised on its graphical upgrades with each new entry and sure they always look impressive but Yo-Kai Watch literally blew me away. Everything about the game looks visually stunning; Springdale, in particular, is a joy to explore, the landscape that constantly slopes up and down is nothing short of amazing and it can all be viewed in 3D if you wish. If that’s not enough then the Yo-kai designs are sure to get you interested, they are so weird and odd-looking that they actually work really well and their names are equally as ridiculous. The game only features English audio which I expected, given the game’s target demographic. It also features some very pleasant music but nothing too impressive.
Yo-Kai Watch is a game that is probably going to be considered a Pokémon clone by many, but for me, it does things so much better. It’s visually stunning, with a deeper story than you might expect, as well as a much fresher take on the monster-collecting role-playing games that Pokémon made popular. If you’re on the fence about picking up this title, then I implore you to take the plunge and give it a go, you may just be pleasantly surprised. Yo-Kai Watch was an eye-opener for me and I’m glad that I got the chance to play this fantastic game. Fingers crossed we’ll be getting its sequels sometime soon!