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Yo-Kai Watch Review

A Worthy Pokémon Competitor
by Kyle Hilliard on Nov 04, 2015 at 06:00 AM
Reviewed on 3DS
Publisher Nintendo
Developer Level-5
Rating Everyone 10+

Yo-kai Watch is a big seller in Japan, and it’s easy to see why. The Pokémon comparisons are inevitable; you explore an open world collecting creatures (Yo-kai ghosts) to build your army, and the Yo-kai are capable of evolution as they gain experience. Yo-kai Watch even has an accompanying anime series which recently started airing in North America. Despite its overlaps with Nintendo’s juggernaut franchise, Yo-kai Watch is far from a rip-off. It’s a well-designed entry in the collectible creature genre that does plenty to establish its own identity.

The titular Yo-kai are ghosts haunting the world unseen by humans. Circumstances allow you to see them where others can’t and recruit them to your team, where they help you fight the bad ghosts and retrieve more of the good ones. Exploring a secret world unseen by others and building your small ghost army has a certain charm, and helping them evolve and grow quickly becomes an exciting venture.

Finding the Yo-kai requires active searching on the part of the player. Getting ambushed by Yo-kai is a rare occasion, allowing you to avoid combat if you’re not looking for a fight. I generally find random battles to be frustrating, and I am glad to see Yo-kai eschew this common RPG nuisance.

Collecting the ghosts involves simply fighting them with the crew you have already amassed. You won’t be throwing a Pokéball equivalent; the creatures randomly decide to become your friends after a battle. The likelihood of them joining you can be increased by feeding enemy Yo-kai health items, which opens an interesting research game of figuring out what kind of food each Yo-kai likes and wants to eat. I like this style of collection, as it disconnects getting new creatures directly to a specific type of inventory item. If you want a specific Yo-kai, your best bet is to seek out an area where lots of them hang out and just keep fighting. You miss out on recruiting that rare Yo-kai from time to time, but you also get all kinds of others without actively trying or expending inventory, which is a worthy trade-off.

The fighting is where Yo-kai sets itself apart not just from Pokémon, but other RPGs in general. It’s much more active than your typical turn-based fare, revolving around the use of touch-screen mini-games and constant change-ups. The mini-games quickly reach a point of repetition, but I still enjoyed the active combat system and found myself constantly on the move during fights – a welcome change from the turn-based fights typically employed by the genre. With a crew of six, three ghosts are always in front sending out attacks, and three are in the back – building up special attacks safe from the enemy. You can rotate among your crew in mid-battle without penalty. As they fight, they charge their special abilities, which prompts one of three mini-games when unleashed. The Yo-kai do standard attacks on their own, but the player is rarely inactive. One of your Yo-kai is nearly always ready to throw out a special attack, and on the rare occasion none have a special attack in the hopper, you can direct attacks by assigning pins using the touch screen, or hand out items to those in need.

Off the battlefield, Yo-kai has a surprising amount in common with western RPGs, offering an open world where players can collect and complete missions from the assorted citizens alongside the main storyline. Having a collection of side-missions in your inbox is fun and works well with only one noticeable shortcoming – the map is difficult to navigate. Your main mission is always marked with a garish red arrow, but if you want to change your focus, the game does you no favors in seeking out the extra-curricular activities. The map isn’t clearly labeled and you can’t change your main objective, which can be frustrating.

Some additional highlights of the world of Yo-kai are its overall humorous tone and ghost design. The protagonist often makes sarcastic jokes, and the citizens of the world have funny dialogue and strange requests throughout. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, and I often chuckled at the bizarre situations I found myself in, like trying to retrieve a pair of underwear from a Yo-kai pig who couldn’t be bothered to get out of the bath. A few cute Yo-kai make up the collection, like Jibanyan, a recently deceased ghost cat who couldn’t figure out how not to get hit by cars, but my favorites are the ghosts who fully embrace the strange. Manjimutt, for example, looks like a failed experiment to combine a Japanese businessman and a dog. Even without a visual, you can imagine how strange that would look, and it was these types of Yo-kai that made me really want to see and collect more.

Comparing Yo-kai Watch to Pokémon is more than fair as the game borrows from the series that helped establish what has become its own genre, but there’s no reason to pick one over the other. Yo-kai Watch is a worthy competitor that stands comfortably next to Nintendo’s monster collector as a distinct peer.

Take the core tenants of Pokémon and translate them into a different world with a sillier tone and a novel take on combat
Despite some clever creature designs, the overall visual style doesn’t distinguish itself
None of the music or voice acting is grating or obnoxious (which is a danger in games skewed towards younger players), but nothing stands out as being particularly memorable, either
Switching between stylus and button controls is annoying. You can technically pick one control style and stick with it, but playing successfully means switching back and forth. Separately, field movement and touch-screen controls feel great
Yo-Kai Watch has a great sense of humor, unique combat, and collection hooks that sink in quickly
Moderately high

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